Getting Stiffed by Art Buchwald—the Rest of the Story

By Jack Limpert

A post yesterday about Art Buchwald taking a story I thought he was doing for The Washingtonian and blithely selling it to Playboy for a higher fee caused several journalist friends to email me condolences. One called what Buchwald did a “betrayal” and another called him a “schmuck.”

The ending of that post had a harsher tone than was intended or deserved. I was surprised by what Buchwald did but considered it a young editor’s learning experience and life went on. A few years later, Laughlin Phillips invited my wife and me to spend a weekend with him and his wife at his Martha’s Vineyard summer home. Who did we play doubles tennis with? Art Buchwald and Mike Wallace.

The point is that an editor doesn’t have permanent enemies. The editor works for the reader, trying to bring in the best possible stories. Whether an editor likes or dislikes a writer shouldn’t affect what gets published.

As I got older in the editor’s job, I sometimes had to remind younger editors to not judge writers by anything other than what they wrote. I’d hear writers described as “a pain in the ass” or “impossible to edit” and I’d make it clear that dealing with difficult writers was part of an editor’s job, that in fact there often seemed some correlation between being really difficult and being really good.

And, of course, the reverse is even more dangerous. Plenty of editors want to work with writers they like personally. That’s not what you’re getting paid to do, that’s not the way to edit and publish great stories.

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