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In Conversation: Tina Brown

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Now, you don’t say that to Harvey Weinstein and get away with it, right? Harvey just said, “We’ll do it at a federal site.” Somebody said Liberty Island is a federal site. Well, of course that got me completely excited. The idea of doing a party on Liberty Island—no one does parties at Liberty Island. I don’t think there had been one party on Liberty Island. There was no electricity there. We went over in a boat, we looked at it, and we decided we were gonna do it with candles and Chinese lanterns. And we did.

But, of course, Harvey decided he was going to make this a party that everybody he’d ever met was going to come to—just to kind of spit in the eye of Rudy Giuliani. He wanted this to be something that Rudy Giuliani would never forget. So our little fun party in the Brooklyn Navy Yard became for everyone in the Miramax Rolodex, and everybody, you know, in the Tina Brown Rolodex, sailing like this wonderful ship of fools toward Liberty Island. And I stood there on that boardwalk, and it was like Noah’s Ark, out of the nineties. Two by two they came out. You know, Madonna and Salman Rushdie.

Well that’s your high-low.

It was absolutely great. Demi Moore arriving with, like, Henry Kissinger. It was a wonderful, wonderful party. I have absolutely no regrets at all. Everybody was picnicking under the moonlight, on these blankets with Chinese lanterns. And I remember that Joan Didion went up to the top of the Lady Liberty, with Joe Lelyveld and Liam Neeson. Macy Gray did the music, and Queen Latifah was the M.C. And it was like that. George Plimpton did the fireworks.

It didn’t exactly demonstrate the new austerity.

As David Brown famously said, you don’t give a party that’s better than the movie. Which was the problem with that party.

But, in a strange way, that party was the end of the twentieth century. It was the great end-of-twentieth-century party. I remember going back on the barge afterwards with Natasha Richardson, Kate Moss, and all these people, and this big cold wave came flooding over the boat. It was two o’clock in the morning, and we were all soaking. It was like Cinderella waking up from the ball.

And, of course, that view of Manhattan from the party—very shortly, the Twin Towers were down. New York had changed utterly. Utterly. I mean, we never would have had that party after 9/11. It just ended like that. It was really, really romantic.

I wanted to get you to respond a bit to the case against Tina Brown. I’m going to read the indictment, and you’re going to speak for the defense, okay?

Yes. Yes.

Tina Brown only cares about buzz. She doesn’t care about serious issues.

I don’t think anyone who’s really worked with me will tell you that. For a start, people seem to think buzz is something you graft on to something. Which is utterly fallacious. Buzz actually is about publishing something that generates a conversation—you want to publish something that generates energetic debate; otherwise, why would you want to publish it?

And if you look at the talents I’ve assembled around me—they’re amazing talents that I’ve worked with. And found. Look at who I’ve worked with: David Remnick and Larry Wright and Malcolm Gladwell and Jane Mayer and Jeffrey Toobin. These are not frivolous writers.

You should talk to a David Frum, an Andrew Sullivan, or anyone who works with me. Ask them what my editing comments are. They’re not about spin out this buzz-worthy phrase. They’re about structure and content and ideas. And that’s what turns me on—the world of ideas. That’s where I live.

Okay. Tina’s magazines, for all the hype, have never made money. Never at least for anyone except herself.

Lie.

That’s a lie?

Lie. Vanity Fair was left a magazine making a nice profit. From losing $70 million, I took it into profit. Seven or eight million dollars of profit by the time I left. Which, as you know, is the hardest thing to do.

I’ve never done it.

Not only was it left in profit, but I built a brand. An incredibly powerful brand. And when it came to The New Yorker, I took a brand that was dying—I left after six and a half years, and I’d taken the losses down. It was losing about $22 million when I took it over, then when I left, it took David Remnick four years to get it into profit. I rebuilt that brand and created enormous value.

This is a related one. Tina, all she does is to pay huge amounts of money to big-name writers.

That certainly isn’t true. It’s certainly not true of the writers at the Daily Beast. Certainly wasn’t true, you know, of the writers at Talk. And Vanity Fair at the time that I launched it, we created competitive rates for writers. I believe in paying writers properly.


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