We gather Dan Rottenberg did not like Andrea Mitchell's new memoir, Talking Back.
In a 1,773-word evisceration in the Broad Street Review Rottenberg accuses the former Philadelphia broadcast reporter of writing in "annoying journalese," of ignoring her previous marriage and step-children, of glossing over her transformation from plain-Jane brunette to "blonde glamourpuss." Of basically filtering her memories through a Vaseline-softened lens because she is now married to Washington's ultimate power icon.
Rottenberg, a former Philadelphia Magazine and Philadelphia Weekly editor, writes in his piece headlined, "The Unexamined Life: Andrea Mitchell rewrites her past:"
To be sure, many of us have old marriages and old personas we'd just as soon forget. But why write a memoir if you won't confront the past? I suspect that Andrea Mitchell's life may indeed contain the stuff of drama, and maybe even a movie. But she is not the one to write it. When you've spent your life hop-scotching the globe for headline stories in the glare of TV lights, it's difficult to imagine that the biggest story of all might lurk somewhere inside of you, if only you were inclined to dig for it.
He writes that Mitchell, who is married to former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, seems "determined to bury" two aspects of her life from Philadelphia, where the Penn grad broke into television with KYW in the late 1960s.
About her first marriage: In the early '70s, when I knew her as a fellow parent at Greenfield Elementary School in Center City, Mitchell was married to Gil Jackson, a black man who worked in the public affairs department at Smith, Kline & French (now GlaxoSmithKline) while struggling to launch a career as an independent film producer. An interracial marriage to a man suffering from a very malignant case of multiple sclerosis cannot have been easy for a young Jewish woman barely out of college, yet Mitchell (as far as I could tell) loyally stood by her man while also caring for his two sons from a previous marriage -- so conscientiously that I presumed the boys were her own. The marriage broke up shortly before Mitchell left Philadelphia for Washington in 1976, and Jackson subsequently died.
But Talking Back doesn't mention Jackson or that marriage at all. On the contrary, Mitchell seems to bend over backwards to erase its memory. For example, she mentions her role as godmother to the three children of her NBC News colleague Judy Woodruff, commenting that "In many ways, they and my nieces and nephew have become surrogates for the children I never had." But she did once have children, or at least stepchildren. She simply declines to acknowledge them here.
Second, Rottenberg digs out a 1974 profile from Philadelphia Magazine, where Mitchell was described as "very average looking.... someone with the frizzies... She's a little too short and her face isn't peaches and cream and she has a very intense businesslike voice, a voice that doesn't sound right doing happy talk."
So why has this once-feisty individualist now submitted to the network's cookie-cutter herself? It's an intriguing question -- and again, one that Mitchell declines to address. In her account of the Jonestown massacre, Mitchell mentions a wise-cracking NBC script editor who refers to her as "the Peruvian handmaiden," causing Mitchell to explain parenthetically to readers, ("At that time, I was a brunette"). After Mitchell served as a panelist for one of the Bush-Dukakis presidential debates in 1988, she tells us that David Letterman asked his audience whether anyone noticed that she'd become a blonde. "I was a throw-away line on late-night TV," she complains. In a book of more than 400 pages, these are the only references to Mitchell's dramatic physical transformation.
I emailed Mitchell the piece, and she called back, sounding a little baffled. She spoke off the record at first, and was reluctant to engage Rottenberg word-for-word. For the record, she said this.
"He's entitled to his opinions, but not his facts, many of which are wrong. I was not writing an autobiography, I was writing a professional memoir. ... I'm surprised at his animus."
For the record also, her voice was surprisingly gentle, neither intense nor businesslike. She answered her own phone. I should say that we've talked before - in Jordan and Egypt, when we found ourselves sitting next to each other at news conferences for Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2002. She introduced herself back then, and when she heard The Philadelphia Inquirer, went on about the city and found it amusing that our TV columnist Gail Shister was then performing in The Vagina Monologues at Penn.
Mitchell was remarkable to me for one thing during those press conferences: her ability to get off a question no matter how big and hungry the pack. I remember the Amman event in particular. She had scored a one-on-one with a Jordanian official, and so missed the beginning of the news conference. There was no room for her in the first couple of rows, and I noticed young network correspondent seeming to savor Mitchell's predicament as she searched for a place to sit where she could be called on. What Mitchell did next was classic.
She simply moved a chair under the podium and started her own row. The younger woman shook her head in disbelief. Mitchell got the first question.