Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Robert Kaplan’s Understanding of Journalism

Robert Kaplan is doing a fascinating interview on his new book, Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts as I write this. Check Hugh Hewitt’s site later this evening or early tomorrow for a transcript. The book sounds terrific, of course, but I am even more interested in his description of his craft. He describes his kind of writing as more reminiscent of the old travel guide style of writing--that is, it is more descriptive than "investigative" in the style of Woodward and Bernstein. A whole generation of journalists have come up thinking that the point of their craft is to "uncover" or report on a "story;" showing the inconsistencies or discovering a problem. And, of course, there is an important place for such journalism. But it is not the only kind of journalism worth doing. There is also a need for the kind of descriptive reporting that Kaplan does. It provides the kind of context that leaves us ignorant in its absence. Journalists of the first description should be required to read more of Kaplan’s kind. Kaplan’s style is more leisurely even than that of an embed--he takes a month or more to really get into the minds and workings of his subjects. His description, for example, of the affinity between a seaman or an airman with his ship or aircraft is the kind of brilliant insight an ordinary reporter would need years to develop any kind of appreciation for without some kind of serendipity. And, as he shows, this affinity explains so much of what they do that it is hard to overstate it. It also explains a lot about the differences between those two branches of the military and the other branches. Kaplan describes what he sees, thinks about what he sees, and allows insights to develop organically rather than inserting them into the pages of a story written on a tight deadline. In short, I like him. I was interested in this book before I heard this interview. Now I’m going to buy it and his Imperial Grunts.

UPDATE: The transcript can be found here. But it is a pretty long read, so if you prefer to listen go here.

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