The recent kerfluffle with Steve Martin at the 92nd St. Y brought me back to one of my favorite pastimes. Back when exGiff and I lived together, we had a weekend subscription to the New York Times, mostly for the Sunday Crossword Puzzle (exGiff was addicted to doing that thing, occasionally making noises about how working on crossword puzzles would help stave off late-life dementia). But after the crossword was done, and I'd had time to steel myself up, I would open up the rest of the paper, and seek out the Interviews with Deborah Solomon.
Oh, how I loved to read Deborah Solomon's interviews. No one is more terrible at talking to people than Deborah Solomon--no one, at least, who gets paid to do so. I can only assume she has photos of the editors of the New York Times in compromising positions, because there is no reason I can find why she would continue to be found, week in and week out, in the pages of a newspaper that considers itself the best newspaper in the world. Weekly World News reporters would be embarrassed to be found between the same covers as Deborah Solomon.
There is no one I hate more writing for the New York Times, with the possible exception of everyone responsible for the Sunday Styles section. Seriously, fuck those assholes with an overpriced pair of high heels.
The accounts I've read of the Deborah Solomon interview of Steve Martin make it clear that the responsibility for the suckiness of the event can be laid at her feet (you can see Emdashes review of the event here, and my friend Kraig's review at his blog here). They both make it clear that this wasn't a bunch of low culture assholes demanding to hear more about the filming of The Jerk or Three Amigos--this is, after all, a $50 ticketed event at the 92nd Street Y, the type of crowd that spends $50 to wallow in, at lowest, upper middlebrow culture.
Deborah Solomon just sucks, and, after awhile, Steve Martin gave up trying to salvage the evening. I've been to plenty of Q&As that start off awkward and never quite gel, and no one deserves a refund for that (though if they wanted to take the cut out of Deborah Solomon's speaking fee, I wouldn't complain).
I've been stating that Deborah Solomon sucks for the entire post, and haven't gone out of my way to prove it. I think you can find ample proof of this on the internet, but here is, in one interview, an exchange that's the problems of her interviewing style in a microcosm.
In her Nov. 25th, 2007 interview with Umberto Eco, there is this exchange (her questions are in bold, his responses, in plain text).
So why would any country besides Italy be at risk of having the media takeover you describe? One of the reasons why foreigners are so interested in the Italian case is that Italy was in the last century a laboratory. It started with the Futurists. Their manifesto was in 1909. Then fascism — it was tested in the Italian laboratory and then it migrated to Spain, to the Balkans, to Germany.
Are you saying that Germany got the idea of fascism from Italy? Oh, certainly. According to what the historians say, it is so.
Maybe just the Italian historians. If you don’t like it, don’t tell it. I am indifferent.
You’re saying that Italy was a trendsetter in both fashion — or art — and fascism? Yes, O.K., why not?
You can see the precise moment that Eco decides that she's not intelligent enough to be worth talking to. He starts out talking about the history of fascism, and gets a response from a woman not intelligent enough to know that "fascism" is an Italian concept, and an Italian word. She's not even intelligent enough to trust him at his word. She gets petulant and challenges him (when she is clearly wrong), and he just decides to let it go.
She later brings up Foucault's Pendulum, comparing it to The DaVinci Code, and doesn't understand at all when Eco makes the very good point that Dan Brown is best understood as a character in Foucault's Pendulum rather than as a serious author. That's the type of pullquote that any interviewer would kill for (and which Eco has probably spent some time preparing, to be fair) and she doesn't have any idea what she's got. She incorrectly thinks that The DaVinci Code is somehow similar to The Name of the Rose, instead. She probably heard someone somewhere talking about Eco and Dan Brown, and stopped doing research from there.
At the bottom of every interview is this note, as articluate as a YouTube comment: "INTERVIEW CONDUCTED, CONDENSED AND EDITED BY DEBORAH SOLOMON." Which means that these bits, these bits of her abusing, misunderstanding, and stumbling her way through a conversation...these are the good bits. These are the bits that she thought needed to be shared.
Deborah Solomon sucks, and the sooner she quits to try to write some terrible novel or to spend more time with someone else's kids, the better.