May 13 • 1HR 9M

Tina Brown On The Royal Family

The famed magazine editor has a new book on the British royals. We dish.

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Unafraid conversations about anything
(Photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

She needs no introduction — but in magazine history, Tina Brown is rightly deemed a legend, reviving Tatler, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, before turning to the web and The Daily Beast (where I worked for her). Her new book is The Palace Papers. We talked journalism, life and royals.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above, or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app. For two clips of my convo with Tina — on Meghan Markle’s epic narcissism, and why women make the best monarchs — head over to our YouTube page.

Having Tina on the pod was the perfect excuse to transcribe our popular episode with Michael Moynihan, who used to work for her at The Daily Beast — which also hosted the Dish for a few years. So we’re all old friends. From the Moynihan chat:

Andrew: I was talking to Tina Brown about this not that long ago, with the great days of the big magazines in the '80s and '90s. Really, when you look back on that time, it was an incredible festival of decadence and clearly over the top before the fall.

Michael: I love Tina. I did a thing — you can look this up — an interview with her, when her Vanity Fair Diaries came out, for The Fifth Column. Just Tina and I sat down and talked for an hour and a half, and it was one of the best things I think we’ve recorded, and got one of the best responses. Because people miss those stories.

Perhaps Bill Kristol should check out the clip with Moynihan on how to change your mind on stuff you get wrong:

A listener looks back to last week’s episode:

Wonderful interview with Douglas Murray, with the two of you riffing off each other with brilliant dialogue. Very warm and affirming as well. I particularly enjoyed your discussion of the religious dimension as one aspect of our present dilemma. I know you would want to provide variety for the Dishcast, but please consider having him on again.

Another fan:

This was the most memorable episode in a long time (although they are all great). Of course, your dialogue was choir-preaching, and so I need to be careful in avoiding confirmation bias. That said, I found Murray’s elegant way of encapsulating the obvious — which I fail to express myself — truly invigorating. I rewound and listened to many parts several times over. I ordered his book today.

Another listener dissents:

I find the armchair psychoanalysis regarding ressentiment — as the organizing principle of what is happening in our culture today — to be one of the least compelling arguments made in the episode.

Why not go ahead and attribute our perpetual unwillingness in the West to recognize what is great about it to Christianity’s concept of original sin? Or maybe read psychoanalytic literature on why an individual or group of people who are objectively improving might hold onto beliefs of the self or society as rotten? These seem just as likely as Nietzsche’s argument.

Ultimately, what a person speculates to be the primary motivator of another person or group reveals a lot. Your speculation that it’s mostly ressentiment suggests you want or need to demonize the CRT crowd. This is tragic given that this is precisely what you and Douglas accuse the CRT crowd of doing. 

Another listener differs:

I don’t agree with everything you and Douglas Murray write, but thank you for talking about the resentment and bitterness that’s driving politics and culture today. It’s gone completely insane. 

I used to work for a small talent agency, and during the pandemic I coached some actors over Zoom. During the George Floyd protests, one of my clients was up watching the news all night, not getting any sleep. I told her, look, you want to be informed and want to help. But you have to take care of yourself first or you’re no help to anyone. Go to bed and catch up on the news tomorrow. People criticized me for this kind of advice, saying I was privileged, that I just wanted to look away and not examine myself for my own inherent racism, etc. I couldn’t understand why people were being so unreasonable.

I’m also a Mormon. After George Floyd was murdered, our ward started to discuss racism. Mormonism has a checkered past when it comes to things like Black men and the priesthood. Or even language in some of the scriptures. These are important conversations that our church needs to have. There were good things that happened, like Black people in the ward shared more about their experiences during meetings. But almost immediately it became weird. The women’s group did a lesson on Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility,” for example. 

We didn’t actually ever talk about the things I was hoping we’d talk about — how Brigham Young stopped Black men receiving the priesthood, for example. We were just told we all needed to acknowledge our white privilege and feel guilty about it. There was a part about redlining. There was no acknowledgment that some of the white people in this ward lived in low-income housing, basically had nothing, and had been stressed even further by the pandemic. It just felt unnecessarily divisive. I have no idea what the Asian members made of this talk, because it basically excluded them. There were so many holes in these theories, but I wasn’t brave enough to point them out.

So it was a real relief to hear you and Murray talk about the way these ideas have infiltrated churches. The Mormon thing is typically like, “God wants you to be happy. Live this structured life, show compassion, work hard, love your family, and be happy.” But the DiAngelo ideas felt like, “you can’t even be saved, at least not if you’re white. Some people don’t deserve to be happy; they should only feel guilt.”

