Saturday, May 2, 2009

The chalice from the palace has the pellet with the poison

For a raft of reasons, some of them going back many years, I have been following the saga of (ex-) editor Sally Warhaft's precipitate departure last week from The Monthly -- most recently in a piece by regular Monthly contributor Gideon Haigh in today's Age -- with feelings not so much mixed as puréed. Let us say that I can see both sides of this story, and that I would very strongly recommend that the urgers on the sidelines saying 'Oh, it's only a storm in a teacup' (or saying anything else, really) when they don't actually have a clue what happened should treat themselves to a nice hot cup of STFU.

But two phrases keep running through my mind: there's the old maxim 'Least said, soonest mended' (the only person who appears to be paying any attention to this one is Warhaft herself, and more power to her, especially since she is apparently being ambushed at her own house by bottom-feeding paparazzi, among other things); and then there's that potent phrase 'poisoned chalice'. Whoever succeeds Warhaft in that editor's chair is going to have to be very flexible, very grown-up and very laid-back. And only one of these things makes for good editorship.

16 comments:

Ann oDyne said...

all very unfortunate.
I keep wondering if/how all this recent angst is related to the essay attributed to 'Kevin Rudd' the magazine recently published.

Pavlov's Cat said...

It played a part, as told in the various accounts of events that have surfaced in the Age and elsewhere over the last few days -- the fallout from publishing that essay brought to a head what was already a bad situation, as far as I can make out. Have a read of Gideon Haigh's piece in the link there -- he's frank about his partisanship and doesn't pretend to be anything else, which is a good reason to give credence to what he says.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I should have added there that I don't think anyone has questioned the authorship of the Rudd piece, though there's been disagreement as to how they came by it.

Bernice said...

God almighty. Is it because we are, after all, a fishpond in the global swirl of ideas, that the king carp have an appalling habit of behaving so egotistically?
If I had a job to offer Sally, she would have it tomorrow. Whether I or anyone else agrees with Rudd, in a democracy that so rarely calls its politicians to account for their potions & pills, having something like concepts and ideas articulated in public forums is vital. This too applies to Costello. If nothing else, let us see the competing emperors' clothes.

Pavlov's Cat said...

'Is it because we are, after all, a fishpond in the global swirl of ideas, that the king carp have an appalling habit of behaving so egotistically?'

Well, as I say, I can see both sides of this story. I was once in the 'young female protegée of king carp' position, in a very similar situation to the one Sally was in when she was first appointed (I got out of mine a bit sooner, voluntarily, and without any unpleasantness) so I know how difficult and delicate it is, but I've also had some less than happy dealings with Sally, and I don't mean the (commissioned) story that was (rightly) spiked, either -- as I said to the Bloke at the time, I wouldn't have published it either. Apropos of which, the one moment in Haigh's piece that I thought was unworthy of him was his implication that the fact that Mark Aarons and Alex Miller had had pieces rejected by her somehow meant that their comments were totally worthless. There's no gag quite like a taunting 'Oooh, sour grapes!' Duct tape over the mouth is nothing to it.

Bernice said...

Point taken re Miller and Aarons (which I didn't initially read that way, but should have noted) but have always put the slowness of response or lack thereof to chronic insane busyness. An excuse we all use too readily - hopefully my accountant is reading this... probably not though. But your point re the duct tape needs also to be heeded by the manne. I expect the champagne cases are being delivering to the office of Quadrant as we type.

Lefty E said...

Well said Pav - but I have to note that Haigh did not initially signal his prior relationship with Warhaft in his first public comments in the Age.

Whatever the merits (and I tend to think its probably a case of a breakdown involving problems on both sides), I thought that was a bit ... ordinary.

Then again, I have since found Manne's defence a bit over the top - and come to admire Warhaft's reserve.

Australian Online Bookstore said...

I must say I really do admire the way Warhaft has handled this entire mess. while all the other prominent players, bench warmers and sundry other identities chime in with their take on preceedings, Warhaft remains silent.
One must question who had editorial control over the monthly, Warhaft or the board? When you get the likes of Manne commissioning editorial content without consulting the editor things are bound to get a little hot in the kitchen.

lucy tartan said...

Not much to add except that I like your post title and think that whoever takes on the editor job will indeed be up against it in every imaginable direction.

Anonymous said...

As an old editor, I remember the days when the position was akin to the Captain of a ship, you could make 'em walk the plank if you felt inclined. Then at a function to celebrate the doubling of the non-political, non-meaningful mags circulation, I remember THE media mogul looking at my small stature from height and commenting...give the f...editors some power and they think you mean it! Some things change, some things stay the same.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

The disputed Monthly arrived in the post yesterday. There are twelve contributors: eleven men and one Alice Pung. Which doesn't get close to proving that Warhaft's been bullied out of her job by the amassed forces of the patriarchy - she is, after all, the editor of this particular issue, and I guess solicited at least some of those twelve pieces - but it isn't looking good.

TimT said...

When this was a new story Tim Blair offered the pithiest summary so far, 'Manne versus Woman'. (Apparently Warhaft is a friend of his.)

As has been said, it's hard to know really what went on behind the closed doors, much less make a judgment about it. Though it's interesting how it's been framed as a Manne/Warhaft stoush. What influence did Morry Schwartz have over the sacking? Has Schwartz really been courted and captivated by Manne? Was it really a decision by Schwartz? (Certainly in his public statements he's deliberately vague about the virtues of Warhaft as an editor, but very specific in his criticisms of her).

Whatever her failings as an editor, Warhaft certainly looks better than either Manne or Schwartz.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

I'm just amazed and dazed by how immature and childish ALL the players seem - and thats a generous reading.

Is reading, writing and publishing really all that unprofessional or is it the academic (low stakes etc) influence?

Helen said...

Damn, you made me go over to the Tim Blair post. Now Teh Stupid has burned my brain.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Oh, Helen, you silly sausage. I certainly haven't.

FXH, I'm in some sympathy with the protagonists because I was involved in a kerfuffle over the Miles Franklin Award four years ago -- a nine-hour wonder compared to this -- and I and everyone else involved was besieged for days by journalists ringing up at 6 am and demanding that I provide them with copy. When no copy was forthcoming, they went ahead and wrote articles about it anyway, speculating on what had happened anf then saying how silly it all was. (Bl**r was one of the ones who saw fit to comment but didn't bother to call anyone or check any facts and therefore assumed I was a bloke, as unreconstructed blokes will always do by default unless one is actually called Chanelette or Suzie-Pops; he was only interested at all because it gave him an opportunity to trash David Marr.) Almost without exception the affair was described as a 'spat' or a 'storm in a teacup' by people who didn't have a clue what actually happened. Memo to journos: yes indeed, as I told you on the phone, there is no story here. But if you need to fill the space that badly, then by all means beat it up so that you can deflate it. There's a word for that.

My point is that all we know about what happened at The Monthly is what we are told by journalists, the most voluble of whom so far is frankly partisan and indignant. So my sympathy is with Sally here -- one honours one's promise to keep quiet about something, and then gets vilified for what reporters and their readers speculate that one probably said or did.

My other point is that we always think people who are having public disagreements are being childish and silly except when it's us. I give you the blogosphere.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I should have mentioned the exception: it is specialist literary and/or media commentators' job to report on events in those worlds. It's the journos and bloggers who know nothing about the situation/publication/whatever but are still talking about it, because it's 'news', who tend to make it most sensational, treat it most judgmentally, and get it most egregiously wrong.