Deep for the Dark Lord
Hitchens: Accomplished Journalist or Just an Accomplice?
By Matt Taibbi
describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote
those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film
as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would
never again rise above the excremental... Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister
exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness.
It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking
itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.
—Christopher Hitchens, Slate.com, on Michael Moore
that's rich, isn't it? Christopher Hitchens crawling out of a bottle long
enough to denounce Michael Moore as a coward. I can't imagine anything
more uplifting, except maybe a zoo baboon humping the foot of a medical
All journalists are cowards. Hitchens knows it, I
know it, everybody in this business knows it. If there were any justice
at all, every last goddamn one of us would be lowered, head-first,
into a wood-chipper. Over Arizona. Shoot a nice red mist over the
whole state, make it arable for a year or two. A year's worth of fava
beans and endive for the children of Bangladesh: I dare anyone in
our business to say that that wouldn't represent a better use of our
rotting bodies than the actual fruits of our labor.
No one among us is going to throw that first stone,
though. Not even Chris Hitchens, a man who makes a neat living completing
advanced Highlights for Children exercises like the following:
"Denounce a like-minded colleague, using the words 'Lugubrious'
and 'Semienvious.'" Such is the pretense of modern journalism,
that we are to be lectured on courage by a man who has had his intellectual
face lifted so many times, he can't close his eyes without opening
his mouth. By a man who, if the Soviets had won the Cold War, would
be writing breathless features on Eduard Shevardnadze for three bucks
a word in Komsomolskaya Vanity Fair ("Georgia on His Mind:
Edik Speaks Out." Photos by Annie Liebowitz...).
Which is fine, good luck to him, mazel tov. Everybody's
got to make a living. But let's not leave people confused out there.
The idea that anyone in today's media is either courageous or cowardly
on the basis of what they write or broadcast is ridiculous.
Hitchens, like me and everyone else out there publishing,
lives in a professional world
where the idea of courage is submitting nice words about George Bush
to the Nation, or maybe a "Rethinking Welfare Reform"
piece to the Wall Street Journal. What Hitchens calls courage
is really a willingness to offend one's intellectual constituency,
and what he really means by that is honesty—something very
different from courage. It's a nice quality, honesty, and the pundit
out there who has it and still manages to make a living is, I guess,
to be applauded. But again, let's not confuse that with courage.
Courage is a willingness to face real risks—your
neck, or at the very least, your job. The journalist with courage
would have threatened to resign rather than repeat George Bush's justifications
for invasion before it began. I don't remember anyone resigning last
winter. The journalist with courage would threaten to quit rather
than do a magazine piece about an advertiser's product, his fad diet
book or his magic-bullet baldness cure. It happens every day, and
nobody ever quits over it.
If journalists had courage, they would form unions
and refuse to work for any company that made decisions about editorial
content based on the bottom line, on profit. Are there individual
instances of reporters who quit over this issue? Sure, there are a
few. Lowell Bergman walked out on 60 Minutes over this one.
And there were those Fox TV reporters in Tampa, Jane Akre and Steve
Wilson, who famously (and expensively, as it turned out) fell on their
swords rather than broadcast a bunch of cuddly bullshit about the
Yes, there are a few isolated vertebrates out there
in our business. But it wasn't like the whole staff of WTVT in Tampa
walked out in support of Akre and Wilson. Janitors stick up for each
other. Steelworkers stick up for each other. Even camera operators
and soundmen stick up for each other. But journalists just sit still
in their cubicles with their eyebrows raised, waiting for it all to
blow over, in those very rare instances when a colleague walks the
I've been around journalists my entire life, since
I was a little kid, and I haven't met more than five in three-plus
decades who wouldn't literally shit from shame before daring to say
that their job had anything to do with truth or informing the public.
Everyone in the commercial media, and that includes Hitchens, knows
what his real job is: feeding the monkey. We are professional space-fillers,
frivolously tossing content-pebbles in an ever-widening canyon of
demand, cranking out one silly pack-mule after another for toothpaste
and sneaker ads to ride on straight into the brains of the stupefied
One friend I know describes working in the media
as shoveling coal for Satan. That's about right. A worker in
a tampon factory has dignity: He just uses his sweat to make a product,
a useful product at that, and doesn't lie to himself about what he
does. In this business we make commodities for sale and, for the benefit
of our consciences and our egos, we call them ideas and truth.
And then we go on the lecture circuit. But in 99 cases out of 100,
the public has more to learn about humanity from the guy who makes
I'm off on this tangent because I'm enraged by
the numerous attempts at verbose, pseudoliterary, "nuanced"
criticism of Moore this week by the learned priests of our business.
(And no, I'm not overlooking this newspaper.) Michael Moore may be
an ass, and impossible to like as a public figure, and a little loose
with the facts, and greedy, and a shameless panderer. But he wouldn't
be necessary if even one percent of the rest of us had any balls at
If even one reporter had stood up during a pre-Iraq
Bush press conference last year and shouted, "Bullshit!"
it might have made a difference.
If even one network, instead of cheerily re-broadcasting
Pentagon-generated aerial bomb footage, had risked its access to the
government by saying to the Bush administration, "We're not covering
the war unless we can shoot anything we want, without restrictions,"
that might have made a difference. It might have made this war look
like what it is—pointless death and carnage that would have scared
away every advertiser in the country—rather than a big fucking football
game that you can sell Coke and Pepsi and Scott's Fertilizer to.
Where are the articles about the cowardice of those
people? Hitchens in his piece accuses Moore of errors by omission:
How come he isn't writing about the CNN producers who every day show
us gung-ho Army desert rats instead of legless malcontents in the
early stages of a lifelong morphine addiction?
Yeah, well, we don't write about those people,
because they're just doing their jobs, whatever that means. For some
reason, we in the media can forgive that. We just can't forgive it
when someone does our jobs for us. Say what you want about Moore,
but he picked himself up and did something, something approximating
the role journalism is supposed to play. The rest of us—let's face
it—are just souped-up shoe salesmen with lit degrees. Who should shut
their mouths in the presence of real people.