Where Have All the Manly Journalists Gone?

Ernest Hemingway. Ernie Pyle. Jack London. Christopher Hitchens.

Whatever happened to journalism as a manly profession?

While newspapers and magazines have always attracted many types of writers, the most notable journalists often gained fame and recognition through their bravery in the face of extreme conditions. Hemingway and Pyle were war veterans. Hunter Thompson took on the Hell’s Angels and paid for it with a severe beating. Christopher Hitchens earned his scars through decades of dangerous stories and by challenging the orthodoxies of the culture.

Somehow names like Dana Milbank, Christopher Hayes, and Don Lemon don’t equally inspire.

My father was a writer and editor for National Geographic for thirty years, from roughly 1960 to 1990. From him I got my earliest impression of what a journalist did. A journalist—like a good male novelist—was a man who would go away for several months on a story assignment, usually to exotic-sounding places: Borneo, Australia, Thailand, the North Pole. He would have adventures and, if he was single, might even experience a James Bond-like liaison with a lady or two. Dad would return home tanned, sweaty, sometimes sick and disheveled. And the stories! Almost capsizing in the Caribbean while searching for the spot where Columbus landed in the New World; being chased by government censors for taking pictures in the old Soviet Union; contracting a life-threatening fever in Africa after being warned by a medicine man to not take anything out of the country.

There was an intense physicality to my father’s job; journalism was a job of grit and hard effort, like boxing. There was also a correlation between the roughness of the reporter’s life and the quality of his work. Being in danger, or even knowing that someone you wrote about might want to confront you physically, made you care about honor and accuracy. Jack London, author of Call of the Wild, was a hard-drinking oyster pirate and world traveler who risked his life reporting on the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Russell Baker knew the dirty Depression-era streets of New York. Eric Sevareid of CBS got his start reporting World War II from Europe, but that was only the beginning of his career of derring-do. As the New York Times obituary of Sevareid noted in 1992, “His was an adventurous life, which included a harrowing month among headhunters in the Burmese jungles. That was in 1943, after the plane in which he was riding developed engine trouble as it was flying over the Himalayas from India to China. Mr. Sevareid and 19 others had to bail out on the India-Burma border but made it out of the jungle on foot.”

Ernest Hemingway began as a journalist, and his experience in the First World War gave his work an introspective and poetic quality, as well as a hunger for pursuing the truth. There were no Twitter wars, with their childish resentment and petty back and forth of gotchas and ad hominem attacks. If two journalists had a beef with each other they dealt with it mano a mano.

My father died in 1996. One year earlier Bill Gates wrote a memo outlining “The Coming Internet Tidal Wave.” Increasingly journalism didn’t require street smarts or derring-do; it often didn’t require journalists to leave their desks at all. Anyone with a blog could set himself up as an authority. In many ways this has been a very good thing, an explosion of writing and commentary that has created an army of citizen journalists who can write about whatever they want and can instantly fact-check the mainstream media.

And yet, journalism hasn’t improved. In 2001 Slate, the liberal pioneer of digital journalism, published an article about “Monkeyfishing” by a man named Jay Forman. Forman wrote that monkeyfishing was a new sport popular in the Florida Keys, where people used fruit as bait and attempted to catch monkeys like fish. The story was instantly debunked, although in acknowledging the error, Jack Shafer, the Slate editor who published the story, argued that there was no way for an editor to beat a good liar.

Is that true? I can’t imagine my father, or Tom Wolfe, or Norman Mailer falling for “Monkeyfishing.” These were men who had common sense, and what Mailer called “a good BS detector.” They had been fishing for real, had been drunk and gotten into fights, had slept with women, hunted sources, and dodged soldiers in hostile countries. They knew the world. Dad would have laughed out loud if presented with a story about fishing for monkeys.

