Over the past four months, Washington Examiner gossip columnist Karen Feld has established herself as a boldfaced name with her column, “The Buzz.” But who is the personality behind the soft-focus ’80s-lookin’ photo that graces her thrice-weekly report?
There are the outlines of her life: The daughter of the Greatest Showman on Earth—late Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey owner Irvin Feld—young Karen turned to journalism, according to one Salon article, “after finding any meaningful role in the company blocked, first by her father, then her brother.”
Using her society connections and her innate charm, Feld worked her way up from Roll Call to the Washington Times to Delta’s in-flight Shuttle Sheet, where she served as Washington editor from 2000 until 2004. She acquired and dated a bevy of powerful Beltway sources, including ex– CIA Director William Webster and Texas Congressman ”Good Time Charlie” Wilson. In her own manner, she’s kept the family circus tradition alive by surrounding herself with an entourage of toy poodles, who have inspired some of her greatest work.
These days, she holds court in her Georgetown manse, alternately pounding out columns and changing outfits for parties, where she gets the next day’s scoop. “Gossip to me is gospel,” Feld says. “It’s news before the spin doctors get to it. It’s news before it gets on the front page. It’s the real story.”
That tees up another special dish by the Metcalfe– Wemple Report.
Tongues Wagging About Wagging Tails
When a bunch of folks gather on the patio of top-shelf brasserie Les Halles and belt out “Happy Birthday,” you know the honoree is a big deal. Perhaps a Cabinet secretary. At least a media mogul.
Nope—not enough legs. The May 10 fete marked the second birthday of Campari, the pride-and-joy toy poodle of Washington Examiner gossip columnist Karen Feld. Campari commutes to parties and press events via his own shoulder-bag shuttle, making Feld perhaps the only journalist in town who can take notes while hefting a pooch.
All that loyal sidecarring earned Campari a soiree to remember at Les Halles. The lucky pup got his own birthday card, which depicted him in a Superman outfit soaring above the Capitol. And for victuals? Try a steak-tartare cake.
“This is pretty unique,” commented Dr. Lee Morgan, Campari’s veterinarian.
Feld got hooked on poodles shortly after graduating from college. Her first fur kid, she discloses, was a love offering from a “significant other”: The dog was named Popcorn because it was small and white, and bounced around like a kernel in a hot skillet. Feld has since become a poodle loyalist, founding a dynasty of tiny canines with such duty-free-inspired monikers as Amaretto and Champagne (later redubbed Cristal) and present-day paper-trainers Cappuccino, 13, Biscotti, 7, and the ubiquitous Campari. “They’ve all been food or drink,” says Feld. “You don’t want to sit there and have an animal named after a person. It’s boring!”
The dogs dictate the gossip goddess’s work schedule—she professes to cover only social events that are “pup-friendly”—and are even doing some social networking of their own. If you’re a D.C. power player, chances are your wallet holds not only Feld’s business card but also that of famed “Man About Town” Campari. “The title is on lease” from WTOP’s Bob Madigan, Feld says. Bob, meet your replacement: a scandal-mongering mutt who can catch scoops uttered in ultrasonic frequencies and give us kisses, to boot!
Our source at the Tides Inn in Virginia’s Northern Neck says Campari even accompanies Feld when she submits herself to the magic hands of the house masseur, Patricio Gomez-Foronda. “It goes in with Mommy and lays on her belly,” says our connection. “They both work out great and come out very happy.”
It’s springtime, which means that journalists everywhere are winning awards. And such distinctions spring eternal for Washington Examiner gossip columnist Karen Feld.
And how would we know?
A press release from Karen Feld—how else? In an April 21 communiqué titled “KAREN FELD WINS THREE AWARDS,” Feld reported that Feld had cleaned up at the Capital Press Women awards. For those of you not in the know, Capital Press Women is the local chapter of the National Federation of Press Women, a group founded in 1937 to assist professionals in communications careers.
The marquee distinction for Feld this year came in the feature category, which recognized her piece “My Pets Are My Kids,” which ran in Delta Sky in April 2004.
