Judy Bachrach’s Big Gift to Talk : She Returns Tina to Controversy

Who knows how many readers are going to paw their way through all 370 pages of Tina and Harry Come to America: Tina Brown, Harry Evans, and the Uses of Power . The forthcoming unauthorized barrage, written by Vanity Fair contributing editor Judy Bachrach, immediately smells musty and mid-1990′s, like a Seinfeld rerun or an Annie Lennox CD. While this town has never lost its appetite for gossip about Ms. Brown or Mr. Evans, Ms. Bachrach’s spicy dish–conquests, conflicts, Talk -era freak-outs–arrives overcooked, unwanted.

And strangely, Tina and Harry Come to America could have the ironic impact of becoming Tina and Harry’s Behind the Music moment: a lurid, somewhat embarrassing warts-and-all treatment that, rather than ruining them, makes people perk up and start paying attention again. It worked for Mötley Crüe. Maybe it could work for Talk .

Ms. Bachrach’s book appears to have already kicked up such a sympathetic wave, especially for Ms. Brown. “Tina is like a Fitzgerald character,” said one source who knows her. “She springs eternal and is doomed, in a sense. People go in cycles withher–they’re fascinated, then put down, fascinated and put down.”

Of course, most of these Tina-and-Harry seismologists hadn’t even taken a glance atMs. Bachrach’s tome yet. And wowie! In tedious Joe Friday detail, Ms. Bachrach moves through everr-rrything: Ms. Brown showing up at the Academy Awards with dry-cleaner foil on the buttons of her pink Chanel suit, then screaming, “Why did no one tell me?”; Ms. Brown and her appetite, or lack thereof, at The New Yorker (“Food left her cold; she ate chicken salads and drank diet sodas”); a Tina makeup-application fit before a meeting with Michael Eisner. As for Mr. Evans, he’s treated almost as an afterthought–his life, or at least his life story, begins only after Ms. Brown has graduated from Oxford, gone out on her own and is trying to make a new life for herself in London. Mr. Evans moves on to more substantial things, of course, but there’s scant assessment of what it all means, and two-thirds of the way in, this reader was lost in an Admiral Stockdale daze: “Who am I? What am I doing here?”

But because of Ms. Bachrach’s book, it sure did feel like old times around here early this week, for both Ms. Brown and Mr. Evans. Monday, July 16, brought a full-scale Tina-and-Harrypalooza. There was the New York Times report on the book’s accusation that Mr. Evans used his role as editorial director of the Daily News to influence coverage of Talk . There was the Drudge Report, going bonkers with a big Tina splash. There were other notices, too– New York, Inside.com, the New York Post , The Washington Post. And while the coverage was mostly negative toward them, the city was chirping loudly about those first-name Brits again: “Tina!” “Harry!” “Tina!” “Harry!”

Sure, no one likes to have an unauthorized lead pipe swung their way. But in a business and heat sense–always that heat !–the potential benefit for Talk was obvious. In one fell swoop, Ms. Bachrach’s scorched-earth tome had managed to gin up more attention for Ms. Brown’s ’01 edition than any single article or cover portrait in recent memory. Said Valerie Muller, senior vice president of MediaCom, the Gray media agency: “The book will spike interest in the magazine again.”

“They need the publicity,” agreed Eric Blankfein, vice president of Horizon Media. “This [book] is good for Talk magazine. They need the pages.”

A Talk spokesperson said Ms. Brown and Mr. Evans “weren’t commenting and have no interest in the book.” And while declining to talk about Tina and Harry , new Talk editorial director Maer Roshan told Off the Record that “the magazine is getting buzz because of the work we’ve been doing, from the David Brock revelations to Castro to P. Diddy. These were all stories getting buzz …. We’ve got buzz because we’ve got a staff that works hard every day.”

O.K., Mr. Roshan! But at this point, it really doesn’t matter if Tina and Harry Come to America becomes a hit, or if you find a cubic ton of it in the remainder pile at the Strand before the kids come home from summer camp. There’s a big, toad-like book belching out there now, and it may have given Ms. Brown, her husband and her magazine the most unexpected of favors.

Until Lizzie Grubman backed into half the Hamptons’ social elite on Saturday, July 7, the Daily News ‘ Washington correspondent, Helen Kennedy, was the envy of many of New York’s finest tabloid writers. Ms. Kennedy is the News ‘ lead reporter on the Chandra Levy case, the story tabloid scribes were born to cover.

“This is my kind of story,” Ms. Kennedy admitted. “I’ve just become completely obsessed.”

Well, it turns out that Ms. Kennedy–whom newsroom colleagues call “the Mistress of Death”–had a bit of a head start on the summer’s biggest story. She lives in Ms. Levy’s building.

No, Ms. Kennedy and Ms. Levy weren’t pals. She never bumped into the missing intern in the lobby, never had an elevator conversation in which Ms. Levy confided to her about an older boyfriend or discussed the boudoir use of neckties and oils.

But coincidentally, Ms. Kennedy does think she may have talked to Ms. Levy back in April, while the reporter was trying to get a press pass from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (where Ms. Levy was an intern) for the execution of Timothy McVeigh.

“I talked to almost everyone there,” Ms. Kennedy said, “anyone I could think of. I’m sure that I must have talked to her.”

Soon afterward, Ms. Kennedy would find her life intertwined with that of her missing neighbor. On the morning of May 11, Ms. Kennedy turned on her television, expecting to see news about the delay of Mr. McVeigh’s execution. Instead, she saw a shot of her 10-story apartment complex in the Adams-Morgan section of D.C. Later, Ms. Kennedy read a story from the Los Angeles Times which, she recalled, was “about a girl who missed her graduation, with a friend of hers saying that she was dating a politician.