In 2015 the way to gain prominence as a reporter is to either embrace and reenforce the politically correct diktats of the mainstream media, or, if you’re a conservative, spend your time chewing over the news looking for mistakes and bias. Discipline, the ability to change one’s mind and learn, depth of research and reporting, a challenging period of apprenticeship—none of these skills are needed or valued anymore. A journalist just has to go to the right schools, and have the right opinions and he’s given a cubicle, a computer, and access to an audience.

Without old-fashioned street smarts, however, and without a little of the roughing up that makes him both hungry for the truth and humble, the budding journalist is more likely to embarrass himself than to break news.

In March 2012 the faculty at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, together with an Honorary Committee of alumni, selected the “100 Outstanding Journalists in the United States in the Last 100 Years.” Some of the notables:

James Agee, Russell Baker, James Baldwin, Ben Bradlee, David Halberstam, Pete Hamill, Ernest Hemingway, H.L. Mencken, Gordon Parks, Ernie Pyle

In April 2015, the social analytics firm Stat Social released a list of “the most influential journalists on Twitter.” Among the top thirty-five:

Anderson Cooper, George Stephanopoulos, Ben Smith, Chuck Todd, Brian Seltzer, Nate Silver, Christopher Hayes, Dave Weigel, Matt Yglesias, Don Lemon

The NYU list includes men who faced real danger and often spoke uncomfortable truths—even about themselves. As for the Twitter list—well, it’s not exactly the cast of 300, is it?  Every year a small number of journalists will die trying to get to the story (in recent years few of those have been from the U.S) as Ernie Pyle did while covering the conflict in the Pacific during WWII. And while we still have war correspondent and The Perfect Storm author Sebastian Junger, he is less representative of the whole and more like the nearly extinct white rhino of journalism.

“Never mistake motion for action,” Hemingway once said, and that advice is as compelling today as it was in his time. Furiously tapping out Twitter ripostes and predictable opinions from the comfort of their cubicles, most of today’s journalists are extremely careful to avoid any encounter that might threaten their physical wellbeing or promote an idea that might challenge mainstream orthodoxy. But they shouldn’t be. Because it is only in those encounters that deeper truths—and bravery and self-reliance—can emerge.

 

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  • George Von Herman

    Hitchens?

  • sez-who

    I’d guess Michael Totten falls into the manly journalist category. Certainly, he goes places and does things – and writes things – other journalists have neither the gumption nor honest curiousity to do.

    Maybe James O’Keefe as well? O’Keefe does some gutsy things, imo.

  • elfaygo

    In my day, every daily newspapers had bad-asses on the police beat who took plenty of risks for a story. Alas, those reporting on the cop shop today tend to be more like cupcakes.

  • tim hansen

    Journalist today are paid too much and have no working class roots. Probably have never held a 2×4.

  • Nate Whilk

    in acknowledging the error, Jack Shafer, the Slate editor who published the story, argued that there was no way for an editor to beat a good liar. Is that true?

    Of course not, and he shows himself to be a liar.

    “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.” –Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Norvell (June 11, 1807)

    Knoll’s Law of Media Accuracy: Everything you read in the newspapers is absolutely true except for the rare story of which you happen to have firsthand knowledge. –Erwin Knoll, editor, “The Progressive”

    “Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. …I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.” –George Orwell, “Looking Back on the Spanish War” (1943)

    “Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward. They ain’t annything it don’t turn its hand to fr’m explainin’ th’ docthrine iv thransubstantiation to composin’ saleratus biskit.” –Finley Peter Dunne, “Newspaper Publicity” in “Observations by Mr. Dooley” (1902)

  • ScottishRed

    There are still a few real men out there reporting. Michael Yon did some outstanding work in Iraq and Afghanistan embedded with the troops.

  • 1984, the Republic of the Philippines.
    I was there, I saw small crowds of timid protesters being protected by the police.
    A million people in Manila, hundreds being killed by the police, the city wracked by the worst violence since WWII?
    Fiction, all of it.
    After Marcos told his henchmen they were to stop accepting bribes, that they were all rich enough for several lifetimes, they deposed him.
    Crime was bad for a while in the beginning, having the Secret Police shoot criminals during the commission of their crimes, shut that down.
    Stop believing the press then, and there.

