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30 September 1998

Smile-a-while: Capital Style gets it right!

Synopsis: One little, penny-ante, woebegone local rag did notice Spin Cycle’saccount.

Howie Duty: Has the Post’s Mr. Kurtz gone too far upriver?
Susan Crabtree, Capital Style, July/ August 1998

This is getting to be a regular thing for us, reporting a story like this happy tale, where some penny-ante rag on a shoestring budget somehow manages to nail down a big story. In next week’s THE DAILY HOWLER, we will report on how only The Hill had managed to report certain basic facts about the new Reno-Gore probe. These were facts that all the big major papers had somehow found a way to overlook.

Well, here we go again, my friends, but this time it’s that sleek little Capital Style that takes home the prize for clear vision. (And they did it in just their ninth issue!) While no major scribes asked Howard Kurtz about his Kathleen Willey report, somehow eagle-eyed Susan Crabtree, of the striving young ’zine, asked the obvious question of Kurtz in this profile.

Here’s how we found out at THE HOWLER: One of the analysts was perusing Crabtree’s piece, and he hit the part where Crabtree names journalists who felt they’d been treated unfairly in Spin Cycle. (You know how touchy the scribes can be, when subjected to even minor critique.) As you can imagine, a lusty cheer went up at THE HOWLER when our analyst rushed in with this passage:

CRABTREE: Kurtz says that in the next edition he’ll change both the way the [Todd] Purdum scenario was trumpeted on the book jacket and his accounts of the Willey story: namely that she had “succumbed to Clinton advances” and “engaged in some type of furtive sex.”

We were so surprised to see the reference that we quickly called Crabtree to get a report. We wanted to see how the topic came up, in the course of her interview with Kurtz.

And Crabtree told us a tale that we think is as strange as any we’ve heard about the Washington press corps. Here’s what Crabtree said had happened--and no, we’re not making this up:

Apparently, in preparation for her piece on Kurtz, Crabtree actually read his book! And that’s not all--when she came to the account of what Willey told Newsweek, Crabtree realized that something was newsworthy! Right here in the Washington press corps, we’re trying to tell you this happened!

But it doesn’t end there. When Crabtree finally sat down with Kurtz, she says she asked him about his account! We know how improbable this all must sound. But we swear--it’s what Crabtree said happened!

We do think Crabtree could have gone one step farther, when Kurtz told her he would change the account. We think she probably should have asked him how he’d determined that his original account in Spin Cyclewasn’t accurate.

But we did think that we should let you know that there’s someone out there who can still get it right. Crabtree read the book before she profiled its author; and she noticed a passage that didn’t seem to make sense. And then she asked the author about it, and reported what he said in her publication. You know what? Someone should just write these simple steps down, and fax them around to the sleepy-eyed crew who make up this celebrity press corps!

Because it’s the kind of thing you just never see, out there in the mainstream press corps. And here at THE HOWLER, we’re pleased to report this quintessentially American story. A little, penny-ante, woebegone local rag kept its nose to the ground and it played by the rules. And as a result, yep, it beat all The Bigs--and reported this still unexplained story.

P.S. NOTE TO SELF: Send edited version of this to Bill Thomas.