A Moment of Jen
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Wednesday, May 21, 2003
posted by Jen at 5/21/2003 10:56:00 AM

I just remembered this funny hospital story. After they wheeled me into my room, a nurse came in and checked my chart.

"Jennifer Weiner," she said. "You know, there's an author in Philadelphia with that exact same name!"

I was still a little groggy -- a patient-controlled morphine drip will do that to a girl -- so I happily 'fessed to being that author. Which I maybe would not have done had I known that one of the things that very nice nurse would be doing over the night would be positioning my butt over a bedpan and squirting my privates with warm water. I swear, this sort of thing does not happen to Norman Mailer. And if it does, I don't want to know.

The good news -- Miss Lucy let us sleep last night, from 11 to 3:30, and then from 4:15 to 6:30, and then from 7:30 until 8:45 or so. Not bad. Not bad at all. I think some of it had to do with our first visit to the pediatrician Monday morning. Not only has Lucy regained her birth weight (huzzah!), but we got our doctor's permission to break out the Binky.

This, dear readers, is huge. Lucy loves to suck my finger, which is the only thing I've been letting her suck up until now. Which means I frequently find myself bent over my bed, or her crib, or her Moses basket, with my wrist contorted into this odd and painful position as she sucked away. My mother swears by pacifiers, but I've been hesitant to give one to Miss Lu until she gets the latch-on thing figured out. But our doctor said it wouldn't interfere with anything. So last night, we boiled up a pair of Binkys. We wound up barely using them -- toward the end of one of her fussy spells Lucy sucked on it for maybe a minute or two, then spit it out and fell asleep. I think that just the knowledge that there was one more trick we could try, one more weapon in our arsenal, made both of us more confident when we tried to soothe her. And maybe it was our confidence, more than the pacifier, that helped her calm down and sleep.

So today we wheeled her for about half an hour, and took her out for brunch, and walked home, where we all fell asleep for a while. Now I'm paying bills and feeling almost human again. We'll see how long it lasts.

Meanwhile -- I have a baby and the world of journalism explodes in a flaming pyre of scandal and shame. Nice timing, yo.

First of all, disgraced journalist Stephen Glass, late of The New Republic, has landed a book deal. To which I say, ick.

Yes, Glass has a right to tell his story (young man flies too high, too fast, makes things up, gets caught, disgrace and shame follow, until he gets into Georgetown Law School, lands a prestigious clerkship and, eventually, a book deal). And I can't fault Simon & Schuster for wanting to publish his tale (and not just because it's my publisher, too).

But it seems wrong that Glass is being allowed to profit from his secrets and lies.

Look at it this way -- there are laws in this country that say that murderers can't make money by publishing the stories of their crimes. Shouldn't there be a similar rule for journalists who substitue fantasy for reporting? Yes, Glass can write, and yes, Simon and Schuster can publish. But instead of pocketing what I'm sure was a non-insubstantial advance, I think Glass should have to divvy up his ill-gotten gains among TNR subscribers -- the people thought they were paying to read facts and wound up reading fiction instead. Ditto for fallen Timesman Jayson Blair, who will undoubtedly land a book/film deal of his own soon.

And, if you'll permit me to climb onto my soapbox for a minute and make a big, sweeping, harrumphing, kids-today generalization, you want to know what went wrong with Glass, and with Blair? They never paid their dues at a small newspaper.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- nothing takes a young writer down a few necessary pegs faster than having to cover the sewage-board hearing, the school board meeting, the fire in the middle of the night, in a small town for a small paper that's nowhere near New York, LA, or DC. It knocks the F. Scott Fitzgerald right out of you...and, more importantly, it gives you a place to learn and practice the fundamentals of good journalism, the importance of getting it right, of making that extra phone call, of double-checking everything from the numbers in the budget to the spelling of the policeman's last name.

If you mess up -- and all young reporters mess up (I, personally, went through a two-month spell at the Centre Daily Times where I could barely get my own byline right) -- you're not doing it on a national scale. You're not telling lies, for example, on the front page of The New York Times. And you're working with editors used to helping young reporters, in a community where your readers will hold you accountable for your errors, which generally means that if you work hard, you'll get better, and you'll eventually move on up.

But the national spotlight is seductive, and journalism, like publishing, like the performing arts, like sports, like academics, like just about everything -- is addicted to the lure of the Next Hot Thing. As long as their are twenty-five-year-olds long on ambition and talent and short on experience and ethics, there will be newspapers and national magazines willing to hire them, promote them, give them plum assignments. And there will be more disasters.

Meanwhile, the hit parade of plagiarists and liars turning their moral shortcomings into cold, hard cash continues. According to my Princeton Alumni Weekly's class of 1992 notes, Ruth Shalit, who was herself tossed from The New Republic after other people's sentences made their way into her stories once too often, has moved to Los Angeles.

Where she's writing a novel.

But of course.
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