Diana McLellan died Wednesday. The former gossip columnist for The Washington Star, The Washington Post and The Washington Times was 76. Adam Bernstein’s obituary for McLellan includes a quote from former Star columnist Jack Germond, who said she “did not make a fetish of checking out fully every little nugget that came her way.”
Once, at the Star, she noted a “D. Acheson” on a party guest list and erroneously reported in her column the attendance of statesman Dean Acheson.
In her apology to readers, she wrote that “Ear writhed with anguish to learn that Dean Acheson, whom it had listed among Terrifics whooping it up at a divine party recently, is a teensy bit dead, and has been for ages.”
When she was at the Post, Bernstein writes, McLellan wrote that Jimmy Carter had bugged Blair House, where Ronald Reagan was staying as he prepared to become president. Carter, Bernstein writes, “threatened to sue The Post for libel and demanded a retraction and public apology, which the paper issued after printing an editorial calling the bugging rumor ‘utterly impossible to believe.'”
McLellan worked at the Star with Editor Jim Bellows, who in his terrific 2002 book “The Last Editor” asked McLellan about her accuracy issues.
“Louise [Lague, McLellan’s cowriter of the Star’s “The Ear” column] and I each blamed each other in private, but if you personally wrote it, you had to set it straight,” McLellan told him. “If our victim was inappropriately indignant, we added enough details to our correction so that he wished to God he’d kept his mouth shut.”
Bellows also relayed McLellan’s philosophy regarding the column, which reportedly raised the Star’s circulation by 6 percent its first year:
“Take it easy on the little guys; the biggies can, and will, take care of themselves. And always leave a sprinkling of spice out of a particularly juicy item. It might come in handy later, to season a grovel.”
A “grovel” was what McLellan called a correction.