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Passing: David Carr and Bob Simon

David Carr (1956-2015)

Photo by Ian Linkletter

First impressions

We’ve all heard how important first impressions are. You never have another chance to make a first impression, right?

Maybe that’s true, but I have my doubts about my first impression of the late New York Times media columnist and author David Carr. I think in Carr’s case, what you saw is not necessarily what you got.

I first spotted Carr as a feisty NY Times mouthpiece in the 2011 documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times.” My first impression: I thought he was a homeless person.

“How on earth did the New York Times agree to have this man represent them in this film,” I wondered. “What’s the deal?”

Perhaps I was not alone in my observations, as I noticed Carr made the top of toptip's IMDb web list of "People Who Overestimate Themselves."

Part of my disbelief was based on Carr's unkempt appearance, his rough speech and swearing. I figured the Times would entrust its reputation to a longtime staffer, someone who would represent the institution in a more dignified manner. As everyone knows, image is everything. At that moment I didn’t realized Carr had been with the NY Times since 2002. His past battle with cocaine addiction and his battle with cancer could have been the cause of his appearance.

What really got me was the fact that the Times would entrust its image to a guy who worked his way up in alternative weeklies, the Twin Cities reader and the Washington City paper. By all accounts, he was a very good reporter who did exhaustive research and wrote great investigative pieces, and was a master at narrative journalism. He was a regular contributor to The Atlantic. I was among those who celebrated the fact that Carr overcame his drug addiction, proved himself and came up through his work on alternative papers to become an established, successful part of a world class daily.

On the other hand, after reading a piece in The Atlantic’s website by a writer who had been mentored by Carr who was the editor at the time at The Washington City Paper,, I would not recommend using Carr’s tactics as a newsroom manager. The writer states that Carr yelled at him more than any other boss he had, that once Carr chased him into an elevator and yelled at him about an error all the way down. That particularly crude management style is the opposite of what we would recommend. Rather, it’s a recipe for a hostile work environment lawsuit these days.

Carr collapsed at his desk in the Times’ newsroom and died Feb 12. It’s always sad to learn the passing of a journalist. By all accounts he died in a place where he did what he loved to do, but I take issue with anyone who writes something stating he died doing what he loved. I don’t subscribe to this romantic theory, somehow fed to us to justify the loss or to make us feel better that a man died at his workplace. I’m betting Carr would have rather had a chance to say goodbye to his wife and kids one last time.

This brings us to CBS News reporter Bob Simon. Simon had reported on many difficult events overseas: the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, the Yom Kipper War and the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. But he really came to prominence when he and his CBS crew were captured by Iraqi soldiers and held for 40 days while he was covering the Persian Gulf War in 1991. When released, he looked worn and grizzled. I was only slightly surprised to see him show up on the news again as he reported from another of the Middle East’s dangerous trouble spots not long afterward. My sentiments: “Go home to your family, Bob.” But Simon continued to report from all corners of the globe, no matter how difficult the situation.

Simon died as a result of a car accident in Manhattan on Feb. 11. He had earned 27 Emmy Awards for journalism.

I didn’t know David Carr, and maybe I didn’t understand the kind of man he was or how he did things. I didn’t know Bob Simon, but I think I know why he continued to risk his life while working on assignments from some of the most dangerous locations in the world. It’s a fair bet to surmise both men were driven by their work.

I am just as guilty as anyone when it comes to wanting a good ending. I would rather have both their stories end with each retiring at the height of his career, each going home to his family.

Bob Simon (1941-2015)

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