Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley took up the new book by Weekly Standard contributor Joseph Epstein on Gossip. Yardley complained that Epstein defined gossip with some "lame" words by John Podhoretz (instead of liberal Nora Ephron), but he deeply enjoyed how Epstein managed to take apart one Tina Brown, who is now the editor of both Newsweek magazine and the Daily Beast website.
Epstein identified how seemingly everywhere Tina goes, the magazine loses gobs of money but she build all kinds of "buzz," largely about herself:
There are now more professional purveyors of gossip than can be counted, but “one of the great editorial entrepreneurs of our time and a maestra of modern gossip” is Tina Brown, who in her various incarnations as editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, Talk and, now, the Daily Beast, has over and over again proved “her strong sense of what people want to know and her ability to produce it.” Epstein declines to get on his high horse about her, but his comments are devastating all the same. He points out the “repeating pattern” in her career: “She enlivens the institutions she works for, adding greatly to their circulation, and while they lose money, she gains reputation” and, of course, the inside track on the next juicy job to come along. Again to quote at length:
“Her great skill has been to encourage a fundamental unseriousness in her readers. The serious after all requires thoughtful effort, even some brooding on subjects; on occasion it forces one to take painful, usually moral positions; and sometimes, yes, it can be quite boring. Tina Brown peddles entertainment, which is not against the law, but ought to be recognized for what it is: distraction. Master at psyching out the Zeitgeist, she has become very much part of that same Zeitgeist, the purest type we have of the contemporary journalist, a woman whose goal, although she may not know it, is the excruciatingly boring state where everything is merely interesting and nothing is finally important.”
For much of his insights into Tina Brown, Epstein relied on Judy Bachrach’s “richly gossipy” book about her and her husband, Harold Evans, “Harry and Tina Come to America” (2001). This I have just now read and hugely enjoyed, but it’s something of a surprise that Epstein seems to have missed Philip Norman’s naughty roman a clef about the celebrated couple, “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” (1995), one of my favorite novels of recent years for, among other reasons, its sheer naughtiness. As Epstein says, “Speculation on character, curiosity about other worlds, an interest in social status, the unveiling of secrets, nice discriminations, revelations of secret motivations, moral judgments – so many of the constituent parts of gossip are also often at play in novels.” He is writing, of course, about literary novels about fictitious characters, but when those characters are thinly veiled depictions of those whom we know all too well in the public arena and whom we find, on the whole, thoroughly dislikable, the gossip — like the fun — is all the juicier.