Part 3—The bullroar of Journalist County: When we rose from our [hyperbaric] chamber this morning, the analysts were loudly wailing.
We found them huddled around a copy of the New York Times. Purposefully shoving the youngsters aside, we found they had the paper open to page A19.
The source of their distress was clear. They’d been huddled around a full-page ad which was headlined like this:
The New York TimesFor the general background, click here.
INTERNATIONAL LUXURY CONFERENCE
Art. Technology. Fashion. Forward.
December 1-3, 2014/Mandarin Oriental, Miami
On the one hand, you want to laugh. The New York Times is staging something it’s willing to call an “International Luxury Conference!”
The analysts, though, had all started to cry. They had a strong point too—and please consider the hosts for the conference!
The two hosts for the Luxury Conference appeared in photographs near the top of the full-page ad. Ironically, one of the two was Deborah Needleman, who wasn’t supposed to appear in this series until next week, when we plan to explore her role at one of The Houses of Journalist County.
Don’t get us wrong! Needlemen has done nothing “wrong” in her role as editor-in-chief of T, the New York Times Style Magazine. We have no reason to think that she has ever done anything “wrong” in her life.
That said, something may be wrong with the culture when the New York Times is running a three-day event it unblinkingly calls a “Luxury Conference.” The problem is related to The Houses of Journalist County, and to the need to pretend that the houses' owners are actually just like us.
Our big TV stars are just like us! A long line of multimillionaire pseudo-journalists have engaged in this deceptive bit of branding.
The late Tim Russert perfected the practice with his constant evocation of his Dad on Buffalo’s garbage trucks. That said, no one ever played this card more comically than Meredith Vieira once did.
We aren’t referring to the unlikely claims which surfaced last week in Parade magazine, in which we were told that Vieira’s pet-ravaged furniture shows that she lives just like us.
“I just want people to see this is how I live, and probably the way a lot of people live,” Vieira thoughtfully said in Parade. She referred to the ratty furniture which will be part of the set for her new weekday TV show, for which she’s being paid $5 million per year, on top of the roughly $110 million she had been paid in salary in the previous seventeen years.
When “journalists” haul swag like that, they often look for ways to pretend that they live the same way we do. Presumably, this explains the comical claims Vieira made in 2006.
The claims appeared in a sprawling photo spread in Traditional Home, “a design and decorating magazine that targets affluent readers.” The background to the story goes something like this:
In the year 2000, Vieira and her husband, Richard M. Cohen, purchased a home in Westchester County for $2.1 million.
There’s nothing “wrong” with that! There’s also nothing “wrong” with what came next. According to Traditional Home, Vieira engaged in “a full-blown, eco-friendly reconstruction that would leave only one original interior wall standing.” According to Traditional Home, it was a “complete overhaul” which “pumped up the square footage [of the pre-existing $2.1 million home] by about 2,000 feet.”
Under our system, there’s nothing “wrong” with that! Major-league infielders do such things every day of the week.
We’d say there may be something wrong with the ridiculous explanation Vieira gave for the decision to pump up the house—an explanation that seemed to come from the PR wing of The Houses of Journalist County.
Why did Vieira reconstruct her $2.1 million home, adding 2000 square feet in the process? As reported by Catherine Ord Manroe, this was the first part of her rather implausible tale:
MANROE (9/06): “It all started with a banquette. I wanted one.” Flexing her sound-bite muscles, Meredith Vieira boils down the yearlong, life-altering redo of her family’s home to those two simple sentences.That’s how the whole thing started! Vieira wanted a kitchen banquette, the kind she’d enjoyed as a child. In turn, this triggered Cohen’s desire for a fireplace.
The Dateline NBC contributor and former co-host of the Today show had been seated in a banquette at a Manhattan restaurant with her husband—author and former TV news producer Richard Cohen—when she experienced an epiphany. “I had grown up in a house with a kitchen banquette,” she explains, “and I suddenly realized I missed it. Then Richard said he had always wanted a fireplace in the kitchen, so we talked about renovating that one room.”
Somehow, Manroe reports, these homely desires “ballooned” into that full reconstruction.
For our money, this story is already slightly suspect. This is especially true if you’re familiar with The Dissembling of Journalist County, in which propagandists with $6 million summer homes keep talking about the garbage trucks their (admirable) fathers rode in on.
The longing for the childhood banquette may suggest that genre. That said, Vieira’s Total Clowning began in the passage shown below.
Below, the fuller, comical story starts to emerge. Before reconstruction, Vieira says, she and Cohen had been forced to live like an earlier group of stars:
MANROE: Yet there was nothing imprudent, indulgent, or even terribly impulsive about this family’s decision to go for broke. (They nearly did, notes Meredith, only half-joking: “I told the kids, expect no vacations. This house is it!”) The first question posed to them by area architect Radoslav Opacic made it clear they had good cause to completely overhaul their 1930s Craftsman-style home, and cosmetics had little to do with it.For extra credit: Do you believe the kids got no more vacations?
“Rad asked us where we lived in the house. We sort of looked at each other and responded, ‘In the driveway.’ It hurt to admit it, but we really had been living like the Beverly Hillbillies, except on the wrong coast...
