Friday, March 21, 2008

True or tall tale?

  • Malcolm Gladwell's tall tales get punctured by Jack Shafer in Slate.
This is a bit much-ado-about-nothing-ish, but still amusing. Basically, Shafer takes umbrage when Gladwell tells some wild stories about his days as a cub reporter and pointedly doesn't mention that they're not to be taken seriously. Shafer then proceeds to debunk them point by point.

This is basically a 2500+-word deconstruction of a standup routine. Shafer is certainly correct to insist that Gladwell make it clear tongue was planted firmly in cheek, but I'd wager that Gladwell's readership knows when the joke's on them. And I also submit to you as evidence: in the same podcast linked to above, Ira Glass visits an editorial meeting at The Onion. The defense rests.
If the monologue had remained an insider thing, heard mostly by Moth habitués, one could sympathize with Gladwell's position. Nobody but a prig would wag his finger at Gladwell for telling stories wherever he can muster an audience. But by moving his tale from The Moth's clubby confines to the radio show's national audience of 1.7 million, the broadcast on This American Life changed the equation. The blog Jossip accepted the radio riff as nonfiction and published an item titled "Malcolm Gladwell Laughs at Journalism: The Joke Is on Us." Gawker bought the story, too, as did a dozen bloggers and commenters.

Since cock-and-bull about how he behaved at the Washington Post is being taken seriously, worming its way into the record, a detailed debunking is called for if only to explain that newspapers don't tolerate shenanigans like this. So, allow me to volunteer to be the literal-minded plodder who charts the many things in Gladwell's talk that never happened or never happened the way he describes them.

1 comment:

Melvin said...

Shafer wasted both his and our time.