Sally Quinn: The First Social Networker?

Sally Quinn, the journalist, hostess and ”inside the Beltway” social arbiter, has been skewered by politicos and pundits for a Washington Post column in which she shared details of controversy inside her family regarding dueling wedding dates — of her own making.   She scheduled her son’s nuptuals on the same date as her step-granddaughter’s and now, apparently, resolved the date conflict.

She was blasted and critiqued for sharing too much information, using her platform of authorithy as a bully pulpit and denigrating a serious, prestigious news outlet by revealing inappropriate, unpopular information.

Why is this so shocking to people?  Why is everyone suddenly so indignant?

It’s the foundation of Quinn’s personal and professional brand!

She is quite possibly the first social-networker-of-record — reporting the juicy back stories of political power in the Style section of the Washington Post, tracing back many Administrations to the days of Richard Nixon and Watergate.  She would attend parties, observe first-hand how cabinet members and elected officials behaved in private, then report her findings in the newspaper.  It was, at the time, certainly a circulation booster and buzz phenomenon for the WP.

Quinn has lived her life in the epicenter of military, media and political power — replete with bold-faced names and amplification via the news megaphone and gossip grapevine.  She has dished in print, television, radio and on-line.  Love her or loathe her, you have to hand it to her.  She’s always good copy.

Former Secretary of State and globetrotting peace negotiator Henry Kissinger said of her ”[Post reporter] Maxine Cheshire makes you want to commit murder. Sally Quinn makes you want to commit suicide.”

Years before cable news, TMZ and the 24/7 news cycle of the Internet, Quinn captured what everyone is concerned about in the wake of Facebook, iPhones and digital cameras:  The lack of privacy/secrecy we now universally experience in conducting our daily lives.

It’s messy.  Sometimes awkward.  Always revealing.  Definitely dishy.  And certainly altering the protocol by which people act and perceive others.  Maybe.

Back in the pre-Internet, pre-Quinn days, it was known — but not reported — that many public figures  conducted themselves with duplicity, even in the power structure of national politics.  In the book on John Edwards by former political aide Andrew Young, he interviewed various senatorial sources.  One in particular was excerpted in a book review, waxing sentimental about Washington in the early 1960s:

“It used to be civilized. The media [sic] was on our side. We’d get our work done by one o’clock and by two we were at the White House chasing women. We got the job done, and the reporters focused on the issues. . . . It was civilized.”

Quite so.

Those days are gone. Not the behavior, necessarily.  But no longer is there a guarantee of confidentiality.  There are too many technologies that lead to leaks, whether deliberate, accidental or “not for attribution.”

I’m not for or against Quinn’s position or reporting of family Olympics. But I think the outcry as a result is fascinating.

And Quinn does have fabulous party tips.  She knows what universally attracts and intrigues.  In her book The Party, she describes a Valentine’s Day soiree:

I got somebody to read palms and tell people about their love lives.  Many of the guests were what you might call important and powerful Washington types, but the line for the palmist in the upstairs bedroom, which included the director of the CIA, formed at the bottom of the stairs.  I could just as easily have had a regular dinner party, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

I borrowed this idea for a New Year’s Day open house.

Try it.  Just Google fortune teller and your local geography.  Have the seer come in costume.  Preferably turban and caftan, of course.  Give a hint in the invitation.  Be sure to budget her for the entire evening, as everyone will want to know in detail what the future will hold.  Prognosis for party success:  Guaranteed.  Your guests will talk about it for years to come.  But you can’t repeat it, as it is the element of the unexpected that delights.

As always, Quinn delivers the buzz!

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Copyright © 2012 Nancy Keene