Media Re-Dress

On Sunday, New York Post columnist Jack Newfield called on Brill to apologize for his Judd-bashing. (It should be noted that the Post has run consistently hostile stories on Brill's project since before it even launched, including one implying that Brill's staff wrote misleading posts on America Online, which Brill and his staff say is not true).

On Monday, Brill told the Voice he hadn't seen Newfield's column, but had no intention of apologizing to Judd. "If someone reports something in January and doesn't really know if it's true, then the point isn't whether it turns out to be true somewhere down the line, but whether she had real reason to believe that the report was true," Brill said.

Brill even defended the magazine's description of the "phantom" dress, saying: "It was a phantom dress by the time it was reported."

There are reasonable explanations for why so many professional second-guessers reached unfortunate conclusions. First was Ginsburg's seemingly reliable denial that any such dress existed. Ginsburg was one of the only authorized, named sources in the entire Lewinsky saga, and the press quite understandably gave his pronouncement great weight. Alas, he was wrong, and ultimately misled reporters on this aspect of the Lewinsky story more than Lucianne Goldberg or Matt Drudge did.

Several of the above critics did important analysis, even if they overextended themselves. The dress story did fly around wildly, and was morphing into untruth when it was captured by the likes of Time.

And keep in mind: the dress that Lewinsky sent home may contain nothing more interesting than it did on the day it was bought (apparently at the Gap). On Friday, the Los Angeles Times quoted a "legal source familiar with the dress" who said, "The importance of the dress is probably exaggerated. There are no noticeable stains on it."

If only the same could be said about the record of media critics.

Ghost Writers on the Web

How many authors would die for the opportunity to write their own obituaries for The New York Times?

Last Friday, it looked like novelist and screenwriter Noel Behn had pulled it off. His obituary in Friday's editions began like this: "Noel Behn, a Manhattan novelist, screenwriter, theatrical producer and celebrated raconteur who held court nightly at Elaine's, the Upper East Side watering hole, died here Monday at Beth Israel Hospital. He was 70."

The newspaper version of the obit carried no byline. But, at least for a while, the version on www.nytimes.com read: "By Noel Behn."

The Times's press office explained that a glitch in the transfer of material from the Times news service to the Web site caused a mistake. Apparently the computer file had been slugged "Noel Behn," and that was erroneously transformed into the obituary's byline.

Subsequent Web site versions--like the print version--ran with no byline. "It was a mistake and it was corrected," said the Times's publicist.

Or so it seems, anyway. A friend of Behn's quoted in the obituary noted, "Noel was also in the counterintelligence, so there are a whole lot of mysteries, both in his life and in his writing." And now, perhaps, a small one after his death.

Research: Leila Abboud

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