Ron Rosenbaum

Jeff Jarvis's Cowardly Evasions (1)

I suppose I should have been satisfied to have been one of the first to have called “bullshit” on one of our age’s biggest and most fraudulent media bloviators and peddlers of second rate pretensions to “new thinking” about journalism.

And it has been satisfying to see him squeal like a stuck pig at being called out for his heartless midget-mindedness (you can almost forgive heartlessness from someone with a great mind, but not from such an egregious mediocrity, whose pretensions reveal such an utter failure to understand what journalism is about–despite his mercenary exploitation of real journalists’ misfortunes.)

But since it promises to be–if only for its comic pleasure–worthwhile to keep an eye on his ballooning ego and further empty-headed pontifications, as a kind of measure of how low the culture has sunk that it pays attention to such a second-rater, therefore, as a public service, I’m going keep a kind of informal Jeff Jarvis watch.

I suppose if I were mean spirited I would be satisfied with reprinting some of the comments e-mailed to me by–I was going to say “his peers”, but let’s be frank his superiors–in the profession, in response to my critique of Jarvis’s notions about journalism. But he seems determined, in a disingenuous way, to avoid taking responsibility for his mean-spirited and cowardly kick-them-when-they’re-down attacks on more talented but less fortunate journalists–those who have brought honor to the profession rather than shame themselves by profiting, as Jarvis has, off the misery he’s helped create, by shilling for the Zells of this world. Therefore I think I might as well, for the benefit of the families of his betters who’ve been laid off for not devising–as Jarvis has–a parasitic way of feasting on the dying body of the print profession, let Jeff know what his betters are saying about him.

These are not people who are laid off but some of the smartest people in the profession, concerned of course by the upheaval in the business, but contemptuous of the dimbulb consultants who set themselves up as experts without ever having demonstrating any excellence but self promotion. The people below didn’t write me to be quoted by name, so I won’t use their names, just some of the delightfully vitriolic and contemptuous words they pour upon JJ’s insufferably smug and self-congratulatory head.

More than anything I feel that pity for the unfortunate students who are being taught a pinheaded caricature of “journalism” by a posturing self promoter who doesn’t know the first thing about it, requires that I begin with letting those students know just what a ridiculous figure he makes, capering around as he does, to intelligent people in the profession.

We’ll go on from there to consider the intellectual bankruptcy of his “thinking”, but the quotes are a good place to start, to give a sense that I’m not alone in my views of the p.r. con game he’s running:

“… [I] wept tears of blackhearted joy when I caught wind of your almost too-genteel evisceration of the insufferably pompous Jeff Jarvis. I read your SLATE post with unalloyed glee, savoring every word …There’s more hubris in a single Jarvis entry than all of Sophocles laid end to end…”

“Loved your critique, except that you were much too nice to him…”

“Ron, Your defenestration of Jeff Jarvis is much appreciated. His great contribution to journalism is EW and he thinks he is the AJ Liebling of the web. Good God!…”

“… [his] arrogance and vehemence are remarkable. Perhaps some day Jeff will explain why some poor bastard who has spent his or her life doing the honorable, day to day work of reporting for a newspaper should be held responsible for Craig’s List …”

“Thank you! There is no one I despise more in media more than Jeff Jarvis. He’s the absolute worst, and why any self-respecting media company would pay this guy a cent is beyond me…”

Just a sampling, and again, not one of them from a laid off journalist but from successful editors and writers who see through Jarvis’s jive.

And now let’s turn to the intellectual dishonesty of his response to me in which he claims that I didn’t engage with his “ideas” but merely attacked him because I no longer “liked” him.

Oh please, what a shabby dodge. I think he knows quite well what a calculated and craven evasion this is. So sad: I only said I had initially liked his blog persona because I felt sorry for the caricature of a consultant he had become in his current blog incarnation, boasting about how he’s sipping drinks in “the Emirates Lounge” on a junket to Davos paid for by Dubai. (By the way my next task will be to ask the Dean of the J-school at the City University of New York where Jarvis plies his trade, if CUNY considers this ethical behavior–for a professor of journalism in their institution to be taking money and favors from a crucial world financial center, regardless of whether he discloses it or not. It will be interesting to see what kind of standards prevail at their new journalism school.)

But–no good deed goes unpunished–having no other response evidently to my critique of his ludicrous idea of journalism, he tried to depict the column linked above as a matter of my “liking” or no longer liking him personally, in order to evade responding to my critique. Pure cowardice or self-aware inadequacy–having no adequate response to my substantive critique of his idea of journalism, he tries to make the argument about something trivial such as whether I like him or not. Poor Jeff, evidently not used to criticism, his ideas being subjected to any more than trivial examination, so he–oh so transparently–evades a response through a red herring.

Let’s hope the reviewers of his new Google Kool-aid book What Would Google Do? see what a fraudulent idea of journalism this journalism pontificaor subscribes to. This was the heart of my essay–his description of his own journalistic practice, a description that revealed that he doesn’t know the first thing about what journalism is, and therefore should be the very last person on earth to tell the journalism profession what to do. And if he actually teaches this “method” it’s prima facie educational malpractice, a scandal that will make CUNY look like an embarrassingly craven chaser after the “new” however meretricious.

