Posted on | April 6, 2012 | 17 Comments
In 2008, Moe Tkacik was hailed as a ‘literary it girl.’
“I know of one wretched hack who lists ‘Thought Leader’ as his occupation on his Twitter profile; he recently scored a fellowship with the American Enterprise Institute.”
— Moe Tkacik, The Baffler No. 19
Sometimes there is nothing so wonderfully educational as seeing someone else react badly to a problem you have yourself encountered and, perhaps, handled in less than an exemplary manner.
Being both ambitious and a journalist is generally a formula for bitter disappointment. No matter how talented and hard-working you may be, your ambitions will almost always exceed your achievements. The root problem, of course, is that many talented people share similar ambitions, and there are only so many hours in a day in which you can attempt to out-work them. Furthermore, there are factors other than talent and hard work involved in the processes by which career opportunities are allotted, and the people in charge of these processes are not obligated to give a damn whether their choices are “fair” — the scare-quotes necessitated by the impossibility of defining fairness.
OK, so . . .
If Maureen “Moe” Tkacik is a writer whose name rings a bell, that may be because in December 2010 she rather famously got fired (or resigned) from the Washington City Paper after she made the unilateral decision to publish the names of the two Swedish women who had accused Wikileaks founder Julian Assange of rape.
That made Moe the object of feminist wrath, which called her to the attention of Donald Douglas at American Power, which in turn led me to enter the battle in Moe Tkacik’s defense: Whenever any woman is under attack by feminists, I figure she must be a good woman.
Once that controversy subsided, I lost track of Moe’s doings, until someone called to my attention this article she had published in The Baffler, a left-wing journal that publishes people like Thomas Frank, Matt Taibbi and Barbara Ehrenreich.
Moe’s article is a 5,400-word laser-guided weapon of journalistic destruction targeted at The Atlantic, most especially the magazine’s publisher, David Bradley. It includes some fascinating history, as well as a vicious jab at David Weigel as a “pimply blogger.”
What Moe’s article does not contain, however, is a disclaimer.
According to at least one source close to The Atlantic, Moe Tkacik once applied for a job at the magazine — and didn’t get it.
So while it is said that some people burn their career bridges behind them, Moe evidently decided to nuke that particular bridge.
Was this a wise decision? I dunno. Applying crude math to a 2008 item that describes her as having been an undergraduate at Penn in the late 1990s, Moe is in her mid-30s and has paid her dues, writing for the Wall Street Journal and other publications before joining the Nick Denton Online Sweatshop Content Factory (i.e., Gawker Media) about five years ago. She is therefore at that awkward stage of her career where she is no longer a Promising Young Talent, but rather an Experienced Journalist Who Hasn’t Written a Bestselling Book Yet.
Thank God I spent a decade in the newspaper business before I had access to this “Internet” thing, or I might have gotten messed up on that same kind of hyper-ambition trip. I didn’t make it to the Big Leagues until 1997, at which time I was a 38-year-old married father of three and was quite frankly grateful merely to be in the Big Leagues. While my ambitions were lofty — perhaps even to become a “public intellectual” at some point — I never harbored any illusion that my upward ascent would be swift or easy. Having worked hard to get as far as I had, I knew I’d have to work even harder to get any farther.
My perspective on Moe’s nuke-the-bridge career tactic is therefore prejudiced by the fact that, when I was her age, I was making about $20,000 a year as an assistant editor at the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune.
Moe’s evident decision to cast her lot with the anti-capitalist crowd — I mean, c’mon, Barbara Ehrenreich? — might bring her opportunities she would not have otherwise had, without being what you’d call a really good career move. At some level, I can relate to Moe’s plight: She has recognized that there are people who play the role of Status Arbiters, whose favor must be curried if one wishes to advance within whatever sphere of influence where the Arbiters wield influence.
Moe describes them as “Omniscient Gentlemen” and, if what my source says is correct, her resentment of them is quite personal.
Well, OK, fine. But it’s a free country, and there’s a whole world out there where David Bradley has no real influence. And in offering that advice to Moe Tkacik, I realize I’m talking to myself, eh?
Anyway, Moe’s article is worth reading, if only because of what she tells us about the people who hold the hoops through which ambitious journalists are expected to jump. Ambition is a cruel master.