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Mailer’s 5th Estate: Who’s Paranoid Now?

“Paranoia is the most useful or the most destructive faculty of the human spirit. One never knows when it’s devoted to you or your destruction.” — Norman Mailer

While most of us are still stumbling about in the euphoric dreck of the Senate Watergate hearings, I think it’s time we admit that Norman Mailer was right. As usual.

Some of you may remember the rather elegant bash at the Four Seasons restaurant last February 5 in celebration of Norman’s 50th birthday (which was January 31, but never mind). Many were drawn to the event by the enticement that Mailer would make “an announcement of national importance (major).” While Norman was up in Massachusetts writing his biography of Marilyn Monroe, Jean Campbell and I made the arrangements. Tickets were $50 per couple, and, outrageously, we made the press pay.

The stage set, the booze swilling, the crowd swelling, midnight approaching … Mailer blew it. In the grand and glorious manner. Or as he put it in the New York Times Book Review, the speech “was a disgrace. It had neither wit nor life — it was perhaps the worst speech on a real occasion that the orator had ever made.”

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Nevertheless, the idea had been planted, however badly. Mailer said he wanted to establish something he called “the Fifth Estate,” essentially an organization to investigate whether the United States was slipping into totalitarianism through a series of carefully manipulated conspiracies. He said it was the best political idea he ever had.

The press, many of them stunned at having paid hard cash to attend the party, went for the jugular. After all, wasn’t Mailer one of the best targets around? And hadn’t he asked for it? Hadn’t he literally set himself up for a wipe-out?

Pete Hamill reported, somewhat sadly, that “the best writer in America was reduced to the role of a nightclub comic trying to squelch drunks.” In Saturday Review, Patricia Bosworth observed: “When he tried to elaborate on the proposition that our nation is veering toward totalitarianism, nobody was listening.” Shirley MacLaine was quoted in Women’s Wear Daily: “Nobody here could make a pimple on Norman’s ass, but nobody listened to him, and the thing is, he’s right.”

John Leonard, editor of the New York Times Book Review, disagreed: “As Mailer’s ideas go, this is not a good one. It is, as proposed, just another vigilante group.”

Tim Ferris of Rolling Stone picked up a bitter remark: “The guy’s a hell of a writer, but he’s just getting so grotesque, so silly. What a clumsy, awkward, cumbersome man he has become.”

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Then, of course, there were those panic-stricken by the announcement, like Jack Lemmon, famous liberal movie star. “I didn’t know anything about it,” he stammered. “I don’t even know him!” And we heard shrill notes from a viper or two. Sally Quinn wrote her standard florid feature for the Washington Post (“The Rise and Fall of the Fifth Estate,” February 7), causing Mailer to dub her “Poison Quinn.” In his forthcoming book on Marilyn Monroe, Mailer characterizes this kind of writing as having “fewer facts than factoids (to join the hungry ranks of those who coin the word), that is, facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper …” And Daphne Davis of Women’s Wear Daily, quoted in Newsweek by Linda Francke, denounced the whole affair as “a bummer — what can you say about a man whose time has gone?” (For Ms. Davis’s edification, it might be pointed out that Mr. Mailer this year, 25 years after “The Naked and the Dead” will publish his 22nd and 23rd books, not to mention the several volumes already published evaluating his life’s work. The first printing of “Marilyn,” by the way, is 300,000 copies. Not bad for a writer whose time has gone.)

Finally, we come to The Village Voice, in the prose of Ron Rosenbaum, Andrew Sarris, and Lucian K. Truscott IV, honorable gentlemen all.

Rosenbaum covered Mailer’s press conference, held the next afternoon (February 6) at the Hotel Algonquin. He played it fair and straight, noting Mailer’s combativeness (“I have the misfortune of being a talented writer who is in the position of being written about by less talented people”), and concluded that “the skeptics among the reporters remained unconvinced.”

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Sarris, who said he wouldn’t have missed the party for the world, claimed that “Aquarius” was upstaged that evening by Bernardo Bertolucci (not true, save in the eyes of a film critic), then launched into a medium silly diversion about “Last Tango in Paris” and “Deep Throat,” in the process dropping a few asides about Mailer’s “ballsy literary swagger” and his “piddling penis joke.”

But it was Truscott who, in my view, went into a purple prose funk over the party. Mailer himself said of the article that “on balance, it was fair.” Fairness is not what threw me, the prose did. Listen to this: “At its center (a foggy low pressure area of some unknowable sort) was sure to be Norman Mailer, in the flesh, feet wide planted, drink in hand, finger jabbing chests or tits or air, sterling silver Brillo pad hair bobbing up and down tot he rhythm of the crowd he had drawn, pink face a-pulsing, vibrating jigsaw puzzle impossible to assemble without first killing him, making him quiet and still.”

Truscott later admitted this stuff was “blithering,” but excused himself thusly: “It is a measure of the man that in writing about him I find myself writing like him.” That’s damn near a perfect example of what we might call the simultaneous reversible pat-on-the-back and kick-in-the-ass. A very neat trick, indeed. But one must note, like any good checker for the New Yorker, that the soap in Brillo pads is red; S.O.S. has the blue, and would have been the more appropriate metaphor, if that’s the sort of thing you’re after.

And, sure enough, the Truscott “West Point trauma” surfaced as he wrote of the “dilemma of the essentially totalitarian psyche” and “the almost sexual excitement, about command and control.” The part I liked best, though, was how his grandmother had likened Mailer to General Patton. That was an interesting thought — a left conservative General Patton. You could go somewhere with that.

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Before I report some afterthoughts of Watergate hindsight, and tell you how Norman sees all of this, it might be well to explain what he was trying to say that night, and in fact did say the next day at his press conference, and subsequently in the New York Times.

The time has come, Mailer wrote, “for some of us to think of founding a high, serious, and privately funded Committee of Inquiry, stocked with the best efforts of literary scholars, investigators, and journalists. It would be an inquiry into a fundamental question of government: is our history developing into a string of connected conspiracies, or is there less ground finally for our national paranoia than any have supposed?” This country, he said, “may be sliding toward a kind of totalitarianism of the most advanced, subtle, and civilized sort … are we in a society which encourages us to be paranoid, or is our paranoia merely our impotent reaction to a set of 20th century processes which are entirely beyond us?”

