Press Box

Swimming in Status Anxiety

Tina Brown thrashes her way into the pages of the Washington Post.

Is there an original way to comment on the badness of Tina Brown’s new column in the Washington Post “Style” section? Brown’s widely ridiculed Oct. 23 debut detailed the latest trial faced by “members of the Manhattan buzzocracy,” of which Brown and her husband, Harold Evans, are queen and knave. Until this year, Hollywood studios distributed home-video versions of Oscar-contending films to the folks who vote for the Oscars, but evidence that pirates were copying and selling them prompted MPAA President Jack Valenti to ban the practice this go-round. So, as Brown details in her column, publicity agents are begging celebrity buzzocrats to drum up interest in—and votes for—Oscar-contending movies by hosting private screenings around town.

Posties openly derided the column the morning it came out, reading aloud from it and guffawing, and Post Ombudsman Michael Getler only encouraged them with an internal memo that read in part, “I don’t do columnists. But I’m granting myself dispensation to opine that this precious, egocentric … piece was about the worst and most irrelevant thing I’ve read in my three years in this job.”

Obviously, Getler doesn’t read the Post very closely. Preciousness, egocentricity, and irrelevance may not reside at the Post, but these three horsemen are no strangers to the stable that Graham built. But as a generous reader, I hoped that Brown’s first column indicated a new freewheeling and deliberately frivolous impulse on the part of Post editors, something that should be encouraged even if it results in an occasional travesty. I interpreted the overbaked prose of Brown’s column as self-parody and forgave her for spackling her dented copy with an excess of catch phrases, clichés, and buzzwords (“A-list”; “boldface name”; “diva”; “Botox”; “Kabbalah”; “hype”; “New Age”; “scribe”; etc.).

Forgive me my kindness. Brown, for whom self-parody appears to be a form of self-realization, returns today with “Strike Three: New York’s Icon Deficit.” Her ostensible purpose is to locate in the New York Yankees’ World Series loss to the Florida Marlins a marker for the end of the Rudy Giuliani era, and with it the eclipse of so many other leading New York icons (Calvin Klein, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, George Plimpton, Andrew Cuomo, Martha Stewart, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Jack Welch, Sandy Weill, Dick Grasso, etc.), as if people never used to fall out of prominence or die in Manhattan before she started looking over her shoulder.

But if the Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2000, why should their defeat this year signify anything? (Likewise, Rudy departed almost two years ago.) The only conceivable reason Brown worked the Yankees into the beginning and the end of her column is that 1) every newspaper column demands a set of bookends and 2) she’s dying to name-drop about having attended Game 6 in George Steinbrenner’s family box, “surrounded by the sports patriarch’s daughter and grandkids, a stunningly normal group of all-American fans. The boys ate huge tubs of butler-served ice cream and waved fishing nets.”

A normal group of all-American fans eating tubs of butler-served ice cream at Yankee Stadium?“Hey, Jeeves, two Dove Bars for me and my buddy!”

All journalism is autobiography: Read with the Press Box decoder ring, Brown’s column is really a lament about the end of the Tina Brown era, which began with sleigh rides from the helm of the Tatler, Vanity Fair,and The New Yorker and ended in the ditch with Talk magazine, not to mention the creepy close-up of her CNBC program. No wonder Brown finds in Bill Clinton, another spent ‘90s force, such inspiration for the return of the icons!

If you once held the zeitgeist in your fist but now found yourself swimming in status anxiety 24 hours a day, you’d write this badly, too.


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