News & Politics

Slamming Sally Quinn

The six details in the Vanity Fair profile guaranteed to set off Washington society sparks

It’s a clearly a hot week for magazine profile-inspired feuds. Rapper M.I.A. tweeted New York Times Magazine writer Lynn Hirschberg’s direct line in the wake of an unflattering cover story. And while the aftermath of the Sally Quinn profile Vanity Fair pushed online today is likely to be conducted on more mature terms, I’d guess that the desire for revenge will be just as great, or greater. There’s no question that the profile is motivated-and sourced-in part by the animus of some of Bradlee and Quinn’s family members. But it’s also a great look at someone who has made the same kinds of mistakes for which she made a career filleting others. Here are the anecdotes most likely to cause Quinn and her husband Ben Bradlee (who provided the kicker quotation, asking author Evgenia Peretz “This is news?") heartburn:

1. Ostentatious Real Estate: Quinn meets with Peretz in “one of the many sitting areas of her stately Georgetown town house.” After writing the column about clashing family weddings that prompted the latest outpouring of vitriol against her, Quinn “she entered the concrete meditation labyrinth her husband had built for her on their country estate in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, to think. When she came out the other side, she was clear. ‘I did exactly the right thing.’”

2. Love and Watergate: Quinn apparently has told rather conflicting stories about whether or not she held off on confessing her love to Bradlee to protect him-and by extension the country-during the Watergate scandal. In the current narrative:

As she tells it, in the middle of Watergate, when the Post feared it was being spied on, she confided to a friend: “I said, ‘I’m just madly in love with Ben Bradlee and I don’t know what to do about it. I feel like I should tell him.’ And he said, ‘No, no, no. You can’t do that or it will be a disaster. You have to put your country first.’"

But a reporter friend tells Peretz that Quinn’s shifted that narrative over time:

A fellow reporter recalls how, a couple of years later, Sally jollily reminisced to another colleague over lunch: "Remember when I was sleeping with Ben and it was before I left for CBS and you said to me, 'Sally, you’ve got to stop sleeping with Ben. The Post is in the middle of Watergate, and if Nixon finds out that Bradlee, a married man, is sleeping with one of his reporters, Nixon’s going to use it against you.’”

3. Usurped Redskins Tickets: To be taken with a grain of salt, since this particular Bradlee son is no fan of his stepmother. But, Peretz writes

It had been one of Dino’s favorite father-son traditions to go to Redskins games; they’d sit in co-owner Edward Bennett Williams’s box, along with lawyer Joe Califano and columnist Art Buchwald. But when Sally came along, that stopped. Although Dino first laid eyes on her at a Redskins game, this time she was in that box next to Bradlee; he was far off in the stands, having been taken to the game by Bradlee’s colleague Geyelin.

4. Overpaying for Real Estate: Apparently, Bradlee and Quinn’s Georgetown house was formerly owned by a profile subject of Quinn’s who hated her so much that she overcharged the couple by $1.3 million for it-in 1983:

The seller was her former subject Vicki Bagley, who had had the house appraised at $1.2 million. She initially refused to consider any offer from Sally Quinn. After hearing from a mutual friend that Sally was frantic about it, she allowed Bradlee to come look—alone—and take pictures … and she jacked up the price to $2.5 million, about $5.4 million in today’s dollars. "You’re not really serious about that $2.5 million," he asked Bagley on his visit. Bagley replied, "Ben, I have never been as serious as I am right now. Sally will never live in this house unless you pay a premium.”

5. The Perhaps Unfairly Salacious Detail: Page Six salivated over the report that after Quinn Bradlee lost his virginity to a prostitute in the Caribbean, his mother dragged him off for an HIV test. I imagine much will be made of this, but given that Peretz also reports that, in addition to his other health problems, Quinn was at risk for HIV exposure from donated blood during an operation, I’d say her concern reads as a legitimate. Sally Quinn probably won’t get a pass on this detail, or any of the rest of them, but she probably should.

6. How I Met Your Mother: One of the weddings that caused so much trouble? It all came to pass because of astrology. And Maureen Dowd:

After an astrologer told Sally that Quinn would benefit from yoga, she had lunch with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who recommended her own teacher, Pary, whose students included David Gregory and Rahm Emanuel. Sally signed Quinn up for six sessions with her. “It was love at first sight,” says Sally. “She’s a magical person. It’s just a miracle.”

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