Battle of the columnists: Carr vs. Kurtz

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2008 - 1:26 PM

Can't superstar media columnists all just get along?

Minnesota's David Carr, the media columnist for the NY Times, is sore over an article Howard Kurtz, media columnist for the Washington Post, wrote about Carr's memoir "The Night of the Gun."

When I interviewed Carr on Monday, I inquired if there was any chance he might be on Kurtz's CNN show "Reliable Sources" this Sunday. (Carr's a lot more interesting character than the Wall Street Journal reporter whose book about playing with the Denver Broncos merited a positively tedious segment with Kurtz last week.)

"No," said Carr. "Howard Kurtz stapled me pretty good this morning. So I don't think Howard and I will be spending a lot of quality time together."

Here's a taste of what Kurtz wrote that's gotten Carr so pouty:

"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..."

On Wednesday Kurtz told me there was never a plan for Carr to be on Sunday, however, "he's welcome on the show anytime he wants.

"I'm a little puzzled," Kurtz said. "I admire David and have for a long time. I think this is a remarkable and brutally honest book that shows how far he has come out of the hell he created for himself. No one could ever be tougher on David than he is on himself in this book. Obviously, I had to share with readers some of the gory details but they're his words, amplified by an interview I did with him. I spoke to his wife; I quoted the editor of the New York Times saying nice things about him."

Maybe Carr should get a tougher skin?

"I'll leave that to you," said Kurtz. "I viewed it as a piece that reflected what was in his book and really cast him as the comeback kid. Maybe since he hasn't done many interviews on the book he's not prepared for the consequences of dealing with the dirty laundry that he himself put out there."

Carr -- and I've enjoyed how quotable he's been in my column over the years-- should either buck up or make it a personal policy not to read what's written about him. (He'd be able to do that about the time he could stop writing.)

I also owe Carr for letting me break the story about him having Hodgkin's disease, although I can't find it in the electronic library. I remember the hateful phone calls from readers, though people didn't understand that Carr told me to announce it so he didn't have to go around telling everybody.

Carr has lived an overly amusing, sordid life, a good chunk of which occurred with other Minnesotans.

My least favorite part of the Kurtz piece is this question (which he poses far too often on CNN): "Why share this stuff with the world?" If Carr hadn't shared this, Kurtz wouldn't have had anything interesting to write. And while nobody would suggest that Kurtz or anybody get a drug habit and constantly screw up one's life in the ridiculous ways Carr has, my hunch is that Howard's autobio wouldn't be a tenth as engrossing.

I recognized that Carr, a former editor at Twin Cities Reader, was a NYT-caliber writer in 1989 when I read his account of his problems with drugs in a Pioneer Press story.

I read the whole thing and it was long. "It's a horrendous piece of writing," Carr said. "You go look at it and you tell me. I don't I even put any of it in the book, I was too embarrassed. There's like a paragraph from it in the book; it so gooey and twitchy. Yeah. I think recovering crackheads should be handed Crayons, not pencils. I've grown up a little since then."

Carr still hasn't grown, however, into the kind of man who can make an expensive suit look anything but cheap.

"I know. My dad [John] was a clothing guy and he's got four sons -- none of them can dress," said Carr. "I was at a Brooks Brothers outlet store getting one outfit I could wear to do readings in. I put it on and I still look like freaking Pig Pen."

C.J. is at 612.332.TIPS or cj@startribune.com. E-mailers, please state a subject -- "Hello" doesn't count. Attachments are not opened, so don't even try. More of her attitude can be seen on FOX 9 Thursday mornings.

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