The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

James Wolcott: ‘Those Sort of People’

Posted on | March 13, 2011 | 21 Comments

When you turn over a rock, you expect to find creepy-crawly things, but still sometimes …

“I don’t think Felker had any way of knowing what was going to happen. Christgau, Goldstein … it was those sort of people who really formed the core of politicizing the Voice and really pushing its cultural coverage to the hard left.”
James Wolcott, interviewed by Russ Smith and John Strausbaugh, New York Press, April 24, 2001

Music critics Robert Christau and Richard Goldstein are rather curious targets for Wolcott, now a washed-up TV critic moonlighting as … well, what, exactly?

Never mind. I’m genuinely perplexed by that Wolcott interview and his out-of-sync reference to legendary magazine editor Clay Felker. While Christgau was re-hired as music editor by Felker in 1974 — after Christgau’s two-year stint at Newsday — Goldstein had been writing continuously for the Voice since 1966. Wolcott joined the Voice in 1972, the same year Christgau left for Newsday, and when Goldstein had already been writing there for more than five years.

Yet, name-out-of-the-hat, Goldstein gets lumped in with Christgau in the “those sort of people” category, responsible for “politicizing” the Voice toward the hard Left.

A couple of music critics had such tremendous influence?

People more familiar with the era may be able to explain that. At any rate, Wolcott left the Voice in 1982 — ousted by the weekly’s “politburo,” we are told — and, if this Smith/Strausbaugh interview is any indication, he was in early 2001 somewhat pro-Bush, or at least not anti-Bush.

What happened to Wolcott? I only ask this because yesterday afternoon he lashed out at Little Miss Attila and invoked my name in the process. This didn’t even make a blip on my SiteMeter, however, and it wasn’t until Attila e-mailed me her reply to Wolcott that I even knew Wolcott had mentioned me. (Attila and I had been playing blogsopheric badminton with “feminism” for a shuttlecock.) And the really strange thing is that the seeming trigger of Wolcott’s lashing-out was a post in which Attila promoted Dan Collins’ fundraiser.

Whisky Tango Foxtrot?

To explain, for the benefit of Mr. Wolcott: Independent bloggers usually have full-time day jobs as well. However, sometimes a blogger will make the calculation that he can expand his online activity into a full-time profession. Between ads and Amazon Associates sales, maybe some freelance writing and editing, occasional consulting on the side . . .

An enormous gamble, really, and a difficult career calculus. A big part of the problem is that traffic projections don’t always extrapolate in a linear manner. You may go from an insignificant speck on the Internet to a slightly larger dot — from zero readers to 500 or 1,000 a day — in the span of a few months, then mentally project that growth forward to imagine a quarter-million a month, only to hit a wall when you get halfway there.

Then there is the devilish business of monetizing your traffic.

Ever since the bottom dropped out of online advertising about four years ago, turning Internet eyeballs into cash money has been The Big Discouragement of all online content providers.

It ain’t just blogs that are hurting. AOL bought HuffPo (and paid waaaaay too much) in a desperate bid to find some way to become profitable as a content provider.

Well, Mr. Wolcott, what about “rattling the tin cup,” as you put it? Nobody wants to do that, if they can avoid it, but I try not to think of it as begging for alms. Rather, it’s reader-supported journalism, a fee-for-service arrangement with the readers.

In effect, this is “eliminating the middleman” — as the discounters like to boast — by giving the reader factory-direct journalism. No publisher, no editor, just me and the readers. If they think what I’m doing is especially worthwhile, they hit the tip jar.

Readers have sent me to Kentucky, New York, Alabama, Florida, Las Vegas (the horror of rattling the tip jar for cab fare after my hot streak at the roulette table turned disastrously cold) and so many other places. Pasadena for the BCS Championship? Yeah, that was cool. All the way to Alaska for the Miller-Murkowski GOP primary recount? Probably even cooler, considering that I bought a one-way ticket not knowing if I’d get the money to fly back home.

