City Desk

Petula Dvorak Plays the Mommy Card

Petula Dvorak thinks Erik Wemple's "criticism of [her] 'mommy track columnizing'" in this week's Best of D.C. issue "illuminates one of the deep cultural rifts of our time."

"I get it if Wemple doesn't want to read about my kids," Dvorak writes. "That's fine. Lots of readers also don't want to hear about homeless teens when I write about them, either."

Dvorak casts Wemple's blurb as an assault on the very act of writing about children.

"The fact is," she writes, "the business of raising humans is an inextricable part of our daily world, whether we're parents or not. And, too often, we shun writing or even talking about it because our workplace culture doesn't want to hear that every coin has two sides. "

I don't think Wemple's point is that she shouldn't write about her kids. His point is she's not that great at it. But you read the item and decide. The Post, of course, doesn't provide a link to the piece she's writing about.

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  • daisy

    eh, i am going to side with dvorak on this one. and i am not her biggest fan, in general. in this case, i don't think wemple's orginal point was all that clear and frankly, i don't either the point he was making or the point she took him to be making was particularly interesting, important or insighful. wemple's original post smacks a wee bit of misogyny (or at leat mommy-hating, which is very de riguer these days) and dvorak was right to call his ass out.

  • Jason Cherkis

    I think the problem is when Dvorak writes about her kids. In one column she wrote about kids in the abuse and neglect system and the worries that they have. Then she juxtaposed that with thoughts on her own kids and their worries. It just seemed really silly.

    I admire both Dvorak and her editor immensely. But could they please stop saying that people don't care to read about homeless issues. It's really lame.

    Writing one column about homeless kids going to the White House doesn't give Dvorak special street cred, or at least, enough of it, to write badly about being a parent.

    Homeless kids going to the White House is not ground breaking or even interesting. It's as cliched a story as WaPo's Christmas-with-the-Homeless story or Some-Nonprofit-Is-Giving-Away-Turkeys story.

    Dvorak should be applauded for writing about CFSA. No one does that. But she shouldn't think Erik's critique had anything to do with a slam on all mommy prose. He was just saying that her mommy prose sucked.

  • Jason Cherkis

    Also, Petula: Quoting from a draft of another reporter's story is really, really uncool. Would you care to send us your rough drafts? I doubt it.

    Using draft quote repeatedly to score cheap points is fucked up. And as lazy as following homeless kids to the White House or writing about moms on their blackberrys.

  • eli

    wasn't this titled "most schizophrenic columnist"?

    you know what i don't like, wemple? your casual and demeaning use of the word schizophrenia. seriously, it's not cute. schizophrenia has nothing to do with this lady and your use paints you as a callous jerk who is exploiting a medical condition for a cheap shot. you should grow up and get a thesaurus.

  • Reid

    I still hold her terrible child abduction paranoia article against her:

    "Across the country, Jaycee's disappearance helped kill stickball games in empty lots, races on banana-seat bikes until dinnertime and expeditions to score five-cent watermelon candies at the convenience store."

    This abduction happened in 1991! It's one thing to use mindless cliches. It's completely another thing when those mindless cliches are utterly anachronistic.

    I was a kid in 1991. Nobody played stickball. Only dorks rode banana-seats. And nobody heard about this unimportant abduction. It did not have any effect "across the country."

    It people like her that keep awful shows like Nancy Grace on the air.

  • Mike Licht

    Ms. Dvorak was a first-rate Metro reporter for many years. Her column explored her own discomfort with first-person commentary, her new assignment. While her reaction to criticism was unfortunate, to berate her over the very dilemma her original column described understandably exasperated her. Mr. Wemple's beef is with the WaPo editors, not Ms. Dvorak.

  • gina arlotto

    I thought quoting from a draft was lame also. How did she get a draft anyway? I personally can't stand it when journalists use their columns to talk about themselves, their families, their books (Dvorcak; John Kelly's column to his wife on her birthday was really over the top; and Jay Mathews who blathers on and on about KIPP, usually hawking his book about KIPP at some point; and let's not forget Sally Quinn's disgusting weekly display). But this is what Post reporters have become, in search of the spotlight for themselves, since they don't appear to want to do any actual legwork to find a story and cover it that doesn't somehow revolve around them.

  • Erik Wemple

    I think the point about schizophrenia was a good one; I screwed that up and apologize for it. Dvorak was right to clobber me on that one in the column. On the question of quoting my draft, I have quite a bit to say about that. I interviewed Dvorak about her column and told her exactly what I planned to write: Namely, that I like the stories where she writes about other people's issues and abhorred those where she writes about her own family. The point of my Best-Of item, and it may well have been poorly articulated, was NOT that I didn't value family-oriented writing. It was just that I didn't value repeated columns about Dvorak's family.

    Anyhow, Dvorak sounded really freaked out about the item; she was worried, she said, about how it'd land and she called herself a general nervous wreck. I told her basically what it would say. Then, I emailed her to tell her that I'd read it to her, all in the interest of full disclosure and getting things right. This is a tradition at City Paper, and one that I was happy to encourage. Our reporters had made a practice of doing it, and that practice furthered the goals of both fairness and factual integrity. Enough soapboxing. So Dvorak wrote back in the email that she was at an event and too busy for me to read her the copy over the phone. From this point, I'll just let the email correspondence take over:

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Erik Wemple []
    Sent: 03/12/2010 10:15 AM EST
    To: Petula Dvorak
    Subject: Got a moment?

    If so, I can read this item to you and possibly settle some nerves. Or perhaps agitate them further! Up to you. I'm at 202-332-2100.

    Reply Forward

    On Fri, Mar 12, 2010 at 2:40 PM, Petula L Dvorak wrote:
    Hey an event-thing. Any chance you can email? Thanks, I really appreciate the advance screening

    Reply |Erik Wemple to Petula
    show details Mar 12

    If you promise not to forward or share.

    Reply |Petula L Dvorak to me
    show details Mar 12

    You have my word

    So there you have it. A Post Metro columnist told me that I have her word. I took that at face value. And then she shared the draft with the entire public.

  • Bird

    Why in the heck was Dvorak a nervous wreck over some silly item that was going to appear in the City Paper? She's a columnist for the Washington Post for God's sake. That's like the head cheerleader being a nervous wreck about what the disaffected Goth girl is writing about her in the bathroom stall.

    Also, what's with her reference to an "Eww" in "an earlier draft" of the piece? Erik, did you really write that or was she confused by the "EW" initials at the end of the item?

  • downtown rez

    There's some good raw drama in this back and forth. I'm almost moved to read the original Dvorak column and Wemple critique.

  • Erik C. Wemple

    Bird: I actually wrote "Eww." Not sure how many "W"s were in there, but yeah, she accurately abridged what I'd written in the draft. Thanks for asking.