On Ian Levine’s Throwdown With Simon Cowell

Dear Daily Fail.

I don’t often read your publication, but Doctor Who uber-fan Ian Levine tweeted a cryptic link to your fine paper. Levine, as I’m sure you know, worked on Doctor Who producer John Nathan Turner in the 1980s, in much the same capacity that Richard Arnold worked for Star Trek producer Gene Roddenberry at roughly the same time.

Now, I’ve read Guy Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” Many people have. It was published in Esquire back in 1966. It’s studied to this day as one of the earliest and iconic pieces of New Journalism. “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” sets a high standard in terms of its literary merit.

It’s also famous for recounting the throwdown between Harlan Ellison and Sinatra. According to Ellison, Talese underplays what happened between the two men, but let’s be honest, Daily Fail. Ellison is a bit of a habitual liar. He’s a writer. Habitual lies are his stock in trade. Let’s be charitable and say that Ellison exaggerates. Because, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want the cachet of having had a throwdown with Frank Sinatra? I can’t blame Ellison for his possible exaggerations.

I bring this up because when I clicked through Levine’s link, the first thing I saw was your headline — “The night I smashed a Sinitta record over Simon Cowell’s head, Ian Levine paints an intimate portrait of X Factor’s music mogul” As titles go, it’s no “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” that’s for sure. It lacks Talese’s brevity, for one thing.

Then as I read the article, an uncomfortable feeling settled in. Talese’s article wasn’t about the Ellison/Sinatra throwdown, though that’s the part of “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” that everyone remembers. No, Talese’s article was about how Sinatra was a boorish prick, walled off from the people who made him, who traveled in his own little world, who didn’t how how to deal with people like Ellison and Talese who simply didn’t fit inside Sinatra’s bubble. Talese painted a portrait as damning as any, simply by showing Sinatra as himself, walled off and out of touch.

“The Night I Smashed a Sinatta Record,” by contrast, has none of that going for it. Polly Dunbar and Peter Robertson aren’t in Talese’s class as prose stylists, but I could set that aside if the story they told was halfway compelling. Instead, it’s the bleatings of a man with an axe to grind, and even as barely aware as I am of Simon Cowell, the fact that the man is an utter prat to people isn’t any sort of surprise. Talese’s profile wasn’t Ellison grinding his axe on Sinatra; Dunbar and Robertson’s profile is nothing but Levine grinding his axe on Cowell.

“The Night I Smashed a Sinatta Record” fails as journalism. Where are the facts? Where is the reporting? Where are the corroborating sources? What did I learn that I didn’t already know? The world already knew that Cowell was a prat. The world (or, Doctor Who fandom, at any rate) already knew that Levine was thin-skinned and bitter. What value was this article to anyone?

In short, Daily Mail, total fucking fail.

In the future, try harder.

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