An excerpt for all you United travelers: “I consider it de rigueur…to trade licks of an ice cream cone with any one of my fur kids….Even when traveling on assignment, I find myself one of the 40 percent of pet owners who, says the [American Kennel Club], call home to talk to their fur kids. I also seek out pet boutiques so I can bring home a special treat, even though they have a nursery with dozens of squeakies and stuffed animals not unlike those I collected as a child. Each has an extensive wardrobe, too, including sweaters, raincoat, boots, sun visor and life jacket for boating.”
Feld also won Capital Press Women’s categories for best Web site and for “Special Articles—Sports and Leisure.”
Feld hasn’t had such a dominating run at the Capital Press Women awards since…well, 2004. That year, writing for various rags, she pulled down six first-place distinctions, including one for another trademark dog story in a Delta in-flight publication. “Saving Amaretto,” which appeared in Delta’s Shuttle Sheet in February 2003, snagged the Capital Press Women feature award, thanks to such Feldian flourishes as “I’m a professional woman with an overscheduled life, but my dogs are my family and take priority over all else. Regardless of time, inconvenience or cost, I persisted in pursuing diagnostic tests until we found the cause of Amaretto’s problem.”
Dogs, first-person writing, and the annual Capital Press Women contest—Feld has found the perfect formula for an award-winning career. In all, she’s snagged 83 Capital Press Women distinctions since 1995—enough to inflate the “Awards” section of her aforementioned award-winning Web site, karenfeld.com, to 14 pages.
The multitalented Feld has demonstrated her skills in print, photography, and even public speaking. In the late ’90s, Feld received a distinction as “Journalist of the Day” from the Newseum. For that occasion, Feld gave a speech titled “Journalist of the Day: Karen Feld.” That speech won her a prize from Capital Press Women. One event, two prizes: Now there’s an entrepreneur!
Feld doesn’t even let a lack of stiff competition stop her. Paula McKenzie, president of Capital Press Women, reports “less than 20 entries” in this year’s competition. Keep in mind that there are more than 70 award categories, spanning everything from “Single Page or Pages Regularly Edited by Entrant—Other Than Lifestyle or Entertainment” to “Juvenile Book.”
That’s a lot of categories for Capital Press Women’s panel of anonymous judges. “We don’t tell the names of people who have helped to be judges,” says McKenzie. Nor does the organization necessarily issue a press release of its own identifying the lucky winners. “Karen…she’s always good to do hers for herself,” says McKenzie.
Checking Once, Checking Twice
Washington Examiner readers know Karen Feld by her quick turnaround—three word-laden “Buzz”es a week—but her friends know her more for her quick feet. Attending a trio of lunches in a single day is no big deal for Feld. Doubling that number for dinner hardly makes this lady perspire. But Feld’s go-go lifestyle begs an important question: How does she make time for all the laborious fact-checking that serious journalism demands?
The gossip maven is holding that secret close to her chest. “I just check stuff out,” she says. “You know, whatever I have to do to make sure ’til I’m satisfied.”
Without flaunting her professionalism around town, Feld has managed to impress her friends with a reputation for accuracy. “She’s not sloppy. If she reports it, count on it,” says D.C. literary agent Muriel Nellis. As Feld points out, she’s endured only one correction in four months as D.C.’s softest-hitting rumormonger. The identity of this correction is currently unclear: Feld says it wasn’t even her correction, but something belonging to another Examiner reporter, whereas the correction we found was for Feld’s bankruptcy story on D.C. bad boy Michael Viner. And as to that correction, well, Feld thinks it deserves a correction: “There was nothing at all wrong with that item,” she says. “Michael is known to be litigious and [Examiner Managing Editor] Nick [Horrock] just got scared.” But still, one’s a low number, and it highlights the trust she’s built with her sources to give her the true story.
Feld’s best source when it comes to the dreary mechanics of spelling is herself. It’s a clever timesaver: If a name sounds familiar, she’ll tend to spell it with the fewest letters possible—say, “Barak Obama” (Sen. Barack Obama), “Walter Loos” (celebrated sports photographer Walter Iooss Jr.), and “Angela Jolie” (world sex fixation Angelina Jolie). If the name’s not in universal currency (NBC producer Scott Foster/ “Forester,” Washington Humane Society officer Adam Parascandola/“Parscandole”), Feld will take her best whack at it. After all, the First Amendment certainly protects the freedom to spell at will, and there are parties to attend.
