Copyright 2004 Ben S. Pollock
July 5-6, 2004
July 6, 2004. Addendum to the 7/5 Brick below: I downloaded the Palahniuk interview and listened to it twice. The NPR reporter did open her piece with a warning that the writer spoke provocatively and that some comments were edited out. Sorry to miss those, because he was not outrageous, but deadpan. My overall opinion holds. NPR let the writer get away with sounding serious when he was actually parodying an author interview.
July 5, 2004. I love National Public Radio, got hooked in 1977, while in college. It’s because I have faith in its reportage and in its commentary. They make the difference sufficiently obvious. (Only snoots have trouble with distinguishing the twain, and those patronizing pipsqueaks are faking confusion, purportedly for the sake of others whom they claim to be helping.)
NPR uses such good journalists that when they get conned, it befouls all of us who ply the trade, both in its news and analysis spheres.
On "All Things Considered" of Sunday, July 4, 2004, an NPR reporter interviewed some writer named Chuck Palahniuk. Yes, this malfeasance of journalism wasn’t about Iraqi prisons, it was a book promotion.
I only caught the last few minutes of the piece, while driving to the paper. Maybe I should listen to it again to be fair. Maybe, I’ll listen later.
Palahniuk was talking about himself and his "Stranger than Fiction: True Stories," a collection of magazine work.
Seconds after I tuned in, Chuck (I don’t feel like writing Palahniuk twice every graf), said he got anecdotes to use in his writing simply by engaging strangers. But that’s gotten harder now that he is so famous, because he now flies in business class, due to new wealth. None of the executives are talkative and when they do, it’s boring.
So, Chuck said, he drugs them. Then they get interesting.
Oh, really, says journalist Andrea Seabrook.
He hands out Vicodin, he says to elaborate. He doesn’t stop elaborating. His seatmates drink on top of that powerful medicine — booze is free in business class.
And flight crews talk, because they accept his Vicodin, too, he said. On duty.
Not a peep from Seabrook. She just moves on. They discuss Chuck’s public readings.
He talks about how each piece lasts seven to 10 minutes and that an effective piece engages the reader, makes them laugh and always by the end makes them cry (just like the cliche). Chuck then says the best part is when people faint as that shows his success in writing and delivery abilities.
Seabrook just moves on.
That is very journalistic, no opinion from the reporter. This is not universal practice. As a listener of "Fresh Air’s" Terry Gross, I believe she would say to Chuck, "You’re full of it," or, more neutrally, "You’re kidding, right?" But Gross’s interview is the piece, not a journalistic tool. In radio journalism, actualities/sound bites augment the overall story, which by definition is a summary of research.
Seabrook is not fully at fault. Blame her editor/producer. Such pieces are not broadcast live; that could wreck the timing of segments before and after. The piece could have been clarified. The reporter both before and after, and sometimes during, a segment repeats basic information and in some way cautions about the veracity of the subject.
The paper press has a similar dilemma: Something is said at a night government meeting, say, and you just quote it, on deadline, with no time or convenient resource to double-check or even to rebut.
Or, hell, maybe Chuck does find it easy to drug attendents, and people actually do swoon at book readings. I’ve attended lots of readings, and the best ones? Just applause.
Who is Chuck Palahniuk? He wrote the "Fight Club." You know, a movie. That kind of writer, saved from obscurity by a script adaptation. I plan to hit the library and consider his novels.
He really was funny on this newscast, and clever: He shanghaied his own piece back from a journalist. He could sell that trick to politicians. Then he’d be rich. -30-