Entry from May 12, 2009

Something’s up, you’ve got to think, when we start getting lectures from journalists on discretion. Yesterday, in the London Daily Telegraph, Mary Kenny was praising Mick Jagger’s ex-wife for returning the £500,000 advance for her supposedly tell-all memoir that didn’t, after all, tell all. Or enough. “Admirers of the Texan magnolia will be gratified that she has upheld the standards of a southern lady,” says Miss Kenny, obligingly. “Only tarts kiss and tell and Jerry Hall was right to refuse to do so.” I suppose she was too, though it’s not long since it never would have occurred to anyone to expect praise for such routine reticence.

Also, it’s not true today, if it ever was, that “only tarts” kiss and tell — unless the definition of “tart” is expanded, as perhaps it should be, to include those who accept money not just for sex but for recounting their own sexual experiences. On that definition, we’re living in a tart’s paradise, where being indiscreet about one’s sexual past is one of the main branches of the tree of contemporary literature. I wonder, too, if it is now the case that chivalry, discretion and gentlemanliness are more to be praised or idealized in women than it is in men? A man might feel such a compliment as Mary Kenny’s a bit back-handed. Am I really so old-fashioned, so (shudder) square? Presumably, Jerry Hall does not feel so.

Then, Tina Brown weighed in in the virtual pages of her own Daily Beast on Elizabeth Edwards’s tell-all book about her marriage and what, in Ms Brown’s opinion, were two strikingly indiscreet TV interviews about it:

Perhaps the worst thing about the Oprah interview was that it was happening at all. In no other culture in the world can I imagine the flayed, dishonored husband hanging around in the kitchen to tell the person who has just teased out of his wife a replay of his shame that no, he hadn’t asked Elizabeth to change one word of what she had written. If he is not lying (again) it’s tragic he did not do so, at least for the sake of their kids. . . Resilience, Elizabeth Edwards’ book is called, but both the Oprah and now the Lauer interview show a woman still so crushed by marital hurt she is woefully unready to meet the cameras. Someone in Elizabeth Edwards’ life should have been found to beg her to desist from this muddled act of self-destruction, if not for her husband, then her agent, her publisher, and how much should we blame ourseleves in the media? Elizabeth fed herself to vultures. The most painful thing about watching her talk was that she was brave enough to face the truth about her illness but still unable to face the truth about her marriage and the “possible baby.”

Today, Froma Harrop in The Providence Journal strikes a similar note:

The only rap against her, it seems, is that she knew of an affair after John Edwards announced his presidential run and that she kept it secret. May I disagree? The “cover-up” was the good part. Some things are best left private. Elizabeth’s book and “Oprah” outpouring drag the public under the couple’s covers — offering disclosure with no socially redeeming value. Anyhow, John’s most troubling betrayal wasn’t to her, but to his many followers, who took him seriously.

Now just hold on a second there. Journalists are in the indiscretion business. It’s their bread and butter, right? They retail indiscretions at a mark-up to the general public, so what are they doing getting all sniffy and disapproving of indiscretion? You don’t have to be a cynic to wonder if there’s something else going on there — besides the journalist’s self-righteousness, I mean — and perhaps the hint as to what it is comes in Ms Harrop’s next paragraph: “Privacy rights activists hit their heads against a frustrating reality: Many Americans don’t care a fig what others know about them. On the contrary, their juiciest details have become something to trade.”

Oh, right. The journalists can only deal in indiscretions if they dig them up themselves. Elizabeth Edwards, like a whole new world of Facebookers and Twitterers, is being indiscreet about herself and reaping the profit, such as it is. All these people — though not, now, thank goodness, Jerry Hall — are competitors. What they’re giving away for nothing, no one is going to pay a journalist for digging up. George Orwell once said that “real journalism consists of what someone doesn’t want published; all the rest is public relations.” In a world where there are ever fewer things that someone doesn’t want published, the journalist’s occupation is gone — along with more and more of the publications where she once plied her trade. Welcome to the world of public relations, Tina! But, then, something tells me she’s not unfamiliar with the place.

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