It is, you know, rich.
In the middle of the firestorm created by the liberal media over the nomination of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as the first woman vice-presidential nominee in the Republican Party, a familiar voice is heard. Comes word in the last few days that Sally Quinn, doyenne of the Washington Post and the Georgetown social set as well as the wife of legendary former Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, has taken out after Governor Palin. The moose-hunting, snowmobiling Palin is not a regular on the same social circuit as Ms. Quinn. Ms. Quinn, it seems, objects to the fact that the working-class Governor Palin, potentially Vice President or even President Palin, has five kids, one of whom is a Down’s syndrome special needs baby. This, Quinn tells us, is some sort of “tipping point” that disqualifies Palin for office. Said Quinn dismissively: “I don’t see how you can make your family your first priority.” Another Quinn gem was that the Palin selection is a “political gimmick…I find it insulting to women, to the Republican Party, and to the country.”
If ever there were a vivid illustration of the reason the New Media thrives while the old liberal establishment media is dying on the vine, its television ratings anemic and circulation numbers dropping like a stone, it is Ms. Quinn’s presumed thunderbolt from what she doubtless once considered a print and electronic version of Mount Olympus. You know, if Sally thinks X and all Sally and Ben’s buddies in the green rooms, newsrooms and drawing rooms of Washington and New York think X, then X must then be The Truth. The Received Truth. Which will in turn be duly dispensed for all the great unwashed out there in America to note and follow in the fashion of Moses and the Ten Commandments.
The problem for Ms. Quinn and what she freely concedes she is part of (“what one would call the liberal media elite,” as she described it the other morning on the CBS Early Show) is that in the world of the New Media (not to mention the wired world of America) everyone — everyone — is on to how Ms. Quinn and her friends operate. Rank-and-file conservative Americans look at this old media campaign to destroy the life of Sarah Palin and remember what was done to people like, say, Clarence Thomas. They get it. They understand condescending arrogance when they see it, have a very real understanding of just who these Palin critics are and what they are really trying to do. By the grace of talk radio, the Internet, and Fox, they also know that the Bastille that was once the liberal media fortress has been overrun — and the key is in their hands. The once powerful ability of Ms. Quinn and her friends to set the American agenda has vanished, leaving behind a crowd of angry would-be power brokers with not much power left to broker.
I’m never big on personal attacks in politics. The best policy is to let them speak for themselves, which Ms. Quinn’s surely do. She has had apparent second thoughts and went on the Bill O’Reilly show to say, “I was wrong.” But the personal attacks on Governor Palin and her family cry out for a response, beginning with Ms. Quinn’s. As this campaign reaches its final stage, it is time for that McCain favorite: “straight talk.”
JUST WHO IS SALLY QUINN to be loftily informing the rest of us about Governor Palin’s family situation and qualifications? From the pages of her husband Ben Bradlee’s memoir The Good Life, one can glean a lot about not only Ms. Quinn but just why it is that so many Americans have an instinctive mistrust — okay, loathing — for the liberal media establishment Ms. Quinn and her husband and friends so famously represent. Safely in retirement, Ben Bradlee provides a keyhole view of how the inner machinery of the great liberal media world really works.
Sally Quinn, according to Ben, first came to his attention when she was “introduced to me after [a Post executive] interviewed her for a job as secretary to the editorial page editor.” What did Bradlee, the powerful executive editor, think of Ms. Quinn and her professional abilities? “I advised him against hiring her, and not just because she couldn’t take shorthand. Speaking for myself, I suggested to Phil that anyone that attractive could make work difficult.” So, on the basis of her looks, Ms. Quinn was not hired because Mr. Bradlee believed he could not cope were she to be in his vicinity.
But fear not! A “month or so later” when the Post was looking for “someone to cover parties” in Washington, “Sally Quinn’s name resurfaced.” She was, Bradlee tells us, “perfectly suited for the job.” Perfectly suited, that is, “except for one small problem.” The problem? “[S]he had never written a word in her life.” So. The hot-looking Ms. Quinn, whose looks Bradlee says could make his working life “difficult,” gets hired to write at the Washington Post, one of the most prestigious and powerful papers of the day. Even though Sally not only can’t take shorthand but can’t write either. Says Bradlee: “Nobody’s perfect.”
Soon, our heroine is grinding it out. Bradlee cites a paragraph from one of his favorite Sally pieces:
“On the Washington Affair: For the mistress there is the pleasure of having and exerting power over a man who is powerful himself. For the wife there is the title, the social status and the money. And for the man himself, there is the satisfaction of having his needs met by two women. In the Washington Affair there is something for everyone.
Got it. What happens next?
Says Ben: “…I had reached another one of those critical forks in the road. One way involved staying with Tony [that would be Tony Pinchot Bradlee, Ben’s wife], the woman I had once loved, the mother of two of my children, and trying to rekindle happiness. The other way involved recognizing that I had fallen in love, and that meant exploring a different life with Sally….” What did Ben do? “My solution was to move into a hotel for a month and then into an apartment in the Watergate complex. Sally joined me there…” You have to love that last line. Bradlee makes it sound like hot Sally was just a young associate getting a new office in the town’s leading white shoe law firm or leading business. In a way, she was. You have to admire Ben’s standing up for affirmative action.