Feld offers another explanation for the name-mangling. She’s looking at you, Washington Examiner. “They’ve been their fault,” she says. “They’ve got young people at the copy desk.”
Casualties of Creative Spelling
John (Jon) Corzine, New Jersey senator Feb. 8 •Issac (Isaac) Hayes, singer Feb. 10 •Mitch Banwiol (Bainwol), former aide to Sen. Bill Frist Feb. 10 •Marianna (Mariana) Hastings,
Paul Williams’ new bride Feb. 15 and Feb. 16 •Jimminy (Jiminy) Cricket, Disney icon Feb. 16 •Marianne (Mariane) Pearl, wife of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl Feb. 16 •Walter Loos (Iooss Jr.), sports photographer Feb. 18 •Bucca Di (Buca di) Beppo, a chain restaurant March 2 •Osama (Osama’s) Mama coffee beans March 8 •Wendy Reiger (Rieger), WRC-TV anchor March 29 •LeMont (Lamont) Dozier, Grammy Award– winning songwriter April 1 •James Guckhert (Guckert), real name of double-lifed blogger Jeff Gannon April 12 •Angela (Angelina) Jolie, April 13 and
May 20 •Mark Touhey (Tuohey), D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission chair April 15 •Scott Forester (Foster), NBC producer May 3 •Barak (Barack) Obama, Illinois senator May 10 •
Adam Parscandole (Parascandola),
of the Washington Human (Humane) Society’s Humane Law Enforcement Division May 25 •Ann (Anne)
Schroeder, former Washington Post gossip columnist May 25 •Tony (Marc) Barnes, owner of Dream nightclub
On the Wings of
Gossip, Rappin’ Granny Rises Again
Karen Feld may be bosom buds with crooner Paul Anka and have a Maine summer house (“Poodlewood”) with the attendant summer boat (“the Poodlejumper”), but don’t accuse her of being elitist. She reaches out to names that don’t look special, even with boldface treatment.
“Buzz” fan Patsy Grady Abrams, a 71-year-old Silver Spring actress and cabaret singer, is best known for her immortal one-liners, such as the gem she delivered in Chris Rock political film Head of State: “It’s off the hizzle fa’shizzle.” In recent months, however, Abrams’ celluloid career had simmered down into ignoble appearances on America’s Most Wanted as a corpse. And that’s when D.C.’s most fabulous community reporter came in to save the bacon: In her May 10 edition of the Buzz, Feld advertised a cattle call to become spokeswoman for Bethesda’s new Old Homestead Steakhouse. Feld would be a judge at the event, the piece promised, as would her inseparable pup-in-a-purse, Campari.
When Abrams read Feld’s report, she turned to her husband, Earle Abrams. “I said, ‘Oh my god, we know Karen Feld,’” says Abrams, in part through their mutual partying with piano-playing political satirist Mark Russell. So Abrams booked it down to the steakhouse, where Feld and poodle waited at the judge’s table (the latter waiting for a free dinner), and with a stirring reading of “Here’s the beef—the Kobe beef!” Abrams won the contest. And $1,000, which she used to paint her house. “I am queen of the one-liners, I’m here to tell you,” effervesces the jubilant meat mistress. “What’s a one-liner about Karen? She’s a queen, I’ll tell you that.”
This isn’t the first time Feld has been involved in community-service journalism. Remember her whispers about the maybe-homeless woman at the Cleveland Park Starbucks who allegedly spilled coffee on keyboards and snatched wallets? Or the tip on where to find Patricio Gomez-Foronda, the much-sought-after South American masseur? (We remember, and agree, that nobody can “place 54 hot stones to relax end-of-winter muscles like Patricio can.”) Feld truly takes to heart the credo of her paper’s editor, John Wilpers, who says, “I really think newspapers have an obligation to be a part of the community, not apart.” We think the same. Kudos, Karen!
Cast Your Ballot for Professionalism!
