In the course of researching my new book on resignations, I’ve been wading through a lot of parting shots from journalists.
Well, they have the public forum. Most of us pass through our careers without leaving a trace. We speak as representatives. We curtail our language. We stick to the script. This makes workplaces strangely preliterate, at least in terms of studying them. In the absence of personal testimony, we need to turn anthropologist.
It’s not like that with journalists. Everything they write is a personal testimony. Their/our careers are (often, at least) all footprint. And sometimes, the testifying is all there is.
So I’ve been wading through the last flare-outs of Jonah Lehrer, Johann Hari, Jayson Blair and others. And those cases reminded me of another that I’d known more than a decade before. This case never got quite the fame in the English-speaking world; but then, if it hadn’t been for our anglophone insularity, perhaps it could never have happened in the first place.
It’s the strange, strange story of a Swiss-German Hollywood reporter called Tom Kummer. He was Germany’s man on the inside throughout the 1990s. Nobody – not the LA Times, not Vanity Fair – could get the access he got; or get the stars to open up like him. He interviewed Brad Pitt about his bogies; Courtney Love about dinosaurs; Sharon Stone about post-structuralism. The world asked: how did he do it? What was his secret?
Well, you can guess. But there was a twist to Tom Kummer’s story that nobody saw coming. I wrote a feature about him in Jack magazine back in 2003. So I dug it out. Here it is.
It’s not perfect. But it sure is weird.