Williams also had his name stripped off “The NBC Nightly News” logo in all its forms. Shame-wise, that part seemed to be the equivalent of an epaulette-ripping scene in a foreign legion movie.
Then, as if to put all the gnashing of teeth over truth, memory, and accurate reporting in perspective, the hugely respected “60 Minutes” foreign correspondent Bob Simon, who reported from war zones and was taken prisoner for 40 days by the Iraqis during the Gulf War, was killed in a car crash on the West Side Highway. It was a trip he had made thousands of times on his cozy home turf.
We hardly had to time to process Simon’s untimely passing when, into this bizarre eruption of raging media fates, boom, came the news of the passing of David Carr, the 58-year-old sui generis media reporter and all-around cultural genius for The New York Times.
I knew him only slightly via email exchanges, mostly from a long time ago during his time at Inside.com, but still thought of him as a friend (as did almost everyone inside and outside his orbit.) I hate the word “guru,” but Carr was an absolute wizard about the rise of social media and Internet privacy. Just hours before his collapse in the Times newsroom, he had tweeted about a sold-out panel discussion he’d moderated that evening with the makers of an Oscar-nominated documentary about Edward Snowden and Snowden himself (via Skype). And Carr’s death was announced by an inadvertent tweet from someone in the Times building.
He joked that he had a “face for radio.” But Carr had clear eyes, and a unique voice, in every sense. In a literal way, he spoke in a strange gravelly rasp, with an accent heavy on the flat vowels of the Midwest. And figuratively, he had an unequaled ability for uncovering media muck in the by-now-ancient shoe-leather-detective sense. He also had the rigor, experience, and ethics to make the story fair.
Carr had certainly suffered some unthinkable lows in his own life, and had more compassion than your average reporter bear. He even reported on his own junkie history in his best-selling memoir “The Night of the Gun,” with the same mix of grit, wit, and tenacity that marked everything he did.
As if to add to all the irony, Carr’s sudden death seemed particularly unbelievable after Carr had “owned” the Brian Williams story all week. He was the perfect writer to offer his own definitive take about Williams’ Shakespearean fall from grace. Indeed, his words on the subject were still floating around in the air and on the Net.
So what were the odds that Carr and Simon would die one night apart, at the same New York City hospital, both so suddenly? That part of the story reminds us most of our own mortality, and what we can control, and what we can’t.
The single bit of congratulations this week goes to Jon Stewart, who seemed especially energized in a way that he hadn’t been for several years in absolutely nailing the Brian Williams story. Obviously, Williams has been a ratings-gathering guest many times at Stewart’s desk. And Stewart’s piece started with the usual outrage, which turned into blame for the entire mainstream media’s lies about Iraq. Brian Williams is the only one who got punished, was the takeaway. In the end, Stewart said, it’s all “Al Capone’s vault.”
He was right. To me, that thought made the future of all media seem especially depressing.
Yet these deaths also showed what sheer hard work and an understanding of humanity can do. In the big picture, it’s less about who sits in what chair, and more about getting at the truth -- and not sabotaging ourselves -- while we still have the chance to do it.