Jack White’s Lady Gaga Comments And The Era Of The ‘Polite Sound Bite’

Why Jack White was totally right to take the media to task, in Bigger Than The Sound.

You probably never thought it would come to this, but desperate times call for desperate measures: Jack White is resorting to “the Internet and Twitter” to get his point across.

This is a man, who, over the past few years, I have compared to “an old-country mortician,” an “eccentric millionaire on par with Howard Hughes,” “a buckskin-clad frontiersman, a sharecropping bluesman, a cigar-chomping newsman” and “one of the Wright Brothers,” which probably gives you an idea of his level of tech savvy. Needless to say, he’s not one to Instagram photos of his dinner, even if he did shoot and skin it himself, build the wood fire to cook it on, and then crush the grapes for the accompanying merlot.

The thing is, I meant all of those comparisons as compliments, because what I love about Jack White is just how willfully out of touch he really is. This is a man who delights in his anachronisms, be they pressing tri-colored vinyl recordings of North Carolina auctioneers, recording on analog tape machines or distributing singles via helium balloons. And in the air-tight, tech-compressed, 140-charaters-or-less world of 2012, well, all of those things are breaths of fresh air.

So when White even mentions something like Twitter, you know he’s doing it only because he absolutely has to. And on Wednesday (December 5), well, he had to.

See, earlier in the day, the NME reported that he had said some nasty things about Lady Gaga; more specifically, her music. According to the site, he called her tunes “all image with no meaning behind [them],” which wouldn’t exactly be shocking given everything I’ve mentioned in the previous paragraphs. The only problem? He didn’t actually say anything about Gaga’s music. And therein lies the problem.

According to White, the NME had inserted the words “Lady Gaga’s music” into a quote he gave to the British edition of Esquire, literally putting words into his mouth and turning a slightly innocuous quote into one dripping with venom. So White, the man who loathes technology, was forced to issue a statement, one sent via email by his publicist, posted on the Third Man Records website, and blasted on Twitter.

In said statement, White scolded the media for what he deemed “tabloidesque drama baiting” and clarified that he never said anything about Gaga’s music to U.K. Esquire. Instead, he was talking about “the drawbacks of image for the sake of image,” and added that “it is popular nowadays to not question an image in front of you, but only label it as ‘cool’ or ‘weird’ quickly and then dispose of it.

“If you’re going to try to cause drama, at least get the quotes right. I think journalists should also be held accountable for what they say,” White wrote. “Especially publications like the NME who put whatever words they feel like between two quotation marks and play it off as a quote. Maybe somebody with more lawyers can take them to task, but I’ll just use the Internet and Twitter instead.”

While White relying on the Internet to address an issue is certainly, uh, surprising, he probably figured he’d use the platform to bring up a larger point, one that allowed him to get a few digs in on the era — and the culture — he not only despises but works overtime to subvert.

“I also think that kind of tabloid drama encourages artists to not express their opinions in the press,” he wrote, “and instead give polite sound bites that don’t stimulate thought about creativity and the consumption of art in its many guises.”

And here’s the thing: Jack White is 100 percent correct about that. Sensationalism is practically as old as journalism itself and while, in 2012, it’s not being used to start a war with Spain, you get the feeling it’s only because people couldn’t find Spain on a map. What White’s getting at is that coupled with the cutthroat competition for clicks, the increased clutter and our rapidly shrinking attention spans, you get to where we are today: an era where only those who shout loudest get heard.

To be fair, even Esquire used White’s thoughts on Gaga to promote their article, which sort of shows you where we’re at. And, yes, even our initial story suggested that White was taking shots at Gaga’s music, though we’ve since amended it to include his statement on the matter. But so did hundreds of other outlets around the world, which is why White felt the need to address the matter. Like we said, desperate times and all.

And you can imagine just how frustrating this must be not only to White, but to every other celebrity on the planet. And you can understand why they’d rather speak only in “polite soundbites.” The media these days is a bloodthirsty beast, one that will go so far as to make up quotes to get the job done (at worst), or pull a few juicy nuggets — a momentary aside — from a lengthy interview and make them the story. Even I am guilty of this .

Yes, I know that the entirety of the blame doesn’t fall on the media, and that celebs can be as fickle and thoughtless as the rest of us, and I am well aware of the times in which we live, where we are seemingly in an endless race to the bottom. The point is, we in the media might actually be able to do something about it.

We should expect more from our readers, and they should demand more from us. It’s probably wishful thinking, but shouldn’t we at least aspire to go upwards from here? Shoot, if Jack White is mentioning Twitter, you know times are tough. Anyway, I’ve got to go … this takedown piece on Honey Boo Boo isn’t going to write itself.

Is Jack White right about the media? Let us know in the comments below.