Writing a feature on WaPo columnist and feature writer Gene Weingarten is a lot like riding in a car with a backseat driver and likely, a crazy person. That’s the impression you get from reading Washingtonian‘s extensive profile on him this month.
In the course of the interview process, Weingarten manipulates the author, Tom Bartlett, into writing what he thinks is important. The first time, he shares an anecdote about a scary made-up story he told his son years ago. “Weingarten told me that anecdote knowing it would end up in print,” Bartlett writes.
Further in, he’s less subtle:
“During our lunch, Weingarten keeps tearing off little pieces of his dirty napkin, balling them up with his thumb and forefinger, and dropping them onto his plate amid the mashed remains of his mostly eaten lunch. It’s gross.
“Have you noticed what I’m doing as I’m talking?” he says, gesturing toward the mess. “Who does this? And I’m doing it as I’m telling you that I’m neurotic!” He then points to my pad of paper and says, “If I were writing this, I would note that.”
Funny, considering Weingarten, a two-time Pulitzer prize winner, didn’t always fancy himself “a great writer,” as he admits in the profile. And a reader can surmise that he still doesn’t.
Backseat driving aside, there are many details on what makes Weingarten tick (though Bartlett concludes he’s a bit of a broken clock), such as how his job as Associate Editor at Tropic, the Miami Herald‘s Sunday magazine, ended. Management was changing the paper the publication was printed on, so he quit.
Or, how he used having Hepatitis C to land a book deal as well as a job managing WaPo‘s Sunday Style section. He no longer has the disease, according to the profile, but we wanted to be sure if he actually ever had it. He didn’t respond to our tweets or emails. UPDATE: Weingarten, channeling the late Andy Rooney, finally replied. Please note: I mistakenly asked if he had Hepatitis B and he set me straight: “Hepatitis C, not B. Yes, of course I had it. You think I lied, in a book, and in my newspaper, about having a fatal disease?”
Many Weingarten’s fans agree on what his best story is: One from 2006 titled “The Peekaboo Paradox.” A scan of twitter shows that many of them have also already read Washingtonian‘s profile. Reactions to the story are overwhelmingly positive.
Read the full piece here.