Lunch: Ben Bradlee — Fewer Newspapers May Not Be ‘Such A Bad Thing’


It was truly a head-spinning afternoon at Michael’s today. The joint was jumping with so many movers and shakers we could barely keep up with all the goings on, but we did a few laps around the dining room to catch up with the boldface names and those media mavens whose jobs are still secure to find out the latest dish.

I was thankful I got there early this afternoon because I was able to collar legendary newspaper man Ben Bradlee before he sat down with his family. I just had to ask him what he thought about the obit currently being written for the newspaper industry. The former The Washington Post editor wasn’t about to buy into all the gloom and doom. “I’m actually quite hopeful,” he told me of his survival of the fittest approach. “When I was editor of the Post, there was something like 7,500 papers and now there’s 1,200. But I don’t think it’s such a bad thing if there’s a few less papers — if they’re better. The Washington Post is losing money at the moment, but I think things will settle down. As long as the surviving papers are good, it’s not going to be a disaster.”

I had the good fortune today to lunch with Joan Gelman and Robert Zimmerman, two of my favorite people who I’ve come to know through my weekly Wednesday visits. We had a lively conversation (Sorry, but the juiciest stuff was strictly off the record). Joan is a hero of mine, having written about the perils of parenthood and working motherhood so brilliantly back in the ’80s for The New York Times‘ Hers column. I re-read many of them the other night, and they could have just as easily been written today. Joan has toiled at a plethora of television jobs, including producing stints at Good Morning America and David Letterman. Her latest show that she’s written, Triple Sensation, is scheduled to run in June in Canada on CBC, and she’s back freelance writing again. God knows she’s got plenty of material. Robert is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his Long Island-based marketing-public relations firm Zimmerman/Edelson, which counsels a diverse client base which consists of an impressive roster of energy and real estate firms, as well as educational institutions including Hofstra University. Robert also moonlights as a CNN contributor, where he lends his intelligent, well-reasoned voice in support of public advocacy on a whole host of issues. “It’s a passion of mine,” he says. His gig with CNN (he signed on in 2007) came about after he got a call from The White House following one of his television appearances back in 2005. Turns out both Al Gore and Bill Clinton thought Robert would be just the guy to carry the flag on Fox News. Since then, he’s gone on to tangle with Lou Dobbs and plenty of other contentious commentators and flacks. “I have had the unique distinction of antagonizing both parties at the same time,” says Robert. That must mean he’s doing something right …

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. The indomitable Evelyn Lauder, looking lovely as ever in a chic brown tweed suit and presiding over a table of powerful gals, including our pal MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski (we forgot to tell her we’re on her side on the vibrator debate she’s currently having via the airwaves with Barbara Walters) and Lauder’s public relations maven Alexandra Trower (who looked dazzling in bright pink) all gathered to talk about Mrs. Lauder’s upcoming annual gala for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation to be held on April 29 at the Waldorf. And before you run out and buy a fancy frock for the occasion, Mrs. Lauder was delighted to tell me the invitation calls for gals to “shop your closet.” “Let’s give all the money we can to the foundation,” she wisely advises. Gentleman should opt for “black tie with a touch of pink.” The evening is sure to be one for the record books. Longtime Lauder spokesperson Liz Hurley is hosting and Elton John is going to perform with — wait for it — Liza Minelli! So if you’ve been holding back on making the scene on the charity circuit, this might be just the time to crack open the checkbook if you can…

2. Here’s an interesting foursome: Sports Illustrated editor Terry McDonnell, Victoria’s Secret model Marissa Miller, an unidentified dude with a Mohawk, and a ‘suit.’

3. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong with The Daily Beast’s books editor Alexis Gelber. Joe told me all of New York was at the party for Quinn Bradlee’s book held at Barry Diller’s last night. (We were home watching Dancing with The Stars. Oh well). Joe has just returned from his annual visit to The Whole in The Wall camp for critically ill children. This will be the first summer season for the camp since its founder and guiding force, Paul Newman, passed away. “He was the real deal,” says Joe. Luckily, his work lives on. Joe reports they will be opening a camp in Israel in June for Jewish, Arab and Christian children whose parents will be required to attend meetings together while the kids go about being kids and enjoying themselves despite their medical conditions. An inspiring concept to say the least …

4. Would love to have been a fly on the wall at this table: Jonathan Wald, Charlie Walk and Donnie Deutsch.

5. PBS president Neal Shapiro, who made the rounds before settling down to lunch with Stan Shuman

6. Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn with their son, newly minted author Quinn Bradlee, Tom Brokaw (loved the turtleneck), and a pretty dark-haired gal we didn’t know. In case you haven’t heard, Quinn’s book, A Different Life (Public Affairs) is a causing quite a stir. It in, he writes honestly about what it was like to grow up with disabilities (lots of teasing and the like) and also reveals that he visited a brothel to lose his virginity during a family vacation in St. Martin. A sweet story just in time for all you parents going away with the kiddies for Easter break…

7. Anne Colley

8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia with a shiny young gent

9. Pat Mitchell

10. We didn’t get to say hello, but we hear BusinessWeek‘s Jon Fine was having a “very important meeting” with his guest…

11. Cheri Kaufman

12. ‘The Imber Gang’: Dr. Gerald Imber, Jeff Greenfield, Jerry Della Femina, Andy Bergman and Michael Kramer.

14. Steve Mosko

15. Donald Marron

16. Joan Gelman, Robert Zimmerman and yours truly

17. Freddie Friedman

18. Steve Rubenstein with a group of powerful looking gents

19. Author Ed Klein

20. Lynn Goldberg

21. Peter Price

22. John Josephson

23. Paul Wilmot and Dr. Nicholas Perricone

24. Martin Puris

25. Conde Nast’s David Carey and Charles Coplin

26. Lisa Linden, who was nice enough to introduce me to Matthew W. Daus, commissioner of the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission. When I told him my four-year-old daughter is obsessed with Taxi TV, he told me there are going to be “big announcements” about “Taxi TV 2.0” in the coming weeks. I suggested they look into adding kids’ programming to their offerings, and I’m thinking the idea just might fly. And, says Matthew, the reason it’s so much easier to get a cab these days might not just be because so many people are opting to save money by hoofing it. “There’s more cabs then ever on the streets” due to the increased number of applicants for medallions, he says. Yesterday’s stock broker just might be the fellow that takes you to your next appointment, so you might not want to complain about your shrinking 401K as a sign of solidarity.

27. Cindy Lewis with a table full of execs

28. Sarabeth Shrager

29. Richard Bressler

30. Myrna Blyth and Lisa Bloom (looking very glam!) Myrna tells me she’s now editing, a “smart and sassy” Web site for women.

Faces in the crowd: Steve Perrine, the former editor of the now shuttered Best Life, deep in conversation with a serious-looking fellow… My pal Dr. Robi Ludwig, who introduced me to her pal radio show host Cooper Lawrence, whose new book The Cult of Celebrity (Skirt) has kept her pretty busy these days. I asked Cooper to weigh in on the ever-elastic definition of what constitutes a ‘celebrity’ these days and how we became a Z-list nation. “We create these people with our wallets,” she says referring to the voracious collective appetite that exists for details great and small for people, who if karma truly exists, should be working at Starbucks. Both Cooper and Robi agreed that the tabloid princess du jour, ‘Octomom’ is a prototypical fame addict who is a “borderline” personality. And, for the record, they say, Dr.Phil isn’t trying to save her, he’s using her for his own purposes. You think? I don’t know about you, but I’m shocked. Just shocked!

Please send comments and corrections to DianeClehane AT mediabistro Dot com and lunch at mediabistro DOT com.