  • caradoc

    Let’s see…journalism is a liberal/progressive profession. Does anyone really expect to find any manly liberal/progressive males anywhere?

    • DrumGearReview

      This is among the most breathtakingly stupid comments I’ve ever come across.

      • caradoc

        Yeah. I guess Rachel Madcow is pretty manly, my bad.

    • Of the journalists listed in the first sentence, Ernest Hemingway was a leftist; Jack London was a member of the Socialist Party of America, and ran twice for mayor of Oakland as a socialist; and Christopher Hitchens was a Marxist for most of his life.

      • caradoc

        And who are the Journos now? Sorry pal, but the modern liberal is a different animal, as is modern journalism.

  • Commander_Chico

    Matt Taibbi would be one reporter with balls who’s lived a man’s life. Sebastian Junger, Robert Kaplan, Michael Ware, Arwa Damon (yes, she is a chick), James Fallows come to mind as reporters with balls.

    The problem of effete reporters comes from the requirement for elite university credentials from corporate media, plus the end of the draft. We get hothouse flowers from sylvan suburbs.

    • Paul Mall

      Matt Taibbi…

      LOL, no.

    • del2124

      But that was always true. There are many FAMOUS journalists from the 20th century who were “reporters with fortitude,” but superstars don’t (and didn’t) really reflect the profession as a whole.

  • 2+2=4andalwayswill

    I’m wondering why no mention of George Orwell.

  • Paul Mall

    Journalism has become synonymous with leftism, which has become nothing so much as a sustained attack on masculinity and traditional gender roles.

    • Origami_Isopod

      Good.

  • AmazedHuman

    I’d just like to know where all the honest, unbiased, actual journalists have gone. There isn’t much professionalism left in the journalistic world these days. Sad, very, very sad.

  • Carolyn Ownbey

    Rebecca West. Dorothy Thompson. Martha Gellhorn. Janet Flanner. Whatever happened to journalism as a womanly profession?

    There’s nothing inherently manly about putting oneself in the way of danger, of having sexual liaisons in the field, any of it. Many of these women did all of that and more – as do and did many other female journalists. If you’re nostalgic for “grit,” fine (although quite honestly there are plenty of journalists who still fit the bill). The blatant and idiotic sexism of this piece is absurd.

    • truthzone333

      He can only write based on what he knows. Let a woman write about the fabulous female writers or a man who has that expertise.

      • Carolyn Ownbey

        Your argument does not follow. If you’re claiming that “he can only write based on what he knows,” it would follow that he knows about journalists who were in the middle of the action, drinking, having affairs, etc., but he leaves out every female journalist who fits this description for being a woman, and doubly excludes them by calling these traits “manly” when there is absolutely nothing inherently manly, or even masculine, about any of them. The fact that women also have these characteristics, and that many men do not, invalidates your argument if by your claim you are trying to say that he’s writing about “manliness” because, being a man, he knows about it. Essentially, being a man does not license him to exclude some of the best journalists of the century because they are women.

        • Check out my rebuttal to Judge: “RIP ‘Manly’
          Journalists–and Good Riddance”
          http://acculturated.com/rip-manly-journalists/

        • bladerunner

          Just because he excludes women doesn’t make him a sexist God your dumb. And equating manliness to a men offends you get over it. If you want to go on dangerous assignments and drink and fight with men and get your teeth kicked in go for it, sick of you saw all over the internet spewing your garbage.

    • Kolby Solinsky

      Bravo to you, for that.

