The Breakfast Table

Are Powerful Women Only Temporary?

No, no, no; the bird in the chimney wasn’t part of the dream—it’s what woke me up from it. The dream was the radio show and the dead air. I wonder if Andrew or Mickey have anxiety dreams. I’m sure they do.

I love Coleen Rowley, and I just loved her memo. Sherron Watkins’ memo, on the other hand, seemed less like whistle-blowing than a loyal employee’s attempt to get her sweet-but-slightly-distracted boss to focus on all these Bad Things he must not know about. Coleen is a pistol, though. She reminded me of Frances McDormand in Fargo, although she looks (in her pictures) remarkably like that Susan Smith person who drove her children into the water. And yes, it’s true that Coleen and Sherron have done a great deal for women. Is it possible that it’s somehow easier for women to blow whistles because they’re already outsiders in the male culture they work in? And they therefore have less to lose? Or is the complete opposite true—that because they’re outsiders and have such a tenuous grip on power, they have much more to lose? And is one-and-a-half women too small a number to draw any conclusions from? Probably.

Anyway, the thing I was referring to where women were concerned was what Peter Braunstein in WWD called, “When men succeed, it’s called success, but when powerful blond women succeed, it’s still failure.” Braunstein was reviewing Chris Byron’s book on Martha Stewart, but he could just as easily have been talking about this morning’s New York Times piece pretending that women in television are somehow failures because none of them was chosen to replace Tom Brokaw. There have been so many articles of this sort prompted by the bankruptcy of Kmart, the failure of Linda Wachner, the almost-failure of Carly Fiorina, the bowing-out from politics by the governor-slash-mother-of-twins of Massachusetts, every one of these things pounced on with a kind of giddy hope that it will prove once and for all that the presence of women in high places is temporary.

Did anyone connect your daughter’s rash to 9/11? I hope you didn’t have to pay several million dollars to an allergist for scratch tests. Just call me if the rash comes back. I’ll be glad to try to figure out what she’s allergic to. Along these lines, I was sad to read that Mildred Wirt Benson, the woman who wrote the Nancy Drew books, had died. I loved those books, and my legacy from them is to imagine myself solving almost any mystery. I was also surprised to read the obituary because I’d always thought that a woman named Harriet Stratemeyer Adams had written them; she took credit for writing them, I’m sorry to say. Harriet Stratemeyer is, like me, a Wellesley graduate, and I was thrilled when I thought (mistakenly) that a Wellesley alumna had created Nancy Drew. In fact, Adams was the daughter of the books’ publisher and merely edited them.

This reminds me, somehow, of Doris Kearns Goodwin. I like Doris Kearns Goodwin, and I’m always happy to see her on television. I’ve been fascinated by this epidemic of plagiarism and by the “gotcha” that’s greeted its exposure. Why do you think the glee has been so much more pronounced when it comes to Goodwin than, say, to Steven Ambrose? I mean, the Pulitzer board actually hired Floyd Abrams to investigate her. (She resigned from the board over the weekend, and it announced its investigation was now moot.) And what do you make of all this plagiarism? Is it all “plagiarism”? Couldn’t some of it simply be sloppiness? Carelessness? Plagiarism, to me, is deliberately and willfully stealing—not taking notes (or worse, having a researcher take notes) and then mistakenly assuming it’s been adequately paraphrased. Can any of this piling-on be attributed to Staff Envy or its more modest cousin, Assistant Envy? I don’t know, but I suspect some of it is. Watch out for assistants; they’re going to be very big, dramatically, in this decade. You heard it here. Meanwhile, I wish Janet Malcolm would sort all this out, or in the meantime, you.