David Carr, RIP

Look, I hate it as much as you hate it when some beloved person dies and some less beloved person tries to ride the hem of his garments. Gimme a pass on this one.

Four and a half years ago, I was caught out for sending rude, childish emails about conservatives — whom I’d been covering as a reporter — to a liberal email listserv. In short order, I resigned from a very nice (but increasingly pressure-cooking) job at The Washington Post. Torn between an idea of quitting the profession and the desire to make rent, I wrote two pieces about what had happened, the first of them for Andrew Breitbart’s site Big Journalism. When media reporters called, I answered. In the early days, only two of them actually called me to get the story.

And then, the weekend after I resigned, I got this email from David Carr.

hey dave,
I write a monday media column for nytimes.. have been talking to ppl about what happened with you at the Post and how fraught the intersection btrw MSM and the current cohort of reporters/bloggers/commentators.. I got a great sense of you take from what you wrote on Big Journalism, but if you can stand any more weigel talking about weigel and what people say about weigel, I’d love to chat.

Carr, who was by many leagues the best at what he did, had left a number. I called back and missed him. He got my voicemail and replied:

sorry about that. was on phone busy advancing my plot to take over the world. it’s not going too well so far, but the day is young. am back on the grid. call when you come free.

I called back. It’s a dim memory, like most of them from that week, but I can recall Carr running circles around me with Barry Allen speed, rasping like he’d gargled with Tom Waits’s mouthwash. He pushed me away from a patter (not false, but safe) that I’d been giving everyone who talked to me. He empathized. He cajoled. That way he wrote? Exactly like how he asked questions, pushing and pulling me along. I wish I’d taken notes on how he interviewed me, because he knew exactly how to get his story.

Then he wrote his story, and it was just perfect. In it, I was unforgivably stupid — true! — but the people who’d hired me were castigated for making up ethics rules on the fly.

“If you dumped every reporter who ever sent a snide message or talked smack in private, there would be nothing but crickets chirping in newsrooms all over America,” Carr wrote. Then at the end of his piece:

This is a story about Washington, a place that prizes political consistency and punishes ideological deviation. Mr. Weigel is a libertarian who voted for both Ron Paul and Barack Obama, who supports gay rights and sees the bright side in Bob Barr, who supports not just open borders, but also free markets. He was also a newspaper journalist embedded in the conservative movement and a blogger embedded at The Post.

 

Those apparent contradictions gave Mr. Weigel’s writing texture and surprise, but it also made him a pretty juicy target. Regardless of how much blather you hear about the two parties bickering in Washington, the Beltway is really a monoculture that accommodates the two poles of a debate but very little in between.

Carr could have written anything with my interview, and he chose to write that. It changed the way I thought about reporting. When I got back into the business, as a reporter for Slate, I kept talking to Carr. When we talked in person, it was at my first (and still only) South by Southwest, where he stopped me gushing by ushering me into a concert he thought I should see. He’d written a story about me, then he’d moved on, both the writer and the subject a little better for the experience. You know that Janet Malcolm line that people like to quote — “every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible”? David Carr proved that wrong, on deadline, all the time.

Over email, he had a way of totally underselling what he was reporting, writing, and thinking. One time, when he thought I’d know who to talk to for a profile he was writing, I sent him some ideas, and he thanked me with a warning: “I will be back at you as soon as I find a way in that hasn’t been worked over every which way.” This was right before writing a beautifully turned obituary of Andrew Breitbart, “a fresh-off-the-boat Irish storyteller” (no one had come up with such a perfect description of the man) and small, tough anecdotes dug out by careful reporting. They had not been worked over, by anybody.

I don’t have Carr’s facility with language, and I didn’t get to know him as well as the people who are going to mourn him right. All I want to say is: Fuck this. Life is short, but it shouldn’t be this short. Least of all for someone who understood so delicately and elementally how people lived.

 

10 Years

More than that, actually. In September 2001, before college started up again, I used the window between work and class to launch my first “weblog.” It was a page of HTML that I updated daily, like the one Andrew Sullivan had. Because I was so clever, it was titled DW-i: Dave Weigel Interactive! Months later, I realized how little fun I’d have if every diary entry was uploaded to an FTP server after text edits. There was a better option, a new service called “Blogger.” I joined it, and voila — blogging.

Back then I wanted to write for a living. Now, I do! When I’m not writing, I’m wondering about the meaning of what I’m covering (this sort of thing accelerates when a great foreign correspondent dies), and talking to other writers about the point of all this. The best answers are too pretentious to blog about. The cheap answer isn’t: It’s fun, and we’re lucky to do it.

