Morning Joe | May 16, 2011
>> is out with a new book "tabloid city." i look forward -- this looks good.
>> you have provided for us a decadent carnival.
>> a decadent carnival?
>> that's a good line.
>> i didn't write it. i swear.
>> but you have all the elements. you've got a wealthy socialite murder, tabloid --
>> a good address. tabloids. everything. so talk --
>> terrorists, jihadists.
>> oh, good lord. it's all there. thairchlt
>> they're all there. first, it's a kind of lament for the shrinking of newspapers that gave me my life. 50 years with tabloids. but also i wanted it to be like a tabloid. i wanted to kind of cast. you know, i wanted it moving fast. i wanted it lean and doing things that you can't do in the newspaper where you can have an interior life . you can understand who they are.
>> better than you could if you were just reading it in the daily news.
>> talk about the tabloids. you say that given the city life and there are so many people that will tell you, you know, you say read "the new york times" cover to cover . but the first thing they pick up is "the new york post" or the daily news. it's kind of like that's their local paper.
>> that's what i do, still. the times is here and i'm reading the news.
>> i think because they were born here and they were born in a subway city, they were the paper that most people read. you know, because you can manipulate them in the subway and still read them. you couldn't do that with the times which, in those days, was this wide.
>> and captain patterson started them in 1919 . lucked out because the dumbest law in american history , prohibition, came along and gave the tabloids the cast that they were waiting for. there were gangsters for the next 40 or 50 years that were manufactured during prohibition and created the kind of country we live in.
>> so i wanted to celebrate that because i had some of the best times of my life in the company of these people. they were obscene. they were -- i know about five of them that couldn't work anymore once they stopped smoking in the city room. they literally couldn't work.
>> couldn't work.
>> john heileman is a writer. you'll appreciate this. this is one of those books. it goes almost 300 pages, but it just encompasses 24 hours . it is so difficult to make something move. it's a tight narrative set out over a number of pages. it pains me to criticize him for having sucked up so egregiously to this show. he mentions " morning joe " three times in the book.
>> i love it.
>> you wondier he's sitting here. that's the answer.
>> they find a corpse in front of the television set which " morning joe " is.
>> there's a lot of f-bombs dropped a great deal in the book. make joe feel comfortable.
>> a lot prove fanity in the book. we're all in favor of that.
>> very profane.
>> you are a tabloid guy. you mentioned before you worked at tabloids for a long curious. there's a lot of details in here. how much of this is romana clef. how much of it comes from actually your experiences --
>> well, a lot of it is my experience, but the experiences of other guys, too. you know, generationally, that was the last great generation that came into the tabloid business. and it created columnists like breslin and murray kempton , nora ephron . all of them had their starts there. in a novel, you are always assembling two or three people into one. you are creating fictional characters to try to make them as true as you can make it to the spirit of what you are trying to say. and it can't only be you. you can't. although it was famously said, madam bovary is me. i guess all the women in here are me, too. although flo bear i'm not.
>> we talk about this book being a lament of time gone by in print journalism . what are your thoughts about that? mike barnacle talks about it a lot. sitting in a big open newsroom, smoking cigarettes, running out knock on doors, making phone calls. what do you think the state of journalism is?
>> because i teach at nyu, i'm a floater down there, and i see these young kids. i am more optimistic than i was before i went down there. they have the passion. they want to do this thing. they want to have meaningful lives. they don't want to just get rich. and so i'm optimistic about journalism. but the newspaper is bound to shrink. 70% of the cost of putting a newspaper out is paper, ink and trucks. that means 30% is going to journalism. and we're seeing now with, for example, " daily beast ." the professionalizing of the internet journalism . you are seeing a kind of professional level, which i think will spread where there's editors, where these kids get paid for doing what they do. it's not a hobby. and so i'm optimistic about journalism. but not necessarily about the newspapers.
>> you have written so much about new york . you love new york . and you've done it again here. this is a thriller. but it's really -- the star is the city, right?
>> and again, so many -- i mean, hedge fund types, everything. when you started the book out, what was your goal? what did you want to do here?
>> i wanted to -- two things. one was to evoke the feeling of a tabloid.
>> which is dissipating. you know, the serendipity of walking into a newsroom and the sports -- somebody in sports gives you a good political idea because he can't write it in sports and he bounces it off you and off you go. but also, to remember that the cast in the city this big, 8 million people, nobody knows the city. i don't know it. nobody knows it. it's too big and varied and layered and all that. but this amazing complexity. even by -- from people you meet passing in the street. there's a novel crossing the street and you don't know it.
>> so i was trying to get into the interior life which by definition you aren't allowed to do in journalism and shouldn't do. journalism can't pretend to know what's going on in anybody's head.
>> you can -- even when they say it, people lie. there's a famous breslin story where there's a fire in some place and the lower east side . he goes to cover it. there's a guy there who is the hero of the event. he saved a couple of babies on the first floor or something. breslin writes it all down, puts it in the paper the next day and that's the day they indict him for starting the fire.
>> there you go.
>> but jimmy had another column and told him how he will burn in hell for offending breslin. by lying.
>> pete hamill , the new book "tabloid city." you can gept an excerpt on our website, joe.msnbc.com. pete hamill , thank you so much.