Hell, readers paid for my hotel room in Daytona, so I could have somewhere to write a magazine article on an 18-hour deadline!

If only that deer hadn’t attacked my KIA . . . but no sense crying over wrecked sedans, really.

The tip-jar hitters give generously and just a couple rattles the other day brought contributions from Mike in El Segundo, Jeff in Walla Walla and Dean in Alaska. Most readers give nothing, but I’m still way behind on my thank-you notes to all the ones who do. (Unthanked donors, feel free to bitch me out in the comments. I’m sincerely grateful, just terribly disorganized.)

I pull my weight, Mr. Wolcott. I give value for the dollar, or I never would have gotten this far.

And if the proposition were put to me as a wager, sir, I’d bet you’re not anywhere close to pulling your weight for Condé Nast. You’re deadwood on the masthead, some sort of a loss leader or something, but certainly no must-read attraction that makes people rush to the newsstand and grab a copy of Vanity Fair.

As for your online activity: Have you ever written anything that’s been linked by the Drudge Report, Mr. Wolcott?

Once I had an item at The American Spectator that got linked at Drudge — it crashed the site and they had to order up extra server capacity to handle the traffic. Not my first Drudge hit, and I certainly hope it won’t be my last, but my point is that online journalism is dependent on traffic, and you’re not carrying your weight. Tina Brown’s not waving around cash to lure James Wolcott over to the Daily Beast, and Arianna Huffington’s not begging you to write for her, either, is she?

You’re a mere critic in a reporter’s world, sir, and your tastes are not interesting. Let anyone scroll through your VF blog and see if you’ve written anything as useful or entertaining in the past few days as the output in a comparable period from, inter alia, Jeff Goldstein.

Yeah, I said it: Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom.

Because just a few hours ago, Jeff unleashed an 8.9 nuclear tsunami rant that might devastate entire continents.

James Wolcott? He’s taken a cheap shot at Little Miss Attila and blogged about riding a bus. (No, I’m not kidding.) Oh, for the good old days when we only heard from Wolcott once a year when Lileks delivered the traditional Christmas fisking! And when the Insta-response to the beloved bird blogger was: “Don’t feed the troll.”

One of these days, maybe one day sooner than anyone now suspects, somebody in the executive suites at Condé Nast is going to take a cold look at the bottom line and say: “What are we paying this third-rate imitation of Frank Rich? Whatever it is, he’s not worth it.”


And you’ll be ranting about “those sort of people” again, Mr. Wolcott. Only there’ll be no one to listen. Hell, they’re not even listening now. If you had written anything worth reading lately, you wouldn’t have felt the need to lash out at Attila, would you?


UPDATE: Dan Collins has warm words for Mr. Wolcott, and in the comments below, I’m reminded that a thank-you note is waaaay overdue for Jerry Wilson of Goldfish & Clowns.

UPDATE II; Thanks to commenter Jeff for this trip via the Wayback Machine to Wolcott in September 2004:

I root for hurricanes. When, courtesy of the Weather Channel, I see one forming in the ocean off the coast of Africa, I find myself longing for it to become big and strong — Mother Nature’s fist of fury, Gaia’s stern rebuke. Considering the havoc mankind has wreaked upon nature with deforesting, stripmining, and the destruction of animal habitat, it only seems fair that nature get some of its own back and teach us that there are forces greater than our own.

Bet they love you down in New Orleans, don’t they, Jimmy?

UPDATE III: In the comments, Jeff G. links his pimp-slapping of Wolcott from April 2009, back when Wolcott was confidently asserting that this so-called “Tea Party” rabble would never amount to much. Less than two weeks later, Wolcott proclaimed “the Specter defection . . . a disaster” for the GOP. Two subsequent facts:

1. GOP +63 House seats.
2. U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)

Facts are stubborn things.


Comments are closed.