After the February 6 press conference (the day after the Senate passed a resolution creating the Watergate Committee, and the day John Dean says a strategy meeting was held by the Watergate Cover-up Crew), several of us, forming something of an ad hoc steering committee, retired to a suite in the Algonquin and talked about the Fifth Estate — what it should and should not be, how it might be formed and funded, what project or projects it might investigate. Nothing much was accomplished, but we decided to meet again on February 21.

The next meeting was more formal and businesslike (booze at the first, coffee at the second). After about two hours, we decided that, because we lacked time, staff, and money, the one project we should undertake immediately was, you guessed it, Watergate. We all felt Watergate had the smell of a filthy scandal that well might reach the highest levels of government.

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Without going into what we ac­complished, which was little more than clearing our throats and calling friends in Washington to assist the investigation, we all know what happened next, less than a month later.

Not only was Mailer right, he was prophetic. But, he was not alone. As Jimmy Breslin said the other day, “He was right and ev­erybody laughed, and the asshole dilettantes who laughed didn’t know what they were talking about, as usual. The only two guys who should have been at the party were Woodward and Bernstein, but they couldn’t come because they were too busy.”

During John Dean Week, I called several reporters and some of the partygoers to get their feelings, in retrospect, about Mailer’s announcement. Following is a sampling:

John Leonard (New York Times Book Review Editor): “I’m still against any kind of Democratic Secret Police … but I do wish journalists had more time for extensive investigative journalism … I just wish (Mail­er) would write a novel.”

Linda Francke (Newsweek): “I quite agree, he was ahead of his time, again … even as I wrote about it, I was a little nervous to dismiss it, and as soon as it broke I thought, shit, Mailer was right after all … then I was worried that Mailer might some­how be implicated … it followed so suddenly that I thought he might have been making notes on a new book and got caught with the surgical gloves on.”

Henry Grunwald (Managing Editor, Time): “I think it’s bad to start a conspiracy on the left, just as we had on the right with Mc­Carthy and the others … but I felt we may have been remiss and wanted to go back to review the press conference and see what Mr. Mailer had to say.”

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George Plimpton: “Well, you don’t fight an espionage agency with another espionage agency … I was afraid they’d have the first meeting at my house, with drawings by Larry Rivers and Abbie Hoffman hopping around, that sort of thing … Watergates makes me think that Secretariat is the only uncorrupted thing left.”

Warren Hoge (City Editor, the New York Post): “That night, you felt, yawn, another left embar­rassment, but now I feel like Mel Laird, if there’s any more, I don’t want to know it … what can you be paranoid about anymore?”

Jack Newfield: “They’re a total bunch of paranoids, and incom­petent — they had Joe Namath with the Giants.”

Tim Ferris (Rolling Stone): “I’ve been obsessed by the hearings … Hunter Thompson called from Colorado yesterday, said he’s been watching day and night, he has no other life … the only fault I found (with Mailer’s idea) was that it didn’t have muscle or money, and an idea like that depends entirely on sub­stance … but all the oranges did come up on Mailer’s side, didn’t they?”

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Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: “The whole thing was about 10 years too late … give Norman my condolences for failing to make the ‘political enemies’ list.”

Patricia Bosworth (Saturday Review): “When Watergate broke, I thought, Jesus Christ, it’s prophetic time!”

Pete Hamill: “I still think (the Fifth Estate) would become just another bureaucracy. Re­member, it was two police report­ers, supported by a courageous publisher (Kay Graham) and edi­tor (Ben Bradlee), who broke this case. You always have to go back to the ball-busting, lonely report­er on the beat, digging and probing … I hope they take those bastards (the Watergaters) and lock every one of them up, and they can dust off Alger Hiss’s old cell for Chuck Colson, then we’ll have the Berrigan brothers say a farewell mass for the whole rotten bunch.”

Dotson Rader: “The point I knew Mailer was on to something was when he said a nation can tol­erate any crime except the theft of its history, and that’s what was going on, that was the great crime … suddenly, I felt he saw things differently … but after the party there was a general feeling around New York that Norman Mailer was nuts, and getting nut­tier, poor old Norman, he shouldn’t drink so much … the journalists I talked to put Mailer down, some of them I viciously, and most of them said Watergate was nothing, it would blow away.”

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***

For most of his professional life, Mailer has had an adversary relationship with the press, and I guess that’s as it should be. It doesn’t bother him, it more stimu­lates and amuses him. About a year and a half ago, I did an inter­view with Norman which was bought by Penthouse but, for reasons unknown, never pub­lished. One question and answer we eventually cut out, because it didn’t fit into the final theme of the interview  has always fascinated me, and I think it may apply here.

Interviewer: “Stephen Rojack (‘An American Dream’) says: ‘God’s engaged in a war with the Devil, and God may lose.’ Throughout your work is the theme of the struggle between God and the Devil, and you once said, ‘I have some obsession with how God exists. Is He an essential god or an existential god; is he all-powerful or is He, too, an embattled existential creature who may succeed or fail in His visions?’ This remains a per­vasive theme in our work.”

Mailer: “It may even go all the way back to ‘The Naked and the Dead,’ sometimes I think it does, at that point pretty much unbeknownst to the young author. Crit­ics for years felt I was a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn who could eat a sandwich (rye bread) in a delicatessen with no more pain than any of them, with as much gusto, and I might even give the same look of annoyance to the waiter if he frailed to bring the second helping of pickles. I’ve sat around and had love fests with these critics over pastrami — Rahv, Podhoretz, all of them. It’s a most real part of myself. It’s not everybody that can say they come from Brooklyn. There are areas of the world that are blessed a little, and areas that are cursed a little. The Brooklyn I knew in my childhood was blessed, just a bit, it wasn’t a bad place. Most of the people I grew up with in that middle-class environment have gone on to various kinds of professional and commercial and technological jobs that allow not that much romance and certainly not that much religious feeling in their life. And they know that I’m one of them. They’re comfortable with me, and I’m comfortable with them — not altogether comfortable, because I think they’re people who insisted on being a little emptier, sillier, and smaller than they had to be. They really think it’s some kind of outrageous put-on I’m engaging in when I talk about God and the Devil. You know, ‘What’s old Normie talking about God and the Devil for? Fun’s fun, but pass the pickles!'”

