The Other McCain

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

Moe Tkacik Nukes the Bridge

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.


17 Responses to “Moe Tkacik Nukes the Bridge”

  1. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    April 6th, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

    It is an interesting article.  But I doubt she is helping her career with this.  Too bad because she has talent.  

  2. robertstacymccain
    April 6th, 2012 @ 10:38 pm

    Well, as I recently explained to some young people, you reach a point in a successful journalism career where you don’t apply for jobs, but rather are occasionally queried about possible opportunities.

    If you’ve been following this blog a while, you may remember the “Culture 11” episode: I knew they were fucked as soon as I found out (a) David Kuo was running it and (b) they hadn’t gotten in touch with me until a newly-hired junior editor sent me a solicitation for freelance contributions. There are some people who still don’t understand what was wrong with that, but it would take too long to explain it.

  3. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    April 7th, 2012 @ 12:11 am

    I do remember David Kuo.  

    Here is Andrew Sullivan discussing the demise of Culture 11…

    But the loss of Culture 11 is, in my view, far worse than 14 lost jobs. It represented, at its best, a new and honest start for a thinking young conservatism, forged by a new generation of writers who, for the most part, were unafraid to think freshly – and showed up their elders by their courage and curiosity. I have a feeling that Culture 11 will one be remembered in the same way that Seven Days, the briefly brilliant New York City magazine that Adam Moss edited in the late 80s, is now remembered. One day, a conservative journal will emerge that is able to break from the stifling, clammy orthodoxy of today’s post-Buckley National Review and the often unhinged neocon catechism of the Weekly Standard. When it does, its editors will be able to look back and say that Culture 11 opened up the frontier.On a personal note, David Kuo has been a close and faithful friend in faith, Conor Friedersdorf an alum the Dish is very proud of, and Poulos and Suderman never failed to help jog a thought into place or cut an idea down to size. Respect.

  4. robertstacymccain
    April 7th, 2012 @ 1:54 am

    Poulos is a young academic of tremendous promise. Suderman is an excllent writer who has done good work for reason. Friedersdorf — well, don’t get me started. Conor suffers from an excess of Seriousness with a capital-S.

    The fact that Sully considers Kuo “a close and faithful friend” is about the worst job recommendation possible, I’d say. It’s like being praised by Charles Manson.

  5. Adjoran
    April 7th, 2012 @ 2:09 am

    She certainly doesn’t seem to be afraid of saying what she thinks.

    I must wonder, too, how much influence anyone rooted in the ownership and management of legacy media will have on careers in the digital age going forward.  Sure, at one time The Atlantic was  an opinion leader among the elite, but the political world has changed at least as much as the journalistic world. 

    Whatever bipartisan rules and bonds existed have largely been destroyed.  Anyone on either side who takes any serious steps toward working across party lines is immediately attacked by his own partisans. 

    We probably could not have won two World Wars and the Cold War without such arrangements, but the parties have realigned to the point where it’s just impossible.  There aren’t any remaining conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans and moderates in both parties are now treated with suspicion and disdain.

    So the Bradleys and Sulzbergers and the rest have lost any target audience to influence on policy matters, and will be sharply challenged in the coming years just to avoid losing their shirts as their 20th Century models collapse into the muck.  They will scarcely have the time to worry about the careers of their critics as they scramble to escape with all the treasure they can.

  6. K-Bob
    April 7th, 2012 @ 2:51 am

     Or some terrorist, like Bill Ayers.

    (Of course, that diminishes your point, so I denounce myself for excessive jackassery.  But that’s the first thing I thought of when I read that last line there.)

  7. K-Bob
    April 7th, 2012 @ 3:15 am

    OK, I made it through the first third of the article.  Her writing style is kind of bumpy.  A cool twist of phrase is always better than excessive “word choice.”

    Hmmm.  I get it.  The prose settles down in the next chunk.  Now it’s readable.  I thought journos were taught to make the first few paragraphs as readable as possible.

