NEW YORK — Lynn Hirschberg, whose unbuttoned profiles of A-list talent and Hollywood execs for the New York Times Magazine have won her as many friends as enemies, isn’t the journalist she’d have you believe she is.
So argues Brill’s Content senior writer Katherine Rosman in a scathing profile of Hirschberg that graces the May issue of the mag — the first produced under the stewardship of its new editor in chief, David Kuhn.
Rosman alleges Hirschberg has lied about her past, fabricating a college degree from Berkeley, embellishing the details her early career and fudging her age — it’s 42, not 40, Content says .
A networker par excellence, says Rosman, Hirschberg has parlayed her puffery of hot celebrities into a role as power broker to the prime movers of Hollywood and the New York media.
At a time when “industry press coverage is increasingly sanitized,” writes Rosman, Hirschberg uses her own eccentricities and persistence “to persuade wealthy, privileged and shrewd players to let down their guard so that she can watch as they hang themselves.”
That shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone familiar with Hirschberg’s hard-hitting prose, or with the more notorious chapters of Hirschberg’s career, such as her 1997 profile of ABC entertainment division prexy Jamie Tarses — perhaps the first nail in the coffin of Tarses’ tenure at the network — and the accusations that she provided Jerry Seinfeld with an advance copy of a 1998 Vanity Fair profile, which reportedly ended her own freelance career at that mag.
So why run the piece now?
Brill’s Content chairman Steve Brill, who commissioned the story before stepping down as editor in February, said he commissioned the piece after learning that Hirschberg had fabricated her own credentials.
“As soon as you have a reporter who will lie about something, you know you can’t trust them,” he said. “What intrigued me is here’s someone who has made up things about herself. As an editor, I’d be nervous about sending her out to cover a school board meeting, let alone write profiles of major entertainment industry figures.”
“It’s not pegged to any event,” added Kuhn. “It’s a piece about the power and influence of a very prominent writer for the most prominent newspaper in America.”
But the gossipy tone of the piece may lead some readers to accuse Brill’s Content of giving Hirschberg the Hirschberg treatment. Rosman certainly doesn’t shrink from displaying the same contempt for Hirschberg that Hirschberg allegedly brings to her own writing.
“What Hollywood woman doesn’t lie about her age?” Rosman quips. “It’s all very showbiz.”
Hirschberg’s readers may well ask, what’s wrong with that?