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As with his friends and the cri­tics, so with the press. The adver­sary relationship he continues to nourish. As others will not forgive him his concern “with the romantic and mysterious all” (as Norman puts it), so the press at­tacks him for his conspiratorial view of American history.

But Norman maintains his perspective. I talked with him on June 30 as he was passing through New York after having spent the week in Washington at the Water­gate hearings.

“I wasn’t too upset,” he said about the press coverage last February. “Listen, I was so down on myself that night that they could have said anything. I knew the height of the hurdle, and I missed. I gave them a free ride.”

I reminded him that he had been much more coherent at the press conference, but nobody seemed to be listening.

“I was annoyed, not surprised,” he said. “Whether you’re good or bad, that’s the place to shine. But you can talk at your best for an hour, and they’ll wait for the one line that will damage you. I went on at some length, and thought I was even eloquent at one point, but look at what happened.”

What about the future of the Fifth Estate?

“From the beginning, I knew the Fifth Estate would never succeed if it was going to be a big balloon I had to inflate with a bi­cycle pump. It just wouldn’t work. But I still think there’s a function for it, when Watergate is over, when we’ve digested it. Look at what Woodward and Bernstein accomplished. A continuing inves­tigation can break a powerful gov­ernmental institution, with ex­traordinary results. There’s a function for the Fifth Estate, but we’ll have to wait, now.”

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Mailer hasn’t decided what he may or may not write about Wa­tergate. “Sitting through it was an ordeal. In person, the hearings were dull, boring. I haven’t made up my mind what I want to do about them. I’m still thinking about it. I don’t know how I feel yet.”

When I first thought about writing this piece, I kept searching through Mailer’s writing for something that would most appro­priately apply to Watergate. Then I found it, that nerve-shattering epigraph in “The Deer Park,” taken from Mouffle D’Anger­ville’s “Vie Privee de Louis XV”:

“… the Deer Park, that gorge of innocence and virtue in which were engulfed so many victims who when they returned to society brought with them depravity, de­bauchery, and all the vices they naturally acquired from the in­famous officials of such a place. Apart from the evil which this dreadful place did to the morals of the people, it is horrible to calculate the immense sums of money it cost the state… To this must be added the gratuities presented to those who were not successful in arousing the jaded passions of the sultan but had nonetheless to be paid for their submissions, for their discretion, and still more for their being eventually despised.”

Caesar may be alive and well, biding his time. We have been warned. ❖

1973 Village Voice article by Norman Mailer about the press during the Watergate era

1973 Village Voice article by Norman Mailer about the press during the Watergate era

1973 Village Voice article by Norman Mailer about the press during the Watergate era

1973 Village Voice article by Norman Mailer about the press during the Watergate era

1973 Village Voice article by Norman Mailer about the press during the Watergate era

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From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

How Rudy Giuliani Took the Media for a Ride

SUNDAY’S PRETAPED in­terview with Gabe Press­man on WNBC-TV’s Newsforum was Rudolph Giuliani’s first little-­screen appearance since the candidate placed himself under the tute­lage of Roger Ailes. You remember him: the sleaze-master who ter­rorized America into vot­ing Republican last year when his propaganda turned the presidential election into a referendum on street crime and the death penalty by playing fast and loose with the truth. Almost every Ailesian campaign has fa­vored media-bashing as a technique to distract the electorate’s attention from any weaknessess in his candidate’s record (and, in the process, intimidate the press); recall when The Des Moines Reg­ister and Dan Rather were attacked for their too-pointed Contragate questions by George Bush, who thus succeeded in burying the scandal as a campaign issue? Well, Rudy certainly proved himself an apt pupil on Sunday, snarling through his rented smile that a hostile press was making mountains out of prosecutorial molehills as he tried to pooh-pooh away the reams of reputation-puncturing copy heaped on his head by the tabloids last week over the failed Kidder, Peabody prosecution and his office’s alleged “Nazi” tactics.

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It’s a strange complaint, considering the source, for until he started shooting himself in the foot with great regularity, Giuliani benefited from an elegiac media reception of a kind not seen in this town since the salad days of an equally arro­gant prosecutor, Thomas E. Dewey (when the Republicans who owned nine of the city’s then 11 newspapers touted Dewey for president although he was not yet 40). Even before he had formally an­nounced his candidacy, Rudy’s sweet­heart relationship with the press spawned a wet-kiss orgy of free publicity the likes of which even Ron Lauder’s mother’s millions couldn’t buy.

Examples: There was City for Sale, an almost entirely uncritical celebration of Giuliani’s prosecutions of municipal cor­ruption by Daily News editor-columnist Jack Newfield and Voice political writer Wayne Barrett that owed much of its insiderish tone to the avid cooperation of Giuliani and his longtime prosecutorial sidekick and press manager, Dennison Young Jr. (who, as Jacob Javits’s former legislative counsel, could scarcely be considered a political novice). The book, published at the beginning of the year, has served as something of a campaign biography for Giuliani. Gail Sheehy weighed in with an embarrassing act of journalistic fellatio in the August 1987 issue of Vanity Fair, “Heaven’s Hit Man” (“As passionate as he is about making crooks pay, he cannot sleep for seeing the faces of their suffering families” — I won­der how they fact-checked that one). Life produced a worshipful January 1988 pro­file called “Let’s Hear It for the Good Guys.” And, in a January 1989 Newsday column, Jimmy Breslin, who has made a career out of puffing up candidates on whom he also presses his services as a closet adviser, proclaimed that “the elec­tion [is] past history … Giuliani has won the 1989 New York City mayorality race. He does not beat Koch because Koch does not run.”

Pride of place in the front ranks of those pimping for Rudy belongs to New York magazine. In May of 1987, there was a cover touting Giuliani-as-crimebuster, but its headline, “GOTCHA!”(familiar to recent New York Post readers) was inept for this oh-so-promotional transcript of a Q and A with Rudy (one of the few politi­cians in recent memory accorded such a nonthreatening platform by the mag). His self-aggrandizing White Knightery was left untouched in the spread’s 13 pages by the nerf-ball questions of a criminally unsophisticated Nancy Col­lins. But the worst was to come: in anoth­er eight-page cover story this March, Joe Klein — New York‘s condohead purveyor of middle-class race paranoia — per­formed contortions worthy of the Kama Sutra in order to let Rudy off the hook. Indeed, Klein seemed to have fantasies of himself as Rudy’s Eddie Futch: “Giuliani agreed to explore his views on urban is­sues with the understanding that this would be a spring-training sort of inter­view — he hadn’t yet announced his candidacy and was still formulating his posi­tions on a number of important issues. I agreed to keep the gloves on.”

