Joe Hagan’s oral history of Alec Baldwin’s life (this is the best way I can think to describe it) is the sort of piece that will fuel the Internet commentary-machine for days. Andrew Sullivan, name-checked a few times as a member of “the Gay Department of Justice,” has yet to criticize it. Baldwin uses the term “tranny” to describe someone he meets at a revival meeting he set up; that’s going to make the Internet angry, too, at some point. He describes Rachel Maddow as a “phony” and endorses the popular perception that she basically runs MSNBC’s editorial startegy over a weak Phil Griffin—that’ll get around. “This is the last time I’m going to talk about my personal life in an American publication ever again,” says Baldwin to Hagan. We’ve got to make do with what we’ve got.
And so, insofar as Baldwin remains a generally liberal figure in the media, the piece is an interesting look at a guy who’s just given up. His bitterness at MSNBC is colored by his short stint as a host there, which ended after the backlash to the allegedly homophobic paparazzi incident.
If MSNBC went off the air tomorrow, what difference would it make? If the Huffington Post went out of business tomorrow, what difference would it make? Arianna Huffington accomplished what she wanted to accomplish. She created this wonderful thing. And what have they done with that? They want clicks, I get it. They’ve gotta have clicks for their advertisers, so they’re going to need as much Kim Kardashian and wardrobe malfunctions as possible. The other day, they had a thing on the home page about pimples. Tripe. Liberal and conservative media are now precisely equivalent.
Recently, when Bill Maher declared he was done with MSNBC (he sometimes does lucky-to-have-him interview segments on Hardball), it was because the network wasn’t critical enough of foreign and domestic surveillance policy in the Obama era. Baldwin doesn’t have those critiques. He just thinks the media is sensationalistic. Well, yes, it is.
In the New Media culture, anything good you do is tossed in a pit, and you are measured by who you are on your worst day. What’s the Boy Scout code? Trustworthy. Loyal. Helpful. Friendly. Courteous. Kind. Obedient. Cheerful. Thrifty. Brave. Clean. Reverent. I might be all of those things, at certain moments. But people suspect that whatever good you do, you are faking. You’re that guy. You’re that guy that says this. There is a core of outlets that are pushing these stories out. Breitbart clutters the blogosphere with “Alec Baldwin, he’s the Devil, he’s Fidel Baldwin.”
Right, that isn’t very useful. Is Baldwin suggesting that people start viewing the people in politics any other way—that instead of being identified by “their worst day,” they’re covered as humans acting in good faith? That’s not how he played Rick Perry, really. That’s not how he portrays Maddow in this piece.
All in all a compelling personal essay, some high-quality chum for the media beat, no advice that anyone’s going to follow about how to report on the famous.