What Men Don’t Get About Stormy Daniels

On Sunday night at Nowhere Bar, the 60 Minutes watchers were transfixed — not by Stormy Daniels, but by her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who has eyes as blue as glacial ice and a chin that could slice fine cheese. The rugged attorney’s popularity was not necessarily a surprise — Nowhere is an epicenter of gay arts and culture in the East Village — but by the end of the hour Stormy had drummed up plenty of affection of her own, the love partly fueled by her namesake cocktail, a Dark & Stormy–like mix of Jack Daniel’s and ginger beer.

In the subterranean crimson environs of Nowhere — with its advertisements for trans-masculine pool night and RuPaul viewing parties — the biggest frustration was CBS’s spillover of college basketball into the 60 Minutes hour, March Madness infringing on march madness. The room filled slowly between six and seven, with fashionable young men and a few of their female companions, and the general mood was one of eager anticipation. There was to be a dance party afterward, with all DJ proceeds benefiting the Sex Workers Project, which provides legal aid to sex workers and victims of human trafficking. The group Rise and Resist was also taking the opportunity to sell “Impeach” hats. 

“I take seriously the idea that this president thinks the wealthy are above the law,” said Emily, 36. “And also, this is really entertaining.”

Her friend Mike, 39, in a purple tee and salt-and-pepper stubble, sipping on a Stormy Daniels, added: “To oppose Trump, you just have to have no shame at all.”

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When Anderson Cooper came on, to the familiar tick-tick-tick of the venerable news show’s theme, there was a purr of appreciation. Cooper seemed far less comfortable facing a self-possessed porn star in an ill-fitting button-down shirt than he does standing handsomely in disaster zones — I felt a twinge of regret that the great Lesley Stahl hadn’t been summoned to this task — but Stormy managed a few great lines, despite him.

Describing her brief courtship with the Donald, Daniels said she was unimpressed by his legendary self-regard. “Like, I was, ‘Does, just, you know, talking about yourself normally work?’ ” Stormy said she told Trump, during their getting-to-know-you dinner. “I don’t think anyone’s ever spoken to him like that, especially, you know, a young woman who looked like me.”

At that, the bar erupted into cheers, and her narrative of spanking Trump with a magazine bearing his own face was greeted with similar enthusiasm. It seemed clear that Stormy was putting a new face to sex work for America: a spiky, thoughtful, unabashed one, demanding to be the subject, not the object, of her narrative. A thrum of pained recognition played over the faces of the few women in the crowd when Daniels described her initial encounter with Trump:

“I realized exactly what I’d gotten myself into. And I was like, ‘Ugh, here we go.’ And I just felt like maybe, it was sort of, I had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone’s room alone, and I just heard the voice in my head, ‘Well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this.’ ”

It was all very 2018: very Cat Person, very’s Aziz Ansari exposé, very of the moment, one in which so many women have come to terms with the sexual encounters they have had in which their own enthusiasm never surfaced, because it was never required. And this was a sex worker speaking — a figure to whom subjectivity and desire is rarely attributed in American culture, and this, in and of itself, seemed like a quietly radical moment.

When Daniels revealed that, in 2011, a thug had threatened her as she toted her new baby to a workout class — explicitly citing Trump’s name — an uncharacteristic hush fell over the raucous, queer crowd.

As in Stormy’s striptease act, which I wrote about for this publication, little about her initial sexual encounter with Trump was left to the imagination — but what was omitted was the crucial element: Did she have documentation? She was coy about it in the interview, to groans from the gathered barflies, even as her wit, and her genuine grievance with the powerful men she had challenged, came vividly to the surface.

But overall, Cooper seemed more bent on challenging Daniels’s credibility than Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s, despite the undoubted seediness and general strangeness of the latter’s actions. The infamous $130,000 payment was discussed at length, as was the oddity of Cohen’s personal provision of the funds. A helpful campaign-finance expert explained, with a straight face, that it was not standard practice for attorneys to pay six figures in hush money on behalf of their clients, let alone, as the White House’s story goes, without any coordination between attorney and client. The serious underpinning of the Stormy Daniels affair, the segment’s framing seemed to indicate, was about potential campaign-finance violations; the sex itself, the subsequent silencing, was ancillary.