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Can you imagine any other pol being annointed with such deferential treatment? When a journalist agrees in advance not to ask tough questions — in ef­fect, to simulate a real interview in order to help the candidate decide what he thinks (or thinks is palatable) — he be­comes half-courtier, half-catamite. How­ever, the shameless Klein is far from the only opinion-monger in town to have served as willing accessory to the careful cultivation of Rudy’s image. The Voice ran a highly flattering cover story in Jan­uary by Joe Conason in which the only major incident from Rudy’s government service recounted in detail was a lauda­tory one. The article was based not on any independent investigations, but on a long interview in which, as Conason admitted, “Giuliani declined to answer spe­cific questions about running for mayor, the deficiencies of the current mayor, or what he would do if he became mayor.” The only subjects the filibustering Giu­liani wanted to discuss were those putting him in a good light, and the Voice went along with the charade.

More parlor games: Remember last September’s articles alleging state comptroller Ned Regan traded on his position as trustee of New York’s pension fund to obtain campaign contributions from Wall Street (a story broken in the Daily News by Jack Newfield and Tom Robbins and in the Voice by Rick Hornung)? Giuliani, no doubt envisioning another easy notch on his prosecutorial gun, couldn’t wait to open an investigation. Neither could Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau. What happened next is related by Connie Bruck in her March 1989 American Law­yer profile of Giuliani (the best-reported I’ve come across): “According to a lawyer in Morgenthau’s office, ‘Rudy jumped right into it early on. They subpoenaed records. They said, ‘It’s our case.’ Then, on December 28, Newfield wrote in the News that Morgenthau had decided to impanel a grand jury to investigate Re­gan’s fundraising practices. About mid­way through the article, Newfield added that Giuliani was withdrawing from the case and turning his evidence over to Morgenthau.

“This was news to Morgenthau’s office. Giuliani’s office had given no indication that they ‘wanted out,’ says a lawyer in the D.A.’s office. Regan is, of course, a Republican, and many of the contributors who are being investigated are doubtless those Giuliani would be soliciting should he run … Having already made a mortal enemy of [Al] D’Amato, Giuliani could ill afford to alienate any more of the Repub­lican state network. Newfield, a long-time Giuliani booster, gave Giuliani a graceful exit.”

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The press’s bounty to Rudy was, of course, entirely self-serving. In his five-and-a-half-year free ride with the media as U.S. attorney, press conferences and press releases­ — the exception under Robert Fiske Jr., Giuliani’s straight-arrow predecessor — ­became mandatory rituals, while motions calling for investigations of leaks from his office have rained on the Southern Dis­trict in the cases that have collared a lot of media attention. Leaks jeopardize a defendant’s right to a fair trial, and the deontology of the federal judicial system requires a U.S. attorney to set standards for his subordinates which demonstrate that such trampling on our constitutional guarantees is intolerable.

That ain’t our Rudy: as Philip Weiss noted in a sharp-tongued November 1988 Spy profile, “Gerald Stern, the director of the State Commission on Judicial con­duct, says Giuliani has often violated eth­ical standards on pretrial publicity at his ‘circus-like’ press conferences. When ho­teliers Harry and Leona Helmsley were indicted for tax evasion last spring, the news of the grand jury’s decision was leaked to the New York Post a day early. The Helmsleys complained, and at his press conference announcing the charges, Giuliani vowed to investigate the ‘alleged grand jury leaks.’ (Minutes earlier, though, he had lavished praise on the Post reporter covering the Helmsleys for scoops that had expedited the case). Nothing came of the promised investigation.”

A report on the rise in leaks by the city bar association’s committee on criminal law last year whitewashed Giuliani, say­ing there were too many investigative agencies involved to finger any one. Dennison Young, Rudy’s longtime press handler in the U.S. attorney’s office, was a member of the committee that wrote the report (although he says he fastidi­ously abstained from voting on the final version).

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Collusion between prosecutors and the press can not only pollute a jury trial but lead to the maligning of the innocent, as was demonstrated by last week’s drop­ping of the insider-trading charges filed two and a half years ago against those three executives in the Kidder, Peabody case whom Rudy had dragged out of their offices in handcuffs. It was one of his most notorious cases, and, at the time of the arrest, the paparazzi had been tipped off, with the result that photos of the unlucky arbitrageurs in their mana­cles were Page One stuff across the coun­try. (One of the three, Robert Freeman, has now pled guilty to a charge wholly unrelated to the original.) As Robert Reno, one of Giuliani’s few acerbic critics in the city dailies, noted in his Friday Newsday column, this feverishly pre­pared case was part of Giuliani’s “suc­cessful race with Pope Gregory IX for the title of most effective inquisitor in histo­ry, a contest that turned out to be the preliminary round of his mayoral cam­paign … [But] lightning arrests and handcuffing of nonviolent citizens is as repulsive a way to run for mayor as using the actions of a homicidal rapist is a shameful way to get to be president.” (No wonder Ailes and Rudy get along).

There’s a line much used by Giuliani in his campaign stump speech: “Don’t let them tell you what they’re going to do, ask them to tell you what they’ve already done.” But what the dropping of the Kid­der, Peabody case demonstrates is that the press went AWOL when it came to looking at Rudy’s record. Connie Bruck is one of the few reporters who did: she interviewed 55 lawyers and federal judges. What did she find? A consensus that Rudy has “an ambition so raw and consuming that that which sustains it is embraced willy-nilly, that which does not directly feed it is neglected, and that which runs counter to it is earmarked for destruction.” (That could also serve as a fairly accurate description of Ed Koch.)

