Radhika Jones, Meet Condescending and Nasty

Incoming Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones at the 2016 gala for Time Magazine's Most Influential People In The World. (Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Time)

Did you know that generations of writers at other publishers have referred to Conde Nast as “Condescending and Nasty”?

I learned of this in the wake of Women’s Wear Daily publishing what appeared to be a gossip item gleaned through eavesdropping, about Condé Nast fashion editors being catty about incoming editor-in-chief Radhika Jones. According to WWD, “one of the company’s fashion editors in candid conversation with industry peers” said some pretty predictable and mean things about the outfit Jones wore to her first meeting.

Let me pause here to acknowledge a few things. First, my love of Vanity Fair is well-documented in the hallowed pages of this website that you are reading. It is a magazine for rich people, which is a thing I will never be, and yet they cannot stop me reading it! Even though he never responds to my emails, I am Graydon Carter’s biggest fan, and not just because he made my ex-boyfriend cry. I love Vanity Fair and I am so excited Radhika Jones is going to lead it.

Everyone is excited about Jones. I mean, I guess besides this one Condescending and Nasty fashion person. Even the tone of the WWD gossip item was Team Radhika. WWD, arguably a women’s fashion publication (it’s in the name, please don’t actually argue with me), thought it was eye-roll-inducing for this fashion person to be mean at the water cooler about Jones’ cartoon-fox-printed tights and “navy shiftdress strewn with zippers.”

I’m sure many of you disagree. I have had way more conversations than I anticipated about this piece this morning already and lots of people are mad at WWD for publishing the piece at all, and for not calling out the cattiness more overtly. Jones’ New York Times colleague Jodi Kantor tweeted, “So this is the way our brilliant colleague who just shot the moon gets written about.”

I understand that. It’s frustrating. I anticipate being called whatever the media equivalent of a Nazi apologist is for this, but: the WWD is actually a pretty mild introduction to what Jones will receive going forward, particularly as the first female (and non-white) Graydon Carter, and it’s not much different than what you could find in the pages of Vanity Fair for years. If Jones changes that, great. If not, the WWD is a relatively light taste of what she’ll be approving in that magazine going forward.

Why do I dare call it mild? Because the WWD piece is on her side. It is very, very obviously Team Radhika. Lots of people have told me they think it should be more overt, less subtle. I have a strong, steadfast love for subtlety. When I wrote recently about my time at DNAinfo, I told you all that one of the things we believed was that you didn’t have to talk down to readers, you could give them the facts, and some good quotes, and they didn’t need to be explicitly told something, or someone was bad. You could show, instead of tell, that the Manhattan Community Board 2 liquor license committee frequently operated in a way that was arbitrary and capricious, for example.

I undersold the fact that there’s a little bit of an art to that, to how the facts and the quotes are laid out. So let’s look at the WWD piece.

I would argue that even the headline’s specifying “personal” style is already a point for Jones, signaling that the critics to come are picking at something that has nothing to do with Jones’ new job. The sub-headline is solely about Jones’ “extensive literary and editorial experience.”

The second paragraph immediately lays out Jones’ credentials — and does so in a way that signals great disdain for what the Condescending and Nasties chose to pay attention to:

But while Jones may have been editorial director of the books department at The New York Times, an alum of Time magazine and The Paris Review, a graduate of Harvard and holds a doctorate in English and comparative literature from Columbia — none of this impressed Condé Nast-ers. They, instead, were aghast over her sense of style.

The next paragraph reinforces that, noting that Jones’ critic was “remarking not on the context of Jones’ first visit, but rather the outfit she wore.” PRIORITIES, WWD is silently screaming here.

And the next one employs em-dashes to emphasize that point:

According to the fashion editor — who omitted Jones’ admirable literary accomplishments from conversation — the incoming editor wore a navy shiftdress strewn with zippers, a garment deemed as “iffy” at best.

The closing paragraph, to me, is the prizewinner:

The fashion editor did not remark on Carter’s outfit for the occasion. After 25 years at Vanity Fair’s helm, he walks away from the job with a vibrant legacy that is noted, not for his signature wonk hairstyle, but rather his wrangling of A-list celebrities and publishing of writers including Christopher Hitchens and Dominick Dunne.

A friend of mine said that while she is Team Radhika, it might be fair for the Condé Nasties to judge Jones’ outfit, since the magazine is very much part of the “high fashion” world. I understand this point, but would note that Vanity Fair‘s pages have long been filled with ball gowns, and to my (expert) knowledge, Graydon Carter never wore one to a meeting. We can trust that Jones, with her years of editorial experience and impressive education, knows her strengths and less-strengths. Ideally, somewhere in the dark, catty world of fashion, she will be able to find someone to lead that part of the magazine who has savvy, creativity and heart.

In the meantime: Radhika, please email me and tell me where you got the dress and tights WWD described because I desperately want them.