Merriman Smith, President Kennedy, and “The Greatest Lead Ever Written on a Breaking Story”

By Wesley G. Pippert


UPI’s Merriman Smith.

During its glory days, United Press International was fueled by a host of talented but underpaid correspondents, bonded by a sense of esprit de corps. The wire service’s brightest star was Merriman Smith. When Smitty, as he was  known, died, the UPI story identified him as “Merriman Smith, the dean of White House correspondents.” A UPI staffer said the lead should have identified him as simply “Merriman Smith, the White House reporter.”

Until You Write a First Draft, Writing Has Not Really Begun

From John McPhee’s book Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process
When Jenny was a senior at Princeton High School and much put out about the time it was taking her to start an assigned piece of writing, let alone complete it, she told me one day as I was driving her to school that she felt incompetent and was worried about the difficulty she was having getting things right the first time, worried by her need to revise. I went on to my office and wrote her a note.

Bulletin Board Notes for Writers

Do not use semi-colons. All they do is show you’ve been to college.
—Kurt Vonnegut

Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.
—Antoine de Saint Exupery

What is the ultimate impulse to write? Because all this is going to vanish. The only thing left will be the prose and poems, the books, what is written down.
—James Salter

It is my experience, with ballplayers and all other human beings, that skill is a gift of God, but that great skill demands perseverance.
—Frank Deford

What Would Mr. Shawn Think?

This week’s New Yorker has a long review of Tina Brown’s new book, The Vanity Fair Diaries, and earlier this week I posted some of the review’s insights into how Tina edited magazines. She edited Vanity Fair from 1983 to 1992 and then Conde Nast’s Si Newhouse moved her to the New Yorker, which she edited from 1992 to 1998.

My post didn’t include the opening graf of Nathan Heller’s review:

How Tina Brown Remixed Vanity Fair: “I Will Do a Good, Jazzy Job for You, Si”

Tina Brown: “Her gift is to feel the big story.”

Tina Brown was one of the hot magazine editors—she edited Vanity Fair from 1984 to 1992 and the New Yorker from 1992 to 1998. Her new book, The Vanity Fair Diaries, was reviewed this week by Nathan Heller in the New Yorker. Here are some  insights into Tina the editor from the story “How Tina Brown Remixed the Magazine.”

Ed Kosner on Tina Brown: She Perfected That Magic Blend of High and Low

Tina Brown was one of the hot magazine editors—maybe the hottest—of recent years, reviving Vanity Fair from 1984 to 1992 and then adding life and visual flair to the New Yorker from 1992 to 1998. Her new book, The Vanity Fair Diaries, was reviewed this week by Edward Kosner in the Wall Street Journal and by Nathan Heller in the New Yorker.

Kosner edited Newsweek, New York, and Esquire and once turned down the Vanity Fair job, saying, “I demurred, knowing that I could never do as good a job as Tina eventually did.” Here are some of his insights into Tina Brown the editor in his review, titled  “Tina Brown’s Me Decade”:

McPhee’s Two Categories of Writers

Editors are counselors and can do a good deal more for writers in the first-draft stage than at the end of the publishing process. Writers come in two principal categories—those who are overtly insecure and those who are covertly insecure—and they can all use help. The help is spoken and informal, and includes insight, encouragement, and reassurance with regard to the current project; if you have an editor like that, you are, among other things lucky; and, through time, the longer you two are talking, the more helpful the conversation will be.

A Video That Makes A-List Washingtonians Look Like They Need Some Rest

Partly because CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer has always seemed a little strange and partly because a 13-minute video posted today by Politico Playbook makes some of VIP Washington—including Hillary Clinton and Bob Woodward— look almost deranged, the video weirdly brought to mind the movie Apocalypse Now.

The 13-minute video was part of a 25th anniversary celebration  of Cafe Milano, an Italian restaurant in DC’s upscale Georgetown neighborhood. The restaurant boasts about its VIP patrons, who in the video praise Cafe Milano’s power atmosphere and wonderful food. Critics have never been impressed. Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post says “No one goes there for the food, that’s for sure,” and a Washingtonian critic calls the food “overpriced and boring.”  That didn’t stop the Washington insiders from lavishing praise, sometimes with a wink, on Cafe Milano owner Franco Nucschese as “the most interesting man in the world.”

Four Writers and an Editor Have Lunch

What happens, or at least what happened yesterday at a lunch of mostly retired journalists, is the telling of a lot of good stories.

The writers told the stories and the editor mostly listened, occasionally adding a comment or asking a question. It’s how we once did good journalism.

Rewriting History: Tom Hanks Wants to Play Ben Bradlee So Screw the Times We’ll Make the Movie About the Post

“A Star-Studded Drama About the Washington Post’s Decision to Publish the Pentagon Papers”

This Washington Post story about the new Tom Hanks-Meryl Streep movie, “The Post,” includes a two minute-thirty second trailer for the movie, which will be released in late December, in time for the Oscars. The story says, “This won’t be the first time a story about The Washington Post vies for awards glory. ‘All the President’s Men’ won four Oscars in 1977, though the movie lost the best picture prize to ‘Rocky.’ However, Jason Robards, who played Bradlee, won for best supporting actor.”