Discover more from Make More Pie
How Not to Do Media
Alec Baldwin, shitpost journalism, cupcakes
Good Halloween morning from Chinatown. I am wearing a pink gossamer witch hat embroidered with gold spiders, which gives me the authority to okay your eating all the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups out of your children’s haul, which, as soon as the little one above could trick-or-treat - she’s 23 days old in the pic with her dad - I absolutely did. It’s tradition!
On a recent episode of The Fifth Column, Michael Moynihan mentioned that one of the very best things about being a journalist is that you get to meet just about anyone who fascinates you; Matt Welch confirmed this, adding that being a journalist is the very best job in the world. I wholeheartedly agree, and a short list of writers I’ve come to know, simply by reaching out a figurative hand, include Mary Gaitskill, William Langewiesche, Nick Flynn and Ethan Strauss. (And look out, Alison Roman, I’m coming for you.) Does is take courage to approach people you admire? A little. But it gets super-easy and also, as I tell the baby writers, the email that scares you the most is the one you need to send.
There’s a flip-side, which I saw on pretty ugly display just now, journalists following Alec Baldwin, his wife and children as they drove through Vermont.
I think Baldwin managed the encounter as well as can be expected, considering the horrific circumstances that led to his accidentally killing director of photography Halyna Hutchins. Did I remember her name just now before looking it up? No. But my god, the journalist asking questions of Baldwin should have, instead of saying, on-camera, “I’m afraid I forget her name at the moment.” The disgust and anger on Baldwin and his wife’s parts, I felt it too. We all forget people’s names, and maybe the journalist was tired or under stressors we do not appreciate. But also? Too bad, it was sloppy and disrespectful and, in that one moment, ratifies the public’s perception that media are vultures, tugging without discretion at whatever viscera is at hand. It’s gross, as is, as I wrote last week, seeing the Baldwin tragedy as an opportunity to score points for your chosen side.
Also gross: Magazine editors giving interviews wherein they say, "My vision is to have a sometimes oppositional relationship to the stars we cover, depending on whether those stars are doing bad things or not. If they’re just making great art, then I think we’ll have a celebratory relationship with them. If they’re making great art and being shit-birds on the side, we’re probably going to have a more adversarial relationship with them."
At which a friend and I commented:
A little story, wherein I contradict my “send that email!” advice but which shows the way I wish more media would go. As some of you know, I wrote a book called, To the Bridge, A True Story of Motherhood and Murder. (NB: Amazon is selling the Kindle edition all of November for 99-cents.) Amanda Stott-Smith dropped her two children from the Sellwood Bridge on May 23, 2009. A mini-Camp OJ formed outside of Amanda’s parents’ home, where she’d been living. Reporters knocked on the door, they parked outside; when no one would speak with them, they pecked at what scraps they could and arranged them into a narrative that - surprise, surprise - fit whatever ideas they’d had about the story: Amanda was crazy, Amanda was evil, no one will ever understand how this happened. And then they moved on.
Here is what I did, which for a long time I took for personal cowardice: I waited. Though I started looking into the story the day it happened, I reached out to no one in her family. I did other reporting, made different connections, and about eight months later finally drove to the block where her family lived. I parked far enough away so I would not bother them. I made notes about the mailbox, about the tall American flag. I started coloring in the narrative that, over the previous eight months, had started to form a sketch. It would be more than a year from the date of the bridge incident before I would speak to anyone in Amanda’s family, before I would wind up spending many afternoons in their living room. No other journalist did this, and that’s totally fine; it was no other journalist’s story to write (at least, not yet!). During the time I was gathering, seven-year-old Kyron Horman disappeared, a story that made national news for many months. “Are you sorry you’re not covering the Kyron Horman story instead?” someone asked. As if it were a competition, shiniest story about a dead or missing child wins. The idea makes me want to vomit. But that’s where we often are these days; nab the sensational, the hot take, get it out there, and if you need to juke it, or do an unforgivably shitty and dishonest job — yes, I am looking at you AP - in order for the story to comport with your deadline and/or agenda, then you will.
I am actually speaking out loud (if quietly!) as I type this, my disgust apparently such that I am trying to get it out of my body. But I did grab a copy of my book from the shelf, looking for a quote from Amanda’s grandmother, but instead coming upon one from Ken Hadley, Amanda’s capital defense attorney and someone who let me stick to him like a limpet throughout the trail: “I don’t consider you part of the media, by the way.”
But hark! So many people, whom I plan to run/link/highlight like crazy once the Paloma Media site launches (patience, grasshopper…) practice what I cornily this week am calling the warm take, people that have the chops to report quickly but as accurately as they can, who do not like some sort of jackal come at you with a piece of intestine hanging from their teeth. Ew. Go away.
Many hopefully not-gross media hits this week! Liz Wolfe and I got in the studio for an episode of #hotchickscoldtakes, a spot we will be featuring on the regular…
And Yael Bar tur and I were able to hook up the lighting inside Paloma so we did not look irradiated when we talked about the mandatory vaccine requirements that NYC mayor Bill be Blasio put into effect starting tomorrow.
I was very honored to have two podcasts on which I was a guest drop yesterday - on my birthday! “We’re Addicted to Destruction” is the episode title of Uncertain Things, during which hosts Adaam James Levin-Areddy and Vanessa M. Quirk and I discuss (per liner notes) my “journalism war stories, her ire about Donald McNeil, Jr., and her musings on beauty as a commodity.”
Listen to the episode here and pony up (!) for their Patreon here. And yes, I know I’ve posted this video of Kat at her book party before but her loveliness bears repeating, as does the message, which is what we are talking about here, yes?
Speaking of birthdays, earlier in the summer Scott Ross showed me how to eat a cupcake. Which made me for the first time appreciate cupcakes!
Until next Sunday, kisses with extra frosting xx