Ooh, Steve Brill. Do I really want to say what I think about him and then have to read a 25-page analysis of my various journalistic indiscretions in Brill’s Con Job? Including a discography of all the free copies of Beastie Boys CDs I received in the mail and kept?!? Even though we never actually ran a review?!?
The trouble with him and his self-police force is they have no sense of humor. Ombudsmen? Agate-type footnotes? Geez. My heart aches for the days of the old Spy, when columnists hid behind pseudonyms, skewered Abe “I’m Writing as Bad as I Can” Rosenthal and other Timesmen, and recounted delicious personal details about editors I’d never heard of who left the bathroom without washing their hands, etc. Instead, we get pots calling kettles black; and not just pots but rich and powerful pots with rich and powerful friends. Lighten up, Steve. Let he who is without synergy cast the first stone.
For what it’s worth, my somewhat obvious street-corner view is that the conflicts of interests that drive Brill nuts are inevitable. Media mergers and gobblings-up and the like have made it impossible for us to do our jobs if we’re obligated to disqualify ourselves from covering companies or people a) we do business with, b) we have a personal relationship or history with, or c) are in competition with. I’m not saying I like it; I’m just saying there it is. Where Brill goes wrong is in failing to distinguish between the most innocuous and naturally occurring conflicts from those lipstick-smeared ones that could have and should have been avoided. In the former category, I put, say, Entertainment Weekly’s decision to review the Pokémon movie, which was released by Warner Bros.; what’s it gonna do–not run a review? In the latter, I put the Times’ decision to keep Bernie Weinraub on the movie business beat all that time after his wife ascended to the ranks of studio muckety-muck. And I won’t even mention the sort of logrolling that routinely goes on in the book-review biz, the most recent example of which involves a certain D.C.-based weekly political magazine that shall remain nameless. But not shameless.
Into the latter category, alas, I must also put at least one of your current employers (which each seem to be piece of a big, honking conglomerate, as is mine). Can you tell that I’m dying to talk about Alex Unpronounceable Last Name’s Talk piece in yesterday’s Times? In a way I admire what Tina Brown is doing (he said respectfully, protecting his future job prospects). Rather than mincing around on the edges of the conflict-of-interest minefield, she’s charging down the middle, ignoring the explosions to her left and right. What I don’t admire is her pretending, however energetically, that she’s doing something other than shilling for the Weinsteins. Knowing that [insert blonde starlet here] appears on the cover because she’s got a movie coming out doesn’t make me want to read the story less–or more. Whereas Tina’s insisting that she put Elizabeth Hurley in an extraterrestrial fashion spread because it was a cute idea and not because she starred in My Favorite Martian, a film available right now on video from Miramax’s parent company, Disney, totally and completely strains credibility. My advice: Out yourself. Come clean. Tattoo “Bob” on one set of knuckles and “Harv” on the other, like Belushi in Blues Brothers. It’s not as if we’ll stop reading the magazine–or start.
Before I sign off, I must point out my favorite wire story of the week, month, and year. Reuters reported yesterday that a Canadian tourist has filed a $1.5 million lawsuit because his penis was allegedly crushed in a Starbucks. No, not in a roaster–he was in the bathroom making, as they say, a grande, when he reached back for the toilet paper and inadvertently got himself caught between the seat and bowl.
But did he wash his hands? Brill, get me rewrite.