Susan Orlean, Defender of the New Yorker Universe, In Her Own Words

If you've seen the movie Adaptation you know Susan Orlean will mimic dial-tones does not play around. So I asked the New Yorker staff writer if she had more thoughts not-fit-for-tweeting. She did!

See, Dan Baum had more to say about Susan Orlean, and we thought it only fair to give the lady a chance to respond in full. Why? Because we are children, and have yet to put down childish things. Soooooo, from the hallowed halls of the New Yorker to the fecal-crusted basement of WTAN on Gawker: we present, Susan Orlean.

Why, oh why did I find myself mixed up in the Dan Baum brouhaha (by the way, was the word "brouhaha" ever more appropriately used than in this instance? I think not.)? Chalk it up to medium and message, which were very different reasons I felt compelled to reply. First, the medium, which was the lesser of the two reasons, but still, I was irked by the endless stream of tweets from Mr. Baum — I felt like I was sitting at one of those horrible dinner parties where one person insists on doing all the talking, and in this case, talking backwards. This is not a federal offense, of course, and there are far stupider things on Twitter everyday, but using the form in that way definitely drew attention and almost demanded a reply (I suppose a simple, "Could you please shut up?" would have been fine, or a gentler "Excuse me, don't you have a blog where you could put this story up? Twitter is, um, for short messages, did you notice?" but it was provocative; I ignore about eighty percent of the things in my Twitter stream (as I bet most people do), but this endless posting had me on the edge of my seat — compelled to read but not happy about it.

But this would ordinarily amount to me nothing more than me complaining about it over dinner to my husband. But then comes the message. Discussing details about salaries, contracts, hiring, firing — I think it's indiscreet and unprofessional, but that's just my opinion; if Mr. Baum wants to, he's entitled. Even airing opinions that I happen to disagree with strenuously — that the atmosphere at the New Yorker is "creepy", for instance — is his right. It's just that Baum's characterizations seemed so off-base that I couldn't help but respond. I'm not an apologist for the magazine. It's an institution I am very loyal to and very proud of, so it was maddening to read his account, suggesting that the New Yorker is a strange, dysfunctional place full of whispering freaks, headed by a capricious, vengeful editor-in-chief. Huh?? In a court of law, Baum's testimony would be practically inadmissible; he's a writer whose contract wasn't renewed (not "fired", as he describes it — but whatever), obviously wounded and disappointed. Bias alert! I've been at the magazine since 1986, enjoyed ridiculous amounts of freedom to write what I want, gotten paid extremely generously, mouthed off a number of times when I disagreed with editing changes, and been granted great liberty for book leaves and family demands. Even after so many years as a staff writer, I remain in awe of the quality of the magazine, its history, and its ongoing excellence. Bias alert! My own testimony is equally tainted, I admit.

I have never met Dan Baum, and I wish him well. He hasn't asked for my advice, but here it is, anyway: 1. Don't be fooled by the one-way mirror quality of Twitter; it's a peculiar medium that is more invasive than it might feel. 2. If I ever hire someone, please call and remind me to have him or her sign a "No tweeting when I get fired" clause. 3. If you decide to publish in a very public forum details of something that is somewhat personal, don't complain when people respond in a somewhat personal manner. 4. When you are objecting to something written by a woman, using the word "twat" (as in, "[Orlean] launched a series of twit-for-twat responses..") is not usually advisable.

Now, let's all get back to work.

Susan Orlean is the author of the children's book, Lazy Little Loafers, and when not barking @Twitter works on her biography of Rin Tin Tin, to be published by Little Brown.

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