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Rudy’s lust for power explains the inor­dinate amount of time he devoted to stroking journalists. Bruck harvested in­numerable complaints from former Giu­liani staffers: “‘There was an untoward concern for how our prosecutorial judg­ments would play in the press … the more newsworthy our cases were, the more attention they got from Rudy.’ … ‘[Under Rudy’s predecessors, press releases were] no big deal. When Rudy came, he brought in Young, and Denny would review press releases as though they were indictments. He’d cross out as­sistants’ names and put Rudy’s in. Denny had a phenomenal devotion to press re­leases.’ … ‘[Rudy] spent more time with reporters than with [his] assistants.’ ”

By running his office as if it were a subsidiary of Hill and Knowlton, Giuliani was able to reward the flatterers while slighting the too-critical, thus maintain­ing the reporters who covered him in a carefully controlled client relationship. Steve Brill, the editor of The American Lawyer, says: “At each one of his press conferences there was just one script­ — Rudy’s —with one good guy — Rudy — and a bad guy, the one whose name was on the indictment. It was a setup, especially for TV. I’ve made my living off the reality that general, typical reporting about the criminal justice system is nonsense, ridic­ulous, too accepting of these very easy definitions of who the good and bad guys are. Take the guy who covered Rudy for years for the Times, Arnold Lubasch: what a slug. The Voice, the Times, every­body rolled over for Giuliani at every press conference. This can give you a swelled head: at least six friends of mine who are actively working in the campaign say Rudy has told them he expects to be president one day.”

The average reporter is a cop-junkie at heart anyway, but Rudy’s PR style (orchestrated by Young, Giuliani’s Michael Deaver) meant that the prosecutor had a lot of chits to call in when he declared for mayor. There isn’t a paper in town that isn’t in some way indebted to Giuliani for filling its columns with sexy stories. As for Rudy’s bleatings about how Ron Lau­der bought himself $6 million worth of airtime, there squeaks a man who’s used to as many soundbites on the nightly news as he wants, all for free, and all on his own terms.

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It’s because he’s so unused to media criticism that Rudy has turned angry at the scribes who used to collect his toenail clippings. No paper in town has given Giuliani more ink than the New York Post. But editor Jerry Nachman has transformed himself from just a little-friend-to-all-the-world columnist of piffle into a circulation-building Wyatt Earp who sees his city room as the OK Corral (and who knows how to curtsey to his publisher’s Board of Estimate moral­ity that dotes on Koch, the landlord’s pathic).

The result could only be last Friday’s screaming headlines: “Auschwitz survivor charges: RUDY’S MEN ACTED LIKE NA­ZIS.” The story — written by Nachman with recently rehired Post investigations editor Fred Dicker — involved the com­plaint of one Simon Berger, a sexagenar­ian purveyor of locks. He’d been indicted by Giuliani for having allegedly forked over backsheesh to win a lock contract with the city’s Housing Authority — if true, a peccadillo for a small merchant made cynical by too much familiarity with the world’s cruelty, but hardly one to excite the masses. Berger, in Nach­man’s tear-drenched account, was seated by Giuliani’s minions in front of a scribble-covered blackboard on which one could read the words, Arbeit macht frei. In the end, the lock-vendor happily found himself on the outside looking in: Berger was acquitted.

In terms of the future governance of this city, Newsday put the more mean­ingful story on its front page that day: the dismissal of the Kidder, Peabody in­dictments. (Despite the Post‘s touting of its blackboard story as an “exclusive,” Newsday had court papers that provided all the relevant facts; what the Post had — live and weeping on South Street­ — was Berger. Newsday ran its story at the bottom of page three with the sedate head, “Holocaust ‘Reminder’ Claimed”). Even Post columnist Pete Hamill admits to being disturbed by his paper’s Fleet Street-style flagellation of Giuliani: “When you’re going to use that word Nazi, you’d better be very careful. At least it should have been in quotes — that would have taken a little of the sting out of it. After all, to be arrested at 7:00 in the morning is not exactly to get a whiff of Zyklon-B.”

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Rudy, who has already dropped at least 17 points with Jewish voters, according to one poll, hardly needed a week like this. But is he being “set up,” as he claimed to Gabe Pressman on Sunday’s Newsforum? Jimmy Breslin, who with­drew from Giuliani’s advisory circle when Rudy expressed his desire to import Ailes and extradite Joe Doherty, doesn’t think so. “If he’s afraid of the Post, how’s he going to be mayor?” barks Breslin. “Who did this? Some federal agent? Is the guy still on the job scaring Jews? Who the fuck would know German like that? I’ll betcha some kid prosecutor. I don’t even know the goddamn German. If they didn’t make a real investigation, then they’re part of it. Rudy’s getting his comeuppance.”

The print players are lining up: every sentient reader knows that the Times and the Post are for the mayor; that Newsday is trying to figure out if it has the guts to endorse a black candidate; that the Voice —  too late to do any real good — will stumble toward Dinkins; and that the News, confused, will write its editorial with one eye on the circulation figures. But the whole race is on television­ — where Giuliani has a large residual Q fac­tor from the white-hat days when he fed defendants to the cameras. If Rudy final­ly does get his real comeuppance in November, we can only pray that it isn’t delivered by Ed Koch. ■

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From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Norman Mailer Runs for Mayor

Norman Mailer for Mayor?
April 3, 1969

The tenth entrant in the Democratic mayoral scramble may be Norman Mailer.

If Mailer opts in, his running mate for City Council President will be Jimmy Breslin, the combative chronicler of Irish internecine warfare. Gloria Steinem of New York magazine reluctantly agreed to be designated as the candidate for Comptroller until a committee on vacancies can find another candidate.

Preliminary campaign plans were discussed Monday night at Mailer’s Brooklyn Heights waterfront eyrie. Among the New York literary and political figures who hashed out the pros and cons of the Mailer candidacy were Pete Hamill, Peter Maas, Jose Torres, Jeremy Larner, Joe Flaherty, Jeff Cowan, John Scanlon, Flo Kennedy, Jack Newfield, State Supreme Court Judge James Leff, Mary Bancroft, Jerry Rubin, Nancy Kirshan, and Joe Pilati.

Mailer said at one point that it was necessary to forge a “hip coalition of the right and the left,” but the only prominent rightist present was ex-National Review writer Noel E. Parmentel, Jr.

Mailer termed New York City “a cancer and leprosy ward that has infected the rest of the country.” Breslin metaphorically surveyed the political opposition and growled his disdain at their mental prowess: “Those clowns haven’t said anything bright in 45 years. They’re a bunch of bums!”

A series of strategy meetings will be held this week to discuss securing of signatures for petitions, opening of campaign headquarters, and maximizing media exposure during the primary campaign.

