- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

It was “the mother of all baby showers.” The guests were as colorful as Easter eggs, their legs resplendent in pastel pantsuits of different proportions: Barbara Walters in lavender, Diane Sawyer in cream, columnist Liz Smith in yellow. Most of the women were well past their pregnancy years; only the guest of honor had an expanded womb of her own.

The pregnant mom seemed more an excuse for this lavish event than the center of celebration, and the ladies of the media were more interested in discussing the delivery of a new book than the impending delivery of a baby.

This was a shower for Lisa Caputo, who had recently given up her job as a congressional press secretary to wait for her baby, and the hostess was Hillary Rodham Clinton, her recent boss. Everyone else was waiting for the publication of “Living History,” the senator’s White House memoir, and the room was filled with the buzz for a bestseller.

No one talked of bassinets or Pampers, breast-feeding or bottles, cradles or swing chairs. The women were in hot pursuit of a trend, and considerably more interested in the Prada jacket that one guest had bought on sale than in either booties or buntings. The baby gifts remained unopened.

The hot topic du jour, dissected over salmon finger-sandwiches and lemonade, was not about baby food. “The whispered conversations were about which Media Queen would score the big ‘get,’ the first primetime interview Hillary would give to promote her $8 million autobiography,” writes Myrna Blyth in her new book, “Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America.”

“Sorry, Diane in cream, advantage to Barbara in lavender. As it turned out, Hillary, who was able to forgive Bill for Monica, was also able to forgive Barbara for her sympathetic Monica interview.” Meow, meow.

The sharp observations of the femmes fatales of the media at the expense of the baby on the way set the tone for style, wit, insight, cattiness and long nails sharpened to scratch.

“Spin Sisters” is the work of an insider of the media world she exposes. Myrna Blyth was editor of Ladies’ Home Journal from 1981 to 2002, and she describes this expose of the Girls’ Club as both penance and corrective. The light bulb flashed on over her head when she remarked to someone that she was the only Republican at the party. “Oh,” the other guest replied, “you’re invited despite that.”

If this is penance, she’s repenting in a fashionable hair shirt, and she’s in line behind other media critics who have discovered the loudly denied but obvious liberal elitist mindset in mainstream journalism. By focusing on the sisters of savvy, however, she mines new material with a flair, exposing the hype behind the hypocrisy. The deviled eggs in the details, you might say.

In the ‘90s, with the income and life expectancy of American women rising and infant mortality dramatically declining, women’s magazines emphasized the remaining health threats available: “killer cramps,” “acne at your age,” sun spots and spider veins. Violence against women was presented as an epidemic. Magazine headlines emphasized the ubiquity of fear: “Stalked! Why No Woman Is Safe!” Or “He’s Going to Kill Me! Is Anybody Listening?”

Av Westin, the television executive who created the newsmagazine “20/20,” captured the sour flavor of the times. “We started every story with a victim,” he tells the author. “We need a victim. Find me the victim.”

Stress sells, above all self-indulgence and pampering, as in vacations at expensive spas, Botox injections and $27 Cobb salad lunches at Michael’s restaurant in midtown Manhattan.

The radical cure for fatigue is both a pedicure and a manicure. The prescribed treatment for depression is shopping or a gym with a personal trainer.

The Spin Sisters themselves are the most stressed-out of all, suffering sensory overload, multitasking, ad-scanning, channel-grazing, call-waiting, cell-phoning, remote-controlling, Ipod-wearing, BlackBerry-using, computer-editing, readership-counting, ratings- watching — and that’s just for starters. The 12 steps to rehabilitation comprise a climb over anyone and everyone who gets in the way.

In this cat-eat-cat world of fashion competition no one escapes the tyranny of skinny. Movie stars and models who lack the anorexic willpower to forego food are put on a “drastic digital diet,” literally.

Forget the airbrushed Playboy models feminists once railed against. The technology of the magazine art department can trim hips, stretch legs, redesign cheekbones and straighten teeth. Kate Winslet, who starred in “Titanic,” was known to the editors and technicians as Kate Weighs-a-lot, whose tummy was sliced off digitally to get everything on the magazine cover. Elle magazine even removed Cindy Crawford’s bellybutton.

The hiss of the snaky sisters and their devious deceptions make this book a delicious read. Rosie O’Donnell, once packaged as the “Queen of Nice,” is presented here as shrew-in-chief of her magazine, called Rosie.

Rosie the magazine was created to support an ego as big as her body, and it failed when she said it was a journal meant to appeal to women just like her. Asks the author: “How many lesbian moms with multimillion-dollar bank balances, bodyguards for their kids and a political view to the left of Madonna’s live on your block?”

We get other delicious tales. Tina Brown, editor of the failed magazine Talk, papers one of her six bathrooms with press clippings about herself and her husband, editor Harry Evans. Talk about the ultimate captive audience.

Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, refused to photograph Oprah Winfrey for her magazine until the diva dropped 20 pounds, and once announced grandly that she would lead a campaign to raise the self-esteem of the women of Afghanistan by opening beauty salons in Kabul. Oprah obliged. No word yet from Kabul.

Katie Couric desperately wanted an interview with Tonya Harding, whose husband clubbed Nancy Kerrigan in the legs to give his wife an advantage in the 1994 Olympic skating competition. So Katie sent a cake to Tonya’s lawyer with an inscription in frosting, “We Refuse to Stop Sucking up.” Observes the author: “The sentiment was closer to the truth than you will ever get Katie or any other Media Queen to admit.”

This is the spinning behind the makeup, the colored hair and the tummy tucks: “I am woman, hear me hissssssss.”

Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist for The Washington Times.

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