My critique took on his own description of how he went about “reporting” his Google-worship book, a process he calls “reverse engineering”. The central tenet of “reverse engineering” is that in writing about one of the largest and most influential institutions in the world he deliberately refuses to try to speak to anyone at Google to ask them about how they think about what they do. He says he doesn’t even try on some kind of principle. He claims he wasn’t rebuffed by Google but frankly I think he was afraid to ask or at least didn’t expect them to cooperate with such a second rater, but didn’t want to admit it. (Why would they talk to such an obvious airhead who would inevitably embarass them with his suck-up effusions?) That’s reporting! Deliberately not talking to your subject! No wonder he thinks professional reporters are largely unnecessary and, in effect, encourages the foolish corporations who hire him as a consultant to fire them. He doesn’t merely think reporters are unnecessary, he thinks reporting is unnecessary. Instead he says his book will offer Jeff Jarvis’s ideas about what Google was thinking as it was created and evolved. That’s “reverse engineering”–figuring out Google without doing any of the real hard work reporters do. Of course we’re all really, really eager for that. What a worthless notion. Should White House reporters refuse to ask Barack Obama questions about his policies and instead “reverse engineer” what they think he’s doing and thinking? CUNY pays this guy to teach?! No wonder JJ thinks reporters and reporting skills are expendable or easily outsourced to the ignorant and unskilled: he appears not to have the first idea of what reporting is.

Imagine that (again, I’ll try to get a response from CUNY if they approve of teaching this as “journalism”): you’re writing about one of the largest, most influential corporate entities in the world and you decide not to even try to speak to its founders and workers because your ideas about what they’re doing are more deserving of a hearing than theirs! I’m sure the crooks at ENRON would have appreciated the Jarvis approach. Really, who cares what Jeff Jarvis thinks he can deduce about Google without speaking to anyone at Google? He’s not a stellar intellect or he would have engineered Google not “reverse engineered” it. now he’s trying to reverse engineer reporting–by fleeing from it.

It was this specific critique of Jarvis’ ludicrous notion of journalism that he refused to respond to (instead throwing out red-herrings about whether I “liked” him), a critique that in my view disqualifies him from making any pronouncements on the subject of journalism. It was this specific critique that Jarvis utterly refused to respond to, all the while saying I made no critique of his ideas. Because, in fact, his ideas are ridiculous.

And then of course there’s his EW (Entertainment Weekly) celebrity industrial complex view of what journalists do. When the The New York Observer (my old paper), did a profile of him a week or so after my critique, his main response was to criticize the reporter because he didn’t plug JJ’s new book, which he claimed was the only purpose of reporting on him. Of course a self-promoter would say that: a celebrity journalist’s view of what journalism is about, plugging new product at the dictates of the schedule of the publicity industrial complex. I’m sure EW, which inevitably became a whole lot smarter once he left it, would be ashamed of this.

I could go on about Jarvis intellectual impoverishment. His ignoramus-like parroting of simplistic, fashionable “wisdom of the crowd” theories that only those ignorant of history take seriously. The crowd is always right Jarvis believes. That’s why Google is so super, super special. Because they list their links according to the most popular! Brilliant reverse engineered deduction! That’s the genius idea that Jarvis prostrates himself before, which of course does a disservice to Google genuine value: Jarvis bows down to Google because they reflect the mind of the crowd (he says; poor Google to have such a second rate champion.) But the mind of the crowd is not addititve intellectually, it’s often a race to the bottom, to the lowest common denominator.

But popularity, the worship of the wisdom of the market is all that counts for JJ. (And we know now a little more about the wisdom of the market, don’t we, after the scandals of the past few months? Doesn’t trouble JJ.) You know what a crowd is Jeff? A lynch mob is a crowd, a pogrom is a crowd. The Walmart shopers who trampled to death that poor temp worker are a crowd. Crowds aren’t necessarily wise, they’re just big. Often thuggish and stupid. Even the author of a book on the widsom of the crowd distances himself from Jarvis’ mindless crowd worship. He refers to JJ’s shibboleth, “citizen journalism”, and says it makes as much sense as “citizen dentistry”. Exactly! And yet Jarvis smugly wants to replace hardworking journalists who have built up a lifetime of evaluative experience with a crowd of the untrained and ignorant. A crowd of Jeff Jarvises is just going to multiply Jeff Jarvis’ inadequacies. Which already constitute a crowd of their own.

So Jeff, despite your disingenuous denial of it, I did engage with your “ideas”–as anyone who reads my original column linked above can see. I tried to be nice to you, give you the benefit of the doubt in that column.. I engaged, I just found your ideas, upon “engagement”, to be utterly bankrupt. And replacing bankrupt newspapers with bankrupt ideas is no improvement, no matter how fat and happy you get feeding off the the daily bread of the newspaper people and their families you so delight in afflicting.

Remember when journalism was supposed to be about “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” Not for our JJ, who evidently relishes further afflicting the afflicted, and making himself comfortable with the comfortable in the Emirates lounges of the world sucled by Fubai, onthe way to Davos. Maybe it feels good in the short run Jeff, but to the honorable journalists of the world you’ll always be remembered as a dishonorable, disgrace to the profession. Congrats!