PSST. We hear there is quite a fuss in media-land these days. It appears that nobody appreciates the good little reporter who slaves away getting his Facts Right, explaining the Issues to the People and finding the Big story. Rumor has it (although we can't believe it), people don't read the front pages first.
And the hottest topic at parties? After the Red Sox and Doonesbury of course, it's that gossip column Ear from the Washington Post that the Hub gets in the Herald American.
Those Who Know Better sigh. What is the world coming to? Television be damned. Nobody cares about what is important anymore. People Magazine will bring about the end of serious thought. But we hear that even the serious are buying the Herald more these days which is exactly why they started running Ear and a whole gossip gate to boot! Could it be that even the serious find intrigue in a gossip column?
Not just any gossip column, you protest. This is Ear. And you don't read it to nose into the lives of D. C. superstars. It's not the talk of Joe Califano and his rooster pepper sausage, or the Rafshooning of America, or the latest a' deux in that little Georgetown cafe that makes the Washington Star's Ear so popular. It's the style, the "jolly pariah" attitude as Ear's creator Diana McLellan describes herself, the fast-paced staccato prose and irreverent wit that draws Ear's following.
And you really have to follow the Ear if you want to be a real "Earwig." The first Ear can be incomprehensible, but with practice readers catch her tricks. When she goes wok shopping, that means someone is getting married. You notice the artful thread running through each tidbit in a day's column as if it were all somehow related. And you begin to get an idea who Uncle Oscar is. Now you're ready to quote Ear over your own personal gossip fence. Everybody else does it, after all.
But an example is in order. Not long ago King Hassan of Morocco breezed into D.C. A party in his honor ruffled feathers of those on the never-ending Washington party circuit, Ear claims, because "a) (the King) didn't show; b) it was a weeny bit in the basement; and c) that romantic word (on the invitation) something like 'Casbah' actually turned out to be 'Cash Bar'. Luckily, Uncle Oscar always carries how own."
(Incidentally, for those of you who Didn't Know, we have heard, from Diana herself no less, that Uncle Oscar is actually a composite of Diana's uncle, husband and Oscar Wilde. Her uncle, Diana says in her best British accent, carefully preserved through 21 years in D.C., is someone "who the family spoke of in hushed terms. He was somehow wicked. I presume he was gay.")
So how does a British-born Washingtonian become a popular gossip columnist syndicated in about 30 papers across the country? She scrounged a job in the Washington Star's classified ad department and rose through the ranks. Wait. We hear she was fired from that spot.
Scene I, take two finds Diana as the Star's promotion writer a little later, then writing for society and home sections. Ear began in June of '75, and now she has a reservoir of sources, mostly phone contacts. She says she only hits one party a week. (Only one! we gasp. How does she ever choose?) The answer: "I usually pick the ones with lots of media people. They tend to be the best gossips."
Ear turns the tables on the media people though and inks them up in her column right next to the government types. So ends the woes of journalists who regret spending all their time covering news and no time making news. Maybe journalism is making an advance. Well, maybe not.
Sometimes Ear picks up on a cause--not an earth-shattering cause mind you (Ear is not a crusader), but just important enough to let you know that Eat's heart (or ear trumpet) is in the right place. "Sometimes I get a little insulted for my sex." she says. So there was the injustice that popped up at HEW. "The Ladies' Locker Room is a wee one-third the size of the Men's Locker 'Room." Califano concocted a solution. "The Gap is closing, Earwigs. (Did everyone notice that Friday, C&P's Weather Lady was a man?)" Not a big step, but we all have to start somewhere.
Most of the time Ear is just funny. Not particularly constructive, not particularly illuminating. Not even all that gossipy. Just purely, delightfully funny. Re Peter Bourne who was "banished from the Peak of Power to the Periphery of the Party Circuit over the peculiar Quaalude prescription." Ear says people are upset that other actors in that scandal suffered no disgrace and still enjoy the privileges of a White house office. "Ear refuses to get excited about all this. In fact, it is clam. Very, very clam indeed. Very clam." Changing tacks, she chatters about plans for the White House Christmas bash. "Ear's invitation got lost in the mail, again. It is still quite clam."
AS THE EARWIGS are giggling, did we hear a soft moan from one is yet-to-be-converted about how the business of government is business, or something, but certainly not gala parties and three-hour lunches? Nonsense we say. The dreary old Capitol building has nothing over the cute little bistro on M Street. If you find it just slightly barbaric that hundreds of newspaper readers every day revel in the personal and professional ups and downs of those in the proverbial public spotlight, well, you can always preface the names you drop from reading the Ear with a heartfelt. "I never read gossip columns, but..." But, maybe we don't have to be Serious all the time.