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Lifestyle

April 5, 2013

HBO's 'Vice': Journo-Tourism for Hipsters

(Continued)

This is broadcast journalism for those who have not typically paid attention to foreign news and aren't at all squeamish about seeing footage of war carnage that other networks might edit out as a matter of taste. In the first episode, Smith heads to Afghanistan to report a story about boys recruited by the Taliban to act as suicide bombers. "Vice" is a place to see all those severed hands and heads and other images we've typically been spared.

Smith is an enthusiastic mansplainer, reporting whatever he just learned as fresh news. "Obviously, he's a cagey guy," Smith says after an interview with a Taliban leader. Watching "Vice," I was reminded of a priceless scene from the 2011 documentary "Page One," about the future of the New York Times, in which David Carr, the Times's media columnist, cut short Smith's bragging that he had covered atrocities in Liberia while the New York Times wrote lifestyle stories about surfing. "Before you ever went there, we've had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide," Carr told Smith in a calm but eviscerating mini-lecture. "Just because you put on a [expletive] safari helmet and looked at some poop doesn't give you the right to insult what we do."

"Vice," which counts Bill Maher and Fareed Zakaria among its producers, prides itself on an adventuresome Lonely Planet sense of naivete, figuring that the best stories it can tell are the ones where it puts its correspondents — who, judging from two episodes, all seem to be white, male, tattooed, horn-rimmed and whiskered — at a relative amount of risk. The problem here isn't objectivity, which is itself an outdated way to describe fairness in reporting; the problem is that "Vice" seems plenty earnest but insufficiently skeptical, favoring outrage and shock over context and depth. It is journo-tourism for hipsters, with an attitude that sometimes makes it difficult to appreciate the value of the stories being told.

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