David Carr, 'New York Times' Media Critic, Dies At 58
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
American journalism has lost one of its greatest critics and defenders. New York Times media critic David Carr died last night after collapsing in the newsroom. He was 58 years old. In his columns, Carr expertly dissected media as an industry, as entertainment and as a calling. And he had perhaps the most unusual life history of any journalist in the paper's history. NPR's David Folkenflik knew Carr, and joins us now from our bureau in New York. Good morning.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now, David Carr was not one of those classic figures who came up as a copy boy at the Times. He began at alternative weeklies in Minnesota, where he was from, and Washington, D.C. What kind of a voice did he bring to the pages of the Times?
FOLKENFLIK: You know, David wrote something like he talked in person. He was gruff; he was textured; he was wildly profane in private and sort of gleefully at times slightly transgressive in the pages of the Times and could be quite prickly when he felt that his beloved Times or the right principles of journalism were under assault.
At the same time, he's also an incredibly generous colleague, a mentor to many reporters. At once sophisticated, textured and yet, at the same time, a guy who reveled in low-culture and popular culture, as well as in the high-minded fare that you might find most celebrated in the pages of the Sunday Times book review, for example.
MONTAGNE: Well, for you, what stories stand out if you want to think of a David Carr classic?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, there are a couple of them. First, I'd say that, you know, the Times turned to David, among others, when it had to look at its own shortcomings - the Jayson Blair story, where there were dozens of articles fabricated or plagiarized. When they finally did an accounting of the newspaper's failures on weapons of mass destruction, the lead-up to the Iraq War and the question of former reporter Judy Miller, there was a Tribune Company takedown that was all David - classic David - where it exposed the fraternity culture that had seized the corporate leadership there, and he really took it down. And then there was a piece he did on Vice. You know, the new media sort of a laddie magazine turned a multiplatform empire. And there's a clip in a documentary called "Page One," where you see him talking to the CEO of Vice, Shane Smith, and some of the other officials there.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "PAGE ONE")
SHANE SMITH: The New York Times, meanwhile, was writing about surfing. And I'm sitting there going you know what, I'm not going to talk about surfing. I'm going to talk about cannibalism because that [expletive] me up.
DAVID CARR: Just a sec, timeout. Before you ever went there...
CARR: ...We've had reporters there, reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a [expletive] safari helmet and looked at some...
CARR: ...Doesn't give you the right to insult what we do, so continue.
SMITH: I'm just saying that I'm not...
SMITH: ...A journalist. I'm not there to report.
FOLKENFLIK: Obviously, David Carr there saying at the end. And he revisited that column. To his credit, he came back, wrote another and said you know what, I missed something vital about Vice. They were doing old-fashioned journalism in a new way for a new audience. And I admired his willingness to go back and do that again.
MONTAGNE: Right, and hearing there his wonderful, gravelly voice, so touching. Let me just ask you - he wrote of his troubled personal history. I think it's worth mentioning that to say - to talk about how that might have affected his journalism.
FOLKENFLIK: Right. Here was a guy who wrote a memoir acknowledging he had been a crack addict. He had been - at times dealt cocaine. He had been abusive toward women. And that really affected him in two ways. One, it gave him an understanding of the shortcomings of the human condition. And also at times, it gave him an understanding of shortcomings of human memory. He went back and re-reported it and found out a lot of things he had clung to as things he had done wrong over the years had played out differently than he remembered it.
MONTAGNE: And, David Folkenflik, the news of David Carr's death comes on the heels of a devastating week for the news business.
FOLKENFLIK: It's been a terrible stretch. Not only has there been the exposure that Brian Williams, the chief anchor of NBC News, had told stories on the air that were not true, but also Bob Simon, you know, much respected veteran war correspondent, foreign correspondent, for CBS, died just a day before in the same hospital in which David Carr died after collapsing in the New York Times newsroom. I think it reminds you that beneath the algorithms, for all of the advances in digital technology, social media platforms, there beats a human heart that produces at its best the lifeblood of this very vital profession that Americans take so seriously.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik, speaking about New York Times columnist David Carr, who died suddenly yesterday. He was 58 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.