"Can you believe we're talking about this in 2012?" asks New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan in a piece on a recent inflammatory situation involving best-selling novelist Jennifer Weiner and New York Times Magazine contributor Andrew Goldman. A better question might be, "Can you believe we're talking about this the way we do, the way we still are, in 2012?" Because something about it seems wrongheaded. But let me backtrack.
Andrew Goldman [disclosure: I worked very tangentially with Goldman while at Radar magazine. I have also had conversations with Jennifer Weiner in working on stories for The Atlantic Wire. I personally appreciate the work of and like both of these people] interviewed actress Tippi Hedren for last weekend's "Talk" feature in The New York Times Magazine. The interview led to accusations of sexism from Weiner, followed by a back-and-forth on Twitter, involving truly unfortunate tweets from Goldman, then an apology from Goldman, which Weiner accepted. Goldman has since deleted his Twitter account and Weiner was, as of this morning, taking a "twit-cation."
Sullivan weighed in in an article posted Wednesday night. She writes:
The interview was with Tippi Hedren, the actress who starred in The Birds and is the subject of a new HBO movie that takes up her relationship with the director Alfred Hitchcock. Mr. Goldman, a freelancer who regularly writes the “Talk” feature, asked Ms. Hedren if she had ever been tempted to help her career along by having sex with directors.
Ms. Weiner was appalled – especially because she recalled an earlier instance in which Mr. Goldman had asked a female celebrity, though jokingly, if she had used her body to boost her career.
Here is the question and answer that Weiner was referring to:
The worst abuse happened after you rebuffed [Hitchcock's] advances. Actors have been known to sleep with less powerful directors for advancement in show business. Did you ever consider it?
I have a strong Lutheran background, and my parents instilled in me strong morals. This was something I could never have done. I was not interested in him that way at all. I was fortunate enough to work with him, and as far as I was concerned, he ruined everything.
Much of the interview deals with this topic. In a follow-up question, Goldman asks Hedren about a scene in HBO's new movie The Girl (the occasion for the interview) and the Donald Spoto book it’s based on "in which Hitchcock informs you that you are to be sexually available to him any time, any place." She answers, "I said, I’ve got to get out of the contract. He said, I’ll ruin your career. And he did. He wouldn’t let me out of the contract. I’d be a really big star if he hadn’t stopped my career. There were so many people who wanted me for their films. All he said was, 'She isn’t available.' That’s a mean, mean man." Later in the interview, Hedren tells Goldman "you don't get it"—she's conveying that she can consider Hitchcock repellent, morally and physically, at the same time that she respects and admires his work, and even him as a man. Human relationships, after all, are always more complicated than thecategorical moral statements we often use to define them. Those complications are sometimes hard to convey in 800-word pieces, far more so in 140-character missives.