Wolcott, 48, has been one of the sharpest, and sharpest-tongued, cultural commentators
in American media since his start with the Village Voice in the early 1970s
(he was squeezed out by the Voice’s editorial politburo in 1982).
He’s currently into his second stint at Vanity Fair; he’s also
written for The New Yorker, New York, Esquire, Harper’s,
The New Republic and elsewhere, commenting on tv, music, movies and literature.
His first novel, The Catsitters, is due out in July.
Novelist Jay McInerney, with
whom he’s had a long-running feud, once described Wolcott as "dyspeptic"
and "misanthropic" and filled with "seething, furious resentment."
Last year in the L.A. Weekly, Manohla Dargis referred to him as a "culture
coroner." He certainly pulls no punches in the following interview. He met
with us last week at the New York Press offices.
Strausbaugh: So The Catsitters is the long-awaited first Wolcott
novel. Why did it take you till you were 48 years old to write your first novel?
You’re supposed to do it when you’re 28.
Mostly because I worked on it on and off. I didn’t have any kind of advance.
I never got a writer’s colony gig.
You were never at Yaddo.
I was never at Yaddo. I don’t think I’ll ever be quite invited to Yaddo.
It will be stocked with people I’ve reviewed.
So what is it?
It’s a comic novel about New York. It’s about an actor/bartender.
Are your enemies going to savage you when it comes out? All your enemies gotta
be sharpening their swords.
I don’t know. My feeling is that the people who want to get me the most will
stand around waiting for someone else to do it. Because a lot of them don’t
actually want to put themselves on the line in that kind of way. They would consider
it lowering themselves. So it’ll be more a case of "Jeez, I hope so-and-so
takes a shot at him." It’s like I did a piece once on Richard Ford that
all the people around Richard Ford were furious about, and I would hear from friends
of Richard Ford secondhand. They would say, "We’ve gotta deal with Wolcott."
And I said, "Oh what is this, like Deliverance II?" They’re
going to take me up in the woods somewhere. And of course they weren’t going
to do anything either. So I actually don’t know who’s going to come
at me… They get caught up in the persona issue of "you’re a critic
who’s written a novel." Also, criticism right now is so toothless, people
are going to have to insert fangs in order to attack me or anybody else. If you
read most of the criticism now… How many reviews have you read that end, "That
said, this is an evocative study that rewards the patient reader…"? Well,
you know what, I’m not a patient reader. I need to be rewarded right
Smith: When did you start at the Voice?
I dropped out of college and I came up after my sophomore year, so it was early
Where was college?
Frostburg State College [in MD]. "Frostbite," as they called it.
People don’t realize that Maryland, with the exception of Baltimore and Montgomery
County, is really a Southern state to this day.
I think less so, though, because when I go down there now there’s a lot of
that white-collar flight out of Washington. When I was growing up there was this
whole pride of "Baltimore is a blue-collar town." But you go to Camden
Yards, there’s nothing blue collar about the Orioles. When I grew up there
it was much more like John Waters territory. I grew up in the suburbs northeast
of the city, Edgewood–the Edgewood Arsenal. You had a lot of white trash.
For example, they would convert military housing into civilian housing, and it
was just fightin’ and feudin’… I came to New York to the Voice
I fondly remember "Medium Cool" [Wolcott’s tv column in the Voice].
Did you do tv from the start?
I did a few tv pieces. I did rock pieces. They never assigned pieces. Diane Fisher
[the associate editor] would just come in one day per week to make selections
and she would pick things out of the basket. So you would just write things and
hope that it would get used, and if it didn’t get used you would have no
way of knowing why. Maybe somebody else wrote the same thing. Well, Diane left
after Clay Felker took over [in 1974]. I was just trying to slip things through
the cracks at that point. I didn’t get used as a writer very much until Felker
took over. Because at that point the Voice was really running on old habits.
It was still easier to crack the place there than it would be now, because now
there’s a political apparatus that would vet whoever–
Now you’ve gotta take the equivalent of a urine test because of the politics.
