There was mary cunningham "alonewith her stomach seething in a room at the waldorf, unplugged from her usual dynamic work day, waiting to find out if her enemies had done her in."
That's the way Gail Sheehy wrote it, and forget for a moment about how you are always alone with your stomach when you are alone and concentrate instead on the way it appeared in both The Washington Post and The Washington Star. There as yet another sentence: "Cunningham was agonizing about her and [William] Agee's future." That's not from Sheehy. The Post made it up.
Suspecting that The Star was lifting the Agee-Cunningham series from The Post, an editor deftly changed a word here and there, improving, as it were, on Gail Sheehy. Coincidentally, the changes appeared in The Star.
Sheehy used the word "fast." The Post changed it to "quickly." So did The Star. Sheehy wrote "move so fast." The Post changed it to "move quite so fast." That's the way it appeared in The Star. Sheehy had Cunningham worrying at the Waldorf. The Post had her agonizing for the same price. The Star agreed, and later when The Post, not Sheehy, thought the agony should end, it ended it: "The agony was coming to an end." That's the way the Star saw it, too.
All this is coincidence, of course. It has nothing to do with a contract dispute with a newspaper syndicate that resulted in both papers claiming they owned the series -- but with only one (The Post) in possession of all the articles.
In fact, I suspect, The Post has substantially rewritten the Cunningham saga and all of it has been copied by The Star. I am here to set the record straight. Mary Cunningham is bald, went to Brandeis, not Wellesley, is not Catholic, but Jewish, and as a result, has never been alone with her stomach. She has always had an internist with her and the feelings she felt was not agony at all, but gas pains. She is what is known as pre-ulcerous.
Only readers of this column know this now. Readers of The Star will continue to think all the wrong things about the Cunningham affair and people will make fun of them at dinner parties when they open their mouths to speak. They will have their facts wrong, accuse her critics of being sexists, refer to her "state of grace," which in the Sheehy version was not that at all. It was State of Maine. These people will be laughed at, hooted , told to leave the table and they will, like all Star readers, feel a certain sence of deprivation for which Betty Beeale is scant compensation.
Readers of The Star will continue to take the Cunningham Saga seriously They will not understand that both Cunningham and Agee were serious readers of "Passages," Sheehy's earlier book that said -- are you ready for this? -- that as you get older you change. (You might want to read that sentence again.) They might think that this sage, this endless crying and throwingupping and mawkish religion and notes across the table is a significant corporate drama -- a "Dallas" about washing machines instead of oil wells. They will, like Cunningham's ex-husband, have what Sheehy calls a painful view of reality -- the realization that The Star thinks this stuff is worth stealing. I recommend a stop order.
Of course, this sort of thing is not unknown in American journalism. The names of ballplayers have been fabricated and inserted in the box scores to see if a rival paper was simply copying the scores rather than going through the expense and trouble of getting their own. You may be interested in knowing that Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown never existed.
At any rate, both newspapers here are performing a public service. With the World Series, and before that, the playoffs, on television, the soaps have been preempted. The Cunningham series has taken their place and even with the Series, people are talking of little else. If it were on television also, It would dominate our lives like "Roots" or "Shogun" and it would be, at the very least, more interesting than the campaign. Sex and power -- not to mention stomach trouble -- always are.
But that is not to be. We have to make do with The Post and The Star. The Montgomery County Journal and the Uptown Citizen have not yet picked up the series. My son has not yet brought it home, mimeographed and barely legible, from school. It has not come in the mail addressed to "occupant." You cannot call a number and have the saga of Mary Cunningham read to you on the phone and it has not yet been adopted as a soap: "Mary Cunningham, Noble Executive."
In the meantime, we'll have to hope that The Post's little changes are substantially what Sheehy wrote, since they're appearing in both papers. The editor of The Star, you can bet, will publish what The Post does. Some people will yell theft and some will even talk about "journalistic ethics" -- a contradiction in terms if there ever was one. It will not be that at all, but something much more innocent: Great editors think alike.