The year is still young, but when the time comes to look back at 2010's media lowlights, the embarrassing demise of Sally Quinn's Washington Post column, "The Party," will almost certainly rank near the top of the list.
Some quick background: Quinn is the wife of Ben Bradlee, the legendary former Post editor who presided over the paper's history-changing Watergate coverage. She and Bradlee have a son, Quinn, who's engaged to DC yoga instructor Pary Williamson. The two lovebirds were originally scheduled to tie the knot in October. But then, after Williamson learned she was pregnant, a decision was made to push the date earlier. (As the groom-to-be told politicsdaily.com, his fiancée "didn't want to be a big mama walking down the aisle.")
Here's where it gets juicy. The new Bradlee-Williamson date — April 10 — happens to be the same date that one of Ben Bradlee's grandaughters, Greta Bradlee, is getting hitched. (Greta is the child of former Globe deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. and his ex-wife, ABC newswoman and former WCVB-TV reporter Martha Raddatz; Bradlee Jr. is now married to Boston PR bigwig Jan Saragoni.)
Family dysfunction is always fascinating from the outside, and family dysfunction among the rich and famous is even more intriguing — so it's no wonder that Quinn's seeming decision to cut in on her step-granddaughter's big day garnered plenty of coverage. ("We've all experienced a Bridezilla or six in our day," snarked the Herald's "Inside Track." "But when did it become stylish for the step-grandmother of the bride to behave badly?")
The bad PR might have blown over had Quinn not stepped in it — to put it kindly — on February 19. In that day's installment of her column, which runs in the Post's Style section, Quinn used her perch in one of America's great media institutions to write about what she termed "the drama unfolding in our family." She chalked the double-booking up to an "inadvertent mistake" on her part — but also blamed Bradlee Sr. for not putting his granddaughter's wedding on their calendar ("A warning to wives everywhere!"). Quinn shared that, due to "existing tensions," she and Bradlee Sr. weren't going to be at Greta's wedding anyway. She spoke of "two beautiful brides" and "two handsome grooms." And she waxed hopeful about getting the two pairs of newlyweds together soon.
The response was brutal. New York Times media columnist David Carr wrote that her too-candid column had "landed on the table like an overcooked rib roast." Washington City Paper editor Erik Wemple said Quinn had "la[id] down an enormous turd that'll eventually get mentioned in another story about how the Post has lost its way." Greta's parents, Bradlee Jr. and Raddatz, reportedly sent separate e-mails of complaint to Katharine Weymouth, the Post's publisher. And Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli announced that Quinn's column would no longer run in the paper; instead, it'll be found at washingtonpost.com's On Faith section, which Quinn runs.
You'd think, after all this, that Quinn might be inclined to reflect on her excessive candor and/or dubious use of the Post's prized pages. But you would be wrong. "I just felt like if I wrote this, I would take the heat off them," she told Politico, apparently referring to the spouses-to-be — and proving that obliviousness, like many other bad habits, is awfully hard to break.