Meanwhile, say what? Even after buying a $2.1 million home, Vieira had been living like the Beverly Hillbillies? Below, you see her fuller account. We’re sorry, but we don’t exactly believe this:
MANROE (continuing): “Rad asked us where we lived in the house. We sort of looked at each other and responded, ‘In the driveway.’ It hurt to admit it, but we really had been living like the Beverly Hillbillies, except on the wrong coast. Richard and I would sit in our lounge chairs in our underwear Sunday mornings along our long stretch of driveway, drinking coffee and reading the newspapers. There was something quite disturbing about that picture, especially for our neighbors,” laments Meredith.Tomorrow, we’ll show you just how tight those building restrictions really were!
The hillbilly image convinced them to address the deeper issue. “The way we lived before wasn’t very practical,” says Meredith’s assistant, Amanda Bushey, who actually has never lived with the family though she is definitely considered part of it. In fact, pressure to complete the reconstruction within one year—a condition that Meredith insisted be part of the contract—was all about Amanda. “She was getting married, so we had to have the house done by the date of her wedding,” Meredith explains. “We had a rehearsal dinner and a wedding reception to give here, so we had to be back in the house. It was the bride-to-be who really got this wonderful crew motivated. Nobody wants to mess with a nervous bride.”
Opacic modeled the redo’s new architectural style on Tuscan villas, though Meredith is reluctant to use that term to label her home. “Our house is not grand, so I hate to describe it as a ‘villa,’ ” she explains. “Richard and I have always loved Italy, especially the villas in Tuscany, and the light in the Hudson River Valley is very similar, so this seemed like the appropriate style. Not fancy, but elegant and inviting, with an emphasis on texture, color, and flow—and bringing the outdoors in, so we wouldn’t have to live in the driveway.” Opacic’s challenge was to provide all of that without ranging far from the existing footprint—building restrictions were that tight.
That passage includes the types of hooks which are used to explain, and explain away, The Houses of Journalist County. (It was all about helping Amanda! We’d been forced to live in the driveway! Please don’t call it a villa!)
For now, let’s consider “the hillbilly image,” which animates Manroe’s profile.
All in all, do you believe what Vieira said? Do you believe that she and Cohen had been living “in the driveway,” sitting in lounge chairs and in their drawers, troubling the neighbors and evoking the Beverly Hillbillies?
We find that hard to believe. With its “long stretch of driveway,” the house sits on a bit more than two acres. On-line, photographs of the property show it protected by large stands of what seem to be mature trees.
None of this actually matters, of course, except to the extent that you get tired of lapsed journalists bullshitting us the rube/consumers. But we find it hard to believe that Vieira had nowhere to read the paper except in the driveway, or that she’d been scaring the neighbors.
None of this actually matters, of course, except in the ways it does.
Go ahead! Look at the 28 photos of that house published by Traditional Home. After taking that three-hour tour, briefly consider the bullroar found in Parade:
HAUSER (8/24/14): Vieira has been adamant about having the show reflect who she really is. “Meredith is exactly the same on-camera as she is off,” says Sirop. “She’s a kisser, and we joke that her lips carry more germs than a door handle, because she’s probably kissed 100 strangers before coming to work.” Originally, Vieira wanted to film at her house in New York’s Westchester County, “because I would never have to get dressed up,” she jokes. “My husband said, ‘Forget about it.’ But I said, ‘Then at least I want the authenticity of my furniture.’ The cats and the dog ruined it, and I just want people to see this is how I live, and probably the way a lot of people live.” So while the show will be filmed at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the set has been designed to look like her family room. “I want people to feel they are, in a sense, coming into my home,” she says. “It’s a safe place where you talk, you laugh, you cry.”Go ahead—review those 28 photos. Do you think viewers will get an accurate idea of the way Vieira lives, which is “probably the way a lot of people live,” from the cat-infested furniture which will appear on the set of her new TV show?
News flash: Vieira doesn’t “live the way a lot of people live.” Neither did Russert; neither does Chris Matthews, Russert’s neighbor on Nantucket, where they summered near Jack Welch, their right-wing owner, the man who made them both rich.
Russert and Matthews broke all the rules to gain the swag for those summer homes, landmarks among The Houses of Journalist County. Perhaps for the reason, Russert wanted you thinking of Buffalo when his big mug appeared on your screen. Vieira seems to want you thinking that she lives the same way you do.
She doesn’t live the way most people do; in theory, there’s nothing “wrong” with that. The problem comes with the values which lurk in The Houses of Journalist County.
Matthews practiced corrupt journalism. Vieira just gave it up.
Tomorrow: What ever happened to journalism? The values of that new program
Regarding that Luxury Conference: Our biggest stars live in The Houses of Journalist County. In a similar vein, the New York Times is staging an event it’s willing to call an International Luxury Conference.
That phrase really tops them all!
In fairness to the Times, “artists” and “thinkers” will be at the conference, according to the full-page ad which had the analysts in tears. But if we might borrow from Bob Dylan, who isn’t listed at the conference:
But oh, what kind of “thinking” is this, which goes from bad to worse?