Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash Vol. XXVIII: Eleven steps to become a journalistic guru, and brother vs. brother: Jim Treacher unmasked

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Matt Labash
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      Matt Labash

      Hi, welcome to “Ask Matt Labash.” I’ll be your host, Matt Labash. The idea for this column – if idea isn’t too strong a word – is that it is not a column at all. Rather, it’s a conversation. One in which I do ninety-five percent of the talking. If you did most of the talking, you’d have to watch my eyes go dead and my attention wander until it was my turn to talk again. So trust me, it’s better this way.

      For those unfamiliar with me from my day job at The Weekly Standard, I’ll give you a capsule bio by way of introduction: I have the gift of wisdom. Does that sound arrogant? I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention. I didn’t choose wisdom. It chose me. If I had my druthers, I’d have chosen another gift, perhaps the untold riches of Lil’ Wayne, whose teeth are made of actual diamonds, or to be the sexiest man alive, like Rachel Maddow. But wisdom is what they gave me, so wisdom is all I have to give back to you.

      This is not, you should know, a mere advice column. If you need advice, I’ll give it. But the only rule here is that there are no rules. You can ask me a question about anything that’s on your mind: current events, pop culture, media, theology, string theory, fishing tips, wicker repair. The only limits we have are those of your imagination. And those of my knowledge base. Which is considerably limited, truth be told. So try not to ask me anything that requires research. Though they tell me I have access to Google on this computer if we need it.

      If all goes according to plan, ours will not be a traditional writer/reader relationship. It’s more complex than that. I might empathize or cajole. I might educate, instruct, or inspire. I might pretend to answer your question while actually reporting you to Social Services, since you’re a dangerous person who should not have contact with children. I might tell you to climb up on my shoulders, that you’re not heavy, you’re my brother. Or I might tell you that you are heavy, and that you should hop down until you lose a few pounds. I might just sidle up behind you, put my big strong man hands on the small of your back, and whisper in your ear the words of the poet, Kenny Rogers: “We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?”

      To which you’ll say something like, “I can’t, I’ve got to go home and wash my hair.”
      To which I’ll say something like, “Shhh. We’ve got tonight babe, why don’t you stay?”
      Wherever this takes us, our journey begins now:

      <i>Matt Labash is a senior writer with The Weekly Standard. His first book, <a href="">Fly Fishing with Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys</a> will be published next month by Simon & Schuster.</i>

EDITOR’S NOTE: Have a burning sensation? Consult your doctor. Have a burning question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.

How does a young person become a political journalistic guru? Does it involve sexual favors?  - Joshua Wright

For me it did. But everyone’s path is different. All I can do is provide vague and general directions, to offer sage, old-codgeresque guidance, such as, “Journalistic guruhood lies about a hundred miles yonder as the crow flies.”  But you will have to figure out how to actually get there on your own. I should say at the outset that I’m not really a journalistic guru. For being a guru requires having followers. If I wanted followers, I’d have joined Twitter long ago. But I don’t want followers, I want friends. Will you be my friend? I am so lonely.

Forget that I asked. I don’t want your pity. I move faster alone. I live off the land, and eat what I kill. If I had followers, I’d probably kill them and eat them. Then cure their flesh until they became follower-jerky. Then I’d put them in my journalistic knapsack, for when I run out of trail mix. I have, however, been knocking around long enough to have observed a few traits that mark successful journalistic gurus. I will share them with you now:

  1. Write what you know.
  2. If you don’t know anything, why let that stop you? Do what everyone else does: pretend.
  3. Give up any dreams of writing fiction. A house divided against itself falls. If you can’t give it up, then try to incorporate your fiction into your nonfiction writing. Then when you get caught, just say you were writing a composite character in order to explore the “emotional truth” of the subject. If you get drummed out of the business anyway, write a confessional memoir about how wrong you went, and how much you’ve learned since. Then try to sell the screen rights, and get signed on as the screenwriter, preferably fictionalizing your account of the nonfiction career you spent writing fiction.
  4. Always accept free drinks. Free food, too. Anything free, really. A journalist lives by the sweat of other people’s brows. If you’re paying your own way, it’s time to reassess, to get with the journalistic guru program, and to figure out how to be a less productive member of society.
  5. Wear lots of corduroy. Not only does it make you look more professorial and removed from the life of corporate drudgery that you’re trying to escape, but it’s extra absorbent in case you spill a free drink on yourself.
  6. Eat, pray, love.
  7. I was kidding about that last one. I don’t know if I hate that book, since I haven’t actually read it. But I can extrapolate that I hate that book, since I hate everyone who likes it. See how that works? Because I’m a trained journalist, I can form authoritative opinions with little or no information.
  8. If you’re a kind, generous person who strives to find the best in people and to overlook their faults, get out of journalism. You’ll die here.
  9. Whenever you get cornered in a debate with other journalistic gurus, say, “I was just in (fill in name of random Midwestern cow town), and voters there are very concerned about……” Your experience there is probably completely bogus, a purely anecdotal survey of people you gravitated toward to confirm your own prejudices. But you will still have the edge of moral authority over your colleagues, since they leave the office even less often than you do.

10.  Generally invoke “concerned voters” as frequently as possible. For editors love all things “concerned.” When nobody’s concerned about anything, it concerns them.

11.  As a journalist, you need to have a deep and comprehensive understanding of a lot of different things. So only read headlines – it saves time. Since nobody reads the papers anymore, you’ll still be way ahead.

  • tdpwells

    “If I needed someone to walk my grandmother across the street, I’d send her with Treacher. Because you know he’s the one who’s going to get hit by the truck.”


  • killtruck

    I’m a journalist in that I like booze and corduroy. Like, as we speak.

  • hampton

    Teddy to your J.F.K.? A better reference for you two would be Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne.

    • Jim Treacher

      Your perspicacity is laudable.

  • windrdr

    Skip that last part? The whole second half of this piece screams ‘I give Treach his sponge baths, and we like it that way‘. NTTAWWT.

    • killtruck

      film at 11 *fingers crossed*