David Shields is a puckish literary critic and Litkicks favorite whose epic 2010 book Reality Hunger proposed that creative writers may as well skip the pretense of fiction and simply write the truth, since that's what readers value most in either fiction or non-fiction anyway. His latest book examines a more malevolent borderline between fiction and truth.
Why, his new War Is Beautiful asks, does the New York Times illustrate its reporting from war zones with such lush and painterly elegance that horrific violence is transformed into stunning art?
Shields confronts one major newspaper directly in this art book (which is subtitled "The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict"), explaining in the introduction that he began to distrust the Times following their failure to report accurately about the phony justification for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He's on solid ground with this argument, and indeed a quick perusal of War is Beautiful does help to make a larger case: for reasons that may or may not include cultural aspiration, editorial incompetence or simply aesthetic instinct, the New York Times appears to have a chronic tendency to glorify and celebrate war.