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Frustrating as this was, I floated, for a time, on a vodka-and-pineapple-juice sea, into the joyous, dancing crowd — and then out again into the frigid New York night. I stopped by Papaya Dog to have a snack sanctioned by Stormy, who had suggested “tacos and mini corn dogs” as viewing-night refreshments. (I had to make do with a regular-sized corn dog, as tiny ones weren’t readily available.)

It was only when I got home, and started reading the takes male pundits had put forth blithely into the world, that I started wanting to stab someone in the eye with a sharpened pigeon femur.

The requisite reaction for the self-identified enlightened individual, it seemed, was ennui. Oh, a woman is being sued in federal court for $20 million by a sitting president for speaking about an affair he claims never happened? Ho-hum. La-di-da.

To be clear, I’m not particularly *interested* in any aspects of the Stormy Daniels story,” tweeted Matt Yglesias of Vox, as if prurience were an indulgence of the unintelligent. The story, he continued, is about “serious violations of campaign finance law!”

“Everybody who’s interested in the Stormy Daniels story is interested in it for the sex/gossip,” opined Nate Silver, who would presumably prefer we all focused on statehouse gerrymandering in Idaho.

“Buzz kill warning….just read entire 60 minutes transcript. Kinda non-plussed by it all. Feel like there are no surprises, nothing new here. Think I will watch basketball,” wrote Michael Smerconish, right-leaning radio commentator on SiriusXM.

After reading tweet after tweet, I began to feel I was levitating out of my body, borne up on an electric surge of pure feminist rage. What had they watched? What had they seen? Were they really incapable of imagining a world in which not everyone had read Stormy Daniels’s 2011 In Touch interview (or, more likely, a summary of it in the Washington Post)? In a year ushered in by the Harvey Weinstein revelations, had they learned nothing about the abusive, coercive power of the NDA? Were they really “meh” about a sixty-year-old man comparing a twenty-seven-year-old female sex partner to his own daughter — a claim echoed by another sex worker–turned-mistress on CNN last week? Were they really so blasé about a president’s emissaries issuing mobster threats to babies?

If these pundits were to be heeded, the cult of unshockability — the pose of permanent, dry unsurprise — had reached such a parodic nadir that one was not permitted to react with feeling to a smart, witty woman risking bankruptcy to speak out about being physically threatened and legally intimidated by a president and his cronies. That would be gauche.

At the end of the day, this scandal — like so many Trump scandals — is about the abuse of power. A man who was an intimate of Roy Cohn and who dealt extensively in concrete in the 1980s might be expected to have a more-than-glancing familiarity with mob intimidation tactics; that he might have used them on a woman he’d had sex with is still shocking. That he is suing her in federal court (again, to suppress an affair he claims never happened) is abusive in another way entirely. A rich man’s resources are his power; a woman’s words are hers, and as Nowhere’s event description put it, “Stormy Daniels is outmaneuvering what’s-his-name at every turn.”


The Harpy is a new column in which Talia Lavin examines the interplay between politics and pop culture in America.


Mike Wallace, Deceased, Leaves Behind This Commercial for Golden Fluffo

Renowned 60 Minutes cast member and respected journalist Mike Wallace passed away this past Saturday at the age of 93, after over 50 years as a TV journalist.

Though TV journalism is now a respected career and one much sought-after among college communications majors, if we look back into the profession’s remote past (say, the ’50s and ’60s) we find that not only did journalists have to ferret out the hard-hitting stories — they also were required to act as shills.

Such is the case with Wallace in 1955, when he had to (or maybe chose to) flog a long-forgotten product with the hilarious name of Golden Fluffo. This Crisco cognate doubtlessly was dripping with trans fats, which means it much have made one hell of a light pie crust. As with his colleagues, Wallace also shilled for cigarettes. In retrospect, it was a blot on his career, but at the time, perfectly acceptable by journalistic canons. Or maybe not.



When Conan O’Brien was recently interviewed on 60 Minutes, the now-bearded redhead took the high road and didn’t talk any shit about king douchebag Jay Leno. We’re expecting tonight’s Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour stop, his first New York appearance since he left for L.A, to be a little more truthful on the matter. O’Brien, being the Irish fighter that he is, is hitting the pavement hard on this grassroots campaign to rally for his TBS late-night debut, and tonight’s show should have lots of tears, lots of laughs, and, of course, lots of special guests. A life without Coco isn’t worth living.

