I am in shock.
I was getting ready to go to bed when I made one last check of The New York Times website and saw, to my utter disbelief, that David Carr, the nation’s foremost observer of the media, collapsed and died tonight in The Times’ newsroom.
He died about 8 p.m. Kansas City time. He was 58.
Earlier in the evening he moderated a panel discussion about the film “Citizenfour,” a 2014 documentary film about Edward Snowden and the NSA spying scandal. Participating in the panel discussion was none other than Snowden, as well as the film’s director, Laura Poitras.
Dean Baquet, New York Times executive editor, said of Carr, “He was the finest media reporter of his generation, a remarkable and funny man who was one of the leaders of our newsroom.”
For the past several years, the first thing I went to in the Monday morning Times was Carr’s column, “The Media Equation,” where he dissected a media matter that had been on his mind or the simmering media issue of the day.
His last “Media Equation” column, published Monday, was about NBC’s Brian Williams having lied about riding in a helicopter that was hit by a rocket propelled grenade during the Iraq War. The story was utter balderdash, and Carr began his column like this:
“For some time now, there have been two versions of Brian Williams. One is an Emmy-winning, sober, talented anchor on the “NBC Nightly News” and the other is a funny, urbane celebrity who hosts “Saturday Night Live,” slow-jams the news with Jimmy Fallon and crushes it in every speech and public appearance he makes.
“Each of those personas benefited the other, and his fame and appeal grew accordingly, past the anchor chair he occupied every weeknight and into a realm of celebrity that reaches all demographics and platforms. Even young people who wouldn’t be caught dead watching the evening news know who Mr. Williams is.
“Which is good until it isn’t.”
And doesn’t that just about sum up the Brian Williams saga — the story of a TV anchor who got so caught up in his celebrity status that sticking to the facts was no longer enough to satisfy the ego?
Carr wasn’t shy about pointing out his own shortcomings. I recall, especially, a column a few months ago about Bill Cosby. Carr wrote:
“In 2011, I did a Q. and A. with Mr. Cosby for Hemispheres magazine, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines, and never found the space or the time to ask him why so many women had accused him of drugging and then assaulting them.
“We all have our excuses, but in ignoring these claims, we let down the women who were brave enough to speak out publicly against a powerful entertainer.”
Adding to his mystique — and, more important, a credit to his genius and his ability to pull himself from the depths — Carr was a former drug addict.
In his 2008 memoir, “The Night of the Gun,” he related that he became addicted to crack cocaine and lived with a woman who was both a drug dealer and the mother of his twin daughters. He told about a night when the girls were infants that he left them in a car while he went into a house to score some coke from a dealer named Kenny.
“I decided that my teeny twin girls would be safe, that God would look after them while I did not,” he wrote.
In a 2008 article called “Me and My Girls” in the Times Sunday Magazine, Carr wrote that being an addict is being “a cognitive acrobat.”
“You spread versions of yourself around, giving each person the truth he or she needs — you need, actually — to keep them at a remove. Let’s stipulate that I do not have a good memory, having recklessly sautéed my brain in fistfuls of pharmaceutical spices. Beyond impairment, there may be no more unreliable narrator than an addict. Recovered or not, I am someone who used my mouth to constantly create one more opportunity to get high.
“Here is what I deserved: hepatitis C, federal prison time, H.I.V., a cold park bench, an early, addled death.
“Here is what I got: the smart, pretty wife, the three lovely children, the job that impresses.”
Carr joined The Times in 2002 as a business reporter, covering magazine publishing.
Earlier, he was a contributing writer for The Atlantic Monthly and New York magazine. He also served as editor of the Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly in Washington, D.C., and before that he was editor of a Minneapolis-based alternative weekly called The Twin Cities Reader.
…In other words, Carr went from editing a paper like the Pitch in Kansas City to being the top media writer for the nation’s foremost paper.
I think about the best way I can describe Carr is that he was a clear-thinking, intelligible version of the late Hunter Thompson, the prominent Rolling Stone magazine writer.
Damn, he was good! I am really, really going to miss him.
Survivors include his wife, Jill Rooney Carr, an event planner, and their daughter Maddie. His twins, by an earlier relationship, are named Erin and Meagan.