A few weeks ago, I interviewed legendary talk show host Larry King in his hotel room at the Ritz in downtown Washington.
It was funny and serious. We had coffee. We talked a lot about death.
I wrote up the story the following day. His staff, though pleased with the story, asked me to remove one quote because King was afraid it would hurt someone in his life. This isn’t something I ordinarily do. But I obliged. Life went on.
And then I received this nasty missive from “Craigs List” from this email: email@example.com. (I can only imagine what he does on Craigslist, but I don’t want to.)
“I just stumbled across your article on Larry King. What could have been a fun and interesting take on the legend, turned out to be trashy journalism. The ‘man servant’ is well known television producer Greg Christensen. Sloppy reporting.’The Italian restaurant across from The Palm’ is I Ricchi. Lazy reporting. The publicist asked you not to ask about Piers Morgan — Did you agree to this? Regardless why reveal this request? So you could seem defiant? If you had to mention it, shouldn’t you have given King a chance to respond? Tacky reporting. Sneaking a picture of his socks — way out of line. This wasn’t an undercover investigative article, you were a guest in his hotel room. Sneaking pictures?? If you were intrigued with the socks, why not ask about them? Or ask to take a photo. Sleazy reporting. Mr. King deserves better than what he got here. Have some integrity. Sneaking a picture of his socks — way out of line. This wasn’t an undercover investigative article, you were a guest in his hotel room. Sneaking pictures?? If you were intrigued with the socks, why not ask about them? Or ask to take a photo. Sleazy reporting. Mr. King deserves better than what he got here. Have some integrity.”
So let’s get this straight. I’m sleazy and sneaky because I took a picture of Larry King’s funky green and blue ankle socks with my iPhone during an interview? To answer this reader’s question, no, I never agreed to not ask about Piers Morgan. In fact, I knew that when a few rules were foisted upon me that I would break them.
It’s true, readers won’t always like your work — and I get that. But I thought the guy was off and rude in the process.
So I told him so.
“You’re a coward who can’t even leave his name,” I wrote. “You don’t have to like my story. But your take on it is completely fucked up.”
And then, I couldn’t help myself. I added one more thing.
“And just so you know — asshole — Mr. King and his staff enjoyed my story and told me so. So shut the fuck up.”
In the exchange of emails that followed, he cc’d by boss. What? To get me into trouble? I’m not the first reporter to deal with readers who think they can address reporters any way they want to without brushback.
Thankfully, no one forbids me from writing back readers when I feel like it. At a previous job, there were strict guidelines — my only option for a response to an email like this was: “Thank you for your thoughts.”
Which was utterly unsatisfying.
At this point, the reader pressed on about my sneaking a picture of King’s socks as if it was the equivalent of taking a picture of — what — his crotch? He acted like I dug through King’s trash cans, rifled through his medicine cabinet or took a peek at his underwear drawer when he wasn’t looking.
“My name is irrelevant. You’re changing the argument. Taking a creeper pic isn’t sleazy? Revealing a private conversation with the publicist to the public but not the subject of the interview isn’t tacky? Not identifying an Emmy winning producer and a well known restaurant isn’t lazy? Not sure how you can defend any of this, where’d you go to journalism school Helen Keller Correspondence College? Thanks for calling me an asshole and a coward. Thank you for telling me my take is fucked up and telling me to shut the fuck up. This is exactly the type of class I would expect from the writer of this article. (And all this on company email.) I was civil. I explained why I don’t like your story and backed it up with solid examples. It’s unfortunate because without these cheap stunts it could have been decent. If Mr. Carlson is impressed or proud of you, I feel sorry for you both. Have a great night!” — He signed this one with his supposed name: Paul Nichols.
Civil? He sends me an email calling my work (or me, who knows, it’s hard to tell) trashy, sleazy and tacky. I suppose that does pass for “civil” these days.
I replied with the following:
“Dear Paul Nichols, I’m so glad you cc’d my boss on this and included your full name. And yes this is ‘company’ email. So it’s official: you are still an asshole and you have no idea what ‘civil’ means.”
At this point, still cc-ing my editor, he wanted my article dispatched to a “real journalist” or a “journalism professor.”
“More name calling because that’s your only defense. Send your article and my points to any real journalist or journalism professor for a judge’s ruling. I rest my case. See you at I Ricchi! Love, Paul”
Our love fest continued:
“It’s funny that you think you’re right and cute and clever,” I wrote. “You’re none of the above. You’ve clearly embraced your stupidity. There must be an award for that somewhere.”
“Craigs List” sent me one last note:
“More name calling yet you can’t defend SNEAKING pictures during an interview or outing a publicist. You’ve never addressed one point I’ve mentioned. Just attacks and foul language. And Mr. Carlson… you accept this language and behavior from your employees to your readers? Shame on you both. I’ve wasted far too much time on bloggers. I’ll go back to reading real journalism. See you at the Peabodys!”