Tue., June 1, 8 p.m.; Wed., June 2, 8 p.m., 2010



Mike Birbiglia established himself as a storyteller nonpareil in his Off-Broadway hit Sleepwalk With Me, a monologue based on his real-life somnambulant experiences—such as the time he threw himself out of a second-story hotel window. Ouch. Tonight, he retires the sleepwalking tales (which he’s currently turning into a screenplay) for 60 Minutes of New Stories. Judging from his recent blog entries on his My Secret Public Journal (at, these stories might include the time he joined a women’s exercise class, his troubles with his apartment building’s elevator, and his fondness for the Cheesecake Factory.

Mon., May 10, 8 p.m.; Tue., May 11, 8 p.m., 2010


Dinner With the President: A Nation’s Journey

A few minutes into Dinner With the President, co-director Sabiha Sumar shows her friends gathering for a dinner party, which, she explains in voiceover, is something they regularly do to hash out the issues of the day. Specifically, the gathering is for “we, the liberals of Pakistan,” she ominously intones. Does the world really need more progressive sermons from the dinner table? To her credit, Sumar goes out and gets enough footage for a decent portrait of Pakistan under (now-ex) President Pervez Musharraf. If her titular interview is less than revelatory, she fortunately uses Musharraf’s sound bites only as talking points to structure her footage (though there’s enough banal reaction shots of a pensive Sumar to qualify as a 60 Minutes parody). The film’s gutsiest segment has Sumar traveling to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, with no scarf on her head, to interview (and eventually just hector) conservative mullahs over the Taliban’s treatment of women. Funnier still is footage of a yuppie beach party, complete with an Ibiza-ready DJ. Still, for all of Sumar’s hard work and interesting footage, Dinner With the President is a mess, alternating interviews and Sumar’s token progressive sentiments before carelessly using the assassination of Benazir Bhutto for a queasy, drawn-out climax.


How the War Looks

It’s a journalist’s job to accurately describe how things look, and that job is especially difficult in wartime. The first step is to gather eyewitness accounts and documentary evidence, but then comes the truly daunting challenge: deciding that the public deserves to know the gory truth.

In the last few weeks, a growing number of U.S. media outlets have shown both reporting skills and conscience by distributing disturbing images of war. The images range from photos of U.S. soldiers in coffins obtained by, to the saga of a soldier losing his leg in Doonesbury, to the photos of Iraqis being tortured by U.S. soldiers that 60 Minutes II broadcast last night. None of the pictures are beautiful and all of them hurt. Predictably, the release of so many negative images of war has spawned a backlash of attempted censorship.

But as the U.S. prepares to mount an all-out attack on Fallujah, the need for uncensored war imagery has never been more compelling. When the marines attacked Fallujah in early April, Iraqi hospital officials estimated upwards of 600 civilian casualties. But military officials called the estimates “highly exaggerated,” and the story was buried. Another round of civilian casualties in Fallujah is inevitable, and American voters need to see those dead bodies.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is doing everything it can to cover them up. Was it a coincidence that Colin Powell went to Qatar this week to protest war coverage by Al Jazeera—including the civilian casualties? It’s unclear what things look like in Fallujah now—Bush says “mostly normal.” But over the next few weeks, U.S. media executives will likely get another chance to decide: Does the public deserve bland reassurances, or pictures of dead children? Sometimes the truth hurts.


Mike Wallace, the Redeemer

On March 28, the 16.7 million viewers of CBS’s 60 Minutes saw Mike Wallace engage in one of the most valuable acts of journalism. Too often, the multiplex media circulate character assassinations from politicians and other reckless sources without doing their own investigating to get the facts straight. Other journalists can be the last resort for the victims of the calumnies.

In his report, “Judge Charles Pickering,” Mike Wallace clearly set the record straight on this maligned judge. He and others on 60 Minutes have done this before—a reason the program has such a large audience. People dig fairness.

For two years, this Mississippi federal district judge, a Republican, nominated by the president to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, has been charged with “glaring racial insensitivity” (a Charles Schumer rant). If Pickering could get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, he’d be confirmed, but he’s been filibustered by the Democrats.

Leading these attacks are Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee—particularly Schumer, whose insistent contempt for the facts of Pickering’s record, on and off the bench, reminds me of the temperament, though not the politics, of Joe McCarthy. Also vilifying Pickering have been national leaders of the NAACP and such summer soldiers of due process in judicial nominations as People for the American Way and the Alliance for Justice.

With very few exceptions, newspapers around the country, and most of broadcast and cable television, have routinely passed along these charges. The most egregious offenders have been the editorial writers of The New York Times.