The Mailer-Breslin Ticket: Vote the Rascals In

By Joe Flaherty

April 24, 1969 

I approached the making of the Mailer, 1969, with dubious thoughts. Like many others I was invited to Mailer’s home about three weeks ago to discuss his candidacy. My first reservation was that I believed that John Lindsay was a good mayor in a beleaguered time and he deserved my support. Second, the idea of being close to the Mailer campaign was too tempting to me as a writer. The second doubt was magnified when I arrived at Mailer’s house and found a number of other writers, including myself, taking notes, all having purple wet dreams about next year’s National Book Award for Arts and Letters.

And the evening itself — besides the guest list — wasn’t very impressive. Like all such evenings attended by polemicists, it resembled the building of the Tower of Babel. Right winger Noel Parmenter wanted Mailer to run alone on the ticket; others wanted him to run with Jimmy Breslin in an attempt to appeal to the working class. Another group was pushing for a Black Panther for comptroller, and still another wanted a woman on the ticket to run on the platform of female rights. Along about now I was wishing that Carmine DeSapio would enter the room and restore some decent totalitarian clubhouse order.

Besides all this, the evening was taking on a carnival atmosphere. Ice cubes were tinkling in glasses like the Bells of St. Mary’s and the ideas being put forth were getting more bizarre with every chime. Mailer finally took the floor, presenting a surrealistic platform with his baroque pointing and jabbing, Jimmy Cagney style. His running mate, Jimmy Breslin, sat in a chair, growling his ideas on the issues: “When we get on tv with them, we’ll just tell them they’re full of shit” and “fuck them and their Mickey Mouse issues — the city is lost” and “I wouldn’t even let Norman debate those fuckin’ bandits; he’d get arrested for consorting.” By now my notes resembled passages from Finnegans Wake.

When the meeting began to break up, Mailer realized it hadn’t gone well. He gathered a handful of us at the door and said he wanted to meet again in a week when he returned from Provincetown to discuss the race seriously. He said he was well aware of the tragic problems of the city and said any idea of a “campy or college boy prank” of a campaign was personally disgusting to him. We would meet again in a small group and discuss the campaign in depth. For the first time that evening I was moved. I left with Breslin, Pete Hamill, and John Scanlon. Breslin, walking toward the St. George Hotel to hail a cab to Queens, turned to us and shouted into the Brooklyn night: “You know something? That bum is serious!”

About 10 days later we were called to a meeting at Gloria Steinem’s house at 11 a.m. on a Sunday. Finding 11 a.m. a difficult time to get any part of me up, never mind my whole body, I arrived a half hour late. Mailer, sitting in a chair looking rested and slimmer, looked at me and said: “You’re a half hour late. In the future, let’s see if we all can make meetings on time.” Breslin’s parting remark echoed in my mind.

We began to relegate duties. Jack Newfield and Paul Gorman were to search out interest among the kids who worked for Kennedy and McCarthy. Alice Krakauer was to handle press, a duty she performed for McCarthy. Gloria Steinem would entice talent into the campaign. Joe Ferris, a bright young urbanist, became our one-man “think-tank.” Peter Maas would present political papers and, since I had some organizational experience during the Lindsay campaign, I was designated campaign manager. After years of handling such losers as the Civilian Review Board and local reform insurgents who usually garnered 11 votes, I was impressed. Never before did I have a chance to manage such a property, but I wasn’t convinced yet.

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Then came Robert F. Wagner and I sensed a great gamble in the air of New York. Staid liberals started to develop an aura of fuck-youism. But the convincer was Mailer himself. He began to study the problems of the city in earnest. We held sessions on housing, unemployment, air pollution, and finance with experts in these fields. As impressive as they were with their figures, their solutions were nowhere as imaginative as those of the candidate himself.

The common ground we all agreed upon was community control. I always thought the city’s best neighborhoods were the ones that controlled their own lives through block associations, strong local school boards, and planning boards. We now began to take the idea further. Mailer stressed the idea that if we believed in such controls it would have to apply to all neighborhoods — both left and right. Harlem and Staten Island, under Mailer’s mayoralty, would have the right to their own life styles. We could now have communities that honored Malcolm X and John Birch on their birthdays.

Mailer and Breslin formulated an initial three-point platform. New York City was to become a city-state (“because the federal government and the farmers in Albany have no right dictating our life styles.”) Harlem and Bed-Stuy would be given the right to vote on referenda declaring themselves separate townships, and complete community control would be instituted throughout the boroughs. As radical as the program sounded, it made complete sense to me, and I also realized there wasn’t a politician in New York who would dare run on such ideas. Mailer was now my man.

After two years of working for a city agency (HRA) I firmly believed super-agencies were a flop. Besides the fact that a great deal of poverty money went to exorbitant salaries, the programs they fostered were disasters. The people themselves never had a chance at curing their own plight. The liberal establishment became caterers to the poor. They knew what was best. As Mailer said: “If I were black I would find it my duty to steal from the federal government.” But he added: “A man is more apt to steal from an abstraction than from neighbors.” Breslin, with his usual economy, said: “All we managed to do was make a mess out of their lives. Let them handle it themselves.”

Besides this, I felt the old style New Deal programs gave the blacks and Puerto Ricans a built-in excuse not to excel. It’s too easy to blame the federal government, City Hall, the establishment, for lack of progress. With control of their own lives they would either bring a renaissance in American life, or end up like the rest of us — mediocrities with a great deal of shit in our blood. The choice would be theirs and the liberals for once could stop going through life breast-beating mea culpas.

But the thing that intrigued me about Mailer was that he carried the idea of community control to its smallest unit — man itself. When someone suggested the idea of replacing the water in toilets with chemicals to remove the waste, Mailer refused, noting that man is losing contact with himself and “should be able to smell his own shit.” Programs for the poor were repugnant to him because they place man in slots negating his chance: “to forge the destiny of his soul.” In short, he is still naive enough to think our soul possesses the grace to manage our own lives.

And any candidate who believes that the act of love still can produce a noble result should be given high preference over those who collectively view us as: the middle class, the poor, the disenfranchised, and the establishment. So individually every New Yorker has a chance at a magnificent gamble.

Let’s throw out the dull caterers and vote the rascals in.

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BOOKS ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives IMPEACHMENT ARCHIVES

The Presidential Impeachment Primer

In his disconcertingly timely new biography, Richard Nixon: The Life (Doubleday, $35), John A. Farrell catalogs the litany of ways in which a paranoid, thin-skinned president with a persecution complex can compound his faults with rash decision-making. Sound familiar? With history seemingly repeating itself — and America’s sitting president now under Nixonian scrutiny — the award-winning author and historian picks a selection of titles to help observers make sense of the current political crisis. Filled with partisan skulduggery, backroom bad behavior, surreptitious recordings, and a cast of characters straight out of House of Cards, these picks will keep you turning pages faster than your Lee Childs–reading beach companion.

Nightmare: Underside of the Nixon Years, by J. Anthony Lukas (1976)

“The late, great Pulitzer Prize-winning author was assigned by his editors at the New York Times to write a series of stories as the Watergate saga unfolded in 1973 and ’74. Each took up the whole Sunday magazine. He reworked these pieces into this 1976 book, with reporting that has stood the test of time.

There are two books that capture the sprawling scandal and its mammoth cast in 500-600 pages. The Lukas book is one; the other is Watergateby Fred Emery, who was the DC bureau chief for The Times of London during the 1970s, and used the fresh sources and revelations that became available in the aftermath of Nixon’s resignation to write this lucid and fascinating 1994 companion to a BBC/Discovery Channel documentary.”

How the Good Guys Finally Won, by Jimmy Breslin (1975)

“Arriving late to the party, the inimitable New York columnist Jimmy Breslin had the smarts to attach himself to, and chronicle the moves of, the sly, winning, old-school choreographer of Nixon’s impeachment: then–House Majority Leader Thomas ‘Tip’ O’Neill Jr. As Breslin warned in an earlier book (on the woeful New York Mets): “If one is to have any fun out of life, one should proceed with the understanding that reminiscing is to be enjoyed, not authenticated.” But the Breslin-O’Neill matchup is irresistible, and this is Breslin at the top of his form. Political power? It’s all ‘mirrors and blue smoke,’ Jimmy writes.”

The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (1976)

“You’ll be stunned by how many of the memorable Watergate scenes originated in this volume. Woodstein’s gripping report on the impeachment process followed All the President’s Men and, while quite different, is just as riveting:

‘The President did not rise. He was weeping. And then, still sobbing, Nixon leaned over, striking his fists on the carpet, crying, `What have I done? What has happened?’ Kissinger touched the President, and then held him, tried to console him, to bring rest and peace to the man who was curled on the carpet like a child.’

And don’t let anyone tell you that Woodward and Bernstein made this stuff up. The notes and transcripts of their Final Days interviews are available at the University of Texas, and I’ve gone there and read them. The book is as solid as a granite cornerstone.”

THE FINAL DAYS "This was an extraordinary mission. No presidential aides had ever done what they were about to do."
THE FINAL DAYS “This was an extraordinary mission. No presidential aides had ever done what they were about to do.”

Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes, by Stanley Kutler (1997)

“We take listening to White House tapes — of presidents going back to Franklin Roosevelt — for granted. But without the victorious courtroom battled waged by the late professor Kutler and ‘Public Citizen against Nixon and the National Archives’, it is doubtful that we could go online, as we can today, and listen to Tricky Dick incriminate himself. Over time, presidential libraries have fallen into line, and we now can eavesdrop on John F. Kennedy discussing the Cuban Missile Crisis, or Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam, as well as Nixon’s ugly rambling about Watergate, the Kennedys, the Jews, Vietnam, or the press. Kutler’s book contains the first tranche of Watergate tapes – segments that ‘provide a massive, overwhelming record of Nixon’s involvement and his instigation of obstruction of justice and abuse of power,’ as he describes them. Indeed they do”

“Impeachment of Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States; Report of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives. August 20, 1974.” (1975)

For those who want their Watergate history straight, without the color of a Breslin, the digging of Woodward and Bernstein, or the analysis of Tony Lukas, there are two essential government reports. On the Senate side, The Final Report of the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities was released by the Senate Watergate Committee, chaired by Sen. Sam Ervin, the Democrat from North Carolina. (It was re-published as The Senate Watergate Report by Carroll & Graf, New York, in 2005).

The Senate’s volume has an intriguing minority report, reviewing the role of the Central Intelligence Agency, but the House Judiciary Committee report contains a more extensive discussion of the constitutional remedy of Impeachment. And, quite notably, the House report contains this message from the Republican members of the Judiciary committee to posterity, anticipating the day that Nixon defenders would claim he was railroaded from the presidency:

‘We know that is has been said, and perhaps some will continue to say, that Richard Nixon was `hounded from office’ by his political opponents and media critics. 

We feel constrained to point out, however, that it was Richard Nixon who impeded the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate affair by wrongfully attempting to implicate the Central Intelligence Agency; it was Richard Nixon who created and preserved the evidence of that transgression and…concealed its terrible import, even from his own counsel, until he could do so no longer. And it was a unanimous Supreme Court of the United States, which in an opinion authored by the Chief Justice whom he appointed, ordered Richard Nixon to surrender that evidence to the special prosecutor to further the ends of justice.

The tragedy that finally engulfed Richard Nixon had many facets. One was the very self-inflicted nature of the harm…..day after day, month after month, he imprisoned the truth about his role in the Watergate cover-up so long and so tightly within the solitude of the Oval Office that it could not be unleased without destroying his Presidency.’ 

Case closed.”

The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clintonby Peter Baker (2001)

“This is the go-to story of independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s repugnant Javert-like pursuit of Bill Clinton, told with taste, vigor and precision by Baker – who covered the saga for The Washington Post (and now, unlucky soul, is tracking Donald Trump’s legal and political woes for the New York Times.) 

You remember Ken Starr. He was charged with investigating Clinton’s involvement in an obscure Arkansas real estate deal known as the Whitewater scandal. Starr got nowhere (after burning through two years and several million dollars) until he chanced upon the salacious tale of Monica Lewinsky, the intern who had sex with a president. Starr seized on Lewinsky’s story like the drowning man he was, and soiled his reputation, the presidency, the impeachment process and (as it turned out) the Republican Congress.

For an updated version of the Clinton impeachment, from a decade later, see The Death of American Virtue, by Ken Gormley – who brings to the table what he learned as the biographer of Watergate special counsel Archibald Cox.

