Hating Sally Quinn: A reader’s guide

Mike Riggs Contributor
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On February 24, at roughly 6:47 p.m., Washington Post Editor in Chief Marcus Brauchli confirmed to the world that Sally Quinn, Washington socialite and wife of former WaPo editor Ben Bradlee, had been booted from the print version of the paper for writing an absolutely atrocious column about the fact that her son’s wedding date conflicted with her step-grandson’s wedding date (that’s what we think we read — the Quinn/Bradlee family tree is more like a briar patch).

Below is a handy guide for understanding the animus against Quinn, who was once one of Washington’s most important social power players.

1.) Quinn gives the Washington Post the one thing it really needs: readers. For this, Brauchli, WaPo, and the rest of the world absolutely hate her

In a recent story for the New Republic, media reporter Gabriel Sherman summed up the Washington Post’s dysfunction thusly: “Over the past year, the Post has folded its business section into the A-section, killed its book review, revamped its Sunday magazine, and redesigned the entire paper and Web site, while organizationally merging the print and online editions. Hundreds of staffers have left the Post since 2003, thanks to four rounds of buyouts. In 2008, the Post began losing money; in 2009, its advertising revenue dropped by $100 million. All of this while the paper was under siege from new competitors, national and local.”

Apart from the avalanche of unrestrained personal vitriol that fellow media types vommed All. Over. Quinn’s. Head, most WaPo-watching stories follow Snyder’s formula: They are almost exclusively about WaPo’s inner workings and the ramifications for print media. (See the salon story by Sherman; Style editor Henry Allen’s right fist; Style editor Henry Allen’s other right fist; snowball fights; countless stories about the Post’s ignorance of what “Inner-Net” is.)

Quinn’s column brought the focus back to content. Instead of trying to figure out who in Style threw the first punch and whether Brauchli took off his shirt before intervening, readers were — and still are — poring over Quinn’s self-expose with graph paper and compasses in hopes of discerning whether Ben Bradlee’s uncle’s nephew is set to marry his pet cactus or the other way around.

As a reward for giving the Washington Post the most editorial attention it’s received since devoting a 12-part series to the death of some white girl, Brauchli went off and canned Quinn’s column for not being boring enough and her colleagues trashed “The Party” as a “total joke.”

Chief proponents of this POV: In an alternate, more earnest universe, Wonkette’s pseudo-outrage over Quinn’s firing could be interpreted as sincere concern. The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley, were she not totally unaware of the things happening in the world, could also provide a padded shoulder to cry on.

2.) There is a new Washington, and Sally Quinn is the old Washington

David Carr, who reports on media for the New York Times, set up this suppertime metaphor: “The Washington that Ms. Quinn covers, one governed by convivial elites who battle by day and clink glasses at night, no longer exists. In the old paradigm, people with different points of view would assemble in various salons of Georgetown and set aside their differences over an Old Fashioned before the coq au vin was even served. Now the butter knife has been replaced by a machete. People with opposing political points of view are less likely to eat with the loyal opposition at night than to try to dine on them in a quick hit on MSNBC or Fox News.”

Carr delivers his message with kid gloves, but it gets through all the same: Quinn is old news and needs to tuck it in.

To her credit, Quinn isn’t oblivious to the changing of the guard. In fact, she has heralded personnel changes that seemed like they would be beneficial to her. At a dinner party at her home in December, reported the Washington City Paper’s Erik Wemple, Quinn “felt compelled to play the headlining role, delivering the keynote toast. According to attendees and Quinn herself, the toast hit on the following themes: I’ve been with Style for 30 years, and Style is back! Back to where it was in the good old days. I talk to people these days who read Style every day and it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that. There’s energy and creativity and vibrancy now. Ned and [co-boss] Lynn [Medford] are doing great work.”

In other words, shut up already Sally Quinn.

Chief proponents of this POV: CQ’s Joe Warminksy, Washington City Paper’s Erik Wemple (full disclosure: my former boss), NYT’s David Carr, GQ’s Ana Marie Cox.

3.) Sally Quinn is a notorious bitch, and this is what happens to bitches

“Once again Washington has proved it is a tough town for a woman unless she is a whore, a bitch or a heat-seeking wife of,” writes Carol Joynt, socialite, journalist and former owner of Nathans restaurant. “This past week we witnessed the executions of two women, and I must say they walked to the gallows wearing game faces. Both accepted their fate, but neither conceded defeat, or they covered it with the accepted rosy spin.”

A veteran of the same era (pre-Internet) and part of town (Georgetown), Joynt may be simultaneously Quinn’s most reasoned defender and harshest critic. “They [Quinn and former White House Social Secretary Desirée Rogers] were visibly ambitious, flaunting it, and their ambitions made them vulnerable. They weren’t good Southern ladies, waiting for favors to be bestowed upon them. They went after what they wanted, set their own agendas.”

“But,” writes Joynt, “here’s the heart of the problem: They performed their professional roles not with skill but with the hauteur of entitlement. So, as Washington did when First Lady Hillary Clinton bungled health care, and when Caroline Kennedy deconstructed in the political spotlight, the town pounced.”

This line of reasoning is endemic to Georgetown residents, and Quinn watchers will likely remember that the Queen Mum of Style explained Pres. Bill Clinton’s impeachment with the same syllogism: “When the Monica Lewinsky affair turned into a debacle, during his second term, Clinton was impeached partly because of the ill will toward him in the city. After that, the Clintons went underground and very few from the administration were seen out and about.”

Ironically, the line about Quinn being a bitch is timeless. Youngsters like Gawker’s Alex Pareene have trotted it out (in so many words) in recent weeks, and Harry Jaffe made it an artform way back in 1998.

Chief proponents of this POV: Sally Quinn, Carol Joynt, Harry Jaffe, Salon’s Scott Rosenberg, Georgetowners, countless others who phrased their frustration with more PC language.

4.) The Internet chased Sally Quinn back to her hole

Twenty years ago, Quinn’s column may have elicited similar reactions upon first reading, but without the Internet, who would’ve known just how many people hated it? Michael Calderone pointed out in Politico that the “blogosphere reaction was … brutal” and cited a conversation at The Awl as exemplary disembowlment:

“It is hard to know where to begin with this Quinn piece, but one way to begin is to pull back and take the wide-angle view, which is that she believes she has been given a column in the Washington Post Style section to deal with her personal business,” wrote Tom Scocca, who is not an elite Washingtonian journalist in an exchange with Choire Sicha, who lives somewhere in the bowels of New York.

In other words, it’s not just Washingtonians who have been hating on Quinn.

Chief proponents of this POV: New media, twitter