I went to the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Courage In Journalism Awards luncheon at the Waldorf on Tuesday. It honors brave women journalists from around the world. But ,of course, the buzz at every table was not about the day’s truly courageous honorees but about the “smack down” that Maureen Dowd, the Flame-Haired Temptress of the New York Times had just given Judy Miller, the Times’s own very troublesome little “Miss Run Amok .”
”Oh, I hope it won’t be perceived as a catfight,” one of the women at my table said, although that is exactly what New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser called Dowd’s attack on Miller. And she is right. It is Mean Girl vs. Mean Girl in the high-school cafeteria. And who needs hair pulling or nail scratching when you have an op-ed column of your very own?
Of course, Maureen complaining that Judy is a diva is sort of like the pot taking off on the kettle. And bringing up the time Judy wanted Maureen, who was then the Times’s official White House correspondent, to give up “the New York Times seat” to her at a White House press briefing does show what a calculating piece of work Miller can be. But then for Maureen to remember this and use it against Miller 15 years later shows Maureen is some piece of work, too. And Maureen’s putting down Judy for having influential men friends at the paper while she has had a few of them herself…? Obviously the Times newsroom was never big enough for the two of them.
Ju-dy, Ju-dy, Ju-dy–Remember how Cary Grant imitators always used to say that line with an inflection of rising exasperation? Can’t you just imagine Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Bill Keller saying it exactly the same way over the past few days? And frankly Judith Miller does sound like a real pain. Going straight from jail to the Ritz Carlton for a massage, manicure, and martini? Wouldn’t you find someone a lot more likable who wanted nothing more after 85 days in the slammer than a steak, a beer, and a hot bath?
In truth, Maureen and Judy both remind me of one of my theories about successful women. They both fit into the “The Wildest Girl in the Convent” categoy. Those are the girls who are smart enough, work hard enough, but are really noticed because they have more flash than anyone around. Since they learned their convent-school grammar, once they get attention they can dazzle everyone–except each other.
By the way, two of the impressive winners of the Courage in Journalism Awards were Shahla Sherkat, who runs a women’s magazine in Iran and Sumi Khan, a Bangladesh journalist who covers crime. Both were serious and dignified. Shahla has published her magazine for 14 years in Iran’s very restrictive climate. Her publication’s office has been trashed by fundamentalist gangs, she has been fined for articles she has published, and has been threatened with imprisonment in Iran’s harsh jails. But she said her magazine remains the only one that covers “anything that happens to women in my country.”
Sumi is Bangladesh’s only woman crime reporter She also reports on terrorism and corruption. She is based in Chittagong, a city known for violent crime, kidnapping, and extortion. In 2004, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Bangladesh the most dangerous country for journalists in Asia. Recently, she was attacked by three men–beaten and stabbed. It was three months before she returned to work.
In her speech, she said, “I’m often confronted with the question, ‘Are you afraid?’ No, I’m not. They are afraid. My pen is mightier than their weapons.” An old expression, but she is bravely trying to prove that it is still true.
Seeing women like this makes you recognize how self-indulgent our best-known women journalist divas can seem. It still seems baffling to everyone–even to her own bosses–exactly why Judith Miller went to jail. And I don’t even want to give credence to Dowd’s claim it was a “career rehabilitation project” or that she wanted to play the martyr only to snag a big book deal.
But it sure isn’t courage in journalism, either, for Maureen Dowd to protect the mighty New York Times from the return of the massaged and manicured Judy Miller–with a sneer and a snarl.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.