When George W. Bush put Pickering on the Fifth Circuit with a temporary recess appointment on January 16, the next day, the Times once again wrote of Pickering’s “skepticism toward cases involving civil rights” and—as it often has—focused on Pickering’s having urged federal prosecutors to demand a lesser prison term, despite hate crime sentencing guidelines, in the “case of a man convicted of burning a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple.”

As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution emphasized, Pickering’s “judicial reputation hangs almost entirely on [this] one explosive case.” And that’s because the media have ignored the rest of this judge’s judicial record—and why he acted the way he did, in the interests of justice, in the cross-burning case.

Last year, I wrote four columns in the Voice on the ordeal of Judge Pickering (February 18, October 28, November 4, November 11), as well as pieces for Editor & Publisher and the United Media syndicate (my column there reaches about 250 papers around the country).

Included in those articles were direct quotes from New York Times reporters David Firestone and Neil Lewis, who went to Mississippi and found direct evidence refuting the Times editorial writers’ pernicious misinformation about the judge. The Times editorials entirely ignored what the paper’s own reporters had discovered.

So has the Times‘ semi-public editor (or ombudsman), Daniel Okrent. I say semi-public editor because if you telephone him, as I did twice on this story, you hear that you are likely to get a quicker response if you e-mail him. Otherwise, “Please limit your comments to 30 seconds.”

I expect there may be a few hundred thousand New Yorkers, and more around the country, who do not have access to e-mail, and could find it difficult to compress their complaints into 30 seconds. The ombudsman has not returned my calls. Nor has Gail Collins, who is in charge of the editorial board. More democratic than Okrent, her office does not have a 30-second cutoff.

Mike Wallace, despite the Times editorials and the conventional media wisdom about Pickering, went to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to question Judge Pickering and a number of black Mississippians who have followed—and some who have experienced—the judge’s record through the years.

Until Wallace’s report appeared on 60 Minutes, I thought my attempt to get the story right was one of my losing causes. As one of my mentors in this business, I.F. (Izzy) Stone, told me, “You’re going to lose most of those. But why are you there if you don’t try?”

As part of his extensive research, Mike Wallace told me, he had read my Voice columns. Next week: what Mike turned up. But first, this exchange during 60 Minutes between Clarence Magee, who heads the NAACP in Hattiesburg, and Charles Evers, brother of the murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Evers: “You know that Charles Pickering is a man [who] helped us break the Ku Klux Klan?”

Magee said he didn’t know that.

Evers: “I know that. Do you know about the young black man that was accused of robbing the young white woman [at knifepoint, when Pickering was a defense trial lawyer]? So Charles Pickering took the case. [It] came to trial, and [Pickering] won the case, and the young man became free.”

Magee didn’t know that either.

Evers: “But did you also know that Charles Pickering is the man who helped integrate [the] churches [in his hometown]?”

Again, the answer was no.

Evers: “Well, you don’t know a thing about Charles Pickering.”

Neither does Ted Kennedy, who said of Pickering’s recent appointment, “[It’s] an insult to every African American.”

Next week: The cross-burning case.


I, Vermin From Under Rock

The phone rang promptly at 8 a.m. A colleague in Alexandria was on the line. “The RNC is sending one of your columns to everyone,” he said. There was some concern for me in his voice.

The date was Monday, March 22. Thanks to the Web and, I was about to begin my week-long career as an unwitting hit man for the right.

At first, my friend’s alarm seemed misplaced. So what, I thought. I’ve written lots of columns. The one he was referring to had focused on Richard Clarke, back in February 2003, more than a year ago. It had nothing to do with Clarke’s new book, Against All Enemies, or his fresh testimony on Capitol Hill about the Bush administration’s alleged absence of diligence in the war on terrorism.

What if a few copies of an old article were mailed around? It’s a free country.

Big mistake to disregard the amplifying power of the Net. As soon as I logged on, I noticed my inbox had overflowed with messages carrying the column’s headline: “Richard Clarke’s Legacy of Miscalculation.” As quickly as I moved them to a separate folder, more flooded in.

All this for a column with a main thrust of good riddance, penned after Clarke stepped down from his White House post. I’d written many columns about Clarke since 1998, all uniformly scornful and critical of his obsession with cyberterror. He bequeathed the nation a haystack of quotes leading idiots to believe terrorists were going to devastate us through computer networks. That, and a claim that the Freedom of Information Act was a legal impediment to the sharing of information, in need of an alteration to fix it.