I saw all that transpire. I saw it all take shape.
We’re talking about something that’s been in place since the late 70s.
Right. But it didn’t happen immediately. And the irony of it all is that
the people who instituted it were not brought in by a left-wing ideologue. They
were Felker’s hires (or rehires). I don’t think Felker had any way of
knowing what was going to happen. Christgau, Goldstein…it was those sort of
people who really formed the core of politicizing the Voice and really
pushing its cultural coverage to the hard left.
You once wrote about how Joe Conason was Michael Corleone to Jack Newfield’s
Godfather at the Village Voice. What did you mean, exactly? Because that
didn’t pan out really.
Well, the thing is Newfield was the Godfather, and Conason was like–although
Conason, I’m told he had an angry side. But then again, at the Voice
everybody yelled into the phone. There was a sense Conason was the up-and-comer.
When they’d come back from lunch, it was so funny, you always felt like these
were the henchmen that hatched a plan over lunch and now they’re coming back.
Isn’t it amazing to you that Christgau is still writing about popular music
in the Voice at the age of 60 or whatever he is now?
And how old is [Christgau’s former protege Jon] Pareles?
Pareles was second in command when Bob wasn’t around. The weird thing is
that the people who were the proteges of Bob started to walk like Bob, talk like
him. I once heard a voice on the phone and I looked over the cubicle because I
thought it was Bob, but it was Pareles. This very weird thing, the emulation of
Christgau, it was also the emulation of his tastes and opinions. When I first
got to the Voice–Christgau, Richard Goldstein, people like that–they
were going to be the intellectual leaders of their generation. They were going
to be the Partisan Review. They, in years to come, were gonna take control.
The amazing thing is, here they are, all these years later–none of them have
ever done a stand-alone book. All of their books are collections [of articles].
Christgau got a Guggenheim at one point. They were all gonna do these big, original,
semi-theoretical works, and it never happened. So here’s Bob, he’s still
grading records. Goldstein I have no idea what he’s going. [Ellen] Willis
is writing as if it’s 1973. I mean, she throws in contemporary references,
but her whole mode of thinking is "If we could just get a real sexual
revolution, we could tap the energy…"
the time the thinking was that these people who are writing about rock were gonna
springboard into being cultural commissars, because they had other interests,
and that they were gonna use that as a launchpad. People really thought Christgau
was gonna be an intellectual broker. They thought Willis was gonna be a–I
don’t know, Simone de Beauvoir or something. What happened was, all of them
became sort of self-styled intellectuals. They were really better when they were
Let me read you a sentence from a Voice piece of yours from May 5, 1980.
You had attended a Salmagundi conference.
Listen to this, John. "Had the Skidmore audience been in a rebellious mood,
[Cynthia] Ozick might have been bonked on the beezer with a well-aimed avocado,
but she read from her notes for a half-hour without a single missile whistling
through the air. After she concluded her incomprehensible rebuttal, several couples
grabbed their coats and bolted for freedom."
I can hear the influence of P.G. Wodehouse. Ozick always did this kind of faux-modest
thing of "You know, I didn’t really know what to say, but last night
I prepared a few notes in my hotel room." And she’d plunk down these
notes, and you could see the five pages of fine print and it was like, oh my God,
we’re gonna be here forever.
Felker doesn’t get the credit he deserves for what he did with the Voice
when he took it over.
I think to look back at those issues now people would probably be really surprised
at how lively they were. And he expanded the reach. He basically said, "You
can’t ignore all the stuff that’s happening in the popular culture."
That worked out fine for me, because that’s what my interest was. But there
were so many [Voice writers who were] resistant. There’s the classic
case, which has been written about, when Ron Rosenbuam stomped into Clay’s
office and crumpled up a check and threw it at him and left. And the story goes
that when he left Clay said, "Who’s that?" I don’t know if
it’s true or not. There were people who, like Ron, hung on for a while, and
then they just couldn’t take it anymore and that was it. Ron was one of those
people who–he would run into other people who had stayed and he would just
confront them–like, "How can you do that?" It’s sort of similar
to when there were people who left The New Yorker when Tina took over.
