Friday, February 04, 2005

Forward Fluffs Sharon

"Your questions are throwing me a little bit," Sharon Waxman says. "Nobody's ever interviewed me about myself before."

I find that hard to believe. If it is true, then it is only true because Waxman has refused all interview requests. I remember the time gossip Jeanette Walls got her on the phone about her reporting on the controversy over A Beautiful Mind (Waxman bought into the smear conspiracy line Universal peddled) and Sharon jumped off the phone about as soon as she could.

I encounter these lines ("Oh, I've never done this before, please be gentle") all the time from women. Much of the time it is an attempt at manipulation by the subject, a ploy to get gentler coverage.

Another classic piece of manipulation that Waxman used (it may have been genuine but it is often a ploy) was to say she was running out the door on important business (covering Sundance in her case), thus allowing the subject to avoid difficult questions. "Oh, dear, I just don't have time to get into that." I get those lines all the time.

The Forward piece completely glosses over the long string of accusations about Waxman's methods over the years (from Jeanette Walls at MSNBC to Roger Friedman who kept hammering her a year ago). So yeah, Sharon got off easy in this piece. Her manipulations worked.

The Forward piece never challenges Sharon. Instead, it completely swallows her version of her story, as is typical with easy journalism.

I don't say this as a big critic of Sharon. I enjoy the occasional socializing with her and her husband. Overall, I believe she is a terrific journalist and a good conversationalist. But I can spot a fluff job when I see one, and this Forward piece is fluffy.

What I would've loved to have read is a Sharon Waxman-quality profile of Sharon Waxman.

Some excerpts:

Waxman was born into an Orthodox family in the Cleveland suburb of University Heights, Ohio, where she had what she termed an "old-style Jewish education," studying at a Hebrew day school with the same group of 20 girls from kindergarten through 12th grade. After graduation, Waxman, like many young Orthodox, went to Israel for a year of study. It was a pivotal year both for Waxman and for a number of her contemporaries. "Many of the kids I went to Israel with had a religious awakening," she said. "Many ended up living on the West Bank or the Gaza Strip."

As a student at Barnard, Waxman's allegiances shifted further. "When I started college, it didn't occur to me that I wouldn't stay Orthodox," she said. Convinced that journalism was her calling, she worried about such things as writing for deadline on Friday afternoons. "In hindsight that seems very quaint to me," she said. "It hasn't turned out to be a big conflict." When asked what her level of observance is today, Waxman hesitated and said, "They call it 'à la carte.'" Though most comfortable in an Orthodox synagogue, she does not, she said, lead an Orthodox life.