What exactly was it that Sally said about Sarah Palin? What did she say about the woman from Alaska who has worked her way from bottom to top on her own initiative and hard work, smartly taking on the good old boy network and beating them? Sarah, says Sally, didn’t have the qualifications to be Vice President because “I don’t see how you can make your family your first priority.” Sarah’s candidacy, says a frosty Sally, is an “insult to women.”
Considering the facts as stated by Ben in his memoirs, what does one say to lines like these? What about Tony and Ben’s family? Was Sally putting Ben’s family first? Was Ben? Well, obviously no. Does it ever occur that she, hot young Sally Quinn, who couldn’t write and, in Ben’s telling, moved in with the Boss, has a career that itself began in a fashion that many professional women would regard as “an insult to women”? Of course not. No one who counted would ever dare raise the subject in any serious way in the old days. Besides, it presumably would not have mattered to hot Sally anyway because she was getting such a kick out of the whole experience. As she wrote, “For the mistress there is the pleasure of having and exerting power over a man who is powerful himself.”
And if Tony Bradlee is disappeared and you get to be the Mrs. yourself, well, again quoting Sally: “For the wife there is the title, the social status and the money.” For Tony Bradlee the idea that, again quoting Sally, “in the Washington Affair there is something for everyone” turned out to be, thanks to Sally, a piece of bad fiction straight out of a Sally Quinn novel. As for any woman who had real demonstrated journalistic talent and wanted to cover the social life of Washington for the Post when the plum job was open — but unfortunately looked like Ugly Betty? Well, tough cookies sweetheart.
Which is why and how the rest of us in America get to listen to Sally Quinn emerge from her Georgetown parlor (where she dwells with “the title, the social status and the money”) to put that upstart Palin woman from Alaska in her place. Perhaps it galls Sally (and certain other members of the liberal media elites — they would know who they are) that Sarah is where she is and got there without, as far as the liberal media can determine, sleeping with a single man outside of her own husband.
This kind of hit job on Sarah Palin by what’s left of the once dominant liberal media is both typical and shameful. It is exactly what passed unquestioned for serious journalism — and serious journalists — before the advent of the New Media.
The Sally Quinns of the world were given cachet because liberals like Ben Bradlee got to do whatever the hell they pleased with their power in the media and there wasn’t a damn thing the rest of the country could do as one conservative after another from Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan to Robert Bork to Clarence Thomas, Dan Quayle, Miguel Estrada, and on and on right up to today’s Sarah Palin were trashed. And I do mean trashed. They were painted as idiots, warmongers, bigots, boobs, religious fanatics, wild-eyed zealots, racists, sexual harassers, and God only knows what else. This kind of garbage was bannered and blared unchallenged from every one of the three major networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, Newsweek and the rest of the liberal acolyte media organs. For decades. Until the advent of everything from conservative magazines such as the one you are reading to talk radio to the Internet to Fox collectively shattered the media monopoly.
BEFORE WE LEAVE the Bradlees, let’s take another look at a reminder of the liberal media world and how it once worked when there was no one around who could challenge it.
Ben is famous, of course, for being the man who, with Woodward and Bernstein and the late Post owner Katharine Graham , brought down Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal. But his taste in reporting scandal was selective. Very. He is also famous as the Newsweek correspondent who was a close friend of Nixon’s famous successful rival from the 1960 election, President John F. Kennedy. Ben and then-wife Tony hung out regularly with Jack and Jackie. This resulted in a steady flow of stories straight from his friend JFK to Bradlee to the pages of Newsweek, all of which helped Ben’s career. But what does Ben tell us decades later, as the liberal media monolith began to crack? We find that right under Bradlee’s nose, his pal JFK was not only trysting with a mobster’s girlfriend, he was having a fling with Bradlee’s own sister-in-law, Mary Pinchot Meyer. Not quite a year after JFK’s murder in Dallas, on October 12, 1964, with the Johnson-Goldwater campaign consuming the headlines, Mary Meyer was mysteriously shot to death as she walked along a canal towpath in Georgetown.
There was a diary, as we now know with no thanks to Ben. A diary Mary Meyer — who was separated from a CIA official — kept and that was being sought by one James Jesus Angleton, described in Ben’s memoirs as “an extremely controversial, high-ranking CIA official specializing in counterintelligence.” The startled Bradlees came upon Mr. Angleton rummaging through Mary’s home the day after she was murdered, having apparently gained entrance by picking a lock. Then, later, they encountered him again, this second time in the act of picking a lock to get into her studio. Angleton didn’t get his hands on the diary — but Ben and his wife did. What was in sister-in law Mary’s diary? The revelation that Mary had been having the hot and heavy affair with JFK. That the President of the United States and his mistress, Ben’s sister-in-law, had met “twenty to thirty times in the White House” and “that they had smoked grass (three joints) on one occasion.”