It was easier to bring in a fad book and talk about property values than to talk about the awful passage in the Book of Mormon where it says dark-skinned people are cursed, but other people are “white and delightsome.” I felt like the second the door opened to have a serious conversation about the church and race, they immediately jumped the shark instead.

From a fan of opera and ballet:

Douglas Murray mentioned Jessye Norman and how her obituary was racialized. Well, in January of 1961, Leontyne Price made her Metropolitan Opera debut, and she and Franco Correlli received an ovation that was around 50 minutes long ... possibly the longest in Met history, or among two or three longest. There have been so many great black singers at the Met, such as Shirley Verrett, Kathleen Battle (who was loved by James Levine but whose voice I never liked), Eric Owens, Grace Bumbry, and many others. Here’s a snip of Price’s Met debut:

Balanchine choreographed Agon (music by Stravinsky), arguably his greatest dance, for Diana Adams (white) and Arthur Mitchell (black) in 1957. They danced the pas de deux, which is an erotic tangle of bodies. Balanchine wanted the black/white tension. Here is a bit of it:

And to my beloved Jessye Norman, whom I saw only once, here she is at her best:

Another listener rolls out some poetry:

I greatly enjoyed your conversation with Douglas Murray. He is fierce! Your mention of Clive James’s “The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered” reminded me of a similarly minded poem from Nina Puro. (I suspect one of them inspired the other.) 

I LONG TO HOLD THE POETRY EDITOR’S PENIS IN MY HAND

and tell him personally,
I’m sorry, but I’m going
to have to pass on this.
Though your piece
held my attention through
the first few screenings,
I don’t feel it is a good fit
for me at this time. 
Please know it received
my careful consideration.
I thank you for allowing
me to have a look,
and I wish you
the very best of luck
placing it elsewhere.


Shifting away from the Murray episode, here’s a followup from a intrepid Dishhead:

I was excited to see my letter published on the violent toll homelessness takes on communities recently. I’ll be listening to the podcast with Maia Szalavitz soon, and I’ve got Johann’s book on harm reduction to read as well. (I loved the episode with Johann, bought his new book, loved it, and stopped being so online for about a week before backsliding ...)

Shortly after I wrote that last letter to you, I realized that I wasn’t satisfied with just writing indignant letters about the bloody cost of complacency on homelessness. It’s really the story of Ahn Taylor — a sweet 94-year-old lady stabbed by a homeless man as she was walking in her neighborhood — that made me understand that complaining is not enough.

So I’ve started a non-profit, Unsafe Streets, to take on this challenge. It’s sort of a “Take Back the Night”-style public safety crusade. It’s early days still, but we have a website, including pages for NYC and San Francisco, a Twitter feed, and a crowdfunding campaign. Next on my agenda is to create a page for Los Angeles, a detailed policy platform, and then to recruit a board and apply for 501c3 status.

I’ve been keeping up with the Dish when I can (LOVING the conversation with Jonathan Haidt, and I HIGHLY recommend this complementary Rogan episode.) I’ve been busy with the kids and trying to get Unsafe Streets going in my free minutes.

She follows up:

I just listened to Maia’s episode, and I am pretty unsatisfied with her proposed solutions.

Non-coercive acceptance and decriminalization is fine for people who are using drugs they bought with their own money in the privacy of their home. But public drug use, public intoxication, and the associated “quality of life” crimes (public defecation, indecency, etc.) make public spaces unsafe and uncomfortable for everyone else. Laws against these crimes should be enforced, which means arresting people and taking them to jail or some kind of treatment. Injecting fentanyl and passing out on the sidewalk is a very antisocial and harmful behavior, and should not be “decriminalized.”

I agree with Maia that this is a complicated mix of addiction and severe mental illness. But I don’t think the cost of housing argument holds up. (A brief scan of the news will show you that there in fact ARE homeless encampments in West Virginia.) I think she was unfair in her characterization of Michael Shellenberger’s proposal, which includes tons of resources to expand access to and quality of treatment. Overall, Maia’s perspective is very focused on the benefit to the addict, but discounts the costs to the surrounding community. Thanks for keeping a focus on this subject!

Another listener looks to a potential future guest:

Hello! You invite your readers to submit guest ideas here. I submit Kevin D. Williamson — another nuanced “conservative,” Roman Catholic, Never Trumper, and admirer of Oakeshott. Oh, and he was fired after five minutes at The Atlantic for a previous statement about abortion.

Thanks for the suggestion.


Lastly, because we ran out of room this week in the main Dish for the new VFYW contest photo (otherwise the email version would get cut short), here ya go:

Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!