Political journalist Kurt Eichenwald, known for accidentally showing his search for tentacle porn and assembling a literal binder of Tucker Carlson’s alleged falsehoods and bringing them to a television interview, is having a particularly bad day. He emailed Ben Shapiro a long, meandering message stating that he had consulted a psychiatrist about one of the teenage Parkland survivors, and the psychiatrist had diagnosed that survivor as “obsessed” and “deeply disturbing.” Vanity Fair is now publicly stating that they cut ties to Eichenwald some time ago, and judging from Eichenwald’s reaction, the magazine apparently never got around to telling him.
I’m sure you find people in all walks of life who seem a little . . . cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, but I wonder if journalism attracts more than its fair share.
I’m sure you’ve already assembled a long list of Mad Media Men in your head — from news anchors who believe 1970s typewriters could perfectly mimic the default settings of Microsoft Word, to the fabulists who told tall tales and expected to forever escape the consequences, to the ones caught in hot-microphone tirades and tantrums, to the one that suddenly blurted out claims that the Jews control the media. There’s something a little unhinged about the shameless and reckless aggression in the sexual harassment from the likes of Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin, or Charlie Rose.
And those are just the times when nutty behavior became bad enough to be a scandal; there’s a lot of garden-variety wackiness that is regularly awkward or cringe-inducing but somehow not bad enough to interfere with the ability to do the job. There are functional and not-so-functional alcoholics, the diehard astrologists, the ones who promoted crackpot theories such as “Trig Trutherism” or Birtherism. Social media has been fascinating window into some of the thoughts that didn’t make it on-air or copy. More than a few times, I’ve had a not-so-pleasant interaction with another Washington journalist and later been reassured by others, “Oh, don’t worry about it, he [or she] is a certifiable lunatic.”
This isn’t even counting the ones who went into the profession and deliberately set out be the next Hunter S. Thompson.
Journalism might naturally attract those who crave or need attention. It looks important and prestigious from the outside . . . and sometimes it is. But a lot of time, it isn’t. Most reporters start at the bottom, typing up sports statistics, classifieds, or legal notices in agate type for the newspapers. Fetch coffee, put toner in the copy machine, sort the mail, answer the main office telephone line, and then maybe, once you’ve demonstrated an ability to do that without mistakes for a long stretch, maybe your editor will allow you to go and write up a summary of the local zoning-board meeting.
This applies to pay as well; Bloomberg hired Mark Helperin for more than million a year — good call, fellas, great value — but traditionally journalism ranks as one of the lowest-paying professions. The superstars make a lot, but a lot of people behind the scenes are putting in long hours and dealing with high stress for modest pay.
The profession can be fickle, too. One week, you’ve got a big story and everybody is eager to hear from you, the next, no one is returning your calls. No matter how good yesterday’s article was, you’ve got a blank page to fill the next day; another slot of air time you need to fill with news, another spot on the web page, another expectation of web traffic. For the right mindset, this is like baseball; no individual day is definitive and the job is a marathon, not a sprint. For some, who might need constant affirmation, perhaps it all adds up to intolerable mental stress.
If you’ve ever read an article or watched a report and thought to yourself, “Is that reporter nuts?” the answer is . . . well, maybe.