Vicious Cycle: Nailing the Interview by Matt
was away on a story last week when it occurred to me that
I’m getting tired of all this travel. Maybe, I thought, I
should find a job closer to home. So it was with more than
idle curiosity that I flipped through the Times want ads,
and came across the following:
Assignment editor in important cultural organization. Must
have no morals and be completely full of shit. 5+ years exp.
required. Serious applicants only.
was Sunday, but I called right away anyway. A woman answered:
I’m calling about the ad.”
you completely full of shit?”
a journalist.” I explained.
hack,” I said. “But at night, I sleep like a baby.”
paused. “How does Tuesday at nine sound?”
Tuesday I dressed in a suit—unusual for me—and went to the
Park Avenue address. It was odd; I’d never noticed before
that the News Cycle had its own skyscraper. The interview
was in 4411, in the front page department. A man with slicked-back
hair and fat yellow suspenders from the eighties waved me
Rothstein,” he said. “Glad to meet you.”
Taibbi,” I said, shaking his hand.
So, Matt,” he said, retaking his seat behind his desk. “Why
do you want to work at the news cycle?” I shrugged as I sat.
“Well,” I said. “I’m immensely lazy, and I want to make gigantic
money without having to move or think much. Plus, as I’ve
gotten older, I just don’t give a damn anymore.”
nodded and wrote in a notebook. “Those are all excellent reasons,”
he said. “What makes you think you’re qualified?”
you kidding?” I said. “I’m a completely depraved media figure.
I promise you, I’m absolutely rotten to the core.”
he said. “Did you cover the Michael Jackson trial?”
covered the shit out of it,” I said, beaming.
he said. “Well, we have a standard test we give to applicants
here. We need to know if you really understand the news cycle.”
I said, folding my arms.
he said. “It’s Monday morning. There were no late-breaking
stories on Sunday night. The president is in Belize, attending
an international conference on greenhouse gases. What are
you looking for when you scan the wires on the way to work?”
easy,” I said. “A blond white child trapped in a dumpster.”
I said. “Montana. Missouri. Florida. It’ll probably be Florida
– that’s the first place I’ll look.”
he said. “What are your top three standup locations?”
right,” I said. “One, outside the idyll suburban home from
whence he was snatched. You’ll want the still-ajar window
in the shot. Two, in front of the police barriers at the nearby
landfill where, sources say, a search with ‘cadaver dogs’
is being conducted. Three, outside the squalid home/trailer
of the ‘person of interest.’ If there’s no overturned Big
Wheel in the foreground, buy one.”
nodded. “That’s nicely done,” he said. “What else will you
be looking for?”
frowned. “What, you mean the basics?”
me,” he said.
I said. “A tropical depression headed this way. Any storm
with a name will do. A suspected case of Mad Cow in Kentucky
or maybe Tennessee. Are you safe? Fuck no. A B-list celebrity
crouching over the blood-drenched body of his same-sex companion.
A Democratic senator with his cock in a Jack Russell. Lance
Armstrong, our hero, still going strong. And news from the
latest cultural witch-hunt, of course.”
witch hunt do you have in mind?”
shrugged. “Whichever one’s available,” I said. “Faggot marrieds
teaching evolution, maybe. A five-year-old wearing a Canadian
flag pin during the pledge of allegiance. If things are tight,
a seditious professor somehow granted tenure while we weren’t
watching. Once called bin Laden a human being or something.”
he said. “Answer in three seconds or less. There’s bad news
in Iraq. What’s on the cover of the New York tabloid?”
I said, snapping my fingers. “Black dude on the loose in Queens.
Kwame Jefferson, 19, inset!”
the gist of the headline?”
there are a couple good ones,” I said. “There’s ‘How could
we let this happen?’ and there’s ‘Cops: It was her first piano
lesson.’ Either one works.”
nodded. “Not bad. What’s the ultimate headline?”
FOR A TEDDY BEAR,” I said quickly. “Nab tot in bear gun hit.
Photos, p. 4.”
bad. What will Brad and Angelina name their baby?”
shrugged. “Hard to say. Whatever it is, it’ll sound like a
new General Motors vehicle. Something like ‘Zephyr’ or ‘Avalanche.’
We want that picture.”
picture do we want, exactly?” he asked.
want holding-her-for-the-first-time, we want dressed-in-baggy-jeans-and-sunglasses-to-buy-diapers,
we want holding-her-adorable-little-hand-in-the-park. The
Jackie-and-Caroline shot. At some point we want Daddy Brad
with a paunch, but that’s years from now.”
have AIDS. What should I do?”
fuck yourself,” I said. “Unless you want to hold up a Circle
K with a syringe. If you make the world’s largest quilt, there’s
space on page 8.”
aliens land to claim our planet, what will the position of
the New York Times editorial board be?”
advise caution. We could look at this as an opportunity, but
we should also be realistic. Of course we should have known
this was coming. A Times story in June 1997 addressed
this very possibility. Both parties, but especially the Republicans,
share in the blame. E.T. remains a beloved cultural institution.
The president is to be supported until he gives us reason
to do otherwise.”
is Robert Novak doing at this very moment?”
off,” I answered.
Price of Power, by Seymour Hersh,” I said.
right,” he said. “We’re going to play a little word association
game. I’ll say something, and you tell me the first thing
that comes to your mind.”
he said. “NASCAR.”
I said. “Burgeoning cultural phenomenon. We’re looking for
stories about it spreading among the college-educated. Its
fans flexing electoral muscle. Tony Stewart really does shop
at Home Depot. Sell him in the gossip pages even when he doesn’t
seem to fit.”
bastards. Their movies suck.”
interview: Tom Cruise, or Vladimir Putin?”
laughed. “Does Putin have a movie?”
ha, exactly,” he said. “Well, you certainly seem to know your
stuff. One last thing: could you give me today’s summary?”
mean today, July 12?”
took a deep breath. “Dennis fizzles. Panhandle breathes sigh
of relief. Remains of a child found in Idaho. Brit cops revise
timeline: bearded creep, inset. Fantastic Four pulls
Hollywood out of its box-office doldrums, which to me, personally,
is a tremendous relief. Kyrgyzstan, Srebenica, Manila.”
in particular about Kyrgyzstan, Srebenica, and Manila?”
just that: Kyrgyzstan, Srebenica, Manila.”
will it be tomorrow?”
abducted in Oregon. Tornado in Arkansas. Barry Bonds, encephalitis,
Willie Wonka. And I’m going to guess Caracas, Sweden,
and maybe Kabul. Iraq in the shitter still.”
he said. “Well, Matt, I think I’d like to offer you a position.
When can you start?”
do you need me?”
we’ll be invading Iran later this year. Do you think you’ll
be available then?”
shrugged. “Later this year, huh? What’s the movie?”
not great. Get Rich or Die Tryin’, National Lampoon’s
Pledge This!, some John Cusack thing called The
Ice Harvest... Although there’s also a Harry Potter.”
I said. “That’s a start. Something to work with, anyway. Sign