In December, CJR took Daily Beast Columnist Michael Daly to task for publishing a “notable exception” to otherwise responsible media coverage of the Connecticut state’s attorney report on the Sandy Hook massacre. His piece speculated that there were pedophiliac underpinnings to the shooter’s motives despite warnings in the study against jumping to conclusions about what spurred the 27 murders.
About a month and a half after the piece ran, Daly wrote a follow-up in which he lambasted CJR for our criticism of his “entirely honest effort” to guess what the dead shooter might’ve been thinking. (“I had always felt there had to be a sexual component to the fascination with guns,” he wrote, as though a feeling were a legitimate source of reportage or analysis.)
In the aftermath of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s untimely death from an alleged heroin overdose, Daly again indulged an unfortunate tendency to attribute motives, and pass judgments, in the absence of solid evidence—and the Daily Beast again gave him a broad platform on which to do it.
In this case, he wrote a piece on Tuesday alleging Hoffman wouldn’t be an addict if he just more took joy in fatherhood. “Why was he in such abject need of a shoddy, solitary and dangerous chemical high when he knew the pure joy that comes with just being with your kids?” reads the lede. Then the piece proceeds to quote Daly’s
sondaughter—yes, his own daughter—on what a good father Hoffman “seemed like” at a public event. From there to the end conclusion that “[w]hatever kick Hoffman got from the envelopes of heroin was just a lie compared to the joy that he, as well as his kids, could’ve shared in the snow on Monday,” the piece shows an appalling lack of understanding of how addiction works, and a lack of empathy for a man who was, by all accounts, always kind and fair to reporters.
Daly told CJR on Wednesday that maligning Hoffman was far from his intention when he wrote the piece—that foremost on his mind was the sad fact that Hoffman won’t see his kids again. “It’s terrible there’s not going to be anymore movies,” Daly said. “It’s tragic there’s not going to be anymore plays. But the real tragedy is he’s not going to play in the snow anymore with his kids.”
He added, “I understand the notion that addiction’s a disease, and it’s nothing you can necessarily help and all that, but I just feel that when you’ve got kids, the rules change.”
If only that were the case. As Daly was writing, last year’s Guardian essay by Russell Brand describing addiction’s irrational nature was recirculating following news of Hoffman’s death, as was Rob Delaney’s post covering similar ground. And David Carr, who penned a book about his own addiction, posted a beautiful essay on Hoffman, humanity, and drug use on Tuesday morning. “He got in the ring with his addiction and battled it for two decades successfully,” Carr wrote.
And then something changed and he used. Everyone is surprised when that happens to someone famous, but it happens routinely everywhere else. Rooms of recovery are full of stories of people with long-term sobriety who went back out and some of them, as a matter of mathematics and pharmacology, don’t make it back.
In other words, if addiction got the best of Hoffman, it had nothing to do with the amount he loved his children—nothing to do with the fact that, Daly observed, he “looked real-life happy” caroling in Washington Square Park last Christmas Eve. The siren sang and he wasn’t, for whatever reason, bound tightly enough to the mast.
But enough about what Daly’s piece didn’t have (anything besides uninformed tsk-tsking about Hoffman’s alleged overdose). Let’s talk about what it did have: for starters, an unnecessarily graphic description of how his body looked when it was discovered. Any reporter who’s ever covered cops—much less for the three decades Daly touts—knows that just because police sources spill details doesn’t mean they go in the piece, especially when those details don’t further the story and could horrify the people who knew and loved Hoffman in real life. The piece also included observational reporting from the park near Hoffman’s house where, reportedly, he often took his kids. Daly described other fathers there playing with other children to highlight something that Hoffman will never do again.
We get it: Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead. And no amount of uninformed hand-wringing will bring him back.