Shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, Richard Johnson, front man of the Post's "Page Six," sat down to do what he does best: work his Rolodex. For a moment, he even contemplated calling Arab-American celebs like Casey Kasem and Jamie Farr for their reactions. Johnson admits, "I think that's indicative of the stupid ideas that you have when you're trying to do a gossip column on a day when buildings are falling down and people are dying."
This tragedy, like no other, has made professional gossips question the relevance of what they do. Why was it that we needed to know what went wrong between Tom and Nicole? Does keeping up with Gwyneth Paltrow's latest boyfriend actually help anyone? Though "Page Six" -- the most biting of the columns -- took only a one-day hiatus (the first in its 25-year history), it has pulled back and softened up. Before the attack, "I was going to check out a story about a certain broadcaster getting breast implants," Johnson says. "I will eventually go back to that story. But at the moment it's not important. It's now a somber and serious 'Page Six.'"
Johnson's not the only somber and serious gossip-monger out there these days. Mitchell Fink and Rush and Molloy of the Daily News were back exactly a week after disaster struck. All the items on their return -- except one pick-up wire story about Luciano Pavarotti's tax problems -- were somehow connected to the WTC. "Publicists have been calling and asking, 'Are we back to regular news yet?' " George Rush said last week. "I say, 'So far, no. Begone.' "
Which isn't to say that columnists are retiring their notepads. "Our place right now is to work our beat, which is fame," Fink says. "I think there is a way to do this." Liz Smith agrees. Although she spent the week after the disaster philosophizing about world affairs (she even went so far as to write, "To hell with gossip and entertainment"), by day eight she was back toiling among celebrities. "Gossip is an intrinsic part of human nature," she muses. "You'll forget. Your memories will heal. And then you can go back to being a shit again."