Amanda Bennett edition: In recent weeks, we’ve listed some puzzling statements and claims by major journalists.
Was Lawrence O’Donnell really suckled by ferrets in a den near the Dorchester Yacht Club? We weren’t sure we completely believed his claim!
Did Meredith Vieira really cry about a mop she saw a family abandon in a TV ad? Was Daisy Hernandez, at age 25, really unaware of what an editorial was? Those claims seemed implausible too.
That said, can we believe anything these people say? The analysts have started to ask.
Can we believe anything from these people? Yesterday, the question entered our heads when we read Amanda Bennett’s column in the Washington Post.
Who the heck is Amanda Bennett? Like you, we had no idea. The Post provided a humble author identity line:
“Amanda Bennett is a freelance editor and writer.”
Based on that, and based on elements of her column, we pictured Bennett as a bright young kid trying to work her way up in the guild. Still and all, we were puzzled by some of the things she said in her column.
Who the heck is Amanda Bennett? As the column started, she was being ignored by two pompous men at a spiffy dinner party:
BENNETT (10/5/14): So there I was at one of those Washington dinners where the powerful are feted. It was one of the old-fashioned events where alternate-sex seating left me parked between two (maybe) famous and (aspirationally, at least) important men.Poor Bennett! There she was, “at one of those dinners where the powerful are feted.” She was seated between a pair of (somewhat) “famous and important men” who didn’t want to waste their time listening to the likes of her!
On my left, a once-upon-a-time ambassador to a Strategically Important Country; on my right, the head of a Really Big Well-Funded Think Tank, who seemed to have been abandoned conversationally by his dinner partner.
“Stanislaus,” I said, coming to his aid. “Franz Josef and I were just talking about...”
And at that, I disappeared. Stanislaus (not his real name) and Franz Josef (ditto) locked eyes, locked me out and began conversing animatedly across my plate. This went on for some time. I had mischief in me that night, so I decided to play. I shifted forward, placing my head slightly between them. Seamlessly, and seemingly unaware, they moved forward, too, and continued their conversation. I moved again. They moved further. How far would this go?
According to Bennett, she finally made her companions speak to her as well as to each other. But as she continued, she thought about what is lost when men behave this way.
Note the way she describes herself in this rumination:
BENNETT: So what of it? A dinner table is just a dinner table. An evening sandwiched between two mildly rude and clueless demi-celebrities is hardly the end of the world. But what happens when it’s not just the dinner table but the conference room table? Or the boardroom table? Or the negotiating table?Obviously, a great deal can be lost in the business setting if men shut women out. As she advances this very familiar idea, Bennett talks herself down a few notches:
What happens when a man’s casually assumptive, visceral reflex that nothing said by the woman sitting next to him could possibly be as interesting as anything said by the man sitting across the table extends—as it still does—to the absence of women’s voices in decision-making?
What do we lose?
Well, at the very least, I think the guys seated next to me lost a chance to have a more interesting evening. I’m not famous. I’m not important. But I do have ideas about things, and I am cheerfully willing to banter. And just imagine what was lost to the guys who years ago droned on to a certain woman who later novelized the experience of being “seated forever, trapped between two immensely powerful men who think it’s your function as their dinner partner to draw them out. You ask them about the SALT talks. You ask them about the firearms lobby. You ask them about their constituencies. You ask them about the next election.” Uh, that was Nora Ephron, guys.
“I’m not famous. I’m not important,” she cheerfully says. “But I do have ideas about things, and I am cheerfully willing to banter.”
Bennett goes on to say that she’s grateful to Hannah Storm because of Storm’s recent declaration about domestic violence and the NFL. Storm helped her see that women can speak up with their views, just the way men do.
Poor Bennett! We don’t doubt that the men at that table, if it existed, were self-involved and pompous. But when she referred to her attendance at other high-level dinner parties, we were slightly puzzled.
Why would such an unimportant, cheerful kid get invited to so many fetes? It’s great that she’s learning that she can speak up. But why was she present at those power parties in the first place?
Answer: Despite her rather puzzling column, Bennett, age 62, is actually very important. From November 2006 to June 2013, she was executive editor at Bloomberg News. Before that, she was the first female editor in the 174-year history of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
She helped win a Pulitzer Prize at the Wall Street Journal, another at the Oregonian. Here’s the best part:
She’s currently married to Donald Graham, CEO of Graham Holdings Company! Until Jeff Bezos came along, Bennett’s family by marriage owned the Washington Post.
None of this exactly matters, of course. But it’s very hard to track these facts onto yesterday’s rather strange column. And yes, it seems fairly clear that we have the right Amanda Bennett. In the last freelance column under that name, the identity line said this, at least in the hard-copy Post:
“Amanda Bennett, the former executive editor for projects and investigations at Bloomberg News, is a freelance editor and writer.”
We’ll assume that Bennett didn’t compose the identity line on yesterday’s column. Still, the way she portrays herself in that column is rather hard to fathom. Why would someone of her age, with her stature and her career, need to be told by the slightly ridiculous Storm that a woman can stand up and state her opinion?
Given Bennett’s status and career, yesterday’s column struck us as strange. Dens of ferrets to the side, can we believe anything these people say?
Can we believe a word they say? The analysts have started to wonder.
Imperfect Stormy weather: Here’s what Bennett said about Storm, whose father, Mike Storen, was commissioner of the ABA way back when:
BENNETT: What if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had thought well enough of the voices of women when it counted? Would a woman have said: Hey, hold on a minute. Let’s think about the 45 percent of our fans who are women and might be able to picture how they would feel if they were cold-cocked in an elevator?Bennett is right about one thing. At least in principle, Hannah Storm has always had “a powerful platform.”
Well, he’s hearing those opinions now. And he’s hearing them because women are telling them. Only he’s having to hear it on places like ESPN, from women such as Hannah Storm, who spoke recently of the effect of the Ray Rice video on her three daughters: “I spent this week answering seemingly impossible questions about the league’s biggest stars,” she said last month. “Mom, why did he do that? Why isn’t he in jail? Why didn’t he get fired?”
There’s nothing new about the fact that a woman like Storm is a sports anchor with a powerful platform. There’s nothing new about the fact that women take issue with the decisions of men in power. What is new is that many more women like Storm are becoming increasingly confident and, yes, feeling entitled to say: You didn’t ask for my opinion, but I have one.
She has also always refused to use it. Warning! When people like Storm refuse to speak up on any issue, they may be maintaining their silence for career safety, not due to lack of confidence.
In the New York Times, Jonathan Mahler fawned about the courage Storm showed in speaking up on an issue for the very first time. This struck us as silly, sad.
Storm may be the world’s nicest person. But her children are all in their teens, and the questions they asked her are easy to answer. Meanwhile, the NFL has had domestic violence issues for years. Storm could have spoken any time she chose.
The world is full of celebrity journalists like Storm. In a slightly more serious world, their long-term silence would maybe even be questioned.
In this world, they’re rich and famous. People like Mahler fawn about their courage. 62-year-old power players present like ingénues.