Frank Bruni and the ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Thong’

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WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 26: Frank Bruni speaks during the Creativity Conference at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on April 26, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Kris Connor/Getty Images

This Anthony Weiner sexting business and the side-scandal it spawned seem to have brought out the worst in the New York Times' opinion columnists. Last week it was Maureen Dowd suggesting Huma Abedin's Saudi upbringing was a reason she was staying with a "punk" like Anthony Weiner. Now, it's Frank Bruni addressing spokeswoman Barbara Morgan's rant toward former intern Olivia Nuzzi as, er, "the sisterhood of the traveling thong." Whatever the hell that means.

Bruni's overall point in his Sunday column was that Weiner's campaign, and his political career, are a parable of "superficiality trumping substance," as success in politics veers from records on issues to fame and image. The introduction set up a media battle between an upstart intern "spilling secrets in return for a glamour shot on the front page of a major newspaper," and the hardened campaigner, whose wrath she incurred:

This prompted a vicious retort from Barbara Morgan, the campaign’s spokeswoman, who spewed a raft of sexist slurs against Nuzzi and proved that women can engage in slut shaming as acidly as men can. (It’s the sisterhood of the traveling thong.)

Putting aside that thong line (which we intend to do forever), Nuzzi's defenders have pointed out that Bruni's characterization of her is not accurate. Editor Paul Carr stressed that Nuzzi had not gone on television following her coverage of the Weiner campaign for NSFWCorp and the New York Daily News, despite several invitations. And she hasn't spoken publicly about Morgan's words except to accept Morgan's apology on Twitter.

Carr has written previously that Nuzzi turned down myriad media requests following her article and Morgan's outburst, and that she only agreed to write for the Daily News "on the understanding that they wouldn’t splash her on the front cover or anything ridiculous like that." As he put it Sunday: "Next thing any of us knew, Olivia was on the front page, described inside the paper as a 'Weintern.'"

But everybody in this story seems to be willingly ignoring obvious things: Bruni did not examine Nuzzi's own behavior since her story went viral, apparently preferring to take Morgan's word that she was out for fame. Carr and Nuzzi cannot seriously be so shocked the Daily News splashed Nuzzi's photo along with a stupid pun, seeing as how it is literally their business model to do so.

Sarah Lacy, the PandoDaily founder who vigorously defended Nuzzi against Bruni, wrote: "Before writing the piece, Bruni seems not to have done so much as a cursory Google search on Nuzzi." That ignores the fact that said Google search (dated before Aug. 2 with Bruni's likely deadline in mind) does not turn up Carr's original item describing Nuzzi's reluctance to flog her fame, at least within the first three pages of results. All the same, if Bruni was going to write a column pegging Nuzzi as a fame whore, he might have wanted some evidence of that. Bruni may be right that the Weiner campaign and its coverage shows off the worst in people, but that's definitely not limited to politicians and their staffers.