Did Shrubya vs. John Kerry get you palpitating? Then prepare to pop the whole bottle of Xanax when Karen Feld takes on upstart Willie Schatz in the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) D.C. Pro Chapter’s presidential election. Feld, the chapter’s vice president, is the natural inheritor of the Pro cape—a fact she weighs with cool ambivalence. “I’ve worked hard for this group,” she says, “and if they want to elect me, great, and if not, I’ll have plenty of extra time.”
Pure Frigidaire stuff there, folks, and we’re wondering if it isn’t a little bit of psych warfare aimed at her competition. (Feld must’ve learned one or two spook tactics while dating ex– CIA Director William Webster.) After all, in Pro presidential elections, there usually isn’t any competition. “This is the first time in my memory that we’ve actually had a race for president,” says current Pro Prez Rose Ann Robertson, who’s leaving her office June 14. “It’s usually, you know, usually just one person.”
But this is the land of democracy, not Red China, a fact that’s evidently dawned on the pols at the SPJ and is no doubt plaguing the sleep patterns of the two candidates. Already the votes are pouring in from the group’s 320 members, with preferences parsed along the usual lines in this unusual contest: chest of war medals, spectacular hair, and fitness to lead.
Feld easily sweeps the field on the first two counts, with a “Journalist of the Day” trophy from the Newseum and a kickass mane that recently spurred New York gossip grand dame Liz Smith to blurt in print that Feld’s one “good-looking redhead.”
We’re no John Zogby, but here’s how we see it: Feld cut her teeth more than 30 years ago as Roll Call’s “Around the Hill” power spotter. She’s cultivated a constellation of sources in the highest echelons of town, bringing us the perennial best from former Congressman “Good Time Charlie” Wilson, National Symphony Orchestra pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch, and Ben Jones, aka Cooter, the scruffy-yet-lovable mechanic on The Dukes of Hazzard. On the other hand, Schatz, whoever he may be, is hobbled by a moniker that invites comparisons to Slick Willie and is running on the platform that he takes accurate notes at chapter meetings.
We don’t see much competition here, but the humble Feld claims she’s hedging her bets. “You’re never a shoo-in,” she says. “That’s why people lose elections.”
(This just in: Schatz won the race, 25 to 18.)
Dare to Compare
Shhh! That’s the policy that Washington Posties advocate when Washington Examiner columnist Karen Feld comes knocking.
“I made the mistake of treating her call as one from a serious journalist. It’s not an error I will repeat,” says Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher.
Me-ow! What has Fisher pushing the DND button?
A blockbuster scoop, that’s what. On Feb. 3, Feld reported that Fisher’s best columns from 2004 would not be included in the Post’s submission packet for the Pulitzer Prizes. The Examiner gossip revealed that the paper’s brass at one point had Fisher’s stuff in the envelope, only to pull it in favor of an entry by Marjorie Williams, a beloved and brilliant Post Op-Ed columnist who died in January.
Fisher gave Feld this zinger of a quote regarding his bumped submissions: “I wouldn’t say ‘yanked.’ ‘Replaced’ is a better word.”
The Metro columnist reports that advancing Williams’ work was an act of professional courtesy. But the ever-skeptical Feld, a veteran of three decades in the news business, chose her own take, describing Fisher as “disappointed.”
Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. also got some play in the Feld column, explaining how editors reached their decision to go with Williams instead of Fisher. But, again, Feld’s skeptical side kicked in. She chided the newspaper chief for his “Post spin,” for reacting “defensively,” and for “trying to justify the decision.”
Feld’s famously long institutional memory helped her identify a frightening, shocking parallel to Williams’ posthumous award grab. Take it straight from her column:
This isn’t the first time The Washington Post has been involved in controversy about a Pulitzer. Remember Janet Cooke, the Post reporter who received the prize for her 1980 series about a young heroin addict named Jimmy? It was learned that she cooked the journalistic books, as well as her own goose, by fabricating the story.
Somehow, Downie doesn’t see the parallels between these two “controversies.”
“Comparing it to Janet Cooke was completely outrageous—not only outrageous but insulting to the memory of Marjorie Williams, as well,” says Downie, who later turned down an interview request from Feld on another topic. “I don’t want to deal with somebody I believe is going to be unfair,” he says.
