Saturday, July 10, 2004

How 'Holy Shit' Has Escalated to the F Word

Bob Woodward is famous for a lot of things, but in the journalism trade, one of them is his "holy shit" comment. A number of years ago he observed that his goal is to produce the kind of stories that would cause a reader to mutter aloud the words 'holy shit' as they read along. As Slate media critic Jack Shafer has observed, that came back to haunt him as an editor, when he was duped by the infamous Janet Cooke story about a non-existent eight-year-old heroin addict. But now the bar has apparently been raised higher for readers muttering profanities. L.A. Weekly reports that at the giant June book expo in Chicago, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter said that in a book "what I'm looking for here is the fuck factor. I want them to stop every three or four lines and say, 'Fuck!'" Is it possible that the old boy has briefly lost his marbles since becoming the subject of rough treatment in the press for his having taken a finder's fee of 100K from a Hollywood producer? Working With Words has responded by sending old sweeping-maned Graydon a bar of soap with which he can wash out his potty mouth...

Then again, maybe it was just some bad water in the VF water cooler in early summer. A month before that outburst, and also in Chicago, VF media columnist Michael Wolff, who generally alternates between brilliance and complete idiocy, chose the latter in a talk to journalism students at Northwestern University's Medill School. You'll have to read this entire short piece in the student newspaper to understand how ridiculous he was here. But at least he was honest, telling the kids: "I have no pearls of wisdom." From winning a National Magazine Award for a series of splendid media columns in New York Magazine to becoming a self-described "billionaire's mascot" is quite a trick, Mike. And remember: this is only the version that he approved for publication, bizarrely acting as a censor when talking to would-be journalists. Sounds like he'll feel right at home at Vanity Fair.

Posthumous Productivity. Do you feel as if you never get as much writing published as you'd like? Despair not: the Wall Street Journal reports that the latest trend to hit book publishing is bringing out books after the author dies. "Robert Ludlum died in 2001, but his productivity did not suffer for it," we learn. A half-dozen turgid thrillers have sprung forth since then, with a little help from other writers. A less-well-known author of teen thrillers, V.C. Andrews, has been dead even longer, since 1986. But not to worry. "She's been more prolific dead than alive." See, there's hope for you yet, even if you might not get to enjoy it here on Earth.


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