THE SUMMER OF '98 will be remembered for several things. Demi and Bruce splitting. Tina and Harvey merging. Camilla and William colliding.
But most strikingly, this will be remembered as the summer the news media decided to forget about news and focus on themselves.The guild is in the midst of a weird collective meltdown. Journalists have always been self-regarding. But now we're positively solipsistic, with no time or interest in covering anything outside our own travails.
Content "R" Us.
We are obsessed with our mistakes. Our top editors' comings and goings. Our piques. Our fantasies. Our desires. Our disappointments. Our severance packages. Our synergy. Our e-mail.
The journalistic club, once self-protective, has turned as savage as "Lord of the Flies." Nothing is private anymore. Bitter feuds and emotional rants are flying through cyberspace and landing on newsprint.
Fired journalists seem as preoccupied with their Legacies as Bill Clinton. First James Fallows gave his self-exculpatory Farewell Address. Then April Oliver mounted an aggressive defense of her role reporting the CNN nerve gas fiasco, long after she should have disappeared in a cloud of shame gas.
Perhaps the lull in Monica scoops has descended because the journalistic sleuths who dug up the sex scandal have been so busy debunking Steven Brill.
Where reporters once pored over declassified documents, this summer they are poring over the e-mail sent out by Michael Kinsley, the editor of Slate, telling colleagues and friends and the rest of the galaxy about his ill-fated encounter with Si Newhouse. Newhouse offered Kinsley the job as editor of The New Yorker on Sunday, then snatched it back a few hours later and gave it to David Remnick.
Bored with the rumble between the president and the prosecutor, journalists became mesmerized with the rumble between the eccentric billionaire and the cyberspace editor.
Slate itself served as an echo chamber, with the married writers Timothy Noah and Marjorie Williams trading notes on the Newhouse-Kinsley imbroglio in online pillow talk, in a feature called "The Breakfast Table." Enhancing the hall-of-mirrors effect, Noah is a Fallows acolyte who went through his own publisher-editor donnybrook at U.S. News & World Report. Ms. Williams works for Vanity Fair, another Conde Nast publication owned by Newhouse.
"Nothing Else Matters Except The New Yorker," Noah entitled one of his entries. Ms. Williams observes that the ascension of Remnick is even Topic A at her Washington mothers' group.
When journalists weren't deconstructing Kinsley's e-mails, they were e-mailing each other Nina Burleigh's e-mail. In a message to her former colleagues and in a piece in The New York Observer, Ms. Burleigh, the former Time White House reporter who offered some erotic meanderings about President Clinton in Mirabella, defends herself zestfully.
In her Observer piece, she recounts the moment when she gave Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post a provocative quote about how she would be willing to perform a certain kind of sex on President Clinton in gratitude for his defense of abortion rights.
Ms. Burleigh opines: "In the event that we ever get a female President, Pete Hamill or Norman Mailer would never be so savaged and maligned and ridiculed for writing about the woman's charms." In a rousing call to other female scribes who had reacted in horror to her embarrassing true confessions, she says, in her e-mail, "Wake up oh my sisters."
Oh, my sisters, oh, my brothers. Get a life.