They basically blackballed the people who stayed at The New Yorker. It
was like, "I can’t be contaminated by your presence. I’m sorry."
They practiced what William Buckley called the averted gaze.
I never understood that, really. That was the best thing that happened to The
New Yorker, when she took over. Look, her current magazine is a joke, but
she was brilliant at Vanity Fair, and she made really important changes
at The New Yorker.
As Remnick admits, she made it so much easier for him, because she made all the
Remnick’s magazine is better, I think, but–
He couldn’t do any of that without catching flak if she hadn’t shaken
No. He’d be a notch above [former editor Robert] Gottlieb.
Under him it would be a flusher version of The New Republic if she hadn’t–because
that’s where his politics are, neoliberal. Or classic liberal. There’s
kind of a crossover, because where does Hertzberg fall?
No, he’s too fun-loving to be a Stalinist. I mean, I saw the real Stalinist
mentality at the Voice–telling women, "You know, you don’t
have to wear lipstick to the office." There was a sense that makeup and lipstick
and dressing up were "inauthentic."
I think Tina blew it with doing Talk. I think her next natural move was
tv. She could’ve been the next David Frost.
I don’t know. The thing is, Tina made a huge mistake when she left The
New Yorker. I saw it at the time, and I thought it was the classic case of
character is destiny. She should’ve just taken time off, soaked in the culture,
spent time with her kids, watched tv, gone to movies, and basically figured out
what is the media landscape now. But no, she immediately starts putting together
a staff, she immediately starts thinking up a new magazine. I think it was done
out of pride. Part of it was pride, and part of it was fear. The pride was "I’m
gonna show everyone I don’t need Conde Nast, I don’t need the apparatus.
I don’t have to take over an existing title." Also, a lot of people
like Tina have this fear that "if I’m not in the spotlight I dematerialize,
I don’t count." There was no need for her to immediately say, "I’m
gonna start this magazine, I’m gonna put together a magazine."
But this was two years ago. Why in the world would anyone want to create a 1994
magazine then? The whole notion of–to use a word that Michael Wolff still
uses–the zeitgeist was belied by Talk.
Yeah, but what I’m saying is she didn’t give herself time to reflect
and say, "All right, where is the culture now?" You have to have a sense
of the pop culture to do a magazine like Talk. And Tina lost it. She didn’t
have it at The New Yorker. Because at The New Yorker, she didn’t
have time to go to movies. I can tell you from talking to these people. They watch
Charlie Rose, they watch Nightline, they watch the Sunday morning chat
shows. They don’t know Buffy the Vampire Slayer from anything else.
That’s why they caught onto Roseanne three or four years after Roseanne had
peaked. And I’m told that the hook for Roseanne was not her show, but a chat
show segment that Tina had seen with her. But if you’re not going to have
your own sense of pop culture, it’s like, "Who can I get who knows that?"
I think she could have been brilliant on tv.
I just don’t know. TV is such a tricky medium.
She’s an attractive woman. She seems self-assured enough when I’ve seen
Yeah, but she’s cold. You’ve gotta have a warmer manner on tv.
David Frost wasn’t exactly–
But he was effusive. He was, "Maahhhvelous to have you here…"
I bet she would’ve gotten better, and she would’ve been a major presence.
I’m mystified that she didn’t figure out Talk by now. I would’ve
thought there’d be an awkward shakedown period, but when I see the magazine
now, it still seems to be 20 conflicting notions. You cannot figure out who it’s
for… I wonder if Martin Amis picks up the issue when he receives his complimentary
copy and says, "What am I doing in here? What am I doing reviewing Philip
Roth?" I’m sure he’s perplexed.
On the other hand, Vanity Fair–which I think had been in a slump for
a couple of months–the Hollywood Issue this year was really good. And this
issue is terrific. Hitchens–I mean, Hitchens is a prick, but he’s a
good writer, and [Hitchens’ piece on smoking bans] is a great piece.
