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Media Sense and Sensibility

In which the Huntsman girls seek to secure their place in political society.

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Illustrations by Martin Ansin  

This year, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner after-party co-hosted by Bloomberg and Vanity Fair at the French ambassador’s residence had a very strict door policy. The Huntsman sistersor two of them, anywaywere confident they could get in, clad in their high heels and party dresses. This, after all, was a year in which they’d starred in GQ photo shoots and cable-news appearances and a much-followed Twitter account and spoof political ads that had gone viral. By the end of Jon Huntsman’s campaign, they were bigger than their dad. The sisters dropped their last name, several times. The man with the clipboard shook his head no, again.

Why are they still seeking the limelight, and why do we enjoy watching them do it? You could cite the obvious explanations (fame is addictive; young, pretty women have a way of holding attention), but there’s a deeper level to the Huntsman girls’ particular appeal. They arebear with meJane Austen heroines, or characters in their own Downton Abbey. Only rather than baronial Britain, the rarefied strata they grew up in is the one where politics, media, and celebrity combine to create a class of its own, complete with grand society balls. Their father, a former governor and ambassador, has squandered his (political) fortune on a rash endeavor. But for a status-conscious, wily daughter, there are ways to keep a place in this world.

The Huntsmans entertain and converse as a means to their ends, via Twitter and YouTube instead of the clavichord and endless parlor chatter. They do it not to find a young man of means to marryto be a plus-one doesn’t really count as belonging to this society, the way it might have for a Bennet or a Crawley. What the sisters are after is a platform to call their own. For Liddy Huntsman, 24, the wild child of the group (the youngest must always be a bit of a loose cannon), a good match would be something like MTV, for which she’s done a few appearances since the campaign ended. For eldest Mary Anne, 27, the concert pianist, the best path is hazier. For now, the world remains intrigued just by the unlikely details of her love life. An encounter with Bo Guagua, the young scion of a now-disgraced prominent Chinese family, made the Times; her even more distant date with future Kardashian ex Kris Humphries has been blog fodder. Of the three, she seems the most buoyed by the trio branding, but the sisters have decided not to pursue any further opportunities that treat them as a single unit. The offers were for reality television, a province of arrivistes and the already deposed.

The most high-minded of the three is Abby, 26. She has a Huffington Post column, thanks to a cagey doyenne. Arianna has become a friend just through the campaign process, she says. But is that altogether suitable for her station? I’ve been doing a lot with CNN, some things with MSNBC, she adds. I think in the coming weeks I’m going to find a home. (Will she be spurned? Will she find happiness, her place?) It sounds not unlike the niche found by Meghan McCain, Daily Beast columnist, cable-news regular, and book author. But Abby brushes off the comparisons. We know each other, but I think we’re very different personalities. You can almost hear the hand fan being snapped shut.

If their father runs again someday, the Huntsman girls would, of course, do whatever they could to help, Abby says. But she sounds a little tired of playing the coquette, of getting attention for being the distraction. Maybe, she says, we’ll be the Huntsman women next time around!

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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