    Whoops.  Now it’s jumping all over the place.  I’m not going to work to read the piece.  Time to skim.

    The Atlantic is a CIA front? That reminds me of the bit from Heinlien’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, where the folks trying to lead the revolution create a fake meeting, where all the “yammerheads” spout off.  That way the “real” meeting can happen after, and real work gets done.  The Atlantic has always looked like intellectual-yammerhead central, to me.

    Tkacik definitely nuked the sucker.  But so did Elvis Costello when he wrote Radio Radio.

  8. K-Bob
    April 7th, 2012 @ 3:23 am

     The parallels with the music bidnezz are hitting hard on the old-school rags.  Nowdays, the byline is the brand.

    When music buyers (usually younger folks) hear something they like on the radio, they jump on  iTunes or Amazon MP3, and buy that tune on their phone, where they also listen to music.  That means the Billboard charts and Grammys have lost all their clout in controlling the music market.  Apple doesn’t care where your song charted. It only cares that they can serve it for a buck.

    This also means the Record Companies are still losing money on all but the highest of high-end acts.   So why is Frank Rich still getting paid obscene amounts of money to drool out his tripe for the Times?  The real writing is on the wall.

  9. Adjoran
    April 7th, 2012 @ 6:48 am

     Rich was a great theater critic, which is defined as being an intolerable asshole who frightens all the right people.  He was promoted into politics as a reward for his pomposity. 

    The writing on the bathroom wall is usually better prose, and always conveys more wisdom.

  10. Adjoran
    April 7th, 2012 @ 7:00 am

     Well,  there goes your shot at being praised by Manson.

    Conor Friedersdorf never realized that his entire existence is just a Tim Conway caricature that just wasn’t funny enough to present publicly.  So he needs to hurry to bring out his new signature fragrance, “Vapid,” before the masters are recalled.

  11. DaveO
    April 7th, 2012 @ 10:25 am

    More to the point: is she single? And local to northern Virginia? I nominate her for Rule 5 linkery!

  12. ThePaganTemple
    April 7th, 2012 @ 11:30 am

     Or maybe he was promoted into politics at the behest of those who wanted him out of the theater.

  13. ThePaganTemple
    April 7th, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

    She also writes for Jezebel and Gawker, or did anyway. So if anything she’s more than likely just another example of what happens when the left eat their own. Since they abort their own, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

  14. K-Bob
    April 8th, 2012 @ 12:05 am

    BTW, I wrote that like a Smitty post. Very condensed, but implies everything when you think about it.

    For example, the astute reader would wonder if those charts I referenced still influence radio play. Then the whole, “how do you get radio play nowdays” thing kicks in, followed by thinking about Apple and Amazon, and their influence on both sales numbers and ranking (like how Amazon clobbered the NYT book ranking because Amazon can tell us about pre-orders).

    In my defense, I just didn’t want a Stacy-sized “article” crammed into the comment box. So I got all terse, and stuff. Which hurts.

  15. Bernecky
    April 9th, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

    She strikes me as someone to whom I could say the following.

    Keith Olbermann’s dismissal from Current isn’t a loss if Socks Spitzer can replace him. (Olbermann should’ve trusted the masseuse; Tipper did.)

    I never did learn why Slate hired the unemployed Eliot Spitzer rather than his wife. What reason had the person who offered him the job to believe that the former governor would be more forthcoming with him than he had been, with his own wife?

    Where were the women of Slate on this.  What were they doing when the question of the financial well-being of the Spitzer family arose? 

  16. Bernecky
    April 9th, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

    “There aren’t any remaining conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans.”

    There are such citizens.  Lots of them.  Simply, they aren’t given a voice because they don’t lend themselves to advancing the careers of journalists.

  17. Robert Birnbaum
    April 10th, 2012 @ 10:44 am

    The reference to Barbara Ehrenreich was confusing—the point being?