No one had been particularly interested in what I’d written back then. Just mentioning anything having to do with Richard Clarke was generally enough, I found, to make the head of the average person nod with boredom.

However, the first sentence of this particular column proved to be a time bomb: “The retirement of Richard Clarke is appropriate to the reality of the war on terror.” That was what got me in trouble. Honeyed dung it was, or became, to clouds of flies on the right, buzzing mad to find a couple quarts of offal to throw on the man after the calumny of his 60 Minutes spotlight.

Late Sunday evening Bush supporters had found it through Google and started uploading to Usenet political chat groups. Soundly sleeping in Southern California, I’d been sent out as a Republican political assassin.

The Drudge Report had indeed linked to it, and the RNC had been very busy. By Monday afternoon, Rush Limbaugh had jumped on board, saying, “[T]his explains it.” Great—I had penned the Rosetta of Richard Clarke’s disgruntlement. Publishing a large excerpt on his “Essential Stack of Stuff” page, Limbaugh opined, “Maybe [Clarke] started singing this cyber song to the Bush administration, and they said, ‘This guy is a nut’ . . . He’s a discredited old guy and so now he’s trying to recapture his credit and credibility where all discredited old Democrats go . . . ” also linked to it in a piece entitled “The Clarke Kerfuffle.”

And so the e-mail poured in, reaching out to touch me, driving home the stupidity and malevolence of the American political climate at the speed of the electrons.

“I doubt that the art of thinking can be taught at all,” wrote H.L. Mencken in 1926 in “The Fringes of Lovely Letters.” Most Americans “are just as incapable of logical thought as they are incapable of jumping over the moon.”

Confirmation, H.L., is waiting on my desktop. From both sides of the political spectrum, the missives of my fellow citizens showed no grasp of the fact that my column was written over 12 months ago. Obviously, it had been done immediately upon the occasion of Richard Clarke’s revelations, just to screw him!

Attention, my ninny countrymen! It is often good to read things like . . . the date.

As a consequence of their aphasia, it was clear I was obviously a Bush administration fixer—”vermin . . . coming out from under . . . rocks to smear [Clarke].” Or, if you stood on the other ridge, I was an honest fellow, laboring to get the real story past the spinmonger Lesley Stahl and the perfidious 60 Minutes.

The anger was instantly gripping. A prime ingredient was the rage foaming, apparently, from Democrats, who avidly read Drudge so as to be able to intimidate and beat to death troublemakers. They were so over-the-top, it was funny enough to reduce one to tetany. It’s certainly a misconception that Democrats are eloquent, sophisticated, sensitive, and therefore beyond the knavish dirt commonly attributed to the “right-wing attack dog.” Last week, I found no difference between the two.

“It is obvious that a man who has a sense of patriotism”—Clarke, my dear correspondent meant—”is being attacked by an ass, and a fop. You are another example of Total [sic] lies the likes of which the press has not seen since the days of Goebels [sic]. Do the country a favor, and kill yourself.”

Buried way at the bottom of the stack of mail was part of the explanation for some of this acid.

“I hope you didn’t mind the Drudge Report notoriety your article is now receiving. I was so distraught with the ’60 Minutes’ piece on Richard Clarke that I passed your article onto Drudge, and you’re now published on his huge web page,” wrote a stranger late Sunday night. I do believe the man meant well.

At this point I should mention that I’m a registered Democrat. In fact, it was also over a year ago when I was called a leftist puke for insinuating, in the Voice, that the Pentagon’s jumping minefield project was rotten and that “shock and awe” was the creation of a numskull, among other pieces unfriendly to the national joy that sprang from marching across the border of Iraq.

Nevertheless, through the blaze of interest ignited by Drudge and Limbaugh, “Richard Clarke’s legacy of miscalculation” was either linked to or republished hundreds of times across the blogs of the right. The effect was that of a Google bomb, a stunt of technology that put the column in second place for searches of “Richard Clarke.” In other words, if Richard Clarke had been an entry in Webster’s, “legacy of miscalculation” would have been the second definition.

“Just saw the plug by Rush . . . Congrats!” wrote a professional acquaintance with dry humor. “It is a shame, though, that your piece should be placed in the service of evil.”

