Journalistic Kids These Days

David Halberstam on Iraq: “Halberstam, who has written about other presidential administrations and war decisions, isn’t sure he will write about Iraq. ‘Part of me wants younger people to write it,’ yet there is the challenge of figuring out ‘how we have gotten it so wrong and why the Democrats behaved so poorly,’ he said.”

This is a good point. Where are today’s David Halberstams? Why is Seymour Hersh digging up all the dirt (again) while the Believer staffers devote their precious resources to Modest Mouse? For that matter, while this is a start, if Ben Kunkel is hot shit and n+1 represents a new world order, why isn’t he in Tehran right now digging up dirt?


  1. Brendan beat me to my comment. As far as I can tell, Bat Segundo has a suitable radio recording rig and Internet access.

    You’re big on telling other people what to do lately, i.e., saying that DFW and J-Franz lack balls because they won’t write the books you think they should. Are you just trying to be provacative or are you really a hypocrite?

  2. Pay me $$$ and I’ll go, you smug motherfuckers. If you don’t like my blog, then don’t fucking read it.

  3. Aye, there’s the issue – it’s the $$$. It takes a lot of bucks to be just semi-safe in Iraq, so it’s not easy for independents to navigate. Everybody needs at least one security person and a translator to leave the green zone (that’s gotta get pricey), and from what I understand, it helps to have a slush fund from your news org just in case you need cash to get through a tight spot. But maybe the Believer or n+1 could send a trust-fund writer.

    I don’t know much about the correspondents there, but Jill Carroll is 29 and was doing a solid job for the Christian Science Monitor, and I think Borzou Daragahi is rocking for the LA Times. Sounds to me like Halberstam is passing the buck without looking very carefully at who’s out there writing.

    And Ed, I’ll fucking read your blog whether I like it or not. 🙂

  4. That’s priceless, Ed. You calling us smug. Read your own post’s title, man. Anyway, I don’t read your blog to agree with it, and I don’t feel obliged to agree or leave. Or are you one of those “love it or leave it” types?

    My point is that you should demonstrate some knowledge of journalism, or some experience in journalism, or some respect for the risks of journalism, or SOMETHING, before you go and demand that everyone run off to the Middle East. Absent that, you could at least explain why the Believer and/or n+1 need to be there.

  5. I wasn’t demanding that everyone run off to the Middle East. I was commenting on the possible disparity between the current journalistic generation, which is more content to devote their energies to Modest Mouse than Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the journalistic generation that cut their teeth in Vietnam (Halberstam, Hersh, David Wise, et al.). If you have examples of young journalists who are currently putting out work as thorough as Hersh’s or books as comprehensive as “The Best and the Brightest,” please enlighten me.

    The whole point is that these two magazines purport to cover culture and utterly fail to cover war, which undeniably AFFECTS culture to a large degree, much less having SOMEONE from their respective magazines dare to assess the situation in person. In all the hoopla that these two magazines are seriously about something, why is the war subject verboeten to them, much less unexamined by rigorous first-person journalism? That’s all I’m asking.

    Yes, said journalism involves risk and dinero. But I would contend that it has ALWAYS involved risk and dinero. That’s a moot point. So where are the young reporters in Iraq or Iran daring to risk their lives LIKE Hersh and company did in the 1960s/1970s? Is it because they are hopelessly embedded? Has war coverage become less important?

    Discuss with class.

  6. Ed, your points are worth worrying over. I think you run into a problem taking to task a magazine that is primarily about music and literature for not sending a correspondent to Iraq. Also, I don’t know why the age or “generation” of a reporter matters so much to you. Is there reporting from Iraq? Yes. Good reporting? Yes. But what’s young enough for you? Is Jill Carroll young enough? What about George Packer? Or Jon Lee Anderson? Why do you need to read about Iraq in the Believer? And what’s wrong with letting them write about Modest Mouse and letting others report on & from Iraq? Perhaps they understand that not everyone is qualified or obligated to write about war.

    One last thing: I’m not sure what your point is that war has always involved risk & money. Of course it has. I’m not sure that anyone is arguing that it wouldn’t be great if tons of young reporters all signed up and went to Iraq. But for you to sit on your high horse and take them to task for not doing that, then suggest that you WOULD it’s just too expensive, well, that doesn’t fly. Would you if you have the money? And if you were willing, would the world really benefit from your willingness?

  7. You people cannot seriously be arguing that Ed shouldn’t complain about journalistic coverage in iraq unless he’s willing to take it over himself? What else do these new rules of criticism apply to? If I hire a plumber, and my sink still leaks, do I now just FIX IT MYSELF AND STOP COMPLAINING? Should I no longer complain about the presidency unless I’m willing to take over the office?

    This is mighty close to the ann coulter school of philosophy. I myself am grateful to Ed and every one else who will point out the people we have trusted to guide our country–our politicians and our reporters–are failing us. It’s great that people sent Helen Thomas roses after she questioned the president, but it’s horrifying that our press has failed so miserably that merely QUESTIONING THE PRESIDENT is now considered a heroic act.

