Gay Talese went to Boston. He went there, by Amtrak train, to talk power narrative at a conference. He left being the focus of an attack narrative.
The germination of the narrative began when a woman by the name Verandah Porche, who looks an awful lot like her name sounds, seems to have sensed a social justice warrior attack question opportunity during a Q&A period. She asked the 84-year old Talese what women had inspired him.
If only Talese could have reached back into his memory 6 or 7 decades and pulled out the names of, say, 10 or 11 of the great female journalists of the time, or 4 or 5 of the great lesbian writers of the late 1940s or early 1950s or perhaps just two or three of the transgender writers from the period, he would have not been the subject of a Social Justice Warrior twitter eruption. But, alas, after stumbling around for a bit, he lit the fuse to the bomb with a one-word answer, "None."
It was a nail bomb he lit, though, and it spread. He observed that he did not think educated women liked to hang around with the unsavory types that were the subjects of much of his writing.
This was too much for the educated women in the crowd, who apparently must yearn for the old days when assorted criminals and hookers and pimps filled the streets of Boston's Combat Zone and the strip bars in the area were many, including Good Time Charlie's. You could get stabbed on any given night walking out of Good Time Charlie's and on to Essex Street. It made you alert. Now, the area is an expanded part of Chinatown and the only low rent thing you can get is some chicken chow mein from a man named Chan. I think I understand what these educated women miss.
Talese words, though, were too much for the politically correct attack squad. It's not Talese-like narrative but The New York Times has a play-by-play:
On Friday, April 1... writer Gay Talese made his way from New York to Boston, where he was scheduled to speak at Boston University’s “Power of Narrative” conference...
Before boarding the Amtrak train at Penn Station, he made the acquaintance of a Red Cap agent, who recognized the author and told him how much he admired his famous 1966 Esquire profile, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.”
On Sunday, April 3, the same Red Cap agent greeted Mr. Talese as he got off the return train. He told the author he heard he had gotten himself in trouble in Boston. Mr. Talese, who does not have a cellphone, much less a smartphone, and has remained aloof from social media, had no idea what the man was talking about.
Back in Manhattan, he took a taxi to his Upper East Side townhouse, where he was greeted by his wife of 56 years, Nan A. Talese, the 82-year-old editor and publisher who has run her own imprint, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, since 1990.
“Welcome home, darling,” Mrs. Talese said. “You’re all over Twitter.”
Checking the Internet, the author of such nonfiction classics as “The Kingdom and the Power” and “Honor Thy Father” found that for more than 24 hours, he had been the target of social-media wrath. As he read tweets, he saw that it is not such a wonderful thing to be a trending topic on Twitter.
The reason for the online pillorying arose from an onstage discussion Mr. Talese had taken part in the day before with Thomas Fiedler, the dean of Boston University’s College of Communication.
During the Q. and A. session, the poet Verandah Porche, one of the approximately 550 audience members, asked him, according to the transcript provided by Boston University, “In addition to Nora Ephron, who were the women who write who were most, who have inspired you most?”
“Did I hear you say what women have inspired me most?” Mr. Talese said.
“As writers,” Mr. Talese said. “Uh, I’d say Mary McCarthy was one. I would, um, [pause] think [pause] of my generation [pause] um, none. I’ll tell you why. I’m not sure it’s true, it probably isn’t true anymore, but my — when I was young, maybe 30 or so, and always interested in exploratory journalism, long-form, we would call it, women tended not, even good writers, women tended not to do that. Because being, I think, educated women, writerly women, don’t want to, or do not feel comfortable dealing with strangers or people that I’m attracted to, sort of the offbeat characters, not reliable.”
After mentioning the unsavory types and criminals who have been his article subjects over the years, Mr. Talese said: “I think educated women want to deal with educated people. Well-educated men are, like me, or almost despite education, would be comfortable with a lot of undereducated or, rather, antisocial figures. I think fiction, women are great writers.” He went on to cite George Eliot and referred to “Middlemarch” as “one of the great books.”
After the talk, Mr. Talese attended a lunch and an evening cocktail party. While he was making chitchat, Twitter users were calling him sexist and out of touch....
