Bob Simon had it. David Carr had it. Brian Williams lost it. And Jon Stewart mocked it.
“It” is personal integrity—the fundamental asset of that particularly American type, the “newsman.” Simon, of CBS, and Carr, of the New York Times, are being mourned this week by colleagues as epitomes of it. Simon, a tireless globetrotter and war reporter, was a classic newsman, while Carr, a recovered crack cocaine addict who wound up as more of a public face for the New York Times than even its editors-in-chief, was a more unlikely one. But both seemed to embody the idealized toughness, kindness, empathy, and dogged loyalty to the truth that Americans, going back to the Walter Cronkite era, have expected their newspeople to have.
Of course, eulogies tend to amplify this kind of idealization. Even in Cronkite’s time, that trust was probably over-rated; today, it’s collapsed. Brian Williams, the NBC anchor who was this week suspended for embellishing stories about his Iraq war coverage, did a good pseudo-Cronkite, but the ground has shifted, and he suffered at the slightest dent in that façade.
The comedian Jon Stewart, who ended an era this week by announcing his departure from the Daily Show, had something to do with that. He made a career of pricking the awful pomposity of American TV news, especially CNN’s. But the rise of internet media has played its part too. Phoniness on TV has given way to almost too-raw honesty in web video. A big force behind that shift has been Vice News, of which Carr started out a critic and later became a grudging admirer (paywall).
If journalism, in whatever form, is to be worth anything, the values of people like Carr and Simon must underpin it. To say, as CNN did, that “the media world has lost four of its titans” is to make precisely the kind of vacuous generalization that gives journalism a bad name. Carr would have had fun ridiculing it; Stewart may yet get the chance.—Gideon Lichfield and Zachary M. Seward
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Millions of Facebook users don’t know they’re using the internet. And Facebook likes it that way, explains Leo Mirani, in a detailed look at how the social networking giant is quietly becoming the single gateway to the online world for a sizable slice of the internet’s newest users.
Ukraine in trouble. Jason Karaian explains why this week’s ceasefire deal for eastern Ukraine is likely to break down (among other things, it gives Russia and the rebels it supports an incentive to step up the attack first), while Linda Kinstler reports from the Ukrainian capital on why the country is headed for economic collapse.
Nigeria on the brink. The elections due for Feb. 14 have been suspended, the currency is tanking, and the military could be steps away from taking power. But that’s no cause for alarm, says Yinka Adegoke, in our new “Nigeria Now” obsession; the brink is where Nigeria lives.
David Carr’s other legacy: as a mentor. Lots of young American journalists have a tale about the time Carr made a crucial difference to their careers. Jenni Avins tells her own moving story, and Annalisa Merelli offers a spirited counterattack to a pundit whose advice to would-be journalists was “don’t do it.”
Meet the brain in your gut. Cassie Werber previews an upcoming exhibition at London’s Science Museum that tackles the question “what makes us eat?”—including research on how babies “taste” flavors in the womb and the 24-year-old woman who never knew what hunger was until six months ago.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Grexit for dummies. “Sudden, sharp and probably conducted in the dark of night.” If Greece is kicked out of the euro zone, nobody is sure what will happen next. Jeremy Gaunt of Reuters tries to imagine how the country would close its banks, introduce a new currency, pay for imports, and handle the other logistics. The short version: It isn’t pretty.
Let’s put the Crusades in context. Barack Obama sparked right-wing rage for comparing ISIL’s reign of terror to the Crusades. Jay Michaelson at the Daily Beast reminds us just how bad the Crusades really were, while Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic recalls a much more recent, and American, reign of terror that was often justified in Christianity’s name.
Stop freaking out about artificial intelligence. In response to warnings that machines are on the verge of becoming smart enough to take over the world, Paul Ford at MIT Technology Review offers two pieces of counsel: First, it won’t happen for a long while, if ever; and second, as with any technology, the work of designing it includes the work of making it safe.
Twitter shaming in the 19th century. Social-media scandals erupt frequently in this era of instant communication, and then disappear almost as quickly. Jon Ronson decided to investigate their very real human toll, and finds that the US has a long and undistinguished history of public shaming, stretching back to “pillories and whippings’ of the 1800s.
Yanis’s way. A self-professed left-wing idealist, Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has become the champion of the anti-austerity movement in Europe. In a highly quotable profile, Helena Smith in the Guardian talks to him about his politics, his vision, and not having a plan B.
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