    Further, Ed, and everyone else who points our these flaws- maybe “tragedies” is a better word–is doing valuble work in taking the first step towards setting them straight. Not all of us can be war reporters and politicians. And yes, the age issue is relevant, becasue our generation (I think ed and I are about the same age) has been abysmaly neglectful in doing exactly what we should be doing, what ed IS doing–criticizing those who are fucking up royally. The believer and n+1 are not explicitly political journals, but you cannot be suggesting that we leave politics–and more importantly, human lives–entirely to the politicians and those with political science degrees. These jouranls may not be OBLIGATED to comment on the war, but it’s hard to take seriously any publication that doesn’t cover the most pressing issue of our times, even if that would be in the context of how it affects the arts.

    okay, it’s suppossed to be ed rants, not sara rants–my apologies for rambling and good luck to you all.

  8. You’re right, Sara. I wasn’t arguing that. If I understood Ed correctly, he was arguing about people who DIDN’T cover the war; he wasn’t arguing about the quality of coverage that already exists. He also seemed to be implying (no, in his last comment he actually says) that some people lack the nerve to go to Iraq. I do not believe that our reporters in Iraq have failed us, as you say. But if they have, show me how. In the meantime, I don’t pretend to be a qualified war reporter myself. (Nor should you, Sara, pretend that the writers at The Believer or n+1 necessarily are. It really does help to know what you’re doing, which is why I’m thankful that I’m not there and that Ed’s not there.) I admire the journalists who ARE there and I am unwilling to question the guts of the people who are not.

  9. And it’s really helpful to know how to comprehend what I said. I’m suggesting that there is something preventing the next generation of journalists from covering Iraq in the same way that the previous journalists covered Vietnam. It may be a lack of reporters. It may be lack of resources. It may be government restrictions. It may be a reluctance to deal with the subject. The nerve to cover the subject in terms as rigorous as Hersh and Halberstam is the issue here. And it seems we disagree on the current state of war journalism. Why do we have no equivalent to the Phan Thi Kim Phuc photo? Why do we have no sense of the casualties in Iraq? Or have you been in the fucking dark about how the government (and the media) has been covering the deaths of our soldiers (and the civilians) with the same diffidence afforded the people who leaped from the World Trade Center (but were not televised)?

    Covering a war in any capacity (even an occluded view) certainly takes a good deal of guts. But when a journalist is embedded, as Packer has been, is this enough guts to relay the conflict sufficiently?

    Why am I so concerned with this journalistic generation? Because invariably it influences how future journalists will cover important conflicts like this.

  10. I think I have understood you well enough, Ed. You’ve questioned journalists’ courage (“So where are the young reporters in Iraq or Iran daring to risk their lives . . . ?”) while implying that you yourself are qualified and stating right out that you are ready to go if only you had the money (“Pay me $$$ and I’ll go you smug motherfuckers.”). That strikes me as downright silly. Question other people’s courage AFTER you’ve gone, not before. And don’t for a second pretend that you are or could ever be Seymour Hersh or David Halberstam by merely being in Iraq.

    Meanwhile, we do indeed disagree about the current state of war journalism. Why must you judge the success of journalists on whether we are given the equivalent of a running-from-napalm photo? I suspect that you do not yearn for such a photo for the purposes of journalism but for the purposes of your politics. You should be honest about that. Journalists do not exist to serve your need to embarrass the Bush administration and advance your own political goals (many of which happen also to be mine).

    I have a perfectly good sense of the casualties in Iraq. I can go to or I can go to or I can read the paper every morning and watch the news every night and keep my own running tally. We live in a world with plenty of information.

    I have not been in the (fucking) dark about how the government has tried to downplay deaths in Iraq. As for the media, that word is plural for a reason. What media do you speak of? Are you talking about Nightline or CNN or Fox News or The New York Times or hometown dailies or alternative weeklies or podcasts or political blogs or literary blogs or what? I’m perfectly aware of the deaths in Iraq and so are you. So which media has failed so badly? Or are you just worried about all those people out there not as smart as you? Maybe the media has failed them and that’s why they’re Republicans and not more enlightened like you.

    I apologize for being rude. Go ahead and be concerned about journalism. I would simply urge you to be less flip about it, more respectful of the profession, and more honest altogether.

  11. Maybe Ed is just disgruntled about the lack of war coverage because he gets all his news from literary magazines.

  12. Your inductive reasoning grates like spoiled gouda.

    1. Never once did I make the claim that I was equal to Hersh or Halberstam. That’s preposterous.

    2. I would indeed cover Iraq if someone gave me the dough. Not that it would ever happen, but I’d do the best job I can. But why does hypothetical this even matter?

    3. I don’t “yearn” at all for atrocities. But if it is part of a horrible series of events, then I believe it is journalism’s duty to provide as much documentation of it as possible. My politics have nothing to do with it.

    4. The more information available about what’s happening, grisly and all, the better for everyone, whether neophyte or seasoned news junkie.

    5. Don’t you have something better to do this afternoon than troll?

  13. Hi. In addition to George Packer’s book, the best and most useful thing that I’ve read about the American military in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and in the many mini-wars that U.S. special forces will be fighting in the years to come, over oil and over water, appeared in the first, summer 2004, issue of n+1: It’s an essay called “Mogadishu, Baghdad, Troy,” by Mark Greif. You can buy the issue here:

    As for Halberstam, actually, Rick Perlstein has argued that his pre-Tonkin reporting from Vietnam for the Times did a great deal to get us embroiled further in that conflict.


  14. Tell me how I’m trolling, Ed. You know who I am and where I am. I am merely debating a point with you. If you prefer not to debate points, then perhaps you should reconsider having a blog, accepting comments, and then responding to comments (with profanity).

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