We may never know the real story about what went down between Vanity Fair and Gwyneth Paltrow, but in his editor's letter for the March issue of the magazine, editor-in-chief Graydon Carter addresses the kerfuffle, offering up his side of the story. It is… odd.
The Daily Mail has a fairly good rundown of the situation, and there's an excerpt of the letter available on the Vanity Fair website. Carter claims: "the whole Vanity Fair–Gwyneth Paltrow brouhaha began innocently enough at a routine morning editorial meeting last spring." He continues:
We were reviewing assignments and batting around story ideas, and at one point I idly mentioned that I would be interested in reading something on Gwyneth Paltrow.
Wait wait wait. Is that really how you run your editorial meetings? "I'd like to read something about Gwyneth Paltrow"? First of all: That's not a story idea. That's not a pitch. There's no narrative there. There's no hook. I'd like to read something about Jason Momoa being my new boyfriend, but that's not a story. Second of all: According to your own statistics on your own damn website, Paltrow was first photographed for Vanity Fair's 1995 Hollywood Issue at age 22. She's had FIVE Vanity Fair covers (the ones above are from the years 2000 and 2004) and appeared in the magazine numerous times. It's not like she is a shy, reclusive, seldom-seen, rarely-photographed enigma. It seems more likely that Carter was prompted by a promotional push tied to Iron Man 3 — which was released late last spring. In fact, in April 2013, Paltrow appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, The Dr. Oz Show, Rachael Ray, Ellen, and Chelsea Lately. She was on the cover of Self that month and on April 25, 2013, she was named People's Most Beautiful Woman. So Carter "idly" thinking he'd like to read about her seems disingenuous. But let's move on.
Carter assigned writer Vanessa Grigoriadis to write a feature about the way people find Paltrow both appealing and appalling.
Vanessa turned in her story at the end of the summer. And it was just what had been assigned—a reasoned, reported essay on the hate/love-fest that encircles Gwyneth Paltrow. I thought it perfectly explained the whole phenomenon. But it was such a far cry from the almost mythical story that people were by now expecting—the "epic takedown," filled with "bombshell" revelations—that it was bound to be a disappointment. What to do? I decided to sit on it for a time.
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In other words, the "not a story" idea turned into something that was not a story. Actually, it was probably a fun read — Grigoriadis has written some great features for New York Magazine and The New York Times as well as Vanity Fair. But as news started circulating that something was in the works — probably as Grigoriadis was doing research and interviews — the hype became bigger than the piece. Here's what happened next:
In October, Gwyneth called me. We talked for about 20 minutes about the story and her reaction, or over-reaction, to it. At one point, she asked my advice as to what to do to get the "haters" on her side. I suggested putting on 15 pounds. I joked that it works for me.
Telling a woman to gain weight: An interesting way to diffuse a combustible powderkeg.
She replied I had put on much more than that. Which I thought was fair and funny. Two months after the phone call, Web sites lit up with news of a truce. We received more mail, much of it now criticizing us for caving. There had also been conflicting reports that Gwyneth had coerced George Clooney into not being on our cover—clearly not true. There were reports that she was trying to scuttle our annual Oscar party, that she was going to organize a competing dinner. The Paltrow camp subsequently denied both claims.
Jesus. But the story was never going to work: Obviously, if an article about celebrity's "haters" results in the celebrity calling the editor of the story on the phone and asking what she can do to stifle said haters and the editor replying, there's zero objective journalism in the works. Of course they're in cahoots. That's how VF works. Nothing negative, nothing "real." Stars are photographed to look flawless, interviewed to be painted in the best-possible light, quoted to seem wise, interesting and on the verge of world domination.
The fact is the Gwyneth Paltrow story, the one we ordered up, as delightfully written as it was, is not the one the anti-Gwynethites expect. That it has generated more mail and attention than many of the biggest stories we've ever published only makes the situation more complicated…
There's more, in the editor's letter in the March issue. But there's a lesson to be learned here: If we actually believed that a magazine known for fawning over celebrities — especially beautiful women — would do a takedown of a Hollywood darling like Gwyneth Paltrow, we all have goop for brains.