Part 2—The salaries and the homes: If we might enjoy a brief amusement, a funny thing happened to Meredith Vieira as she tried to show us the people who she really is.
On the cover of Parade, she was quoted saying this: “I want people to see the real me.” Inside the magazine, in the profile itself, she explained that the set of her new TV show will feature “the authenticity of” her own furniture from her own house in New York, or at least of a facsimile.
“The cats and the dog ruined [the furniture],” Vieira is quoted saying, “and I just want people to see this is how I live, and probably the way a lot of people live.”
Vieira lives the same way you do! Inside Parade, she was photographed on a comfy sofa at her Cape Cod “cottage.” We seemed to be seeing the real Vieira! But wouldn’t you know it? On-line, beneath the photo, these credits appeared:
“Styling, Fran Taylor; Hair, Freddy Sanchez; Makeup, Bradford Knight.”
Even at her cottage, these intrusions were forced upon the person who wants us to see the real her!
We offer that observation as a brief amusement. That said, we didn’t exactly believe the things we read in Parade. We wondered where on the Cape the “cottage” was (on-line, Parade answered that question), and what the cottage was actually like. We wondered if the home in New York had really been ruined by her cats and her dog.
Our questions resembled those once brought to Thoreau, whose “house” at the time didn’t quite rise to the level of being a cottage. Years before he walked Cape Cod, he started Walden like this:
THOREAU: When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.Like Vieira, Thoreau lived simply, at least for a couple of years.
I should not obtrude my affairs so much on the notice of my readers if very particular inquiries had not been made by my townsmen concerning my mode of life, which some would call impertinent, though they do not appear to me at all impertinent, but, considering the circumstances, very natural and pertinent. Some have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not afraid; and the like. Others have been curious to learn what portion of my income I devoted to charitable purposes; and some, who have large families, how many poor children I maintained. I will therefore ask those of my readers who feel no particular interest in me to pardon me if I undertake to answer some of these questions in this book...I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men's lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me.
He said he thought those questions were pertinent. He said he required of every writer “a simple and sincere account of his own life.”
Thoreau may not have admired the stars of the modern press corps. All too often, they live in The Houses of Journalist County, while offering somewhat misleading accounts of their own lives.
The late Tim Russert perfected the practice, with endless accounts of his working-class boyhood, tales he penned from his own Nantucket “cottage” (so described in one profile), whose price tag ran $6.1 million.
Other big stars have played this game, helping us see that they’re just like us. Tomorrow, we’ll look at a comical example from 2006, when Vieira explained why she and her husband had engineered a massive renovation of that cat-ravaged New York home, which they had purchased for $2.1 million in the year 2000.
In the course of the renovation, their architect “managed to pump up the square footage by about 2,000 feet,” Traditional Home explained in this profile, which includes 28 photos of the now cat-ravaged home.
In our view, Vieira’s explanation of that massive renovation was especially comical. But so what? Starting next week, the humble set of her TV show will help us see that she and her family live the same way we do.
Let’s be clear: Under our system, there’s nothing “wrong” with making millions of dollars per year. All across the major leagues, utility infielders do so.
There’s also nothing “wrong” with living in large or expensive houses.
That said, we would suggest that there is something slightly wrong with conning the public about these matters. And we’d make a much more important suggestion:
Very weak journalism tends to emerge from The Houses of Journalist County! When people live as these people do, they tend to produce very weak “journalism,” of a highly recognizable kind.
We’ll start perusing that problem on Friday. For today, just for the record, let’s establish some basic facts about Vieira’s career and houses.
Vieira has received a lot of money during her TV career. There’s nothing “wrong” with that, of course, nor is that fact exactly a secret.
But just for the record, here is a basic rundown of Vieira’s TV career from 1985 through 2013. Starting in 1997, we include reported salaries:
Vieira’s TV career:There’s nothing “wrong” with any of that! But just for the record, we estimate something like $110 million in income from 1997 through 2013, not including chump change from Turning Point and Intimate Portrait.
1985-1989: West 57th, CBS
1989-1991: 60 Minutes, CBS
1992-1993: CBS Morning News
1994-1999: Turning Point (ABC news magazine)
1995-2004: Intimate Portrait (Lifetime celebrity profile show)
1997-2006: The View ($5 million per year)
2002-2013: What Wants to Be a Millionaire? ($1 million per year)
2006-2011: Today, Dateline NBC ($10 million per year, rising perhaps to $12 million)
Under our system, there’s nothing “wrong” with that; that’s major league infielder money. Nor is there anything “wrong” with the houses, which include or comprise these:
Vieira’s houses:There’s nothing “wrong” with any of that! Indeed, many of The Houses of Journalist County are grander and more expensive.
The New York home, purchased for $2.1 million in 2000, then massively renovated and expanded.
The Cape Cod cottage, purchased for $1.2 million in 2008.
The Los Angeles “pied a terre” (“Terry’s pad”), reportedly purchased for $1.12 million in 2012.
That said, we somehow doubt that all the furniture in that 28-photo photo spread has been ruined by the cats, or that the set of Vieira’s new program will really help us understand the way she actually lives.
Just this once, we’ll be honest! Personally, we don’t like it when TV stars con us the rubes this way, inventing hooks to convey the idea that they’re just like us.
As our award-winning series proceeds, we’ll review other examples of this widespread practice. Tomorrow, we’ll review Vieira’s highly comical turn in 2006 with this legerdemain.
We don’t like it when big stars con us the rubes this way. But much more important is the journalism—or more often, the lack of same—which emerges from The Houses of Journalist County.
Can we talk? Vieira, who is very wealthy, walked away from journalism a long time ago. That’s permitted under our system, of course. It’s done on TV every day!
But the houses and lifestyles of Journalist County tend to bring a halt to the famous practice for which the county was named long ago.
Tomorrow, we’ll enjoy some comic relief. On Friday, we’ll ponder Vieira’s new show, and its apparent values.
Tomorrow: A comically fake explanation