Saturday, January 24, 2015

Narrow Minds on Broadway

Gossip columnist Walter Winchell
By turning gossip into news and news into gossip, the failed vaudevillian turned Broadway columnist Walter Winchell helped inflate the cultural party balloons of the 1920s. Pretty, distracting and empty, they anticipated all the vapid celebrity buzz and junk journalism that surrounds us today.
“Traditionalists were appalled and not a little frightened,” wrote biographer Neal Gabler in Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity. “Winchell was an entertainer certainly, but was he, they asked, really a journalist? And if he was a journalist, had his gossip compromised journalistic integrity beyond repair? The Code of Ethics adopted by the American Society of Newspaper editors said, ‘A newspaper should not invade private rights or feelings without sure warrant of public right as distinguished from public curiosity.’ By that standard, the answers seemed self-evident.
“(H)e is fond of calling himself a newspaperman, but he will be a wisecracking, gossiping trouper as long as he lives,” wrote one critic, who nevertheless admitted to reading Winchell’s column daily.”
Ironically, despite his prodigious combination of fame and infamy and the considerable cash he earned from his syndicated column and radio work, Winchell remained a fairly desperate man, overworking and running on nervous energy, afraid of what was just behind him. By cheapening the culture, Winchell also cheapened himself, and he knew that what’s cheap is easily replaced.

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