Earlier versions of this column reported that New York Times reporter David Carr said he had videotaped interviews for a companion Web site to increase his chances of landing a movie deal. While Carr is interested in such a deal, he says the Web site was not developed for that purpose. This version has been corrected.
The Addicted Journalist
Monday, July 21, 2008; 5:50 PM
David Carr's latest subject is a pathetic human being, a thug, a manipulative jerk who uses people and puts his own kids in danger.
The New York Times media columnist is writing about himself.
He is unsparing as he rips the protective bark off his life, baring his past addictions to crack and alcohol and the utter depths to which he sank. He is selling a memoir -- "The Night of the Gun" -- built on self-flagellation, heaping abuse on himself and his weaknesses.
The former editor of Washington City Paper admits he is an unreliable narrator as he investigates the wreckage he left behind. Carr says he and his girlfriend Anna were smoking crack the day she gave birth to the premature twins he would raise for years on his own; she disputes that. He comes to doubt his own memory as past pals contradict the narrative in his head.
Why share this with the world? Carr, 51, isn't quite sure. "I ask myself that all the time," he says in an interview. "I still feel uneasy about it. It may well be a mistake."
Carr was fired from a series of jobs in Minneapolis as his life became consumed by coke snorting and dealing (not to mention dropping acid) while he checked in and out of rehab centers and kept getting arrested. His personal life was nothing to brag about, and he doesn't: "My duplicity around women was towering and chronic. I conned and manipulated myself into their beds and then treated them as human jewelry, something to be worn for effect."
But recounting exactly what happened is another story, which is why he uses the approach of interviewing people from his dark past, many from the mid-1980s. Carr recognizes that "the meme of abasement followed by salvation is a durable device in literature," but life is invariably more complicated. "Can I tell you a true story about the worst day of my life? No," he writes.
On that day, he recalls, his friend Donald, during a drug-induced argument, pulled a gun on him. Except that he tracked down Donald, who swears it was Carr who brandished the .38 special, and another friend who knew where Carr kept the weapon stashed. If Carr was wrong about that, he wonders, what else was he wrong about?
The story keeps getting worse: Carr beating up Anna, breaking one of her ribs and throwing her off a dock. Carr smacking around his other girlfriend, Doolie -- the two women didn't know about each other -- who called the police after he slapped her in the face: "I tortured her, mentally, verbally and, eventually, physically."
Friends and relatives warned him that detailing such repulsive behavior could damage his career, Carr concedes. "I just thought if I tried to sandpaper some corners, the whole thing would fall apart," he told me.
He wrote the book, he says, to help pay for his daughters' college tuition, and he videotaped the interviews for a companion Web site. While reporting the book "was more embarrassing than painful," Carr says, "parts of it were really uncomfortable. I hadn't seen the girls' mom in 10 years. It was scary to pull up to her place." By writing the book, he says, Anna "feels I threw her under the bus. I said: 'I'm right there with you. How did I get treated any better than you? I'm complicit in everything that happens.' " A few people wouldn't talk, including Carr's first wife, Kim, whom he married (and cheated on) before his drug use spun out of control: "Not only did she push me out of her life, she was happy to leave it that way."
Several months after Anna gave birth to their twins in 1988, Carr went into detox and then a six-month stint in rehab while the girls were placed in foster care. He emerged, won custody of the kids and tried to pull his life together, only to be sidelined by cancer of the immune system. But he beat the disease and started freelancing.