Vanity Fair is still on its game. It’s very hard when you’ve
been doing it a while and everyone else wants to be the next Vanity Fair.
Why did you write about Jon Stewart in this issue?
I like The Daily Show. I love The Daily Show.
Where do you think Stewart rates in the pantheon of late-night hosts? Bill Maher?
I would put Stewart above Bill Maher. See, my problem is the guests [on Politically
Incorrect] are increasingly bumps on a log. You usually have one person who
thinks he’s funny but isn’t. Maher, to his credit, if somebody’s
sitting there quietly, he doesn’t bring them in. What this means, though,
is that one radio loudmouth can end up taking over the whole show.
of the funniest things I ever saw was the time they had Martin Amis on promoting
one of his novels. Bill Maher is asking him questions like, "There’s
a burning building, and you can save either an infant or Colin Powell. Here’s
the thing–that baby could grow up to discover a cure for cancer. Colin Powell
we already know is a great man." Martin Amis was [obviously thinking], "Beam
me out of here. This is how I have to sell books?" So people who actually
are somewhat serious get on that show and they just get stranded.
What do you watch?
I watch the political junkie shows. I have to say, I love CSI. I still
watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although I think it’s fallen off this
last season. There’s certain sitcoms I watch. I watch the financial coverage.
I’m always fascinated with that. A lot of the times I have it on in the background.
That’s not quite as pop culture as I would’ve expected your answer to
There’s a lot of shows that people are really into that I’m not. I’m
not going to force myself. I’m not going to sit there and watch ER
if I’m not into it. I gave it a couple of shots, but I found it really antic
and frantic. Except for a few shows, I really don’t feel like there’s
anything that’s roiling the pop culture now.
How about West Wing?
West Wing I just–the pieties of it I can’t bear. I recognize
that it’s well put together in terms of the flowing camera and the intrigue.
But there’s always a moment where they’re going to have a heartfelt…
And also I just don’t buy into the whole–I don’t wanna live a fantasy
life of "Oh, God, if only he were our president." And The Sopranos…everyone
now is like, "I have to get home to watch The Sopranos." You’ve
got to be going online at 10 o’clock saying, "So what did we think about
what Meadow said?"
In your Voice column you didn’t think there was much worth watching
in the 70s either.
But most stuff isn’t worth watching. The thing is, there’s always
something that you get hooked on that keeps you going back. Back then, it was
things like SCTV. There’s usually one or two great, ongoing shows.
Have you seen That’s My Bush?
I saw about half an episode and I thought it was just bad. I don’t know if
cranking up the laugh track is meant to be a sardonic comment on laugh tracks,
or if somebody just cranked it up too high. There’s this feeling of emptiness
on the set, and then this laugh track roaring.
You wrote this piece in the February Vanity Fair about pundits. Do you
think it needs an updating? You must’ve written that in December or early
January… The ascendancy of Bill O’Reilly hadn’t happened yet. The
ascendancy of Fox hadn’t happened yet.
I think Fox may already be peaking.
I don’t think so. If CNN continues their freefall, and if Take 5 is
I haven’t seen that yet–
It’s worse than Spin Room.
Spin Room I watched last night and boy oh boy–
Tucker Carlson is a smart guy–
I keep hearing that, but you don’t see it on the screen. But I’ll tell
you the truth, I don’t see it in his writing. There are much smarter guys
at The Weekly Standard.
His Standard articles are good.
Yeah, but he’s not as good as David Brooks. I don’t think he’s
as good as Andrew Ferguson.
Tucker did really good reporting. TV fucked him up. I disagree with what you said
in Vanity Fair. I thought he was good on Crossfire, but Spin
Room has made him a political eunuch. First of all, appearing with Bill Press–why
would anyone want that assignment?
