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Columnist-To-The-World Mark Steyn On Journalism

Friday, October 12, 2007  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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From my interview with Mark Steyn today:

HH: I want to switch now to an interview I did yesterday with Jeffrey Toobin, who’s written this rather breezy, gossipy, very fun to read book, The Nine. But he drops this in, I’m talking to him about journalism, and Jeffrey Toobin just lets go with this, Mark Steyn: 

“Well, I think journalists deceive people all the time.” 

HH: Do you think journalists deceive people all the time, Mark Steyn? 

MS: Actually, I think Jeffrey Toobin deceives people quite a lot of the time. I caught him on CNN a couple of weeks ago talking about Clarence Thomas’ book, and he said Clarence Thomas is clearly full of rage. This is the great sense you get from him, a man full of rage, a man full of rage. I don’t know Clarence Thomas, but every guy I’ve met who has met him, who is a friend of his, people who are friends of his, says he’s actually a very genial kind of man. The book, in its way, is very genial. So I think if Jeffrey Toobin means that in the compression and concision that is part of journalism, things can often go badly awry, then I would say that is true, and he’s quite a good example of that.

HH: But I was talking to him about the example of the Charles Schultz biographer who wormed his way into the family’s good graces, and then comes out and gives the Peanuts creator a black eye. And it was sort of like David Souter passing himself off as a conservative to George Herbert Walker Bush. And the question I posed to him, I’ll pose it to you, don’t people have an obligation to be honest with whom they are seeking jobs and employment, whether it’s David Souter or a biographer or anyone, you know, that here’s who I am, the Popeye defense. You may not like it, but this is what you get? 

MS: Well, I would have thought so, but I always know, for example, I mean, I’m not someone who gives a lot of interviews, but the ones I definitely don’t give tend to be the ones where someone says he’s writing about a controversial issue, and says he’s a great admirer of what I’ve written on the subject, because that generally does mean that he worms his way into your confidences, and then stiffs you when… 

HH: Yes. 

MS: I mean, that would seem to me fairly obvious. I think, I have a low opinion of journalists, because I work with a lot of them, and also because I don’t think of it as a profession, and I think the outrage over things like that biography come because in America, this thing is perceived as this, you know, almost slightly below Jeffery Toobin’s Supreme Court, nine gods from Mount Olympus. But on the next level on the mountain are journalists who’ve been to Columbia Journalism School, they’ve spent tons of money and years of study to become ethical journalists. And of course, that’s not true. At a certain level, it’s a job, you do what you have to do to get your foot in the door, and to get the interview with the grieving widow. And if that means telling her that you’re the milkman and you want to deliver her a couple of free quarts of milk this morning, then you do that. And the fact of the matter is it’s a grubby profession, it’s a foot in the door profession. And we get confused about it, because of this silly idea that’s grown up in America that it’s this lofty, ethical, great kind of calling, which it isn’t. 

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