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Beloved writer, reporter, and editor David Carr died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 58. Before joining the New York Times, where he wrote about media and culture, Carr was the editor of Washington City Paper from 1995 to 2000.
I won’t try to explain Carr’s impact on City Paper and journalism as a whole, as our current editor Mike Madden already did. Instead, I’ll share some of Carr’s work from his time at this D.C. alt-weekly pulled from the online archives.
Carr’s criticism of the Washington Post became some of his most memorable City Paper work (he once called columnist Tony Kornheiser “the Korndog” and “Kornholio”). But he gave credit where it was deserved, like in 1999’s “Beating Guns Into Hardware,” in which he discusses the paper’s Pulitzer win while providing one of the most accurate descriptions of a journalist ever seen in print.
Journalists are the most craven recognition freaks on the planet. We make our mistakes in public because we want our innermost thoughts pasted on the refrigerator of American consciousness.
And then there is always the slim, but exquisite, possibility that there may be a lovely prize down the road—readers are just one more externality on the way to the judging panels. But recognition can be elusive. Right around Pulitzer time every year, the same refrain bounces around every newsroom: Prizes don’t mean jack. Those juries are all politics. The best stuff never gets picked. After all, how could they be fair if they didn’t choose us?
Unless they win. After a long dry spell in which the Pulitzer Prize process was the subject of much internal keening, the Washington Post came up gold-plated in this year’s sweepstakes. Last Monday, the Post landed the public service award for a massive series on D.C. police shootings that revealed that local cops had grown reckless enough to make Wyatt Earp seem gun-shy.
The biting wit that endeared Carr to readers is present in an opener for a 1997 issue on “boss-speak”:
You may not have met him during the selection process because he was so busy advancing his plot to take over the world that he couldn’t waste time feigning interest in you. Or the person in charge of interns may have made a strategic decision to keep him out of sight so as not to scare off good prospects.
If the boss doesn’t approach you in the first few days, don’t worry, he’ll be pretty easy to spot. When the boss is in the middle of the room blowbagging about some matter of no consequence, all the employees will be absolutely rapt, jackknifing with glee at his every utterance. When the boss is not around, he will be referred to generically as “that asshole.”
At the time of his death, Carr was arguably the best media critic working. He had the ability to take a media story, like the firing of New Republic plagiarist Ruth Shalit, and turn it into a piece that could engage any reader. Here’s how a 1999 piece on Shalit begins:
She is sorry, if you want to know.
Sorry she plagiarized in the first place. Sorry she got nailed. And sorry she ended up in the same sentence as infamous fiction writer Stephen Glass. Ruth Shalit is mad as hell about that.
And you should know that the former New Republic writer is happy to have kissed off Washington and found a job as an account planner at a British-inflected ad agency in New York.
Finally, I will leave you with Carr’s tongue-in-cheek preview of the year 2000, in which he skewers every major media organization and figure in D.C.
10 Best Places to Get Those Buns Tucked
Those lifestyle savants at the Washingtonian will come up with yet another hardy perennial. Look for a rear-view shot of lots of spandex-clad bouncing butts making their way around the Tidal Basin.
You can search through the archives here.
Screen shot from Page One