You know what else is fun? Writing about other topics. Slate, which was my favorite magazine long before I was paid to believe so, is a good place to deposit thoughts about pop culture and Things Inconvenient to White People and other Internet topics. Tumblr would be a good place to stow my other thoughts. But I am a sort of a luddite, and I refuse to take this blog off Tumbler. Good God — I’ve written here for a third of my life! I own the domain well into President Santorum’s first term! DaveWeigel.com will remain a source for random, one-draft thoughts that are too hot for Twitter or Facebook or the myriad other places to put such thoughts.

Weekend Wrapup

I see Catherine Andrews doing these from time to time, and I want to assure the universe that she is not the only hip young urban person who’s enjoying these final weekends of American supremacy.

FRIDAY: Dinner with some friends at Etete, the fancier’n’average Ethopian place on 9th street, followed by a very short walk to Solly’s, where we celebrated the victory of young Ezra Klein over the mainstream media by drinking Miller High Life. Wait, what?

SATURDAY: A morning of omelette experimentation (moderate success achieved) followed by a deeply ill-advised run to Anacosta/burning off my skin. I discovered on this walk that one of the streets that Congressional pages live on is “Capitalsaurus.” That’s stupid, isn’t it? I loaned a friend some movies, then went to Annie Lowrey’s palatial estate in Mount Pleasant for a barbeque. Just when I was ready to leave, Alex Gutierrez alerted me to the existence of a dance party in Petworth; we arrive to a diminishing crowd of drunk hipsters.* Dancing ensues, especially by a man named Al who moves like a goddamned demon.

SUNDAY: Brunch at Tonic, grocery shopping, and a folk concert that was part of an ad hoc series inside peoples’ houses. So, a record amount of time spent in Petworth. All of it fun!

*I hate this word too, but have no better way of referring to skinny people in tight jeans with facial hair and a welcoming fondness for strangers.

Fund Fund Fund

Let’s talk about smart people. For a while, I thought I was one. I was one of the smarter kids in my high school classes, as long as we define high school of a series of classrooms in which everything is taugh but math. I had to work hard, sure, and do lots of dull memorization to pick things up, but I got good grades, and befriended the people who go better grades, and they would have been able to spot a phony.

College was less satisfying; I was meeting people in the tip-top percentile of intellect, and I clearly was just a little bit below that. Washington has treated me much the same way, as I’ve met the people who are, indisputably, the best there is at what I do. (There are times I feel like the best-trained ninja going up against Wolverine in a Frank Miller splash page.)

Still, that test of the others – being accepted or not being accepted by the people you know are smart – is proving pretty useful. After two-and-a-half years in the libertarian sphere, after wondering why my brilliant friends like* Katherine Mangu-Ward and Julian Sanchez and Kerry Howley and Will Wilkinson had been invited to Liberty Funds, I wondered why I was not.

A word about Liberty Fund. It’s a program set up by nice, big libertarian endowments that brings libertarians together to talk about economics and philosophy.

So: My friends were going to these things, and not me. I assumed, in December, that I was more of a reporter than a philosopher, and that was that. In January, that changed: I was invited to a LF about public choice theory. That’s how I spent this past weekend.

Thoughts? It’s a good program, executed well, and so intellectually challenging that I wonder how I spend my time in Washington again. There is really nothing like hunkering down for 90 minute stretches to convince a room of smart people that, no, really, you and you alone have the right idea for a majoritarian government reform that would stave off the tyranny of faction.

*one way you can tell they’re smart is that they say “such as” instead of “like” in the right places

The state of things

Looks like blogger is working now. Here’s the state of things –
Last night the new Chron hit the stands – literally. For the first time in our 9.8 years of publishing, our driver was able to deposit the paper on magazine racks with our very own (temporary) signs.
This presented a league of new challenges, namely that of holding my intestines in when I saw how few people were actually picking up the paper that, in all likelihood, cost me 10 points on my Latin American Politics midterm. But it was mostly very nice to know said paper would no longer be thrown in the nearest waste recepticle.

Welcome

Huh. That was substantially more difficult than I’d expected.

Welcome to the unveiling of DW-i 2.0. It didn’t take very long for me to become dissatisfied with the old layout of the site, and I found myself ignoring it far more often than I needed to. For months I toyed with the idea of junking the thing and moving to “Blogger,” but something kept me sidelined. Something called “Blogger.” I mean, Jesus Christ on the Cross is that an annoying name for a program! So net-nerdy. So latte. So unlike me.

But it’s easier than the TV Guide crossword puzzle, and that’s all I need right now. The site will slowly move to a redesign based around this nifty feature, and it will often be updated with my thoughts, weird news, and links to stuff I’m working on at the Chronicle. Come back soon … I’ll be working on a dense paper on the religion of ancient Israel this weekend, so there’s no telling how much mental procrastinating is on the calender.