Gay Talese doesn’t know why the reporter is after him. Because he’s Gay Talese, there’s no other explanation, the interviewer argues. In a magnificent and very rare conversation published in the ABC newspaper, the living legend talks about how he doesn’t matter now, although his voice should echo now and always.
It doesn’t matter because Gay Talese, like so many others, was hit by that steamroller that some call “cancel culture.” Because he is old-fashioned, out of sync with the tantrums of these generations, then the inexperienced, spoiled and pusillanimous who now run universities and the media have turned their backs on the world’s most important and talented living journalist.
Of his generation (say Hunter Thompson, Truman Capote, and Tom Wolfe) only he remains. He wrote like the greats, lived with the greats, and unlike many other greats, is still with us. He is one of the literary greats who marked the course of journalism in the United States and in the world. There was and is no better chronicler. Gay Talese was interested not so much in the famous public personalities, but in the private ones. The small stories, which are generally the best. And even when he wrote about a star, Frank Sinatra, he put together the best profile ever published from the small things that surround the celebrity. Talese is, in short, a legend; yet to ABC he says, “I couldn’t write a word in print today. I wouldn’t be published.”
He is referring, above all, to the New York Times, the newspaper that was his home for so many years. Today the Times is too politically correct, too attuned to the unusual and poisonous whims of the masses, “awakened” but silencing. For that has been, in the end, this woke culture: the elite, supposedly more aware, silencing everything they don’t like. And now, to the horror of all of us who appreciate good literature and, above all, good journalism, they don’t like Gay Talese.
Imagine not publishing Gay Talese because he had the candor to say that no woman journalist had ever had any influence on his life. Imagine not publishing him for saying that Democrats suck, or for acknowledging that Donald Trump is one of the most famous people in the world, or for offending an extremely sensitive and avid career-destroying woman. Imagine living in that world. It sounds like bullshit.
The interview is wonderful because one has a chance to hear (or, rather, read) Talese again, after the disappearance of several years and since The Voyeur’s Motel, which threw us all off balance. What is inconceivable is that Talese returns to tell us how he is no longer invited to give talks at Yale University or how his words no longer find an echo in the mainstream media.
What a sad situation that we have to console ourselves with the certainty that there was no one like Gay Talese and the world, at some point, recognized it. We must console ourselves and pray for the return of those days.