Is There Anything Left To Say About Tina Brown?

Try as we might, we cannot figure out the point of this profile of Newsweek and Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown in The New York Times magazine.

The headline, "Tina Brown Is Still Hungry For Buzz," reiterates something that has never been in contention. The feature is not even nominally about how the serial editor-in-chief is grappling with the internet age — the digital world garners scant mention in a world where most everything happens either at a cocktail party or on a stage, and the lead photo is of newspaper reading with no smartphone in sight — or how she's going to reinvent or revitalize the newsweekly apart from reuniting the old 90s gang. (At one point, Brown refers, unchallenged, to a Charlie Sheen piece by Bret Easton Ellis by saying, "It's fun to get all these new writers in.")

It's also full of inexplicable passages of dialogue and monologue that are neither particularly witty nor illuminating, like this one:


Brown's 20-year-old daughter, Isabel, walked in and asked, laughing, if her mother and guest would like anything more to eat or drink.

"No, thank you, darling," Brown said. "What have you got there?"

"Oh . . . ," Isabel said, giggling, and unfurled a magazine. "It's Elle."

"Elle!" Brown said, with mock seriousness.

One might better exclaim, "Print!"

If you care enough to read a profile of Tina Brown, you probably either know that she alienated certain members of the New Yorker old guard when she edited it, or that Talk, her short-lived monthly, failed. Or, perhaps, you have read these things so many times that you no longer care. But the Times "still" does. By way of example, here is how many times Talk's single, totemic launch party has been written about in the New York Times:

  • July 9, 1999: Before it happened, one more time.
  • August 3, 1999: After it happened, "hip list" and all.
  • December 26, 1999: In a "10 Parties That Shook The Century" list. Made it just under the wire!
  • September 7, 2000: In an interview with the guy who made the guest list.
  • May 1, 2003: In a review of Brown's television show on CNBC.
  • April 25, 2004: In the wedding announcement for Salman Rushdie and Padma Lakshmi, who met at that party. (That's a pretty good reason).
  • June 11, 2007: In yet another profile of "the Queen of Buzz," this time because she wrote a book about Princess Diana.
  • July 19, 2009: In an obituary of the guy who did the flowers for the party.
  • August 2, 2009: An entire media business column, a decade later, about how that party symbolized "the end of an era, a literal fin de siècle."
  • Today: "In hindsight, the party recalls nothing so much as the upriver U.S.O. show in "Apocalypse Now," minus the helicopters and Playmates."

I used to cover the magazine business (in a similar boom-time run, followed by a crisis). I used to go to a lot of parties for that job, some of them thrown by or featuring Brown. I feel I can say with some authority that not even that many people who work in the media, or what's left of its organized corps, care this much about Tina Brown and that party in 1999. But then, the decentralized, ever-shifting Internet world offers fewer standbys that combine 1) names lots of people have heard of 2) the patina of seriousness and 3) the "blond ambition" and "the cleavage that inspired Private Eye to dub her a 'buxom hackette' when she was 25."

Anyway, there's always the hope that if enough journalists and editors are treated like celebrities in profiles, some day the favor might be returned. If magazine profiles still exist by then.

Tina Brown Is Still Hungry For Buzz [NYT]