A media pundit delivers the unexciting news that big media is doomed—but does it with good humor.
The chattering classes—a swath of Manhattan real estate that starts in Midtown and branches uptown into the Upper East and Upper West Sides—is almost by definition a world of inveterate gossips, snitches, and I-told-you-sos. In this self-important but ultimately silly world, Wolff (Burn Rate, 1998) is the biggest and (and often silliest) gossip of them all. Fortunately, he’s an entertaining one. Wolff refreshingly makes no bones about being just as cruel and vindictive as the media in general, and he digs with great relish into the giants who have so thoroughly trashed the mediascape. He structures it all around a 2002 conference in which he was allowed to interview onstage (albeit via satellite) the titan of titans: Rupert Murdoch. But the conference—as well as an ongoing thread about the AOL Time Warner merger, which he calls “the worst deal ever made”—is really just a clothesline on which he can hang all his portraits of the moguls (or “mediaists,” as he calls them) he hasn’t yet been able to squeeze into his New York magazine column. Mostly it comes down to who’s really “stupid” and who’s not. Murdoch and Barry Diller earn a generous amount of respect, but based mostly on the amount of fear they instill in the author. Tina Brown and Martha Stewart get piled on, FCC chair Michael Powell is called “not just puffed up—at once both epicene and porcine,” and Jean-Marie Messier . . . well, it’s not pretty. Again, to be fair, Wolff slaps himself with the same hand that flips the finger at failing mediaists, describing himself as “a gnat feeding on the carcass of the media industry.”
Sometimes petty, often inspired: a gleeful death knell for the media industry as we know it.