Times Does Its Us Weekly Imitation

Today in the New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller gives new White House communications director Nicolle Devenish the kind of scrutiny one might expect from Us Weekly in a hard-hitting expose of Hillary Duff. (As an aside, we can picture that piece now: “Duff’s friends sometimes wonder if she isn’t too accommodating to her many fans. ‘I just try to be there for them,’ said Duff, her flawless lips breaking into a shy — and sly — smile. ‘I’m just so lucky, you know?’”)

Bumiller’s profile of Devenish actually centers on the fact that, well, she’s just so darn nice. She was fired for it, in fact, but the people who made that decision are “idiots,” according to Republican political strategist (and friend of Devenish) Dan Schnur. And while Devenish was “aggressive in her efforts to define Senator John Kerry as a flip-flopper…she developed her political attacks without snarling” — unlike many of her peers. Bumiller has nothing but flattering things to say about Devenish — other than the fact that she wasn’t good at being a television reporter, apparently because she wanted to jam as much information as possible into her segments. As criticisms go, that’s right up there with the self-flagellation offered up by a job applicant who says his greatest flaw is that he’s too much of a perfectionist.

Bumiller’s fawning wouldn’t seem so objectionable if her subject wasn’t someone who she has a clear interest in cultivating as a source. Normally that kind of thing goes on behind closed doors, or over drinks, with the reporter wooing the potential source with heartfelt appeals and subtle flattery. The Times, however, has apparently decided to make the process more transparent by printing what amounts to a love letter masquerading as a profile.

If the White House reporters at the Washington Post and elsewhere don’t want to get scooped by Bumiller in days to come, perhaps they should start working up a three part series on the days and nights of Devenish’s dog.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.