The Difficult Life of David Shaw
The Los Angeles Times's "ideas correspondent."


I must be getting cynical, if you can believe that, because when I read Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw’s infamous rant against bloggers a few weeks ago my first thought wasn’t that Shaw was tired, or weak, or even wrong. My first thought was this: Oh, he’s sick of not getting any attention, and creating outrage in the blogosphere is a quick and easy way to get some. V-e-r-r-r-y clever, Mr. Shaw.

So I suspect that the much-maligned Shaw, who won a Pulitzer for his media reporting years ago and therefore is a Spring Street lifer, isn’t really as stupid as he seems. Those interested in exploring this further can go to UCLA during the L.A. Times Festival of Books Saturday, where Shaw will moderate a panel called “Brave New World: Monopoly, Media and the Right to Know.” (Panelists are New Yorker media writer Ken Auletta, Hugh Hewitt, Arianna Huffington, and University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone.)

Shaw’s arguments against bloggers’ having shield law protection have by now been pretty much demolished, so I won’t pile on here. But here’s the nut graph of his column against the notion that bloggers are journalists:

When I or virtually any other mainstream journalist writes something, it goes through several filters before the reader sees it. At least four experienced Times editors will have examined this column, for example. They will have checked it for accuracy, fairness, grammar, taste and libel, among other things.

Unfortunately for Shaw and all those experienced Times editors, just a few days later the paper published an error-filled story by staff writer Eric Slater about fraternity hazing at Chico State. Despite having been filtered through the usual sieves for accuracy, fairness, etc., Slater’s piece was so embarrassing that this week the paper fired him.

All that having been said, I would grant Shaw this: Although many bloggers certainly do practice journalism (even the ones like Charles Johnson and Eugene Volokh et al., who have never called themselves journalists or worked in a newsroom) in that they analyze and often even report the news, the vast majority do not.

There are eight million blogs in the naked blogospheric city, and I don’t think it exactly makes me a tool of the mainstream media to observe that, say, merely noodling about what your kitty cat just did doesn’t make you a journalist. (Or even a writer. Sorry.) Insisting that all bloggers are journalists is like insisting that every home movie made of someone’s baby’s birthday party should be eligible for Academy consideration.

Of course I understand that David Shaw, who apparently doesn’t spend much time online, isn’t really talking about all these little blogs when he’s huffing and puffing about the big bad blogosphere. He’s talking about the scary ones, the influential opinionated bloggers who make people like him seem like fossil relics. Even so, he’s not 100 percent off the mark.

To put Shaw’s animosity concerning online gadflies in perspective, the blogosphere long ago developed the habit of using him for target practice. Mickey Kaus once designed a special Series-Skipper-Skipper™ for what he called a “characteristically bloated effort,” Shaw’s dull and seemingly endless piece about Hollywood and the media a few years ago. Sploid’s west-coast editor Ken Layne has been known to rudely refer to “goddamn David Shaw.” On the old L.A. Examiner site (run by Layne and Matt Welch, now Reason’s media critic) Shaw was known as “David ‘Days Late and a Million Words Long’ Shaw.” And so on.

Shaw’s food columns are currently a favorite target of Media Bistro’s amusingly snarky Fish Bowl L.A., a new gossip blog about Los Angeles journalists that had its official launch party here Monday night. A couple of days ago writer Michael Sonnenschein noted:

For the second week in a row, LAT media columnist David Shaw devotes his “Matters of Taste” column to David Shaw’s Life Experiences With Wine. (Note to how about a David Shaw Wine Cellar Webcam?) You really should read the piece straight through for the full Bobo (in a David Brooksian sense) effect…

Even before that item ran, I’d heard Shaw was upset that his latest “Matters of Taste” column, which runs in the Food section, made him seem pretentious. Well whose fault was that? Maybe Shaw thought it had something to do with the editing. But actually, I find his weekly rants about food fascinating and would miss them if they disappeared.

In fact, I don’t know why the Times doesn’t just retire Shaw from his bland, fakely objective phoning-it-in media critic’s beat and let him expand the food column–in which he compellingly reveals the various pet peeves and recurring annoyances that vex his remarkably soft life–into a full-time wallow. There appears to be some distancing going on at the Times anyway from the notion that Shaw is the paper’s media critic. I noticed that Times editorial-pages editor Michael Kinsley, at a talk I attended a couple of nights ago, described Shaw (with a straight face, too) as the “ideas correspondent.”

My favorite “Matters of Tastes” column this month related how Shaw, beleaguered by “too many errands” one afternoon (example: driving to a gourmet grocery store for duck breasts), was sorely disappointed when he stopped for lunch and the waitress said she wasn’t allowed to serve hamburgers cooked rare. He explained to readers that a rare hamburger is “one of the best–and most American–of all taste treats.”

Oh, no, he didn’t, I thought at that point. But indeed he did use that fantastically infantile phrase “taste treats,” thus transporting his column that week from its typically pedestrian ridiculousness to the self-indulgently sublime. I enjoyed the smarmy awfulness of “taste treats” for a while, but the real payoff came just a few graphs before the end. Then Shaw really showed his what-liberal-media? hand.

“We worry too much about the wrong things in this country,” Shaw informed his readers, who until that point probably assumed they were just reading an ode to bloody ground meat. “We should be banning guns, not hamburgers.”

O.K., here we go: Note how this “we should be banning guns” trope works perfectly for pretty much any aspect of bleeding-heart posturing and/or id-driven appetite: “We should be banning guns, not…the f-word on the radio/public urination/bums sleeping on the street/Cuban cigars/topless beaches/over-the-counter heroin/porn-in-public libraries.” Etc.

Personally, I think we should be banning the phrase “taste treats,” not guns, but alas I do not rule the world.

Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.