Throughout Monday and Tuesday right-wing talk radio wanted me. Fox television was interested and some fellow named “Beowulf” from the Michael Savage show desired a call so listeners could “hear [my] take on this important issue.”

Around midday Monday, before grokking that it was smarter to clam up and hide rather than risk public speaking, I did a brief interview with a Pittsburgh radio station. The show’s assistant called and I told her the column had been written a year ago. “Uh, what? Oh, I see, yeah,” she said, breaking into nervous laughter.

The spot lasted about three minutes. All I had to do was mention words like “cyberattack” and “electronic infrastructure” instead of “disgruntled turncoat” and “clueless, out-of-the-loop, Demo-collaborator.” Cut to a commercial.

There was no nuance—or recognition of anything other than good or wicked—anywhere. I was supposedly the proper expert arrived just in the nick of time, someone who took Richard Clarke “to task for having the audacity to write a book critical of the President’s anti-terrorism efforts.” Or I was a GOP mouthpiece, a “loyal shameless Bush Apologist and Academic Hit Man.” Reality didn’t fit what the howling mobs wanted.

What is true is that no one cursing or cheering Richard Clarke now cared a whit about him until Sunday night two weeks ago. And he was no stranger to 60 Minutes either, warning of terror in April 2000: “What if one morning we’re told by the drug cartel in Colombia, ‘Either the United States pulls out of Colombia, either the United States stops killing the cocaine plants, or else there’ll be [a cyberattack] on Houston’?”

But maybe I am all screwed up and the people writing me weren’t taunting proof of the hegemony of the American boob. Maybe Richard Clarke is (I challenge you to say this with a straight face while looking into a mirror) a “folk hero” or part of the “revenge of democracy” said to be coming to the Bush administration.

I would be willing to bet, though, that if the Dems, of which I am one—remember—won’t fight their own battles and keep thinking that career apparatchiks bearing tattlers will win the election, they’ll be thrown to statistics and the devil when it finally arrives.


Who Made Bob Kerrey Do It?

I would not call it a war crime. To describe it as an atrocity, I would say, is pretty close to being right, because that’s how it felt. —Bob Kerrey, CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes II: “Memories of a Massacre,” May 1

Soon after The New York Times Magazine and 60 Minutes II focused on the sharply dissonant stories of what happened in the Vietnamese village of Thanh Phong on a dark night in 1969, there were pickets outside New School University—Robert Kerrey, president—on West 12th Street.

They were from the Internationalist Group, part of the League for the Fourth international—in short, Trotskyites. Amid the shouts, they distributed a flyer with the headline:

“Drive Out War Criminal Bob Kerrey! He Should Be Brought to Justice by a Court of His Surviving Victims in Ho Chi Minh City!”

But now, the pickets gone, Kerrey is off the front pages, as well as the inside ones, and his name is seldom heard on talk radio or television.

In a May 3 article in the Lincoln, Nebraska, Journal Star, which used to be the former senator’s hometown newspaper, Kerrey was described as “relaxed . . . The public’s fixation on that night in Thanh Phong could be over, he said. . . . ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Kerrey added.

It does indeed look as if there will be no official investigation of the charge made by one of the seven members of Kerrey’s Raiders that night, Gerhard Klann. On 60 Minutes II and in the April 29 New York Times Magazine, Klann said that at Kerrey’s direction, 15 or so young children, including a baby, were herded together and, at close range, shot to death.

“We just basically slaughtered those people,” Klann said. After the fusillade, the baby was still crying. Says Klann: “The baby was shot to death like the rest of them.”

Kerrey denies Klann’s account. He says they were in a free-fire zone on a moonless night. The seven Navy SEALs were fired upon and returned fire in the dark. Only when they went into the village did Kerrey and others see the corpses. (U.S. Naval Observatory records say the moon was 60 percent visible until an hour after the killings.)

According to Gerhard Klann, “Kerrey kneeled on an old man’s chest and slashed his throat.”

The worst may be over for Kerrey so far as most of the media is concerned. But questions remain. Columnist Michael Kelly (New York Post, May 2): “Why, as Kerrey admits, were the corpses all found huddled in a group in the middle of the village, in a manner suggestive of an execution, and very hard to explain under Kerrey’s version?” (The May 5 Economist asks the same question.)

