Wink, Wink Journalism: Just Read Between the Lines

By Jack Limpert

Ten years ago I took Kitty Kelley off the Washingtonian’s masthead after her book, The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty, was published. Here’s what the Washington Post said about it on December 8, 2004:

Kitty, Cut Loose and Put Out

After a relationship of more than 30 years, Washingtonian magazine and writer Kitty Kelley are divorcing, and the terms are not amicable. Kelley is in a snit because the mag unceremoniously booted her from the masthead of its current issue, citing her controversial book “The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty.” In an e-mail last week, Editor Jack Limpert lashed Kelley for what he called the book’s partisan timing and its irresponsible reporting about President Bush:

“We are always willing to attack the policies, and the behavior, of the President,” Limpert wrote to Kelley. “But it seems to us that the office deserves respect. We don’t think we should attack a President personally — his relations with his wife and family, his use of alcohol or other drugs, things like that — without a very solid basis for doing so. . . . We felt strongly enough that we didn’t want readers to feel that your appearance on the masthead meant we endorsed the book.”

Kelley, a contributing editor who’s been friends with Limpert for 32 years, says she was stunned to find her name dropped when she picked up the magazine. In an e-mail, she accused Limpert of being cowed by owner Philip Merrill, who she noted “has had a long relationship with George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney.” (Merrill served on the Defense Policy Board during Bush’s father’s administration and currently heads the Export-Import Bank — a position for which the president nominated him in 2002. Upon acceptance, Merrill stepped down as Washingtonian’s publisher and his wife took over.)

Limpert told us yesterday the masthead pruning was routine — names of infrequently contributing editors are cut every year. He added, “I never talk to Phil about this.” The editor acknowledged that he has only “scanned” Kelley’s book but said that allegations of past drug use by Dubya “crossed the line for responsibility.” The White House denounced the book as “garbage” when it came out in September.

Kelley last wrote for Washingtonian in 2001 but told us yesterday she contributed ideas to Limpert as recently as August. “What Jack did was very hurtful,” she said. “Thirty-two years . . . I’ve stood by them.”

Why didn’t Limpert pick up the phone to deliver the bad news? “I would have had to call her and say, ‘Kitty, I think you’ve written a sleazy, irresponsible book and we don’t want to be associated with it,’ ” he told us.

Right. Knowing the author’s reputation for sharp claws, maybe we would have been scared, too.
Here’s a Politico story from yesterday that, to me, has too many echoes of Kitty Kelley. It’s by Kate Glassman Bennett, who recently left the Washingtonian, where she was fashion editor, to join Politico to write a gossip column called “The KGB File.” Romenesko in February quoted her as saying her column would be “fun, coy, insightful, a tad biting — and smart.”

Here’s “The KGB File” from yesterday:

David Brooks’ Muse?

New York Times columnist David Brooks is getting the full Washington book party treatment Thursday night, with a fancy party to be hosted at the Kalorama mansion of his old friends Atlantic owner David Bradley and his wife. The new Brooks book, The Road to Character, extols the virtue of a noble life via the study of a handful of leaders and thinkers. However, it’s the effusive 110-word display of admiration and gratitude Brooks gives to Anne C. Snyder, his 30-year-old former New York Times research assistant, which is catching people’s attention. Brooks, easily one of the most admired conservative columnists in America, with a distinguished list of bestselling books, and a vocal critic of morality and cultural habits, devotes the opening paragraph of the “Acknowledgements” section to Snyder, gushing about the “lyricism of her prose” and the “sensitivity of her observations.” Brooks says it was Snyder’s influence that led him to write a book about “morality and inner life” and that she was a close partner in the “three years of its writing.”

The big-thinking journalist even gives credit to Snyder for the ideas in The Road to Character, writing: “If there are any important points in this book, they probably come from Anne.” Contacted Wednesday, Brooks backpedaled a bit. “That phrase,” he said, “was probably a poor choice of words on my part. I was trying to be appreciative and lighthearted.” Yet Anne Snyder, who now lives in Houston, stands in the acknowledgements as the only person not given a specific title: Fact-checker, editor, friend, parent, or even “ex-wife.” Brooks recently divorced his wife of 28 years, Sarah Brooks, and she gets a brief nod in the very last paragraph of the Acknowledgements for the “amazing job” she has done raising the couple’s three kids. Brooks didn’t respond to a question about his relationship with Snyder, and when asked whether the columnist and Snyder had ever been in a relationship, Brooks’ publicist answered only in the present tense: “He is not in a relationship with Anne Snyder.”
The Bennett column pretty clearly wants the reader to think that David Brooks is, or was, in a romantic relationship with Anne Snyder. She was “a close partner” in writing the book. The nice things Brooks writes about Snyder “is catching people’s attention.” Brooks recently divorced his wife. Brooks didn’t respond to a question about his relationship with Snyder.

As an editor, I don’t think I’d have published the Bennett column. For me, it’s too close to Kitty Kelley territory. Wink, wink, I can’t say it’s true—maybe I can’t nail it down, maybe the lawyers won’t let me say it—but you’ll understand what I’m saying.

I reacted so strongly to the George W. Bush gossip in Kelley’s book because Bush was President and I thought the office deserved more respect. Is Brooks, a newspaper columnist, less deserving of fairness and accuracy? Does Bennett have the Brooks relationship nailed down in a way that Kitty Kelley didn’t seem to have the Bush hints at wrongdoing nailed down?

If you were Bennett’s editor at Politico, would you have published the Brooks column?


  1. Does it change your opinion at all that David Brooks went on to marry Anne Snyder in 2017?

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