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In Conversation: Tina Brown

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Do you honestly not read the Huffington Post?

I do read it. I do read it.

So what do you think of it?

I think it’s got great stuff in it. I think there’s stuff in it that ain’t so great, too. But, you know, the site is very alive.

Do you think she’s figured out something?

She figured it out first, which I think is the smart thing.

What was it?

I think she understood how to create a community very quickly. She also figured out how to get everyone to do it for nothing, which was probably the cleverest thing of all.

I think Arianna’s terrific. We’ve been friends since she was at Cambridge and I was at Oxford. We shared some of the same boyfriends.

Who?

Oh, God, I wouldn’t possibly share that with New York Magazine and Michael Kinsley.

Well, how did you get to your 19,800,000?

The great thing about the Beast is that it’s an aggregated community now—all very smart, eclectic people. The last four years have really been about assembling all these talents. They file when they’re asked, and they file when they’re not asked, and they’re there for us. We grow them all the time.

One thing I love about the Beast is that any major news event throws up another bunch of talents, inevitably. I mean, it could be a tsunami somewhere—when that happens, you have to quickly find new writers. Because you haven’t got those writers. And then those writers stick.

Wasn’t the IAC Building flooded out during Sandy?

Yes. Armpit-high water in that Frank Gehry lobby, and all the tech screwed up by the flooded basement. Staff were scattered all over the city, with about one in three e-mails arriving every two days—which caused its own special chaos.

Sounds fun.

It’s a very joyful enterprise, the Beast, compared to print. It’s hard work, but it’s so much less stressful. Because all the boundaries of print just feel so incredibly old-fashioned now—the need to do things in a certain shape, in a certain mix, by a certain time of the day in the week. All of that just seems so incredibly burdensome now.

You get a call at 10:30 in the evening saying you’ve got to kill three lines.

All of that.

And then half an hour later, you’ve got to add two.

That’s exactly right. And then you’ve got to come back to tweak it because X happened.

The Petraeus story broke on Friday, and by Monday, Newsweek had a pretty impressive package put together.

It feels horrible that something as piffling as what came out in a few sizzly e-mails should bring such a major figure down, after all those years in the theater of war. I can see why he felt he had to resign, though, because the honor code of the military is so strong in him, and as director of the CIA there is something uniquely embarrassing about being caught in indiscretion. I hope his penance is short and dignified and he returns to something commensurate to his gifts, as soon as possible, and somehow patches it up with his sadly embarrassed wife.

But this story is moving so fast and furiously, everything said here could be out of date in a few days. It’s already clear it’s so much more than a love triangle. I keep feeling the Libyan consulate debacle will surface somewhere.

What do you think about the resignation itself?

Just incredible that another giant bites the dust. A reputation is a hazardous thing to have in the age of so much media. The story is so tragic and fascinating—all that drive and asceticism and sacrifice and service. He pushed himself so hard, it was, perhaps, bound to happen.

I remember seeing a picture of him right after Obama announced ­Stanley McChrystal was going and Petraeus would replace him in Afghanistan. He looked so stoically bummed out. One can imagine him being there in another hellhole hot spot finding Broadwell’s obsessive interest in his leadership irresistible. And no doubt he found leaving uniform much more dislocating than he expected. He should have gotten the Joint Chiefs job, and I doubt the CIA was a comfort zone for him. These are the kind of things that can make someone hitherto indomitably strong feel suddenly vulnerable. He is an enormous loss in my view.

But public life is a pretty horrible place to live. Mark Thompson hasn’t even gotten here, from the BBC, to be CEO of the New York Times before he’s shredded over Jimmy Savile, a priapic joke figure from another BBC era. Who does it leave one with to lead? I’d be tempted to say Mitt Romney, who has the kind of perfect family life that no one has anymore, but fortunately that turned out not to be so.


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