Best Schizophrenic Columnist

Petula Dvorak, the Washington Post
Flip a coin before launching into a column by the Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak. Heads, she spins a deeply reported yarn about something low-to-the-ground happening around Washington. Tails, her gaze drops to her navel, and the writing focuses on her kids, working at home in close proximity to her kids, or perhaps her dreams of Olympic glory for her kids. I prefer heads, and so does Dvorak, judging from her tortured response to a question about whether her heart’s in the mommy columns. “I think I need encouragement, and my editors encourage me to put myself out there,” she says, amid sighs. Just how hard was it for her to insert herself into the journalism? “On one of my first columns, my editor kicked it back four times before I put ‘I’ in there,” she says. Great things happen when Dvorak steps into the background. In early March, for example, Dvorak penned a column about homeless kids touring the White House. “Look at all that space,” marveled one of the kids, underscoring the contrast that the columnist was after. But Dvorak’s mommy-track columnizing strikes the skeptical Post outsider as coming straight from the paper’s focus-group research, which has prompted an institutional urgency to bring young mothers back into the fold. Not the case, says Dvorak’s editor: “Oh no,” says Postie Lynda Robinson. “If it were focus-group driven, do you think she’d be writing all these columns about the homeless?”