Famed Vanity Fair correspondent Maureen Orth was among the dozens of high-profile guests at last month’s Middleburg Film Festival, hosted in Virginia’s breathtaking countryside by businesswoman and philanthropist Sheila Johnson. A four-decade media veteran, Orth has profiled personalities from Vladimir Putin and Margaret Thatcher to Karl Lagerfeld and Carla Bruni. After wrapping a 60-minute “Wine and Conversation” program at Boxwood Winery with producer Michael Shamberg (Pulp Fiction, Erin Brockovich, Garden State), Orth took the time to answer several career-reflective questions.
What is the proudest moment — or moments — of your professional life?
It’s not the proudest, but what satisfies me the most is if a really, really hard story that people try to dissuade you from — for example, the Scientology story last summer where I got 40 letters threatening me from the Scientology people … You know, when you go up against all that push and opposition where they throw everything at you, but you still get the story, you still get it published, and nobody challenges it when its in print. That’s when I consider I’ve done my job properly.
Do you have a favorite story you’ve written?
I always get excited about the story I’m working with at the time, just to be able to see if I can make it happen. It’s kind of like going out — like bringing back the big game. I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun doing certain stories. I mean, Karl Lagerfield, the designer, was a whole lot of fun to do because that was Paris and fashion.
Then I was down in Argentina when Carlos Menam was first named president. I got to be down in Argentina doing all this stuff in Spanish.
I think the things I like to do the best is when you’re telling the story about the head of state or the personality, and at the same time you’re telling the story of the country. For example, I did one of the very first profiles of Putin before everything got shut down. And so you’re trying to tell the story of the country at the same time you’re trying to tell the story of the person. It’s multi-dimensional.
What about a favorite word?
“Oh my God.” I go to down to Colombia a lot, and this little girl told me that she met me before, she goes, “you’re the one that always says, ‘Oh my God.’”
When did you fall in love with your late husband, the legendary Tim Russert?
We met at the Democratic Convention in 1980. I was covering the convention, and he was Sen. Daniel Moynahan’s (D-N.Y.) chief of staff. He kept coming up to me and giving me these great quotes. I realized it a long time later that that was a great way to flirt with a reporter.
Trevor Baratko is a writer living in Northern Virginia. He tweets at @wineandwriting.
Photo by Jonah Koch of Kochfoto.