Newsworthy, wouldn’t you think? Front-page kind of stuff. Especially in the middle of a presidential campaign between JFK’s liberal hand-picked successor LBJ and the conservative Goldwater, this would make some real news. An “extremely controversial” CIA type breaks into the house of the murdered sister-in-law of a JFK pal and Newsweek correspondent, searching for a diary that contains evidence of an affair between a now murdered President and his murdered mistress? Who was separated from her CIA husband? That they were smoking dope in the White House? And this is not news? Does the old phrase “hold the presses!” ring a bell here?
Well, no. This was not news, alas. Not to correspondent Bradlee. At least it wasn’t when it might have made an impact. God only knows what would have come out in the 1964 campaign if the aggressive Washington Post-style coverage of Watergate had been put into motion over this discovery. But this was the day of the Old Media. While it may be OK to get Richard Nixon or bork Bork or smear Clarence Thomas, or these days to try and ruin a 17-year old daughter of Sarah Palin and hence Palin herself, when it came to a liberal icon and friend of Ben, things were done differently. After all, neither Dick Nixon, Bob Bork, Clarence Thomas or now Sarah Palin were or are members of the club. Ben, however, is and was. So with incriminating diary in hand, if Ben believed another standard should be applied to his liberal buds, that was the way it worked. Says Ben: “It is important to say that I never for a minute considered reporting the discovery of the diary and its contents.” When, in 1976, the National Enquirer uncovered the story and ran with it, Ben says he was “extremely troubled.” He also admits that he knew his wife Tony had destroyed the diary.
WHY BRING THIS STUFF up now, in 2008? What’s the point?
The point is simple: it’s about the treatment of Sarah Palin over the next two months — and afterwards if elected. The origins of Sally’s career as a powerful liberal establishment media figure and husband Ben’s journalistic judgment on the explosive story of Mary Meyer and JFK are emblematic of the biased journalism that angered Americans for decades when discussing the “liberal media.” It reeks of double-standards, class warfare and hypocrisy in relentless pursuit of an agenda. The shorthand to conservatives back before the advent of the New Media was this: because we, the liberal media, have the power and you don’t, we will promote whomever we damn well please to positions of whatever media power positions we choose for whatever reasons we want, honorable or not. We will give them fame, power, money and prestige so that they may be seen by the American public as the sage, trustworthy members of our society whose views should be heard, respected and generally followed. Under the guise of scrupulously objective reporting, we will advance our elitist agenda by presenting our beliefs as the mainstream of American thought and using our power to destroy whichever conservative we feel is the most serious threat to that power and world view.
The liberal media elites can still play their game, as is witnessed with the cover of supermarket tabloid US Weekly‘s Palin cover proclaiming “Babies, Lies & Scandal.” But these days the recognition of the game is quick, the reaction time instantaneous and thorough. Images shot around the Internet with a pairing of the US Weekly Palin cover hatchet job quickly matched with an earlier, loving US Weekly cover of the Obamas, cooing “Michelle Obama: Why Barack Loves Her.” Fox correspondent Megyn Kelly investigated, eviscerating US Weekly senior editor Bradley Jacobs in front of Fox cameras. (See
Word spread instantly to those who might not know that US Weekly is owned by the lefty Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone. Wenner is an Obama (and Gore, Edwards etc., etc., etc.) contributor. “I finance all the Democrats,” Wenner told Business Week. Indeed, and he uses his magazines to push his politics (not that there’s anything wrong with that). He was in the news awhile back for leaving his wife for another guy and the two men had twins earlier this year (don’t ask). All of which is to say that, in the tradition of Ben and Sally and other of his fellow liberals in the media, the liberal Mr. Wenner has an agenda, in his case of despising social conservatives and their beliefs centering on same-sex marriage or gay rights in general. But unlike the straight-forwardly political and left-leaning Rolling Stone, US Weekly is commonly viewed as something else entirely, which Wenner and company certainly know. So under the sly guise of a seemingly innocent, gossipy tabloid he will ruthlessly pursue that agenda in typical liberal media fashion. Which we have all learned long ago means making the philosophical deeply personal, savaging whomever — in this case Sarah Palin — to try and manipulate public opinion. Pretending all the while the media venue at issue is completely objective, as indeed the US Weekly senior editor tried to pretend to Fox’s Megyn Kelly. In the case of US Weekly we are supposed to think it simply a harmless little celebrity magazine for you to peruse while waiting to check out your canned beets. This is, of course, a lie.
This election, so unpredictable all year long, has now taken on an additional unforeseen aspect. Thanks to the selection by John McCain of Sarah Palin, this race will become in part a referendum on the core beliefs of the liberal media itself and the tricks of the trade they employ to advance their agenda. A discussion of the deeply elitist concepts of class, women, favoritism, special treatment and, well, old-fashioned straight up snobbery by people who quite laughably have zero to be snobs about.
Who is Sally Quinn? Someone who got her career in a decidedly different way than Sarah Palin.
Who is Sarah Palin? Decidedly not Sally Quinn.
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania.