Rudy Giuliani and Roger Ailes: Cold Fusion

“I THINK WE HAD a great week,” Rudy Giuliani’s deputy campaign manager, Ken Caruso, said Satur­day at the official unveiling of the TV ad on Dinkins’s failure to file tax returns 20 years ago. “Jackie Mason went too far, and he was removed from the campaign. But today the issue is taxes…”

A campaign is like a miniseries: It develops the hero’s character slowly until a defining moment broadcasts it in simplified form to everyone. Many voters now think Rudy has the sense of humor of a wet troll, especially after the infamous “fancy schvartze” joke, and that will be hard to shake in the month left before election day. “The question isn’t really how Jack­ie Mason reached such prominence and visibility in Giuliani’s campaign, but how this became the only story in the race,” Republican strategist Jay Severin said the day after Mason’s controversial re­marks forced him to resign. “If Giuliani had been getting out a message a day it would have been different, but all of a sudden this is the only sound in a vacu­um — that signals deficiencies in a cam­paign.

“Mason is more a political story than it seems,” Severin continued. “This is almost a generic model of what happens when you don’t have an agenda. As we say in this business, [the important thing is] not stepping on your own dick.”

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If Giuliani danced the flamenco on his own dick last week, his staff claimed not to notice. In fact, they counterpunched hard, first with an ad in the country’s largest Yiddish newspaper showing Din­kins arm in arm with Jesse Jackson and Rudy chatting with George Bush in a wing chair (reminiscent of Saturday Night Live‘s mock ad, “Vote for Bush­ — He’s whiter”), and then with the taxes spot. All the while, Rudy complained that the press employed a “double standard ” in judging the fairness of the two sides, nagging him while letting Dinkins take “a free ride.”

The Mason flap made Giuliani the fo­cus of media attention for several days, and he took advantage of the opportunity to trot out canned assaults on his “Jesse Jackson Democrat ” opponent. Like the original decision to name an ethnic-insult stand-up comic as campaign mascot, the Giuliani assault suggests a tin ear for the subliminal vibrations of politics — surpris­ing in a campaign guided by the Republi­can master of the unsaid, Roger Ailes, who managed Bush’s nasty ’88 campaign.

That the Giuliani people didn’t pull the Algemeiner Journal ad after Mason stepped in shit may speak more about sloppiness than intent. The way it went down, it almost seemed as if Rudy were hoping Mason’s troubles would ultimate­ly work in his favor, and that Robert I. Friedman’s interview had merely allowed Mason to spell out clearly what he’d been saying in semaphore for weeks. Just what counts as a blunder in this sort of politics?

“Is racial innuendo raising its ugly head? I think it’s entirely possible that that’s the motivation,” says a Republican consultant based in Washington. “It may be a case in which Giuliani is really being manipulated a little bit here. I think there is a certain sense in which Giuliani is naive about these kinds of things, I’m not sure he’s been around long enough to know what he’s doing. Maybe it’s a coin­cidence, but maybe, too, it’s a pattern that racism seems to become an issue as Ailes becomes more prominent in a campaign.”

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IN AMERICA, RACE GIVES a pretty straight bounce in a campaign. It’s an identity issue, an us-or-them question, exploiting the Manichaean mythologies of national politics with their binary op­positions — Democrat/Republican, liber­al/conservative, black/white. Like the LOVE and HATE tattooed on Robert Mit­chum’s knuckles in The Night of the Hunter, racial division has a fundamentalist glamour.

But here in New York City, the physics of race occur in a cloud of charged particles that can bend space. Ask Al Gore, who was led into an eerily similar nuclear winter by Ed Koch during the presidential primary.

“The reason it wouldn’t happen any­where but in New York is you don’t have a Mason type anywhere else,” says David Keene, conservative activist and former Bush campaign political director. “Also, in New York the ethnic and racial appeals are more overt than anywhere else. It’s the only place you put together your schedule and say, ‘Today we’re going after Puerto Rican voters, tomorrow we’re go­ing after Jews.’ You can argue that it’s more crude, or you can argue that it’s more honest. What you have in the rest of the country often masks itself.”

Besides, to a couple of deep-dish Re­publicans — Ailes, who earned his media spurs as a producer for Mike Douglas, and Robert Teeter, the Ann Arbor–based polling consultant and fellow Bush ’88 veteran who completes Rudy Giuliani’s A-Team — the local customs must seem very exotic. “I’ve been astounded at the answers I’ve gotten on some things,” Giu­liani pollster Fred Steeper says of his New York data. Steeper hails from De­troit, where his firm works with Teeter’s. “You are the most liberal group in the entire country. Giving out birth control to teenagers without parental consent, for example, is overwhelmingly opposed in the rest of the country. In New York, it’s a close question… This is one of the wildest races I’ve ever been involved in.”

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In factional politics — which is what the New York mayoral race has become — the shadows cast by a candidate inevitably obscure the algebra of his policies. That’s part of the appeal of campaigning on a symbolic level, since fighting a race with petroglyphs largely frees the pol from making promises he might not want to keep. Besides, it works, sometimes against the longest odds.

So candidates look for doppelgängers, issues that have a patina of legitimacy (who wants a convicted murderer in their bedroom?) and a sweeping undertow (es­pecially a black one!). That some people could clearly read the unwritten in the Dinkins/Jackson picture in the Alge­meiner ad may well be because they’re partisan or obsessed, as Giuliani maintains. Or it could be that they read context: the context of a fractious New York City, of Ed Koch’s divisive kvetching, of Willie Horton, of how photos of black people have been used throughout Ameri­can history to transmit verbal taboos. To strip this graven image of context, as Giuliani has tried to do by protesting, “What’s wrong with this picture?” is at best naive, at worst willful insensitivity.

Up in the swanky fastness of the Rockefeller Center campaign headquar­ters, things in the top echelons have got­ten mighty male and pale. Giuliani’s de­spair of picking up black votes has led to a virtual blackout of African-American issues, not to mention faces, in his cam­paign. “I have not measured the amount of racial antipathy in the city because we don’t want to know. We have not asked some of the standard academic ques­tions,” Steeper says. And yet he goes on to lament the perverse polling anomalies he’s found in the city.

“It’s frustrating. New Yorkers say that crime and drugs are the number one issue and that Giuliani is better on it. But they’re voting for Dinkins. It’s partly be­cause there’s been a sort of honeymoon for Dinkins and he hasn’t been viewed as critically as the other candidates.”

For his part, Roger Ailes is still trying to live down the bitterness of the Willie Horton issue (Ailes didn’t make the infa­mous TV ad, but he was part of the team that made Horton a household name). So in his first TV spot for the general elec­tion, Ailes appears to have bent over backward to avoid using a photo of Din­kins. The tax commercial is just a scroll­ing script and a voiceover spearing Dinkins for not paying; by failing to mention that he paid the IRS in full 16 years ago, the sin floats lazily into the present.

The ad is curiously prefaced with a caveat. “Some people will try to tell you this is a negative commercial. But it isn’t. Because it’s fair and the facts are true.” This is classic Roger Ailes: the opening denial is at once an attempt to trumpet the ad’s negativity (negative ads are sim­ply irresistible) and to preempt any such thoughts.

And the ad is almost personal. Ailes is so aware of his reputation as a GOP hit man that he has to insist he’s using only “true facts.”

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“THE AMAZING THING here is that there’s an absolute strategic imperative for Giuliani,” says Jay Severin. “The is­sue in people’s minds hasn’t changed — crime and drugs — and Giuliani as a polit­ical entity exists only to fill that political void. But look at the feeble connection that’s been made to it! I would have him somewhere on the steps every day talking about a new program to fight crime and drugs.”

It would be nice to say, as Mario Cuomo did last Sunday, that New York City is going to show “Republicans that if you inject race into a campaign we will reject you overwhelmingly.” But this is hardly the end of such campaigns. GOP chair Lee Atwater is doing fine, in spite of the Tom Foley slander; this very local flap probably says more about New York than it does about a general rejection of the principles of ’88.

In the short term, Rudy Giuliani is going to pay the price — he’ll have a hard time getting elected Grand Poobah of the Raccoons in this city, much less mayor. But Ailes will likely pay a personal price, too.

“I don’t want to blame Ailes for Ma­son’s comments,” says David Keene. But “if Giuliani fails badly and if his failure is popularly believed to have been a result of this, then yes, Ailes’s career is in some jeopardy. And I suspect Giuliani is going to lose badly. So [using Mason was] dumb, in that it allows some people to say that it was Ailes’s fault.”

Reportedly Ailes is advising his man to put every dime into TV. “I agree with Roger,” says Severin. “He’s never going to win it with news coverage.” ■

Research assistance: Diane M. Rubino


‘Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic’

Sarah Silverman’s cartoon bunny rabbit smile could make her the poster child for orthodontia, but it’s her timing that’s the real thing of beauty. Silverman’s quasi-concert doc Jesus Is Magic opens with the star tediously regaled by a pair of Hollywood wannabes (one played by her sister). Defensively, she dreams up her own outrageous success story—a one-woman musical about AIDS and the Holocaust—and then proceeds to stage it. A wicked wittle wabbit who feigns innocence as she courts outrage, Silverman jokes about killing Christ (“I’d fucking do it again in a second if I heard those Birkenstocks padding up behind me”), makes fun of Martin Luther King, travesties 9-11, and suggests that her grandmother got a “vanity number” at Auschwitz. Her vagina monologue is actually a duet (with a third orifice joining in for the chorus).

Her delivery a seamless blend of psychobabbling TV guest and narcissistic Valley Girl, Silverman never breaks character: “You know what babies love? Ethnic jokes!” In the realm of stand-up Jews, she’s neither a Lenny Bruce philosopher nor a Sandra Bernhard performance artist. Borderline tiresome, Silverman’s racial and sexual obsessions might suggest Jackie Mason with a pretty face. But really, she’s a verbal Jerry Lewis, shamelessly willing to say anything. (“I always feel crappy when I do that joke,” she pretends to apologize, “but it gets such a good laugh.”) A TV crack got Silverman into trouble with an Asian American media watchdog group. “What kind of world do we live in where a totally cute white girl can’t say ‘Chink’ on network television?” she complains. “It’s like the ’50s—totally scary. As a member of the Jewish community, I was really concerned that we were losing control of the media.”


Inconvenient Truth

Investigative journalist Robert I. Friedman, whose uncompromising reporting provoked lawsuits and death threats throughout his career, died July 2 at Columbia-Presbyterian hospital in Manhattan at age 51. The immediate cause of death was cardiac arrest, but it was really his dedication: Robbie’s heart condition stemmed from a rare disease he contracted in 1995 on assignment for Vanity Fair in the Bombay slums.

Friedman, much of whose writing appeared in the Voice when he was a staff member from 1989 to 1995, was a fierce reporter whose work on subjects like Israel’s cooperation with the right-wing Falangist movement in Lebanon or Brooklyn rabbi-turned-Jewish extremist Meir Kahane earned Friedman—and the paper—the enmity of many hard-line supporters of Israel.

In the ever shrinking community of serious investigative reporters in this city, Robbie will be remembered as a dedicated pro who followed his reporting wherever it took him, no matter whom it offended or what it meant for his own career. In 1993, for example, Friedman castigated the FBI in the Voice for ignoring information it had developed on the Muslim extremists behind the first bombing of the World Trade Center, warning that without stronger action, terrorists would strike at the towers again. Though the story would cost him valuable sources within the FBI, Friedman published it and won a Society of Professional Journalists Award for Best Investigative Reporting in a Weekly.

Friedman got sued so often that he became close friends with the First Amendment bar in town. (It didn’t hurt that Robbie never made a serious error.) The lawsuits, such as those launched by supporters of West Bank settlers, were less concerned with winning a judgment than with draining a publication’s support through frivolous and expensive court action. Take comedian Jackie Mason, a campaign surrogate for then prosecutor Rudy Giuliani in his first run for mayor, who sued the Voice for $25 million after Robbie caught Mason using racial slurs against David Dinkins. Mason quietly dropped the suit later, after Giuliani had lost the race and the comic realized that his own voice on tape made his case laughable.

Death threats came first from right-wing American Jews, usually brought on by stories like “Oy Vey, Make My Day,” a 1989 Voice story about violence-prone Jewish fundamentalists. Friedman’s first book, The False Prophet, was a 1990 biography of Jewish Defense League founder Meir Kahane. Four years after its publication, a group of militant Jewish settlers physically assaulted Robbie while he was on assignment in Israel. Unfazed, Friedman published his second book, Zealots for Zion: Inside Israel’s West Bank Settlement Movement, later the same year, exposing the expansionist ambitions of many of the movement’s devotees.

After Friedman had left the Voice and won notice as a leading authority on the Russian mob in America, the threats started coming from mobsters, including one that prompted the FBI to ask Robbie and his wife, Christine Dugas, a reporter for USA Today, to skip town for a while. Friedman’s response was the book Red Mafiya, published in 2000, which today many journalists use as a reference work on Russian organized crime in the U.S.

His courage is even more remarkable when you realize that except for his six years as a Voice staffer and one season at New York magazine, Friedman’s career was conducted entirely as a freelancer. That meant that Robbie wrote about powerful people and placed himself in dangerous situations without the cautious restrictions so often imposed by editors and publishers, but also without the institutional buffers and personal protection that staff status confers. A short list of the sorts of people Robbie offended during his career—from international bankers, politicians, and gangsters to establishment journalists and fringe wackos—makes his boldness look almost reckless.

Robbie’s reporting had the impact of an inconvenient truth—it was never what you were hearing from the rest of the press at the time, and it often ripped away pleasant illusions that help the powerful to get their way. His writing appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and many other publications, yet nobody ever told Friedman what to do. His independence and passionate sense of justice were transfiguring: Any of us who helped those qualities find expression should be grateful for the chance to have seen them pass by once.

Those of us who knew him personally will remember his boundless nervous energy, even during the seven painful years of his illness. Robbie contracted his mysterious disease while researching a story about women abandoned by their families to slavery in Bombay (the piece ultimately appeared as a cover story for The Nation). Robbie always said he was proudest of that story, I believe, because instead of afflicting the comfortable, as he often did so very well, this time he was comforting the afflicted.

The Fund for Investigative Journalism has set up a Robert I. Friedman Investigative Journalism Award in his honor. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be sent to the Fund at P.O. Box 60184, Washington, D.C. 20039.


NY Mirror

This column may not be suitable for anyone with certain types of heart disease,
bladder problems, or uncontrolled blood pressure, or someone who’s swelling, nursing, or taking medications. Read on only after consulting your doctor. But
anyway: At the New York Film Critics Awards, I got all of the above conditions when I happened to sit next to the very woman who’d denied me an interview with Catherine Keener. I cunt—I mean can’t—tell you how charmed I was. Rather than vent—or try to talk to Keener—we focused on the evening’s expectedly quirky highlights, from Alexander Payne revealing that Pauline Kael told him, “The last half hour of Election gets a bit wobbly, doesn’t it?” to John Waters saying that Pedro Almodóvar‘s characters—like “grateful rape victims” and a wheelchair-bound guy who likes cunnilingus—are the type he’d like to have over for dinner. Waters must have done the guest list for this event, where Richard Belzer admitted he was on the toilet when he got the call to present an award to the South Park movie. Mr. Hankey would have been so proud!

At the gigunda Harper’s Bazaar bash at the Robert Miller Gallery, there were no grateful rape victims—only gleeful fashionistas lining up to vehemently air kiss the mag’s new editor, Kate Betts. They were all wearing black and playing that party game—you know, you snub everyone until they say hello first, and then you gush over them as if no one else ever mattered. I took a number, then asked Betts if she agrees with what Gwyneth Paltrow says in the mag—that fashion’s the only way women can express themselves on a daily basis. “No, not the only way,” she said. “Let me list the ways!” Well, one way would be to tell me whether she saw the Page Six item anticipating a possible catfight at the party between Betts and her ex-boss, Anna Wintour. “Oh, yeah,” Betts said, mildly amused. “I mean, please!” I took that to mean there would indeed be a vicious brawl involving lots of flying Prada, so I fled in a panic.

Even quicker than they scan Monica Lewinsky‘s new body on those Jenny Craig commercials, I went uptown for the Downtown party for Paper, which at least was sit-down. Model Karen Elson is semiexposed and seemingly elongated on the mag’s cover, but at this Brasserie event, she told me it’s all her. “Fuck yeah, it’s my body!” she declared. “And I’m not ashamed of it. I might as well show it while I’m young!” It’s the only way women can express themselves on a daily basis.

Everyone was covered up again at the Holy Smoke party at Nicole’s, that department-store boîte where, having nabbed a pricey ensemble, you can promptly flaunt it over veal sausages. Famed (for other places) restaurateur Drew Nieporent told me that Nicole’s got two stars in the Times, but then, “their new food critic can’t count past two.” Nieporent gave this bash higher marks, especially when Kate Winslet entered and he blurted, “They said she was too heavy for the Titanic, but if you ask me, she’s got it in all the right places tonight!” And she’s not ashamed of it!

That was clearly the best recent night out for heteros and food—and tramping around town in a tutu has helped me uncover some other high points of modern life. Ready? The best cruise spot is the main listening wall at the downtown Virgin Megastore. Simply strap on your headphones, shake your bon-bon to Macy Gray, and throw a wanton smile at the person next to you (unless they’re listening to Jewel). Before you know it, you’ll be making beautiful music together—or at least you’ve gotten to tighten your culo and hear a few free tracks.

The most bizarre new cooking/chat show is the one hosted by Ainsley Harriott, that British creature who, after telling us how his wife and kids are his whole world, minces around the kitchen in a flamboyantly wrist-flapping way that makes RuPaul look like Ving Rhames. Harriott—who was discovered by Merv Griffin—shoots his show, appropriately enough, at the Chelsea Piers (and actually, it’s an occasionally funsy romp).

From the kitschy kitchen to the awful office, the wackiest newish excursion in theater is Becky Mode‘s Fully Committed, with the amazing Mark Setlock as a restaurant reservations clerk and all his tormentors. When I called for comps, I was aptly told that the play was fully committed that week. It was worth waiting for, deliciously littered as it is with references to “global fusion cuisine” and “Mr. Zagat‘s headcheese,” not to mention relentless digs at Naomi Campbell. It’s a fabulously droll commentary on the hollow absurdity of my—I mean that—crowd, but though I give it way more than two stars, next time I want an even better seat, with more flattering lighting!

The most popular new East Village restaurant—and it’s not the one Fully Committed‘s based on—is Leshko’s, the former beloved Polish dive, which is now a sleek and lively trendoid spot courtesy of the Barracuda guys. The global fusion food is tangy and there’s still an occasional pierogi to remind you of the days before gentrification.

The cutest moment in that perennial pierogi Eartha Kitt‘s act at Café Carlyle comes when she tells the audience, “I’ve found my birth certificate and I’m proud to reveal that on January 17th . . . I want presents!” But if you want presence, the equally long-running Jackie Mason is still the best solo kvetcher since before Mark Setlock was born. Alas, in his Broadway show, Mason continues to dabble in ancient ethnic stereotypes, not seeming to realize that people have become more similar than different. Mason clings to the idea that Puerto Ricans are violent and Jews always go to doctors, and even as mockable clichés, these are as moldy as escargot jokes (which he also does). Still, the devilishly deadpan comic’s riotous about what I assumed had been a spent subject, as it were—Clinton‘s sexuality. Long may he run!

Speaking of Clinton’s sexuality—long may he run at the mouth—I recently happened to appear on a talk show with Paula Jones, the subject, naturally, being celebrity plastic surgery. Someone in the audience asked Jones, “Do you pick your nose?” and she seemed mildly outraged, saying, “No, I don’t do that. I’m a lady!” When they came back from the commercial, it was explained that the guy actually meant, “Do you choose your nose?” “No, I left it up to my doctor,” responded Jones, more calmly.

By the way, now that two-faced Linda Tripp got a facelift, what about her other one, ba-dum-pum? And while we’re talking shiny purple faces, the most entendre-laden merch—yes, we’re still doing bests—remains the endearingly innuendo-filled Teletubby stuff. I was recently gifted with a Tinky Winky scrubbing device, which consists of the Tinkster wearing what looks like a flowing purple gown (actually the scrub part). The name of this fey trinket? “Bath and shower pouf.” You heard me—pouf!

But back to Clinton’s sexuality—poof!—how dare Hillary defend marriage as an institution so sacred it shouldn’t be extended to gays? Her idea of marriage has her only speaking to the hubby when it comes time to swallow his endless stream of public apologies for whatever trick the dry cleaner just uncovered. And now, are you all a little nauseous? I admit the last half hour was a little wobbly.