I think my answer to the question, “What do you aspire to as a writer?” would be something along the lines of “a sinecure.” By which I mean one of those columnist-at-large type gigs where you kind of weigh in as you see fit on what you see fit — not dissimilar to my CSTB gig, really, but maybe with health insurance. I suppose I still write about what I want whenever I can, job-wise, but it’s not a business model I’d really recommend to others.
So it’s with a combination of envy and admiration that I regard Slate’s Jack Shafer, an ultra-crusty libertarian whose charge at the site seems to be to periodically frag long-form journalistic pieces (and the occasional journalist) while functioning as a sort of example for the other folks on staff: “Here,” the staffers might be told, “is an actual-existing contrarian, one of the few purebred examples of the species left in the wild. He flings his excrement, so be careful.” I don’t necessarily love the guy’s work, but after a long career busting his ass for assorted newspapers, it’s hard to say he doesn’t deserve it.
And sometimes, Shafer’s long and grudge-y memory can pay dividends for readers. For instance when he dumps on hilariously pompous New Republic publisher Martin Peretz for his hilarious pomposity (and poor blogging) or, today, when he lays into Tony Kornheiser (above) for being, basically, Tony Kornheiser. GC noted Tony K’s less-than-liberated radio riff on Hannah Storm’s wardrobe last week, and Kornheiser was recently placed on a sort of idiocy sabbatical by the WWL. While Kornheiser’s taking some time off to scream at people in grocery stores, Shafer punches in for one of his occasional columns and delivers a brief history of Kornheiserian jerkery before meandering off in the general direction of a contrarian, ESPN-brass-are-hypocrites-too conclusion. So:
Back in 1990, when I used my media column in Washington City Paper to ridicule Kornheiser’s work in the Washington Post, he retaliated in his Sunday humor column by having a fictional lifestyle psychiatrist say, “Well, the symptoms were so obvious even my imbecile lab technician Shafer, whom we can’t trust with anything more complicated than collecting the urine specimens, could see it.”
In 2005, after Stephen Rodrick gently criticized Kornheiser in Slate, he used his radio show to call for Slate to stop using the freelancer’s work.
In 2006, Kornheiser flipped out when Post Style reporter Paul Farhi panned Kornheiser’s debut on Monday Night Football… On Dan Patrick’s radio show, Kornheiser added, “I apparently got ripped in my own newspaper, the Washington Post, you know, by a two-bit weasel slug named Paul Farhi, who I would gladly run over with a Mack truck given the opportunity.”
…Kornheiser is one of those guys whose ugly side is his only side. But the fact that ESPN has suddenly taken to punishing Kornheiser for being an oozing bag of pus and venom raises more questions about the network than it does about the employee.
Shafer also links to this remarkable David Carr piece from the New York Times, which goes into greater depth on Kornheiser’s vendetta against the very excellent McKenna. Kornheiser will obviously be back on the air, likely without having to apologize and almost certainly unchastened, soon enough. Like Shafer, he’s not someone I imagine I’d really want to spend any time with. But like Shafer, too, he at least seems to be exactly as difficult as his public works suggest. I guess there’s something to be said for that, maybe?