"It's so good," the actress Christine Baranski told a film crew at the Four Seasons last night, "to have another paper in town." The paper in question was the New York Observer, celebrating 25 years of publishing. The camera crew was from the New York Observer, reporting on itself.
In the introduction to The Kingdom of New York, the 2009 Observer anthology, longtime editor Peter Kaplan—who resigned while the book was making its way to the presses—wrote that to the paper, the city "was the world's richest coolest burg, a never-never land on a perpetual Thursday night." Now Thursday was profoundly literal. Paparazzi flanked the entrance, waiting for Katie Holmes. In attendance were Hannah Bronfman, Ray Kelly, Harvey Weinstein, Cory Booker, Dan Abrams, Ron Perelman, Spike Lee, Joel Klein, and Rupert and Wendi Murdoch.
The dining room was bathed in golden light, shaded by four blooming cherry trees. Arthur Carter, the paper's founder, was there, and Kaplan, and Kaplan's Twitter ventriloquists, Jim Windolf and Peter Stevenson—men who had made the paper what it was, or what it had been. Winding through the crowd was the paper's latest editor, Ken Kurson, a friend of the paper's current owner, Jared Kushner, and a former Giuliani operative. He didn't speak to many people, but David Carr rubbed his shoulder in greeting.
At opposite ends of the restaurant there were two stations where guests could have caricatures done on blank Observers, so that it looked as if they were the subject of a meaty takedown. This week's actual print edition of the Observer featured a special pullout section profiling "Influential New Yorkers," including Ivanka Trump, who is married to Jared Kushner.
"That's the thing about genetics," the paper wrote, in a capsule entry praising its owner's wife's business acumen (published under the byline of "The Editors").
Genetics! Breeding, if you will. There was a time, when the Observer maintained a careful and admired balance between chronicler of and caller-of-bullshit about the elite, that the marriage of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner might have been the Observer story of the decade. The merging of the bloodlines of brass-plated businessman-carney Donald Trump and the New Jersey real estate mogul turned blackmailer turned convicted felon Charles Kushner—it would have been a spectacle, but the Observer was in no position to spectate.
Thus New York magazine had quickly broken down the Observer's list of New York's "Rising Stars," pointing out that beyond Ivanka Trump, the list was padded with Jared Kushner's friends, business partners, and cronies. The future belongs to the children of the past.
Meanwhile there were tiny fish tacos and canapes made from hollowed-out cucumber slices. Guests bolted mushroom caps with meatballs inside, because the waiters weren't sticking around to take back the spoons that held the '50s-ish fungal treats.
And there was Donald Trump himself, in a blue suit, white shirt, and shiny blue tie. He posed for a picture with a woman on each arm. Did he think his daughter had only made her husband's newspaper's list because of her connections? "Probably not, she deserves to be there," he replied without hesitating. "She's amazing, she's beautiful." In person, Trump somehow looked and acted less realistic than he does on television.
Soon Trump was gone, part of the hit-and-run bold-name circuit. Katie Couric came and went. "I just can't," she said, when greeted by a non-famous journalist. Google chairman Eric Schmidt—who has invested a bunch of money with Jared Kushner's younger brother Joshua, head of the investment firm Thrive Capital—left before Couric. Charles Kushner, Jared's father, who made lively Observer headlines and spent two years in prison for hiring a prostitute to have sex with his brother-in-law so he could send a tape of the encounter to his sister in an attempt to obstruct an investigation into his financial misconduct at the family real estate business, would stay until the end.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg arrived and was buttonholed by Nana Meriwether, the current Miss U.S.A. They discussed Baltimore, where she was from and where Bloomberg went to college, and South Africa, where she was born.
"You're very pretty and you should enjoy it," Bloomberg told her. "It's something you'll look back on all your life."
Then it was time for Jared Kushner to make a speech. Donald Trump Jr. slapped him on the shoulder and said, "Go to work, man." Kushner sidled up to a microphone on the staircase overlooking the room and placed his feet wider than his hips as he spoke. Kushner is 32, but he doesn't project adulthood very well, and his voice is high-pitched. He looks like Bruce Wayne, but when he opens his mouth, he sounds like Michael Jackson.
Nor, for a newspaper mogul, is he particularly good with words. He was admitted to Harvard, to the surprise of people who knew him in high school, after a very large donation to the university by his father. On the subject of his smarts, one former Observer employee said, Kushner manages to be both self-deprecating and menacing—confessing his academic weakness the way a man in the forest clutching a Bowie knife might confess to you that he feels hungry.
Here is a passage from his address:
"You know when I bought the paper, today the media world is much bigger than it was seven years ago. The landscape has changed dramatically and when I think about how it is today, even seven years ago, it's much much different than the one that was twenty-five years ago when Arthur, who is also here tonight, who is a truly brilliant and a very, very special man, decided to start this paper. He really had audacity to do that. And I think that, as the owner of the paper, the thing that I try the hardest to do is really put this organization in a place where while the content quality, the mediums will change, what we stand for in terms of being there as a paper that really is there for the truth and is a paper of journalism and producing great content and really loving the city of New York, we'll be able to find the next twenty five years."
Mayor Bloomberg spoke next, lowering the microphone so deeply that he accidently turned it off. "When I first heard about this twenty-fifth birthday party," he said, after he'd turned it back on. "I thought, 'Wow, Jared, you're growing up so fast!'"
He praised the paper with a series of adjectives. It is, he said, "ambitious," "opinionated," "independent," "sophisticated" and "street smart." "They share some incredible, sometimes unbelievable stories, that ya just gotta know about," the mayor said.
The mayor had said that the Observer today is better than it had ever been. Kaplan, approached for comment on that proposition, declined. Gawker owner Nick Denton attempted to goad him into a response, but Kaplan brushed by him with a laugh.
Then it was time to cut the salmon-colored, four-tiered cake, featuring the Observer's logo, the trenchcoated man watching the sunrise—or the sunset—with a paper under his arm that may or may not be the Observer. Kushner stood next to the company's new CEO, another brother-in-law, smiled, and posed for a picture.