Well, Feld will simply march on, suggests Examiner Editor in Chief John Wilpers. “She’s a gossip columnist,” he says. “People pick and choose when they talk to them.”
Feats of Clay
At what price journalism? Karen Feld says she’s so busy nowadays gathering “The Buzz” that her second passion, figurative clay sculpture, is suffering. “I’m working on the column and another column and another column,” says the fatigued reporter, who writes from her home office in Georgetown.
Feld’s creative sessions at the Art League in Old Town Alexandria are likewise taking a beating. “I take classes Friday and Saturday,” she says, “when I’m around.” The scribe’s teacher at the League, sculptor Charles Johnson, confides that he’s also noticed an all-consuming busyness in his superstar student. “She’s so darn busy that she has to miss a lot of classes,” Johnson says. “Though when she comes in, she’s a real little fury. She gets right with it, which I really appreciate.”
As art lovers may remember, Feld broke into sculpting about a decade ago, propelled by a fiery impulse to do “something different.” The hobby quickly became a release valve for her high-pressure life—and also, she jokes, a convenient excuse for short fingernails at black-tie events: “You could always blame it on the sculpture.”
Feld’s renderings of people, poodles, and newer-edition people posing with poodles, with their distinctive coatings of wax and shoe polish, have popped up at the Ralls Collection. They’ve also been spotted at high-end shoppes such as the Lucien & Haven Salon, in Glover Park, and Harriet Kassman’s designer boutique in Friendship Heights, earning her a devoted audience of Wisconsin Avenue socialites. “They almost come alive,” says Kassman, whose pup Bastian incidentally shares a bloodline with Feld’s Campari.
But now that Feld’s fingers are fully ensconced in various journalistic pies, with hardly a pinkie left over for the molding of clay, who’s going to carry on her signature line of poodle art? Copycats are already lining up. Johnson says a member of his class recently stumbled upon the dog as motif after observing Feld’s work. “One of them started doing dogs herself as a consequence,” Johnson says. “Not poodles. I think she was gonna do a German shepherd or something.”
Covering the Gray
What around-town journalist has single-handedly expanded the audience of media and sports mogul Philip Anschutz’s splashy new tabloid?
Self-proclaimed “[l]ongtime Washington insider” Karen Feld, that’s who. Feld, 57, writes the Washington Examiner’s “Buzz” column, tapping into the city’s oldest elites and defying the conventional newspapering notions that devalue the 55-to-death demographic. Says Feld: “I’ve been around this town so long, I know these people on a first-name basis.”
The attractive redhead commutes from book parties to dinners to galas with companion dog Campari in search of this town’s movers and shakers.
At a March 1 party in the palatial home of Washington doyenne Esther Coopersmith, Feld showed the shoe-leather reporting she is famous for. One moment, she was listening to ex-boyfriend “Good Time Charlie” Wilson, age 71, discuss his imminent move to Texas, on his doctor’s advice, to extend his life by 10 years. The next, she was sharing a light-hearted exchange with William Sessions, 75, who started serving as FBI director during the Ronald Reagan administration.
These folks go way back with the Examiner columnist. Sessions, for instance, met Feld in the late ’80s, when “she was 13 years old,” jokes the ex-FBI chief. More recently, he attended a shower for one of Feld’s fur kids. What happened at the event? “We won’t go there,” says Sessions.
A fearless scribbler, Feld doesn’t buckle under industrywide pressure to tart up her columns with vacuous young’uns. Just take a look at her columns from the first week of March, when she cited or quoted a wealth of folks who’ve long since tucked away their skateboards—Placido Domingo, Strom Thurmond, Joan Rivers, and so on.
Average age of boldface names in those columns, not counting husbands and wives of luminaries (or Campari): 59.3.
That figure is just a touch north of the “preferred” audience that the Examiner promises to advertisers—namely, wealthy folks between the ages of 25 and 54. Editor in Chief John Wilpers concedes that early on, he might have been concerned that Feld would write only about her AARP-aged contemporaries. “But I’ve gone with her to a couple of things, and it’s amazing who she shakes hands with,” says Wilpers. “She was shaking hands with [a congressman] and a couple of women, and they certainly weren’t even 30.”CP
Additional reporting by Constantine Caloudas.