Lynn Hirschberg, Leo DiCaprio and the Dignity of the Press

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:54

    But if Brill's Content's Hirschberg hitjob is a queasy, uncomfortable little thing, then the Leonardo DiCaprio/ABC News affair has been comically operatic. As readers will by now be aware, ABC News' recent announcement that it would air an Earth Day special in which DiCaprio interviews the Commander-in-Chief about environmental matters generated the predictable reaction from media types. Most vividly, perhaps, the public was treated to the spectacle of that windy buffo Sam Donaldson staggering around the stage clutching his temples, moaning about "standards" and "credibility" like Verdi's Falstaff bellowing about honor, begging to be pelted with fruit. Meanwhile, ABC News president David Westin backpedaled from his original position, denying that the network could possibly have been so stupid as to send?get this?a mere actor to accomplish the sensitive work of interrogating a statesman.

    As if letting Leonardo DiCaprio?instead of an Athenian like Dan Rather, Cokie Roberts, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters or Steven Brill?talk to the President represents, relatively speaking, a diminution in "standards." As if "standards" are an operative concept in American public life in the first place. Standards? Actually, the Washington journalistic profession, the dignity of which DiCaprio's detractors piously cite, is no more deserving of reflexive respect than are the professions of governance, publishing media watchdog magazines, vinyl-siding salesmanship or creating Hollywood blockbusters.

    The DiCaprio matter recalls the last time journalism's self-appointed gatekeepers huffed and puffed against an enemy: the Lewinsky mess, when a nobody named Matt Drudge embarrassed the established media with important scoops. Journalists' hatred of Drudge was in part due to his presumption, but it also had much to do with his militancy against Bill Clinton, the figurehead of that yuppie/boomer establishment to which journalists genuflect and aspire.

    DiCaprio, however, isn't interested in damaging Clinton. One wonders, then, if what bothers the Sam Donaldsons of the world is the thought of what might happen if a citizen with a possibly unjaded perspective, an ignorance of the ingratiating customs of the journalistic courtier and great charisma is granted access to the power for which the typical DC journalist cultivates a fond royal subject's possessive regard. What if Leo says something smart? What if the President likes him better than he likes us? What if viewers respond to DiCaprio more passionately than they respond to trained network seals? DiCaprio's presence threatens to blow apart the journalistic gatekeepers' whole game.

    So let's see Leo interview the President. Why not? It could be enlightening, and it's not as if the media could get much sillier than it already is.