“If you cover enough crime, you learn certain things,” Ms. Kennedy said. “An alarm goes off in your head. If a girl goes missing and there’s a boyfriend, then it usually involves the boyfriend.”

Ms. Kennedy wrote her first Levy story on May 16 and has been running with it ever since. She was able to get an exclusive with her landlord, who told the News that Ms. Levy had confided back in January that “she was thinking about going to live at her boyfriend’s place.” While the local television folk were hovering around the building at night, Ms. Kennedy would go downstairs and gossip.

These days, Ms. Kennedy finds herself chasing leads from nine in the morning until 10 at night, then reading stories online until 1 a.m. Though clearly weary of following the Chandra trail for two months, the 34-year-old admits she’d rather be writing about this than Congressional sessions and policy.

“I have dreams about it,” Ms. Kennedy said. “I don’t dream about Chandra. I dream about getting beat.”

–S.P.

Users of a Bloomberg terminal can find purchasing info on Bloomberg by Bloomberg, the 261-page 1997 autobiography by Michael Bloomberg, quite easily. You can order a hardcover or paperback version and even find shops on different continents (“Please patronize your local bookstore!”). But they can forget about finding original coverage of the Mayoral hopeful’s campaign by Bloomberg News.

“We’re covering [Mr. Bloomberg's campaign] with asbestos gloves,” said Bloomberg News editor in chief Matthew Winkler. “I think that’s a reasonable answer.

“The reasons are obvious: Michael Bloomberg is a candidate, and he is the owner of this company. The last thing we want to write is something that appears self-serving.”

Stories on Mr. Bloomberg consist largely of summarized stories from other papers (for example, “Badillo Says Bloomberg Running NYC Smear Campaign, NYT Reports” and “Bloomberg’s Mayoral Campaign Hits Bumps Early, Paper Reports”). And while the practice is not unusual–when The Wall Street Journal breaks a financial story, Bloomberg will write a summary in much the same way–this comes just months after the company launched its much-heralded metro desk last year. Mr. Winkler said the 10-person division, headed by former Daily News managing editor Rich Rosen, was an idea he’d had several years ago, “predating Michael Bloomberg’s plans, even his internal musings.” Among the areas of coverage: transportation, education, health and urban life.

“We’re interested in the story of money in all its forms,” Mr. Winkler said. “The Mayor’s office is an important institution. But there’s a big difference between covering the institutions of New York City and covering the candidates for Mayor.”

The metro reporter with the uneasy task of covering both the Mayoral race and City Hall is Henry Goldman. A much-beloved former editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer (one of his former reporters described him as “the best editor I ever had”), Mr. Goldman was a national correspondent for the Inquirer based in New York before joining Bloomberg’s ranks. Though Mr. Goldman declined an interview request (“I don’t really want to talk about it. The story’s the campaign”), Mr. Winkler said: “He’s our man. He is the person we really look to for coverage of policy. And that’s what we’re really interested in: making sure we’re current with any policy.”

But what if Mr. Bloomberg wins? What if he crushes Herman Badillo in the Republican primary and then beats the Democratic nominee? Mr. Winkler said that Bloomberg has relatively little interest in “the day-to-day life of the Mayor” and will continue to limit itself primarily to policy stories. But, he admitted, “it would be impossible for us to do serious, non-stop depth reportage of the man because of who he is to the company.”

–S.P.

After appearing on the July 11 Today show to plug a piece on outdoor concert safety, Teen People editor Barbara O’Dair bumped into Andrew Solomon, author of the mammoth, hot new downer Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression , who was also a guest that day. The pair exchanged hellos, and then Mr. Solomon asked Ms. O’Dair about her plans to cover Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean’s recent admissions of alcoholism and depression. In fact, Mr. Solomon asked if he could cover the story himself.

“It was kismet,” said Ms. O’Dair, who had Noonday Demon on her desk within hours and assigned Mr. Solomon a short feature on teenage depression and the costs of early fame for the magazine’s October issue.

Mr. Solomon, a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, Artforum and The New Yorker (where his piece “Anatomy of Melancholy” provided the seeds for Noonday Demon ), sounded pretty chill for a big-shot scribe taking on Gen Britney.

“I thought I could say slightly smarter and more useful things about depression than some people who could probably say smarter and more useful things about the Backstreet Boys,” he said.

Mr. Solomon claimed that he was a B.S.B. fan “in an ironic sort of way” and that he’d listened to their “complete works” in the car all the way back from the Hamptons, where he’d excitedly introduced himself at one party as a Teen People writer.

How Mr. Solomon’s world view will jibe with Teen People ‘s readers, however, is an open question. Ms. O’Dair said that the editor on the piece “did talk to [Mr. Solomon] about the fact that this is a mass teen magazine and that he would have to translate his prose to an accessible voice.” Mr. Solomon was apparently down with that.

Though he’s never written for teens before, Mr. Solomon has received fan mail from the acned masses, and he’s thrilled to be “hip enough to be taken seriously by teenagers, since I definitely was not hip enough to be taken seriously by teenagers when I was one.”

But disillusionment came quickly, as Mr. Solomon found himself dissed by the coolest kids all over again. He had hoped to meet the B.S.B. for his TP piece, but was denied.

“I thought that it would be amusing and delightful to hang out with them,” Mr. Solomon said. “But they seem to be un-hang-out-able right now, which was a terrible disappointment.”

–Rebecca Traister

Off the Record can be reached by e-mail at gsnyder@observer.com or spappu@observer.com.