One of the precious few things that journalists can agree on these days is David Carr. The New York Times media columnist, who died at age 58 on Thursday, was revered for his insight, for his generosity, and for his puritanical rejection of bullshit in any form. That last trait, a high value in journalism that is nonetheless never quite in sufficient supply, was something that always came through in his work. And perhaps it had been compounded by his recovery from addiction, which seemed to leave him a bit more self-aware and a bit less prone to self-indulgence than the rest of us.
In either case, it is one of the essential truths of David Carr and his work that he just kept it fucking real in a way that few else did. That came through, comically and famously, in this all-too-short scene from Page One, a 2011 documentary on the New York Times' struggles through the Internet's disruption of the industry.
Carr is interviewing three of the founders of Vice, which had grown from a grungy Brooklyn magazine to a multi-media giant with an HBO show. One of them, Shane Smith, had taken some shots at the Times, saying separately, "Most of the time when the mainstream media reports on something, it never tells the whole story."
Smith later took another shot at the Times, implying that Vice's coverage of Liberia was superior. Carr's retort has since become a bit famous:
"Before you ever went there, we've had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a fuckin' safari helmet and looked at some poop doesn't give you the right to insult what we do."
This scene, then, isn't just about a grouchy columnist scolding some young upstarts. It's about the clash between old and new media, between disruptor and disrupted, and Carr sticking up for the value and values of old-school journalism in the face of an industry that sometimes seemed to reject both.
On a simpler level, though, it's also just a delight to watch Carr's offbeat, dyspeptic style, which could be as charming as it was baffling.