      • Kolby Solinsky

        *Pinocchio

    • Kolby Solinsky

      And as far as this guys rants about how basically everything shot in black and white is better just because he misses the cool side of the pillow, I think he needs to realize the irony of what he’s saying. Does he not think there were old people in the Twenties or whenever who hated the young wave of writers and journalists that he now idolizes? I’m pretty sure Hemingway hated the Beats in the 50s – and the Beats eventually hated themselves. It’s really easy to sit and look around at what’s happening in your own time and be cynical and removed from it. But the truth is, look back on 2015 in 80 years, and I’m sure we’ll have a slew of new idols and heroes we’re not even aware of yet. The good stuff always rises to the top. This guy’s just not patient enough to see it, and not considerate enough to think that not everyone was happy when everything was ‘manly’.

      • bladerunner

        Who wasn’t happy are you not a man. Manly is cool and always will be. Our present way of life in this so called modern civilization that even allows for any other way isn’t very old and will not last forever. Were on solar flare or astroid or man made disaster that could take us back a hundred years or farther where all that will matter is manly masculine traits to survive. I wonder if our forefathers could see the future if they would of even bothered coming up with new technologies if they new it would turn around and bite them in the ass.

    • Marc Esadrian

      “Rebecca West. Dorothy Thompson. Martha Gellhorn. Janet Flanner. Whatever happened to journalism as a womanly profession?”

      I can’t say those names resonate half as much as the ones mentioned in the article. To those who are 20th Century Lit and journalism aficionados, perhaps they do.

    • bladerunner

      What sexism is there what are you talking about? No where in the article does it say anything negative about women. And manly journalism is equated with grit. adventure, drinking, fighting all things men enjoy. Your grasping at straws with the sexism argument not everything is about you, grow up.

  • Mark Mahoney

    What war did Thomas Jefferson fight in? Or Thomas Paine? Or Abraham Lincoln? Or Eleanor Roosevelt? Or Shirley Chisolm? Or Ronald Reagan? Where is being a man or being on a battlefield the only qualification for moving people with your words? This is column is macho, sexist tripe for Neanderthals.

  • truthzone333

    I agree completely with this article and I strongly believe this is why journalism is now dying a slow death. What was left out is the reason why journalism is dying, the media is now controlled by a few corporations and no longer in the hands of the people. Yes, few those corporations have a viewpoint, a narrative and a conventional wisdom they want touted and the weak ones they employ are only too happy to do it.

  • elmer

    Journalism has hit the pavement with a dull, sickening thud.

  • TS

    Moron.

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  • del2124

    There are plenty of them today. There were also lots of them who weren’t very rough and tumble back in the 20th century.

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  • Where have all the manly journalists gone?
    Long time passing
    Where have all the manly journalists gone?
    Long time ago

    Where have all the manly journalists gone?
    P.C. boogeywymyn have picked them everyone
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the P.C. boogeywymyn gone?
    Long time passing
    Where have all the P.C. boogeywymyn gone?
    Long time ago

    Where have all the P.C. boogeywymyn gone?
    Gone for feminine strawmen everyone
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the feminine strawmen gone?
    Long time passing
    Where have all the feminine strawmen gone?
    Long time ago

    Where have all the feminine strawmen gone?
    Gone for logical fallacies everyone
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the logical fallacies gone?
    Long time passing
    Where have all the logical fallacies gone?
    Long time ago

    Where have all the logical fallacies gone?
    Gone to clickbait, everyone
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?

    Where has all the clickbait gone?
    Long time passing
    Where has all the clickbait gone?
    Long time ago

    Where has all the clickbait gone?
    Gone to manly journalists, everyone
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?

    Where have all the manly journalists gone?
    Long time passing
    Where have all the manly journalists gone?
    Long time ago

    Where have all the manly journalists gone?
    P.C. boogeywymyn have picked them everyone
    Oh, when will they ever learn?
    Oh, when will they ever learn?

    (No.)

    With apologies to Pete Seeger.

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  • Redskinrex

    Gender be damned, the real
    issue IMHO is: Whatever
    happened to objective journalism? I remember when “Yellow Journalism”
    was considered derogatory. Nowadays,
    reporters and outlets promote and revel in it. I see no shortage in bravado,
    just serious problems with how it’s so egregiously misdirected.

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