Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 2003 / 10 Tishrei, 5764

Media Person

Media Person
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Tina "Ms. Buzz" Brown is Baaaack! | When last Media Person looked in on Tina Brown, the world's most famous magazine editor was interring Talk, her love child by Miramogul Harvey Weinstein, amid the usual clamor from a vast throng of amused, annoyed, admiring, disgusted, fascinated, repelled, charmed and/or smugly pleased spectators.

Needless to say, in the interval since, Tina has not fled her reserved seating at the white-hot epicenter of media civilization to spend a few years wandering the Gobi desert in search of spiritual enlightenment. Instead she has started a TV talk show and a newspaper column and is still better connected than anyone but Kevin Bacon. In short, she is still Tina Brown. And you're still not.

Her first weekly column for the Washington Post's Style section immediately engendered controversy, not exactly a stunning development, since everything Tina Brown does immediately engenders controversy. The Romenesko website reported that some Post staffers were snickering over the inaugural piece, which surveyed the issue — hardly of great concern to the average citizen--of whether Hollywood studios should send out freebie tapes and CDs to industry insiders and critics, and then kept rambling off to side issues and glimpses of the privileged Brownian lifestyle.

Media Person found it a fascinating distillation of the Tina universe.

First on view is her undeniable talent. By all accounts, Brown was a first-rate editor, in the sense of actual, you know, editing: the tedious task of improving articles. And she's not bad at writing journalism herself. Unlike many newspaper folk, she has a lively style and a knack for grabbing your attention.

What was revealing to Media Person was how, in the very first paragraphs of that column, her instinct for good journalism — a form that must contain a healthy disrespect for power, wealth and celebrity — immediately comes into conflict with her greatest failing: the need (indeed the desperate craving) to idolize power, wealth and celebrity, not to mention grabbing some of it for herself.

Ah, the ambiguity of it all. It's almost Shakespearean!

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She leads: "The Hollywood awards season may have been plunged into chaos by the Motion Picture Association's ban on video viewing, but there have also been grave repercussions for members of the Manhattan buzzocracy."

Buzzocracy! A splendid neologism to kick a sentence with. A word that pokes fun at a self-important species of Manhattan fauna. Or does it? No one has been more associated with "buzz" than Tina Brown herself. (Indeed, in an online chat with Post readers after her column debuted, she claimed she's been called the Erstwhile Queen of Buzz so many times in the media that she now signs her correspondence EQB.) At all her magazines, Tina was always obsessed with who and what was hot, in the old sense of that word. Had Tina come to realize the absurdity of the Buzzocracy? Has she really erstwhiled? Is the term "grave repercussions" meant ironically? Or is she actually sympathetic to her poor little put-upon Buzzkins, suddenly deprived of their precious DVDs by Hollywood grinch Jack Valenti?

Well. Tina goes on to explain to the buzzless yokels of D.C. the workings of the "A-list screening rooms -- plush little mini-theaters tucked away in corporate suites or nondescript Times Square office buildings, where you can savor a movie in a tykes-'n'-teens-free zone with no crunching Twix bars and no high-fives after scenes of sex and violence." She tells the rubes that with no more free DVDs, the flacks whose job it is to whip up buzz for new movies now must lure the buzzocrats to these filmic oases by inveigling a "boldface name" to host a "celebrity screening."

Again, this would be nice stuff, nicely described, if the writer was working up some satirical riff on the silliness of all these silly buzzybodies. But then comes an extraordinary passage wherein Tina is "sitting in a pleasant reverie at my desk when the phone explodes with a call from Peggy Siegal, New York's publicity diva." Siegal is flacking the new Russell Crowe flick and needs Tina's help. What does Tina do? She pitches right in, rummaging through her Rolodex for boldface names.

This just stopped Media Person cold. Why was Tina Brown, ostensible journalist, spending her valuable time flacking for the movie business? No satisfying answer was ever given to this question. The one that leaps to mind is that like a gambling addict, Tina needs the action. It's not enough for her to just observe and report on the buzz, she has to be helping to make the buzz, too.

Her second column, about How New York is suddenly lacking in "icons" was better. Still it featured Tina watching the World Series (where have you gone, Derek Jeter?) from — where else? — George Steinbrenner's family box. And sounding suspiciously sympathetic to the odious owner. So goes the struggle for Tina's soul. Deep down she knows she should be mocking these people. But deeper down, she is these people.

JWR contributor Media Person -- a.k.a Lewis Grossberger -- is a columnist for Media Week. Comment by clicking here.


10/03/03: Cops & docs in love
09/05/03: How'd You Doodad?
08/13/03: Go West, Old Viewer
07/01/03: Nuts and Nutserer: Sometimes there's a fine line between heroism and lunacy
06/17/03: Buy, yes, but read?
06/11/03: Queasy Rider
05/28/03: How Hip Is Hop?
05/14/03: Will endorse for food
05/06/03: Kick this sick shtick
04/16/03: Important developments you may have missed because of all the war stuff clogging up the media
03/25/03: To go or not to go
03/12/03: How to talk war talk
03/04/03: Two master debaters
02/26/03: The Miracle Continues: Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies
02/19/03: Yanking the Franks
02/05/03: LET MY LETTERS GO!
01/28/03: Into the Pity Pit
01/15/03: Not My Cup of Joe
01/09/03: It was back in '03
12/17/02: Did you get taken?
12/05/02: Mathers of importance

© 2002, Lewis Grossberger