Somebody Please Give Claire Hoffman a Pulitzer

Or an Ellie or Golden Pen or CRMA plaque or whatever it is you award to groundbreaking regional magazines published by newspapers. “Baby, Give Me a Kiss” is what we in the editing business affectionately call “Writing Gone Wild.”

Hoffman’s story in the LA Times West magazine, published on August 6, was simply one of the most brilliant pieces of narrative journalism I’ve read in — well, ever. The story is about Joe Francis, the founder of the “Girls Gone Wild” series of softcore porn videos, but it’s much more than just a story about a sleazy businessman. I laughed out loud at a few places–especially when Francis starts chastising women for not knowing what a qwerty keyboard is, and then ragging on the reporter for what he assumes will be a merciless article about him:

“She’s going to slaughter me now,” he shouts to the group as I keep smiling, writing in my notebook, tape recorder running. Apparently, he wants more of a reaction. He’s pantomiming me typing furiously, writing an article.

“She’s going to be looking at her keyboard going, ‘Ah, you think you’re so smart now.’ Qwerty keyboard. Who’s smart now?” He sounds happy. “She’s going to be playing that tape back. It’s going to be echoing in her head. Qwerty, qwerty, qwerty. She’s going to go all psycho.”

He’s right, of course. Hoffman slaughters Francis in her story. But not for the reasons he anticipates — that she thinks he’s condescending to her or that she’s got the hots for him. No, in fact, she tells the story of an underage girl who was raped by Francis on one of the days that Hoffman was, with his permission, shadowing him. At which point the story transitions expertly from a humorous profile of an eccentric, sleazy, wacky entrepreneur into a riveting expose of our exhibitionist culture, the objectification of women, and the abuses and crimes that this mindset can perpetrate. At 6,000 words, the story ain’t short, but it’s every bit as brilliant as anything I’ve read in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, or any other publication (excluding InTown, of course) in the past year.

Many thanks to my colleague Robert Zeliger for pointing me to this story. And one last time, just ’cause it bears repeating: Somebody please give Hoffman a Pulitzer!