The day after his return, seated in the living room of his townhouse, Mr. Talese said it was all a misunderstanding. He said he believed the question posed to him concerned which female journalists had influenced him as a young, would-be writer who was raised in an Ocean City, N.J., apartment that sat above his father’s tailoring shop and his mother’s dress shop.
In those days, he said, his journalism heroes were sportswriters, especially Red Smith, who wrote back then for The New York Herald Tribune. But he said he was more drawn to the work of novelists including Carson McCullers, author of “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” He said he tried to emulate her style in his early days as a reporter for The New York Times and he noted that he used a passage from her 1941 short story “The Jockey” to open the 2010 anthology of his own sports writing.
“I stalled because I couldn’t think of somebody when I was young and dreaming of being a journalist,” Mr. Talese said, recalling the onstage moment in Boston. “I couldn’t think of women journalists, but I could think of women writers. But this was nonfiction, and when I was in my formative years, there were no women in journalism who inspired me. The women who inspired me were fiction writers.
“I was up there on that stage in Boston and I couldn’t think of anybody,” he continued. “So I said, ‘None.’ I was giving an honest answer. I wasn’t going to be influenced by anybody at age 56 or 70 or 84. I’m not speaking about the writers of the feminist movement or the nonfiction writers for the 1970s or ’80s. I’m talking about my formative years. I’m talking about ancient history now, but it’s the only history I come out of. I wish someone on stage had asked me, ‘What do you mean by that?’”
A tweet that got under his skin was posted by a fellow keynote speaker at the conference, Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter who covers racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine: “It is inevitable: Your icons will *always* disappoint you.
”Mr. Talese said, “That’s the one that truly hurt me.” He added: “I’d like to talk to her sometime. Why did she have to ask for a selfie after what I said made her so upset? I want to know why.
“They said people walked out. Why didn’t she walk out? And she’s a person of great personal achievement. She’s a serious journalist, and I respect her. How could she be so duplicitous as to write me off with a quote?”
But this was only the beginning of the attack. Slate reports:
Littlefield, writing for Rewire (formerly RH Reality Check) has uncovered another incident from the Boston University conference that eradicates any doubt about Talese’s opinion of women and, particularly, women of color. According to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times Magazine staff writer who delivered the conference’s opening keynote address, Talese interrogated her about how she got her job during a private luncheon. From Littlefield’s interview with Hannah-Jones,
“He asked again if I was actually a staff writer. And I said yes,” Hannah-Jones told me by phone on Monday. He asked her how she got hired for that job. “I said they called and offered me a job,” she recalled. “He asked me who hired me, why was I hired?”
Hannah-Jones, who is black, said, “I feel like I’ve been explaining why I’m in a room where apparently people think I’m not supposed to be most of my life, so I know when someone is asking me that question.”
Later, at the end of the luncheon, while Hannah-Jones was talking to another female journalist about which session they would attend next, Talese asked Hannah-Jones if she was going to get her nails done.
Well, actually, Hannah-Jones, according to Wikipedia, is part black, part Czechoslovakian and part English.
And curiosity as to why someone was hired, by whom and for what reason does not at all imply a racial implication to the question. If there is any clear bias at all, it is coming from the political correct warrettes, who in this case have jumped to the conclusion that there was a racial element behind Talese's question.
I have been questioned plenty of times by white men as to how I got a certain job or how I knew someone related to a job. Since I am white and don't look like I can jump two inches off the ground, none of these men mistook me for a black person, or a half of a black person, a third of a black person, or a tenth of a black person, when asking me such questions.
As for the Talese comment about Hannah-Jones going to get her nails done, I would like to know more context. Maybe he has a bad sense of humor. Sometimes people insult inadvertently. On the evening of the day, I got business cards for my very first job on Wall Street, I headed to midtown to the bar at PJ Clarke's on Third Avenue. I thought they were the coolest damn cards on the planet, I struck up a conversation with some investment banker, a white guy, Irish if I recall correctly, and after awhile handed him the very first Wall Street card I ever handed out. Five minutes later into the conversation, he folded the card in half and used it as a toothpick.
But I will leave Gay Talese's words on the entire twitter hullabaloo, as reported by NYT, as the final comment. And it is succinct enough to fit nicely on just one tweet:
I won’t go back on anything I said. It’s accurate. At 84, you’re either dead or you’re not going to be influenced by anybody.