Reporting: Writings From 'The New Yorker', by David Remnick

Stylish portraits of celebrities on the slippery slope to obscurity
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The Independent Culture

America has yet to recover from Andy Warhol. Since his death in 1987, celebrity culture has eclipsed or invaded nearly every corner of life - including, briefly, The New Yorker. During the mid-1990s, Tina Brown set the venerable old magazine loose on pop culture and even invited celebrities to guest edit. None of these developments went without comment in the viper pit of New York's media world - there are still folks angry about the advent of colour adverts.

David Remnick, editor since 1998, is the man for these people. He is a dutiful reporter and a stylish writer, who never lets one get in the way of the other. His reporting from Moscow earned him an award, and his book about the last days of the Soviet Empire a Pulitzer Prize. For a treat, he lets himself cover boxing. Reporting is his second collection of New Yorker pieces, again preoccupied with people in transition. Here are profiles of Al Gore, Vaclav Havel, Philip Roth, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Mike Tyson, among others. Remnick doesn't catch these figures at the top of their game, but entering the wilder region of semi-obscurity.

This is cheerfully rigorous work, obsessed with context. Following Tony Blair around London, with anti-war sentiment rising, Remnick witnesses the PM's "Hallowe'en rictus, a practiced yet futile attempt" to project "sincerity, patience, and (the essential category of pollsters) likeability." As with the best magazine writing, Remnick absorbs the energy around him and lets it wash over his prose. Around politicians, his sentences grow tense and sceptical. Several stories about post-Soviet Russia are Byzantine in their references, and phlegmatically hopeful.

Reporting omits numerous comment pieces - which is odd, since in the wake of September 11, the magazine's political role has grown. But for Remnick to reprint these pieces, he would have had to ask whether he and the magazine fell too closely into lockstep with the Bush administration's case for war.

Since 2003, The New Yorker has paid a sort of penance for its collusion, making news with the reporting of Seymour Hersh, and endorsing John Kerry. In the meantime, the magazine has continued to bring the cultural news, sometimes a little late, almost always wittily, insisting that if you take a long enough look at somebody on their way out, you learn as much as when they're at the top. Reporting reveals that no one does this with greater devotion than the editor himself.

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