Because they wanna be on tv. Once you’re on tv you just get hooked. When
they tell you you’re gonna be on every night, we’re gonna make you a
Well, and now his writing has suffered. I just read his second column for New
York, and it was a throwaway. Because he’s concentrating on tv. It was
a complete throwaway…
wrote about Chris Matthews–you were talking about political hacks becoming
pundits–but you didn’t write about Tim Russert, who worked for Moynihan
and then Cuomo.
That’s because Russert, I always think of him as more of a host than a pundit.
Russert is the best interrogator on tv.
I don’t agree–
I don’t think it’s a matter of who’s better, I just don’t
think it’s–what he does is he asks the same question four times, but
the question is often, "Are you going to run in 2004? So, you’re not
ruling out a run?" It’s like, everything with him boils down to "Are
you going to run for president in the next election?" I was watching him
last week. It was almost like he was goading us, like he wants us to go to war
with China. There’s like no nuance to what he does. Best badgerer…
just wish these guys would just lay off their personal stuff. I’m really
tired of the boys’ club thing that goes on with Russert, Don Imus, Mike Barnicle,
Matthews–they’re all on each other’s shows, they all do the thing
about the [Imus] ranch.
You wrote about that extensively in your February piece. I can’t deal with
Imus. And I can’t deal with the sucking up. All the people you’ve mentioned
are too chickenshit to go on Howard Stern. But they think they’re being "dangerous"
[to go on Imus’ show].
It depends on what the format is. But if Howard that day has a lesbian dwarf,
Christie Whitman did, and it got her elected. Pataki did–
The thing is that Stern is not in the media in-crowd, for all the money he makes
and all the popularity, whereas Imus is.
That’s exactly the point. That’s why Imus is so awful and these journalists
are so awful. To them going on Imus is the equivalent of dress-down Friday.
It’s amazing that Barnicle’s been able to revive his career. He’s
always doing his funny populist-man-on-the-street thing–you know, it’s
like "Consuelo Gonzalez and her two children sit on the curb with their furniture.
They have been evicted." Oh yeah, he files that from Boston.
I like your book reviews. You’re not afraid to say a novel sucks just because
it’s, you know, William Gass.
I enjoy doing that. There’s certain things I don’t read right away.
For example, when I read Salman Rushdie, I was shocked. Because this was so bad.
It’s bad in a totally bombastic way, and I could see why it would fool people,
but don’t tell me it’s great writing.
Here’s a guest question from someone in the New York journalism community
for you. It goes like this: "After arguably being the most exciting critic
anywhere for a few years in the Voice–and that was significantly because
he was applying his first-rate mind and writing to a ‘low’ cultural
form, tv–it seems to me that as intelligent as he is, Wolcott has become
steadily less interesting and must-read over the last dozen years. As an outside
observer, the problem looks like risk-averse Conde Nast paycheck-addicted coasting.
Why doesn’t he challenge himself?"
Who hyphenated those phrases? I think I’m writing on a better, higher level
than I ever have. You can’t keep doing the things you did in your 20s. For
one thing, editors won’t let you, the formats aren’t there. I mean,
the Voice doesn’t have somebody covering what I was covering on a
weekly basis. And I couldn’t do that now. The thing is, your interests change,
and you have to… Although I think the pieces I’ve been writing for Vanity
Fair are as good as anything I’ve ever done. I think I’ve taken
it to a different level. The thing is people get hooked into what you’re
doing at a certain time, and that becomes part of their nostalgia, and they sort
of want it to stay like that. It’s like movie critics who are so in love
with the Pauline Kael period at The New Yorker they keep wanting it to
come back, but it can’t be done now. You have to do something different.
The movies aren’t there to support that type of writing, and nobody has the
type of sensibility that Pauline had. All the people who want to imitate Pauline
and who are friends with Pauline, they don’t have that sensibility.
The so-called Paulettes.
The Paulettes, yeah, who are still not speaking to me. I mean you talk about a…
When did you step into the Paulette controversy?
