When employers want a “rock star” as written in the want ad, do they want a virtuoso employee or a coked-up, hotel-room-trashing prima donna? Likely the former, though employers themselves aren’t sure. More to the point, when Rare posts a job listing for an “experienced” political reporter who’s “less Paula Zahn, more Zoe Barnes,” what are the editors asking for? Anyone who watched the first season of Netflix’s political potboiler House of Cards knew Kate Mara’s print reporter Zoe Barnes as, yes, scoop machine. But she was also a vindictive walking liability who clashed with her bosses, chased her career above truth, and gave new meaning to “in bed with her sources.” (By having sex with them, you see.)
Maybe we should take the ad at face value. After all, what’s the worst that could happen if you, in fact, put one of your most high-profile beats in the hands of someone who will do anything to get a story? Anything, including the bonking of Kevin Spacey’s ruthless Congressman-on-the-rise Frank Underwood?
Showrunner Beau Willimon has said plainly Zoe’s story was not “the story of a noble, ethical journalist” but “of youthful ambition.” If the show were better written she would be compelling, but in House of Cards that just means she leverages her body to get on the front page. In Slate, Alyssa Rosenberg called Barnes’ characterization, “grotesquely insulting to the women who do serious policy and political reporting in Washington every day.” Yes, the show is essentially a middlebrow soap opera for people who can’t figure out how to stream The West Wing, but c’mon. Paula Zahn can’t be that bad, can she?
Editors seeking a Zoe Barnes type should remember what the total package includes:
- A reporter who tweets unflattering highlights from your private, professional conversations. Because today you don’t speak to one person, you speak to A THOUSAND.
- A journalist who once was told “I used to suck, screw, and jerk anything that moved just to get a story” and took it as legit career advice.
- Someone who will blow you a kiss on live TV as a substitute for a middle finger.
- A “rock star” who will “print anything” to coddle her coveted source.
- And do everything her coveted source wants.
- In bed.
- While her dad is calling.
- And who gets herself killed.
If you do hire a Zoe Barnes, remind her or him not to meet their pissed-off source, one of the most powerful men in government, in a secluded corner of a subway, and accuse him of the murder he recently committed. This you can say for a Zoe Barnes: She’ll never miss deadline.