The Washington Post

If only we all could write as well as Michael Wolff

With the assistance of many commas and a platform in the Guardian, Michael Wolff uses the Mike Daisey controversy to slam the state of writing in journalism. The argument is that critics should be focused not on Daisey’s factual shortcoming but on his abilities of expression, an area in which journalists stink. One sentence from the piece:

Since journalists can’t write, their virtue comes down to their presentation of facts.

That’s a crisp and strong sentence. Unlike the one that precedes it:

This is the product that is so intensely, with almost religious fervor, defended by, well, journalists themselves.

Or unlike this one:

[Howard] Kurtz, while a diligent and reasonably fair-minded reporter, is — and I doubt even he would argue — a leaden writer of dead-on-arrival prose, with limited skills for expressing nuance and subtlety or gradation.

(When asked whether he would “argue” with this characterization, Kurtz responded: “I guess a history of breaking stories such as the Jayson Blair scandal doesn’t impress Michael, but then Michael is rarely impressed by anyone other than himself.”)

Continuing with the theme:

[Jack] Shafer is among the best journalism critics working today, but, still, as a writer, only a mere programmer — whereas Capote is Steve Jobs.

Indicting an entire profession as poor stylists carries a hefty glass-house quotient. Though by no means his worst outing, this piece has plenty of the distractive prose that makes so much of Wolff’s writing difficult to hack through. He is the Foxconn of the pointless, comma-laden aside. My favorite of all time comes from his biography of Rupert Murdoch:

(Petronella Wyatt would, like Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth, become, in a generation’s time, the talk of London.)

Though Wolff credits Daisey as a great writer, it’s a good thing that Daisey doesn’t borrow Wolffian storytelling conventions. If he did, his performances would become cramped with throat-clearing moments and self-interruptions. He never would have gotten this far.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Video curated for you.