It was a couple of years ago in the Hollywood issue. The funny thing is, one of
the things I’ve learned is that often people get maddest at you not when
you do a broadside, but when you just include them in one paragraph. For example,
when I did a piece for The New Yorker on Maureen Dowd, I had one paragraph
in there about "chick writers," and I just mentioned people like Zoe
Heller, Mim Udovitch. They were furious. Zoe Heller wrote like a 5000-word
rebuttal, which The New Yorker didn’t print, but she dashed off this
furious thing… With Mim, I was deliberately tweaking. I referred to her as "the
back-up Prozac chick." And of course she thinks she’s completely superior
to Elizabeth Wurtzel. It was like, "How dare you call me that?" To me
it was all comedy.
the Paulette thing, some of the people who were most furious were people that
I just listed in one paragraph as proteges of Pauline. And I was a protege
of Pauline. I knew Pauline for 20 years. The Paulette thing was very interesting.
When I first got to New York I thought people really wanted to argue, I
really thought New York was like it was in movies and when you read things about
the Partisan Review gang, that people actually liked to argue and dispute.
And what I learned was, no, the moment you disagreed or contradicted somebody
they fell silent. They would just absent themselves, like we had nothing more
to say to each other. It was sort of absurd. It would be on the most minor–like
on a minor Robert Altman movie. I knew someone who got furious because she was
just raving over how great Keanu Reeves was, and I said, "I really don’t
think he’s very good. Why do you think he’s good?" And the person
turned ashen. It was Keanu Reeves! In the old days it would have been arguing
about early versus late Fassbinder.
You wrote a terrific piece about Slate a few years ago. What is your opinion
Well, I think my tone was too harsh.
That was the great part about it.
I thought my tone was too harsh and personal about Kinsley. I would tone that
down now. I think Slate was doing a lot more original critical stuff when
they started. They’ve cut back. They only basically have one movie critic–another
Paulette, by the way–and they’re doing all these "Breakfast Table"s
and "Book Club"s, but it’s always the same people. It’s always
Katha Pollitt and so-and-so. Like Marjorie Williams. I find it more cliquish now
than when it started. And I hate the cutesiness of "After having my coffee
this morning, I of course turned to your column in The Washington Post…"
I hate all that kind of inner-journalistic tweeness… I read a lot more on Salon
than I do on Slate.
Because they have more writers and more original pieces. It isn’t just pap.
I don’t agree with that. They’ve pared down so–
Yeah, but they still have more than Slate.
Speaking of pundits, the best one I’ve seen on all these shows is Pat Caddell,
who’s on Matthews a lot. He’s really smart, he has experience in running
campaigns, and he’s sort of a Naderite. He’s certainly not a Republican.
But he’s honest. He was honest from the beginning. He said, "Look, this
thing in Florida is baloney. This recount is baloney. I’ve done the statistical
studies. This is how it’s gonna end up. It’s not just Florida. It could
happen in any state, it’s just Florida’s bad luck, let’s stop this."
And he’s not a Bush fan by any means…
you’ve got Katrina vanden Heuvel.
As we call her in our household, "Twinkles." Because she used to do
this kind of thing with her eyes–she doesn’t do it anymore–she
used to do this thing with her eyes where her eyes would sort of twinkle, actually,
but now she’s being more stern…
the managing act she’s got to do at The Nation, where she’s
got Hitchens and Cockburn on one side, she’s got Katha Pollitt, then she’s
got a whole other group of people who hate Hitchens because of his abortion stand–
I don’t think it’s a balancing act at all. One, she’s on tv every
day, so she’s never there… Cockburn’s in California. Hitchens is in
DC. Katha Pollitt is probably in a squat in Williamsburg, and that’s it.
Where’s the contention?
That was a paper you would have thought would have embraced Nader much more than
they did. Alterman was one of the most [Gorite], and he’s still pouting about
The thing about Alterman, he’s one of those guys you just have to be in a
room with him and you realize, "Oh, he thinks he’s the smartest guy
here." It’s kind of a Conason thing, a kind of machismo.
