There’s surely some snobbery in Epstein’s vehement dismissal of pop culture—and probably some status envy, too. But his real lament is for the loss of that sense of secrecy that makes gossip such a great guilty pleasure. “The less widespread, the less well known, the news,” he writes in Gossip, “the more potent, by virtue of its exclusivity, and the more interesting it is. Serious gossip ought to be an intimate affair.”
Blind items are one way to retain that exclusive aura—are you enough in the loop to get it?—and Gossip has quite a few. I took the liberty of guessing about one of them—a woman who had left her husband of decades and come out as a lesbian. Was it the novelist Cathleen Schine? “No, no,” Epstein says. “But I didn’t know about Cathleen Schine, so you see what you’ve done? You’ve made my morning!” Gossip, among other things, is contagious.
But is it journalism? And is journalism gossip? It takes a strange myopia to cite a 60 Minutes exposé on insider trading in Congress as the airing of dirty laundry rather than a story advancing the public interest—but that’s how Epstein sees it. “I wouldn’t want to go back to hypocrisy of any kind,” Epstein says, but in his lament over the spread of gossip it’s hard to miss the regret that every public fact deprives the chattering class of another secret. Or maybe gossip itself is the dirty laundry, the last guilty pleasure of the privileged class, now spread out for all to see. “It’s like if you have a taste for chocolate croissants,” Epstein says, “and now McDonald’s has it.”