Loving other people is clearly important for morality. But sometimes hating yourself is too.

June 29, 2004

I’ve always found something particularly bracing and beautiful in essays that manage to be simultaneously self-righteous and self-flagellating. Via Atrios, I see an especially timely example of such an essay: “Shoveling Coal for Satan,” Matt Taibbi’s gorgeously aggrieved screed against himself and his pundit peers (most notably Christopher Hitchens) that appears in this week’s issue of The New York Press.

Especially memorable is Taibbi’s peroration:

One friend I know describes working in the media as shoveling coal for Satan. That’s about right. A worker in a tampon factory has dignity: He just uses his sweat to make a product, a useful product at that, and doesn’t lie to himself about what he does. In this business we make commodities for sale and, for the benefit of our consciences and our egos, we call them ideas and truth. And then we go on the lecture circuit. But in 99 cases out of 100, the public has more to learn about humanity from the guy who makes tampons.

I’m off on this tangent because I’m enraged by the numerous attempts at verbose, pseudoliterary, “nuanced” criticism of Moore this week by the learned priests of our business. (And no, I’m not overlooking this newspaper.) Michael Moore may be an ass, and impossible to like as a public figure, and a little loose with the facts, and greedy, and a shameless panderer. But he wouldn’t be necessary if even one percent of the rest of us had any balls at all.

If even one reporter had stood up during a pre-Iraq Bush press conference last year and shouted, “Bullshit!” it might have made a difference.

If even one network, instead of cheerily re-broadcasting Pentagon-generated aerial bomb footage, had risked its access to the government by saying to the Bush administration, “We’re not covering the war unless we can shoot anything we want, without restrictions,” that might have made a difference. It might have made this war look like what it is—pointless death and carnage that would have scared away every advertiser in the country—rather than a big fucking football game that you can sell Coke and Pepsi and Scott’s Fertilizer to.

Where are the articles about the cowardice of those people? Hitchens in his piece accuses Moore of errors by omission: How come he isn’t writing about the CNN producers who every day show us gung-ho Army desert rats instead of legless malcontents in the early stages of a lifelong morphine addiction?

Yeah, well, we don’t write about those people, because they’re just doing their jobs, whatever that means. For some reason, we in the media can forgive that. We just can’t forgive it when someone does our jobs for us. Say what you want about Moore, but he picked himself up and did something, something approximating the role journalism is supposed to play. The rest of us—let’s face it—are just souped-up shoe salesmen with lit degrees. Who should shut their mouths in the presence of real people.

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