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Denby vs. Wonkette vs. Denby

February 3, 2009 |  2:14 pm


Is this a case of the media snake swallowing its own tail, another example of how mainstream media just don't get new media, or simply bad fact-checking?

In one corner: David Denby, New Yorker film critic and author of "Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation." Snark, as Denby defines it, is the "nasty, insidious, rug-pulling, teasing insult, which makes reference to some generally understood shared prejudice or distaste." Among the offenders he notes is Wonkette, the Washington gossip blog.

And in the opposing corner, coming out swinging: Wonkette, the Washington gossip blog, not offended for being called snarky but by "the crucial, objective and lazy factual errors Denby makes." Let it be said that Associate Editor Jim Newell bought the book only to find said errors — and he wouldn't mind getting that $15.95 back.

Denby was asked by Jacket Copy which of his nine principles of snark he thought was the worst. He answered:

No. 5. Total disregard of routine journalism. No phone calls, no checking things out. Journalism should try not to slander people.

The other one, No. 3. The trashiness of the jokes. The laziness. Just grabbing something off the rotting heap.

Whatever their tolerance of trashiness, Wonkette's editors take greatest issue with the "not checking things out." Denby refers to a few Wonkette posts in his book, including a satiric one about Chelsea Clinton, written, he maintains, by "young women" in the grips of "jealousy" — the "women" in question being Jim Newell, whose byline was easy enough to spot. Wonkette explains the satire — Denby didn't get, or wasn't amused by, their "Mircale Worker" parody. They also explain that his comments on their coverage of Ted Kennedy use mixed-up timing to misrepresent what they'd posted when he fell ill.

Speaking of bad timing, Denby is in the middle of doing NPR call-in shows, including one this morning in Texas and Patt Morrison's today on KPCC-FM. Wonkette fans are calling in and trying to press him on the facts, when he really just wants to promote his book.

Oh, and a note to our rabid, repeated-effort commentor yesterday on this issue: You can use all the different pseudonyms you want, but your comments, sadly, were too snarky for publication.

—Carolyn Kellogg

David Denby photo: Casey Kelbaugh / Simon & Schuster