As soon as the story broke, three United States senators who had served in Vietnam—John Kerry, Max Cleland, and Chuck Hagel—said of their former colleague:

“Many people have been forced to do things in war they are deeply ashamed of later. Yet for our country to blame the warrior instead of the war is among the worst, and regrettably, most frequent mistakes we as a country can make.”

This resolution—if not total absolution—appears to be the consensus of the majority of those, in and out of public life, who have spoken about that night in Thanh Phong. Robert Mann, who has written about the Vietnam War, summed it up in the April 30 New York Times:

“Let us not forget that official decisions made in Washington—in the White House and in Congress—resulted in the needless death of millions.”

Even at New York’s War Resisters League, the nation’s most persistently active group of pacifists, this was the core reaction, as Felicia Lee reported in the May 6 New York Times: “With Kerrey, we are blaming the victim again. . . . He was doing what tons and tons of people were doing.”

A.J. Muste—the radical pacifist who turned Martin Luther King on to direct-action pacifism and was a key strategist in the antiwar and civil rights movements—would have agreed with that analysis. But he would have gone deeper, as I think the War Resisters League knows.

In my biography of A.J., Peace Agitator, I quote Muste—who has had an abiding influence on my life—as saying more than once that each of us must understand that “this naked human being is the one real thing in the face of the mechanics and mechanized institutions of our age.” And A.J. cites the antiestablishment political scientist C. Wright Mills as requiring “the resolution of one human being to take his own fate into his own hands.”

(See also Christopher Hitchens, “Leave No Child Behind?” The Nation, May 28.)

In all the commentary about Kerrey’s anguish about the atrocity—and the original sin of those in the White House and Congress who were fundamentally responsible for all the killings in Vietnam—one voice stood out. Patricia Sette’s letter in the April 30 New York Times:

“Everyone, including Mr. Kerrey, seems to think that this story is about him. It’s almost as if those who were killed have become mere stage props in some morality play instead of real human beings who suffered a terrifying and undeserved death. No matter what degree of understanding Bob Kerrey deserves, it is the victims who are at the center of this story.”

On 60 Minutes II, Kerrey would not call the terrifying deaths of those victims a war crime. Had there been any survivors, would that distinction have made a difference to them?

And as Michael Kelly asks: If Kerrey’s version—that Kerrey’s Raiders just returned fire—is true, “Why did they all die? Why did none survive with only wounds?”

What of the baby who was still crying and had to be terminated with extreme prejudice? To be continued.


Miss Understood

Sarah Vowell is the young liberal professional’s answer to Andy Rooney. The difference is that while the 60 Minutes codger drives you to reach for the clicker, Vowell’s distinct, high-pitched grade-school voice—familiar to many from NPR’s This American Life—soon softens in your ear.

In Take the Cannoli, which includes 16 essays culled from her radio commentary as well as from GQ and Salon, Vowell explores acceptance and withdrawal in society. She drives along the “Trail of Tears” to search for her Cherokee roots; she comes to terms with her father’s fascination with guns; she seeks out advice on how to conquer sleep deprivation; and she pays homage to Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

Vowell herself can be cranky and a bit of an elitist. In “Music Lessons,” she disdains her high school classmates, especially Jon Wilson, a popular, friendly kid who writes Lionel Richie-inspired songs and performs them on the piano to swooning girls. As an antidote to the sap, Vowell—a member of the band and orchestra—composes a piece inspired by her own hero, Philip Glass. Taking Glass one step further, Vowell reasons, “Why waste all that time developing an idea over an extended period of time when you could encapsulate the entire concept in one big, loud, twelve-second piece!”

Later in life, Vowell subjects herself—for the sole reason that it will annoy her—to “five whole days cooped up attending guitar workshops taught by moldy rock big shots” in Miami. She sits through a class with rock and roll wannabes listening to Rick Derringer (“Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo”) give instructions on how to clean a guitar; and she attends a lecture by Mike Love (Beach Boys), who drones on about the time he told Paul McCartney how to include better songs on his records. But as much as Vowell wants to rag on her classmates, who are mostly white, middle-class men, she finds herself unable to for the single fact that “they were so gosh darn nice.”

Elsewhere, Vowell turns her gaze inward and frankly assesses society’s appraisal of her. When the Glass-ophile retreats to her soundproof room to pound out her composition, she accepts her high school situation: “I was convinced that real artists were the kind that nobody understood, much less liked, which was pretty reassuring since nobody liked me. Or my music.” In the end, the woman who’s “stuck with this round, sweetie-pie face” endears.