“Newspapers spend too much time explaining themselves.” So said Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of the Washington Post; and a media watcher even gave the pronouncement a name—the Brauchi Doctrine. Look, Marcus. Your paper is in decline for the moment despite some bright spots; but essentially it’s still a powerful monopoly daily at the metro level, trading off the fame of its writers or at least its Watergate–glorified self. Why the devil shouldn’t the Washington City Paper and the rest keep calling up the Post on various topics? From all signs, Barnes & Noble won’t even stock The Solomon Scandals unless the Post reviews it. Even with the sacred names of Chandler and Hammett invoked, an enthusiastic City Paper write-up by a Yale lit major just didn’t count (Post bypass information here).
I’m endlessly amused when certain VIPs at the Post and elsewhere complain of too much publicity. Come on, guys. On the whole you love it—if nothing else, as a reminder you’re still alive.
That’s partly why I’m sympathetic toward Sally Quinn even though I wish she’d stop defending her wedding column about her “dysfunctional” family. As a journalist she is more committed to disclosure than Brauchli appears to be. Emerson be damned, here’s to Ms. Quinn and consistency! Media critics, bloggers, novelists and other info-parasites—mea culpa—should join me in my quixotic call for a Quinn at Large column for both the print and electronic editions. Sometimes private and public lives should intersect. What if the Sally Quinn of the 1980s had been on the trail of John Edwards, a living, breathing Scandal who almost ended up A Heartbeat Away?
The other side: The Mink Stole Ladies Syndrome
Despite the above, I can also see the VIPs’ side, and I agree with Carol Joynt on the need to factor in “collateral damage” to people written about, both celebrities and the obscure. What I’m really calling for is balance. As Exhibits A and B for the Joynt viewpoint, may I introduce to you Mink Stoles One and Two from The Solomon Scandals? They’re suburbanites at a party that a somewhat Quinnish columnist—no, not the Quinn—has thrown for “name-in-the-paper people” and those a few levels below. The Mink Stoles are jabbering away several decades ago, but the same scene could just as easily unfold in the PETA era. An excerpt follows.
I went to get myself a drink from Wendy’s bar, but instead stopped to overhear two fat women in mink stoles. They looked like clones; even the folds in the double chins matched. Both wore Elkins hairdos.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful, the way she carries on,” Mink Stole Number One was saying about an unnamed person.
“You’ve heard the pony story, haven’t you?” asked Two.
One shook her head.
“It’s sort of ancient,” said Number Two, “but it gives you an idea of why she’s so mixed up. She fell off this pony one day when she was little, and the family didn’t even see if she was hurt. They just ordered her back on. Tough, demanding people—both parents. She must have been starved for affection. So you can see why she’s so mixed up.”
“I’m glad she’s not mixed up with my daughter,” sighed Mink Stole Number One.
“I bet she’s on drugs.”
I was about to think it might be Wendy when one of the husbands materialized and presently asked whom the women were gossiping over.
“Why, Caroline Kennedy.”
“You know her?” asked the husband, a small, timid-sounding man who belonged to Number One.
“Well, not exactly,” said Number Two. “But you hear things.”
I’d spent years in McLean without meeting one Kennedy, and yet this woman spoke in the tones of a disapproving next-door neighbor. I wondered which tabloid was the source of her malarkey.