TOM WOLFE IS AMERICA’S preeminent observer of decaying elites, chronicling and often forecasting their decline in his journalism and novels. In his 1970 book Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, he exposed the comic decadence of Leonard Bernstein and his friends, an elite so indifferent to its own survival it feted the Black Panthers at its Park Avenue mansions. In his 1975 book The Painted Word and the 1981 companion book From Bauhaus to Our House, he detailed the effete theories dooming America’s art and architecture. He anticipated the decline of a privileged media class in his famous puncturing of the pompous New Yorker under William Shawn — “Tiny Mummies!” — and his 1996 novella “Ambush at Fort Bragg,” which captures the tendentiousness of television magazine show producing, forecast the scandal at CBS involving Mary Mapes and Dan Rather. Executive editor George Neumayr caught up with Wolfe in Southampton, New York, shortly before publication of I Am Charlotte Simmons, Wolfe’s third major novel, to get his observations on today’s tiny mummies.p> TAS: It has been a year of fiascoes in the media. What are your thoughts on the condition of journalism? br> Tom Wolfe: What I see is that there is less news covered today than there was 75 years ago. Seventy-five years ago there were infinitely more newspapers. There were seven when I first arrived in New York City. This led to real competition. Then along came television news and the local monopolies. Most places don’t have an afternoon paper and if they do chances are they are owned by the people who put out the morning paper. /p>
Television, meanwhile, does very little reporting as a newspaper would understand it. Television reporters aren’t really called reporters. They are called researchers. And that’s really all they are. They aren’t digging up news. When television does dig up news — a big story, a big scoop — it is almost always wrong. NBC once broke this huge story about nuclear atomic weaponry in Israel and got it totally wrong. The most interesting thing was the reaction of the management. Its first question was, ‘Where did this first appear? What newspaper did you get this out of? What? There was no written source. Are you crazy?’p> TAS: So you weren’t surprised by the Dan Rather debacle? br> Tom Wolfe: I wasn’t surprised it happened. The media have a pretty wild history in this respect. Whenever somebody would make up a story, they would say, ‘Oh, that’s the influence of the New Journalism.’ God, newspapers have been making up stories forever. This kind of trifling and fooling around is not a function of the New Journalism. /p>
There is an inverse status in television news: the person who leaves the building least is the highest ranked. The anchormen really are the primitive version of the old linotype machine. The anchor’s voice converts material written by others into a form that is easily consumable by the audience — that’s what the linotype machine did.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
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The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?