In early September 2010, I saw an announcement that Ambassador Joseph Wilson–whose book The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity, I had edited and published with him in 2004–would be appearing in a September 16 forum at the New York Times Center to mark the 40th anniversary of the NYT‘s Op-Ed page, which would be observed with a special section of the paper on Sunday, September 25. The moderator of this event, Op-Ed page editor at the time David Shipley, had invited Joe because his July 6 2003 op-ed What I Didn’t Find in Africa had been one of the most historically significant columns the newspaper published that decade, leading to the outing of Joe’s wife Valerie Plame as a CIA official and years of Bush administration denials that they had doctored the intelligence that fueled their claims about Iraqi WMDs.
I got a hold of Joe and he invited me to be his guest that evening. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple years, and so met an hour beforehand to catch each other up on our lives, after which we entered the green room just off the stage at the Times Center. There Joe generously introduced me as his editor and publisher to the other panelists–Roy Blount Jr., Garrison Keillor, Anna Deavere Smith, and Nora Ephron. They all seemed genuinely interested in one another, and conversed briefly among themselves before going out on stage. Blount was funny, in a low-key way, Keillor was diffident and the only one who wasn’t talkative, Smith told stories about her one-woman shows, and Ephron was funny and self-deprecating. I went out and talk a seat in the auditorium. Once on stage, Shipley asked each of them to speak about how they came to write their Op-Ed. Ephron spoke about her stint as a White House intern in the 1960s, which she turned into a 2003 Op-Ed. The fascinating program went by in a flash.
Afterward there was a reception, and books signed by each panelist for interested members of the public to purchase. The paperback of The Politics of Truth was on hand and I was proud to see Joe inscribe quite a few copies for eager readers who lined up to meet him. During a lull in the signings, I approached Nora Ephron and thanked for her remarks during the program, when she’d praised the Times columnist Russell Baker, who retired from the paper several years earlier, and who seems to me too little remembered by readers nowadays. This was in response to Shipley, who’d asked her if she particularly recalled any contributors to the Op-Ed pages. She brought up Baker and in praising him conceded that he didn’t qualify since he was a Times staffer, and not a guest contributor, which those who write Op-Eds are by definition. Still, she said, Baker was too special to go unremarked. I had also long admired Baker’s style and told her I was glad she’d mentioned him, whether he qualified or not. A few days later, eager to make a connection with this witty woman, I sent her a letter, a screen shot of which is produced below. I didn’t get a reply, but I hadn’t asked for one, and remain very glad to have simply met her.
With the news yesterday of Nora Ephron’s passing, I recalled meeting her and writing the letter. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to have enjoyed meeting her in person, so I’m glad I can share my recollections in this space. Just before putting up this post, I discovered a ten-minute video from that evening, almost entirely featuring Nora Ephron. Click on this link and look for “Op-Ed at 40: Voices of the Times” to view it: Times Talks with Nora Ephron, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Anna Deavere Smith, Roy Blount Jr., Garrison Keillor