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Just the Facts, Ma'am

12.30.2005 06:17 | DISPATCHES

Journalist Mark Bowden is non-PC to a T. Famous for writing Black Hawk Down, he also wrote an article collected in Road Work about our air assault on Afghanistan called "The Kabul-Ki Dance." It's nauseating three times over:

  1. The number of sorties flown and bombs dropped was beyond both the comprehension and desire to comprehend of most Americans.
  2. For the most part, the pilots and "wizzos" (bombers) were serenely untouched by the unseen civilians whose lives they were snuffing out below them.
  3. However rigorous his reporting, Bowden is starstruck by these flyboys (and girls).

Whatever his politics, when reviewing The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight: Wolfe, Thompson, Didion and the New Journalism Revolution (Crown, 2005) by Marc Weingarten in the December 28 issue of The New York Observer, Bowden zeroes in on his target just like one of those wizzos.

In "Rambunctious Heyday of Gonzo, When Journalism Aspired to Art," he comments on Weingarten's account of an incident during which respected Vietnam journalist Michael Herr owned up to creating a composite character--and his editor signed off on the story.

As a result, Bowen maintains that "today everything that Mr. Herr wrote about Vietnam with such passion and skill cannot be regarded as anything but reasonably well-informed fiction." (Herr, of course, neatly sidestepped the issue by switching to fiction [Dispatches].) Bowden continues.

"Here's an important rule about journalism: Reporters do not make things up because they have done too much work (as Mr. Herr implies), but because they have done too little."

Then he speaks to every journalist or commentator who's been tempted to bend the facts to improve the narrative.

"There are things fiction can do that journalism cannot, but truthfulness is the thing journalism has over fiction. . . When a writer embellishes reporting with his imagination, whether by creating composites, rearranging the sequence of events or inventing dialogue, he creates something that is not just a fraud, but which is less than either fiction or fact."

. . . Even if it doesn't flow as well as fiction, or faction, or--gag me with a quill--creative nonfiction.


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