Joe definitely thinks he’s the smartest guy in any room he happens to be
Yeah, and the thing about Alterman is he’s not that good. He’s not as
good as the people he’s condescending to. Well, all these magazines, they’re
all so self-conflicted at this point. Because they don’t really know where
to go. I mean, I can’t figure out the political side of The New
Republic anymore. I write for the back half of it, but the front of it I’m
thinking, I don’t know, where are they? Are they neocon, neoliberal, traditional
I’ll tell you who’s a great media writer, James Bowman at the New
No… I like a lot of Bowman’s stuff, but it follows the political slant
too much for me. I mean from his side he works it well.
If New York magazine had any balls, they would hire someone like him just
for diversity’s sake. We’re in the age of diversity.
They’ve got Tucker Carlson now as their diversity. But of course they didn’t
hire him for that, they hired him because he’s "hot."
They should hire Bowman to replace someone like Wolff, who’s completely run
out of gas.
The thing about Wolff’s pieces is they always, and maybe this is the secret
of his success, they always promise more than they deliver. It’s like what
people said about People magazine. You always think the story is going
to be juicier than it is, but then you keep going back to the magazine. He often
will do pieces and you realize that he actually only did one interview for this
column. He interviewed one person, and the rest of it is his speculations.
He did a piece about me and the paper a couple years ago, and I was grateful for
the publicity, but he didn’t take a note.
Well, that’s scary.
He knew what the story was going in–that I was an outsider from Baltimore,
and that was the story.
Other people who have dealt with him tell me this. They say he comes in with his
angle, he’s gonna work that angle, and basically he’s looking for the
information he can hang on that clothesline, and that’s it…
he’s very odd on tv–have you seen him on tv? It’s like he’s
taken a deliberately perverse contrarian viewpoint and arguing it for the sake
of arguing it. "I think Monica Lewinsky should run for the Senate. She has
one I don’t get, the one I’m utterly mystified by, is Cynthia Cotts.
"Press Clips" used to be the central thing in the Voice. Even
with Geoffrey Stokes. Stokes did, in retrospect, a fabulous job.
Stokes is descendent from Cockburn. And then Ledbetter took it and he was lousy
at it. Cynthia Cotts is out of her mind.
The oddest column she does is when she thinks she’s discovered something,
like her praise columns. She did one recently about Jeffrey Frank’s roman
a clef [The Columnist]–she’s giving you a plot summary, and at
the end of it she’s trying to make it sound like this is the most terrifying
exposé, and this is really a conventional roman a clef. And whenever she
does the literary quarterlies–"There’s this exciting new phenomenon
known as literary quarterlies! Go figure! They’re popping up everywhere!"
She does no press coverage at all.
What do you think about Inside?
I never saw the point of Inside. All along I thought Inside is for
writers like myself who are in front of the computer for hours a day, and basically
if we’re not working we say, oh let’s go online and check something.
I’ve heard them talk about "our superb reporters and the work they’ve
done." Yeah, but you don’t remember any of it as writing. Fifty articles
on Napster. That’s just going to be a historical footnote in no time. Inside
will say something like, "ER rerun beats first run Big Apple
on CBS," well, big deal, big whoop. A lot of what they have in Inside
is stuff that people actually inside already know. People inside the television
industry know what the overnight ratings are. So it’s for people who want
to feel like they’re on the inside…
think it was hilarious watching Brill [who just bought Inside] and Kurt
Andersen [a founder of Inside] on Reliable Sources, because of the
testiness and the defensiveness, and the way they’re both spinning this as
like, "This is really where we were going all along." No, 10 months
ago Kurt and [cofounder Michael] Hirschorn did not say, "You know
what, if we could just link up with Steve Brill and then lay off a lot of people,
we’re gonna fulfill our dream!"
Brill’s Content is just a horrendous magazine, but what I do like
about Brill is that when he’s on tv he gives it right back.
Just the way he says, "Well, Howie [Kurtz], I certainly wouldn’t say
that CNN is a failure because they’re laying off people." What also
I love on that show is that they will then take an inco