James Woolcott’s piece on the fall of journalistic golden boy Mark Haperin in Vanity Fair is sophistry, but well-constructed sophistry. Woolcott has had more than one disclaimer in his story that he knew or worked for one of them on the #MeToo Hall of Shame, but this story is not about him questioning either whether he was blind to workplace abuse, or just apathetic if he knew.
It is about Donald Trump.
Surprise! It is not really about Mark Haperin at all.
But the opportunity to begin a serious piece is missed right from the beginning of the article:
Reputations aren’t what they used to be. The bigger they are, the faster they fall. Reputations that lurched upright for decades, showered with a confetti of newspaper clippings, festooned with honorary degrees, and fortified with genuine accomplishments, can be brought down today with an inglorious crash in a frenzy of social-media fury, like Frankenstein’s monster given the old village stomp.
Woolcott does not question why this is at all, because if he had, it would speak ill of his profession. The accolades are paper crowns used to elevate people and create a pecking order. These predators used those awards as a shield to be above reproach as they went on terrorizing the competition to make certain he had all the power for himself.
If the accolades are a sham — and, that the people who got them were tyrants, then those accolades meant nothing, and that’s why their fall from grace happened as fast as they did: those little crowns mean nothing all along. It was what frightened and desperate people gave to these men in order to appease them, hoping that would calm those beasts.
It’s called enabling.
And Mark Halperin was enabled by his fellow journalists in spades.
He was touted as a brilliant reporter. He got the book deals, A-list assignments, and even had a book in a development deal with HBO.
All the while perving the women in the workplace.
And that was who was fawned over by his colleagues as a Great Man.
That means the journalistic assessment of this man was flawed right from the get-go.
This is not a minor oversight. This is not some one-off.
At the point in the piece, a reader with critical thinking skills is going to start asking hard questions: Well, Mr. Woolcott, considering you are a journalist who writes for an A-list magazine about the media, and you never brought this topic up until it became posh, why didn’t you ever see this and brought it out into the open?
It is not as if Woolcott hasn’t written interesting pieces, or made interesting observations (his interview in the documentary OutFoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s war on journalism made it into my book, for instance), but in all this time not making a very critical observation at all gives readers something else to ponder.
Or, as gestalt psychologists would have framed it: the whole does not equal the sum of its parts.
But at this point of the article, he is through with the obligatory mentioning of Halperin, and then goes to trounce on Trump as is now standard in any article that needs a misdirection to deflect criticism on why journalism is the biggest enabler of predatory behaviour.
He could have used a few more copy inches discussing the absolute failure of journalism to expose their own much, much sooner. He could have discussed why his employers let him do things that would land an ordinary man in jail. He could have even questioned his own publication who had a heavy hand in propelling almost all of these horrible deadweight into mainstream consciousness.
Woolcott may have a way with words, but he always sticks those words into a Patriarchal Structure: it is linear, and always focused on a narrative, not on facts. It is about manipulating and rigging a narrative to force a reader to come to a particular conclusion. The writer provides the blinders for the reader; so that they do not see the other paths that will take them to a different conclusion.
That journalism took too much from literature, and nothing from science has always been a disturbing failure of the profession. It is the reason why predators such as Halperin got as far as he did, misusing the job to terrorize women. His lens of reality would always be skewed: he could just his bosses and the little people what they wanted to hear as he mocked them subversively, all along getting away with the things his poorer ilk paid for with a criminal record.
But journalists made it possible for him to get away with it.