fall of rick bragg

I promised myself I wouldn’t express public joy over the fall of Rick Bragg, despite my previously stated animus against him. But screw that! While he’s not accused of anything of a Jayson Blair scale, his downfall (for slapping his name on a feature story almost entirely reported by his personal indentured servant) fits his M.O. perfectly.
My complaint about Bragg was always that he’s lazy. He only writes stories that have already been published elsewhere. His pieces are reported only to the bare minimum — the rest of the story is all metaphors and stereotypes. (I remember a page-one story he did set in Lafayette, La., where he barely interviewed anyone except the waitress at his expense-account lunch spot and a writer buddy of his in New Orleans.)
Katha Pollitt says it well: “He is known for a certain kind of story — the intimate, writerly, vivid, passionate (or overblown, verbose, sentimental and hackneyed) portrayal of some off-the-beaten-path nostalgia-drenched American scene. Part of his appeal (or lack thereof) is the implicit claim that he, a Southerner with rural working-class roots, knows the REAL America and you, the urban Times reader, do not…Bragg is an implicit character in all his stories — participating in the family dramas, local struggles, and manly labors of the people he writes about, and responding to same with knowledge and empathy born of his own life experiences. Finding out that he was never on that oysterboat, never saw those mullet belly-flop, is sort of like finding out that Hemingway never went marlin fishing. With a different kind of writer you might not care so much — but when a writer sets up his tent on the territory of authenticity, and uses that to claim superior insight to certain kinds of experience, he’d better be telling the truth about his relation to seafood.”
He got away with it because he is truly a gifted writer. But as Mickey Kaus puts it, “[D]idn’t this guy smell like a phony for years?”
I really wish the man no ill, but I think it’s good he’ll be able to focus on writing books now. Hopefully, the NYT will send one of its many terrific, workhorse national reporters to cover Louisiana now.