New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks distributed his annual Sidney awards on Christmas Day, and this year’s festivities included a repeat winner:
I try not to give Sidneys to the same people year after year, but the fact is, talent is not randomly distributed. Some people, like Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard, just know how to write. His piece, “A Rake’s Progress” was a sympathetic and gripping profile of Marion Barry, the former Washington, D.C., mayor, crack-smoker and recent girlfriend-stalker.
At the start of his first interview, Labash, making small talk, asked Barry if he still has a scar from an old bullet wound: “ ‘Let’s see,’ he says, lifting his shirt, so that within ten minutes of arriving, I’m eyeball to areola with Barry’s left nipple. It’s a move that’s very Barry. Most times, he reveals nothing at all. Then he reveals too much.”
Labash delights in Barry’s rascally nature, but also captures why the voters of Barry’s ward don’t merely vote for him, they possess him and cherish him.
Two years ago Brooks also bestowed a Sidney on Labash:
Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard is consistently one of the best magazine writers in the country. Since amoral blackguards bring out his best, his profile of political dirty tricks artist Roger Stone was bound to be good. Stone cut his teeth with Nixon, loved Roy Cohn, works with Trump, advised Sharpton and has laid a barrage of fire into Eliot Spitzer. One of Stone’s maxims is: “Hit from every angle. Open multiple fronts on your enemy. He must be confused, and feel besieged on every side.”
But Stone is also a colorful, dashing artist of the underhanded. Labash tried to ply him with alcohol to loosen his tongue. But Stone was one step ahead. He’d already paid the waiter to bring him water disguised as martinis.
Truth is, Labash should’ve scored the Sidney Awards hat trick, since his December, 2008 piece on what remains of Detroit was probably the best of the three.
This is the place where bad times get sent to make them belong to somebody else, thus, it seems easy to agree about Detroit because the city embodies everything the rest of the country wants to get over.
–Jerry Herron, AfterCulture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History (1993)
My plane hadn’t even finished descending through the snow-drizzly sheets of December gray, when already, I heard someone crack on it. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” a Northwest flight attendant announced, “Welcome to lovely Detroit, the one and only home of the Detroit auto worker of America. Happiness is a way of travel, not a destination.”
The lawyer sitting next to me sniggered. He was only buzzing in for a day or so, but knowing I was a reporter, come to write a story on the city, he asked, “How long are you in for?”
“About a week,” I responded.
“Good luck with that,” he said, piteously shaking his head. “It sucks.”
Before I’d left, I’d asked an acquaintance if he was from Detroit. “Indeed I am,” he said, “Give me all your f–ing money.” Another colleague, always mindful of my desire for maximum material, suggested, “You should go when it’s warm, you’d have a better chance of getting hurt.”
Somewhere along the way, Detroit became our national ashtray, a safe place for everyone to stub out the butt of their jokes.
Like David Brooks said, Matt Labash can flat out write.