Deborah Solomon, the New York Times mag's front-of-book "Questions" columnist, has the reputation of a lioness. Her interviews, a staple of the Magazine since 2003, are often described as harsh, acerbic and passive-aggressive to aggressive-aggressive. "Most of the people in the world are pretty irritating, and I think it's important to call them on it," she recently told the New York Review of Magazines. "That's probably what sets me apart from other interviewers. I'm easily incensed." But something's changing. Is Deborah Solomon going soft?
Like that other Solomon, Deborah has stood in our culture as a reassuring force of something like integrity—with her, you know she's in the tank for no man. She's been a beacon of decisioning and conviction while the rest of her colleagues indulge in the journalism of mild-mannered docility. Lately, we've been noticing a little slack in her rope, some resignation creeping into her once unforgiving demeanor.
Consider today's column, in which Solomon gets Suze Orman to admit she is a gay. The two of them even get into something of an argument about their personal finances when Orman accuses Solomon of having a girly relationship with money. "You put yourself on sale," Orman says. "You have shame, and you have blame." Solomon shoots back, "Is this what feminism has bestowed upon women? The right to berate other women?"
It's a compelling exchange, and at first the interview seems to be a testament to that famous Solomon fury. But read closely: Solomon didn't start this fight—Orman did. In fact, Solomon stays on the defensive the whole time, practically pouting as Orman unceremoniously lays into her for not having a living revocable trust.
Sure enough, a look back at Solomon's other recent interviews suggests that to a great extent, the beast has lost her claws. What did she do, for instance, when she had presidential hopeful Bill Richardson in the hot-seat? She playfully "confronted" him about his speeding ticket problem. And what was the meanest thing she could think to say to Chuck Schumer? That she thought the fictional couple he invented for his new book lacked "the artistry of fiction." The rest of the time, it was all "regardless of how your book is received, you made history in November..." and "Do you think [Cheney] will remain as large an influence inside the White House in the wake of the Republican drubbing?" Softballs all the way around, in other words—questions so gentle that a baby could take them with a smile.
What is happening to Deborah Solomon? Is she falling victim to that famous rapper problem, where the debut is gritty and the second one's not because life got nice? Or is it something else—perhaps a catastrophe in the home, an editor's intervention, or a deliberate change in her journalistic philosophy? We're concerned.
Also, do the NYT.com copy editors get weekends off? Mmm, two typos in one browser title bar!