One hopes this will be the last GetReligion post on the controversy over the New York Press‘ anti-pope cover story. I’m afraid if I spend any more time on the intricacies of this, I will start to theorize about grassy knolls and second gunmen.
In a follow-up to his resignation from the Press masthead, writer Alan Cabal wrote in one of Enter Stage Right’s comments threads that Press editor Jeff Koyen had quit and that the author of the piece, Matt Taibbi, was fired. He added, “Any bets the Pope outlives the NY Press?”
Koyen, who quit rather than accept a two-week unpaid suspension, wrote to Enter Stage Right to say that Taibbi (pictured) had not, in fact, been fired. He explained that Cabal couldn’t “resign” because, “to the best of my recollection, he hadn’t had an article accepted by us for more than 6 months.” Koyen explained that Cabal’s name was still on the masthead “out of charity.”
Cabal responded that Taibbi was still employed by the Press because the management of the alt-weekly “would rather commit suicide than admit a mistake.” He continued,
The reason I haven’t had anything in the Press lately is that the damned thing became an embarrassment and the rates were ludicrous. It was depressing, and that idiotic Taibbi piece was the icing on the golden turd.
As far as “charity” goes, I save ALL of my email, Jeff. I’ll be happy to release the requests from you and [Alexander] Zaitchik for fresh material.
Cabal followed up with a post that put the lie to Koyen’s “six months” figure. Turns out he had a piece in the paper in January, which makes the best of Koyen’s recollection very poor indeed.
As for Taibbi, he’s still at the Press and, loathe as I am to admit this, his response was probably effective. Against calls by Press founder and columnist Russ “Mugger” Smith that he be put out to pasture, Taibbi mounted a rousing defense, though not a flawless one.
Taibbi reported that Rep. Anthony Weiner had issued a press release calling for New Yorkers to trash copies of the Press. Here’s the list of recent press releases from Weiner’s website. Take a look. None of the releases even mentions the Press.
So either Weiner didn’t include the press release on his record of press releases, or he removed it from the press release queue, or, more likely, Taibbi was relying on Koyen’s paranoid response to Weiner’s mild criticism of the anti-pope issue in a Lloyd Grove column. In other words, it may have been an honest mistake on Taibbi’s part in a column that is all about honesty.
In an act of daring rhetorical jujutsu, Taibbi seized the high ground by refusing to seize the high ground. Much of the mail that he received, he wrote,
seethingly anticipated that either I or the editors of the Press would turn around this week and try to cast ourselves as free speech martyrs, once we were a) fired or b) boycotted or c) both. I’m going to have to disappoint here. Nothing so noble as a real freedom-of-speech conflict actually took place in this case. The only accurate metaphor to describe what happened to the paper last week was stepping in shit. The shit was there, and we stepped in it of our own volition. It was a joint effort, between us and the shit.
Actually, Koyen did try to spin it as a freedom-of-speech conflict, but as he’s no longer an editor of the Press, I’m going to let that slide in the interest of getting to the substance of Taibbi’s argument. To wit, to the charge that “The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope” was hate speech, Taibbi wrote,
If there was hate in the piece, it was not for the pope. It was for the agonizing marathon of mechanized media grief and adulation we so inevitably go through after the passing of each and every hallowed leader or celebrity. It was for the transparently fake unity of Democratic and Republican senators alike holding hands, hanging their heads, and — live on Fox and MSNBC — shedding a tear as good soldiers fold the flag at the passing of the great man, Ronald Reagan.
It’s not only funerals, but memorial services and various other pagan rituals; we are all supposed to weep on the anniversary of 9/11, and defer publicly to soldiers, and cheer for whichever bland milquetoast cine-blob wins Best Picture.
But some of us don’t want to cheer for the little girl who gets pulled out of the well, or get misty-eyed before the leader’s casket. In fact, some of us get physically ill, and angry, during each and every one of these orgies of rote media emotion.
Taibbi acknowledged that the piece “was way over the top” but he argued that its very over-the-topness was “commensurate — to the 197 consecutive fuck–g hours of Pope funeral coverage on cable we all know is coming very soon, with every politician on earth with a nose for Catholic votes lining up for a chance to blow into his hanky at the podium.”
He then drew a distinction between mainstream and alternative media, and situated the Press firmly within the latter camp. He argued that
While all across the major media landscape every public figure — every politician and every NBA star and every superficially grief-stricken plastic anchorman — will be “deeply saddened” and hanging his head during the obligatory moment of silence, there has to be someplace where the individual psychopath-loser, i.e. me, can say “I don’t care.” And not necessarily because it’s right or wrong to think that way, but because a mandatory opinion held by everybody is no opinion at all.
Finally, he flat out refused to issue an apology. His piece, Taibbi wrote, had been “an extremely silly, trivial, stupid joke.” That elected representatives would take the time to denounce it, he wrote, was a sign of misplaced priorities.