I actually met Frank Bruni sort of randomly long before he became The New York Times' restaurant critic. It was near the turn of the century, back when he was White House correspondent.
Having some shared interests, we exchange e-mails every once in awhile.
So when a New York restaurateur whispered to a colleague that word on the street was that Mr. Bruni was hanging up his critic's pen, I opened a new e-mail message and started typing. I offered Frank New Year's greetings and goodwill and then put on my journalist's cap and asked about the rumor.
E-mailing with Frank Bruni is really fun, because he's smart and uses words well. He also pretty much always specifies what's on the record and what isn't. I respect that.
Bruni: "I'll answer your question, but first riddle me this: according to this rumor, why am I leaving my job?"
Isn't that fun?
My colleague had left for lunch, so I did some work and then mentioned the rumor to another colleague who writes about finance and is not particularly interested in the gossip of the dining world.
She asked if it would be big news if Mr. Bruni were leaving his job. I let her know that, in fact, yes, our readers and many other people pay attention to who writes restaurant reviews for The New York Times.
My gossipy colleague came back and shrugged his shoulders, unable to provide any more information about his rumors.
Back to the e-mail:
Me: " I checked with my rumor mongering colleague and I'm afraid his source had no information (or should I say gossip?) other than that."
I then praised Frank on his blog entry on dining solo. People like positive feedback.
Bruni: "Your source in fact has no information, period. Sorry for not 'fessing up to that right away, but I wanted to see if these rumors ever get more specific. I'm not leaving --- at least not in the immediate future. Should I wake up tomorrow morning with a fully written, red-hot, $5 million screenplay -- and this would be truly miraculous, given that said screenplay has not been started --- then, yes, I may well leave my job. While I'm a glutton for Peking duck, I'm not a glutton for constant deadlines. But for the time being, I'm staying put. And you can quote me on that, as on this ---- these rumors reach my desk every few months, and they seem to come in clusters, and it's always mystifying: how they got started, why they regenerate with such regularity."
And there you have it.