If there is a hell, then Starr may rate a special place in Dante’s eighth circle of hypocrites and scandalmongers. After putting his country through the injurious spectacle of the Clinton impeachment, Starr went on to the presidency of Baylor University where, during his tenure, officials cloaked a history of alleged sexual assaults and gang rape committed by the college’s football players. He left in disgrace last year.”

Impeached: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacyby David Stewart (2010)

“The author is a top-notch Washington lawyer who brings the canny perspective of his profession to his telling of the 19th century trials of Aaron Burr (American Emperor) and President Andrew Johnson. (Something of a Renaissance man, Stewart has also written a well-received biography of James Madison, and a series of historic detective stories regarding John Wilkes Booth, Woodrow Wilson and Babe Ruth.)

The Johnson trial was as partisan as the Clinton impeachment, and John F. Kennedy, in Profiles in Couragelauded Sen. Edmund Ross, a Republican from Kansas who refused to join his radical cohorts in the Walpurgis Night dance, and thus helped Johnson escape conviction. Stewart outlines why the Johnson impeachment gave the process so bad a name that it was not revived until Nixon.”

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ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Living NYC ARCHIVES

Los Carpinteros Moonwalk through the Crack-up

Jimmy Breslin was right: There is no more beautiful sight than a heaving street full of people. In Havana, on a sun-baked afternoon, that sensuous humanist observation goes double. Picture a Times Square flash mob mugged by the hurly-burly of New Orleans’ scrappy Treme.

For those who haven’t visited Fidel’s island, a current show at Chelsea’s Sean Kelly gallery opens a window onto some of its special genius, while also offering what scholarly types might term a critical history. Courtesy of two of Cuba’s greatest living artists, the duo Los Carpinteros, this exhibition—besides holding up a convex mirror to carnival culture—takes a local view of a spiny global phenomenon: the epochal disillusionment that replaced the Left’s hopes and dreams for billions of Cold War losers around the world.

A jolt felt intensely from Cambridge to Chongqing, utopianism’s sudden ebb hit many intellectuals, writers, and artists in the United States and Europe like heroin withdrawal. But if cold turkey for the likes of Sean Penn and Naomi Wolf meant a short stint at Western liberalism’s Hazelden clinic, their Cuban counterparts, along with the island’s doctors, barkeeps, and street sweepers, continue to inhabit a nightmare scenario straight out of the film Juan of the Dead. Condemned to inhabit a country where escape from history is simply not possible, Cubans now—like many Russians, Chinese, Venezuelans, Iranians, and others—pass their days like zombies, not fully inhabiting this century’s ambitions and never resurrecting the glories of the century that passed.

This, in a nutshell, is the philosophical limbo explored by Los Carpinteros, whose eminently practical name means “The Carpenters.” Committed to untying our time’s knotty cultural and political contradictions, the creative team of Marco Antonio Castillo and Dagoberto Rodríguez has become expert at examining hallowed public images, then turning them on their heads. (Alexandre Arrechea, a third original member who left the collective in 2003, recently commandeered Park Avenue’s medians with irreverent sculptures of Manhattan skyscrapers.) Los Carpinteros’ latest New York exhibition continues the group’s reconstruction of public propaganda. Pace Arthur Koestler, their sculptures constitute mostly anti-monuments to the God that failed.

Consider the large, Lego-brick-covered memorials inside Sean Kelly’s main gallery. Inspired directly by Communist-era megaliths, these include a flying black wedge based on a cement Cyclops originally erected in the former Yugoslavia to commemorate WWII victims; a yellow upside-down Nike swoosh that mimics Moscow’s existing Monument to the Conquerors of Space; and a red-and-black version of the UFO-like building that currently houses St. Petersburg’s State Scientific Center for Robotics and Technical Cybernetics. Built in wood and finished in toy pieces, these adaptations of Soviet-era architectural futurism bristle with Borat-type buffoonery. These Legoland shapes appear on the verge of revealing some unspeakable historical gaffe: Wawaweewa!

Also inside the same space (the gallery’s exhibition areas run to XL size) are two aluminum wall portraits that acidly satirize the Brobdingnagian silhouettes of revolutionary icons Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos installed in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución since 1995. Unlike the regime’s billboard-size representations, which serve as backdrops for rallies and official events, the backlit silhouettes created by Los Carpinteros celebrate flesh-and-blood survivors of what the artists call “Cuba’s real lost generation.” Portraits of two elderly adherents of the revolution, they also happen to be likenesses of Rodriguez’s mother and Castillo’s grandfather.

In an adjacent gallery is the installation Tomates, a work that conflates political protest with Spain’s Tomatina, the fruit-tossing celebration now commercialized in Ray-Ban and Pepsi spots: It includes 250 porcelain tomatoes mock-smashed against several walls. But the group’s genuine pièce de résistance is displayed downstairs as a video. An electrifying multi-camera recording of one of the greatest art performances in history, Los Carpinteros’ Conga Irreversible features choreographers, musicians, and some 50 costumed dancers playing, singing, and dancing backward. Performed originally last September at the Havana Biennial along the mile-long Paseo del Prado, the work literalizes Cuba’s backward lurch with precise, bittersweet, hip-shaking panache.

Don’t miss it. Jimmy Breslin would have been goggle-eyed.

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Jimmy Breslin, Dick Schaap Temporarily Foment Rebellion

Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

June 9, 1966, Vol. XI, No. 34

Workers of the World (Journal Tribune) Unite

By Jack Newfield

The inspiration may have been Heywood Broun, but the reality was more in the spirit of W.C. Fields, when seven journalists conducted a press conference last week to float the idea of a separate newspaper union for editorial employees.

The day before, the seven rebels, including Tribune columnists Jimmy Breslin and Dick Schaap and Pogo cartoonist Walt Kelly, declared their intention to organize a rival union to the 34-year-old Newspaper Guild that would be restricted to editorial people only. At the moment the Guild includes a majority of advertising, clerical, maintenance, and circulation employees.

]

Immediately their announcement disrupted negotiations in the 38-day-old strike against the merged World Journal Tribune. Incumbent Guild leader Thomas J. Murphy accused the capitalists across the bargaining table of encouraging the dissidents in order to shatter the solidarity of the proles.

The rebels’ press conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at Gallagher’s Steak House on West 52nd Street. At the appointed moment the dissidents were closeted in the rear, trying to resolve differences among themselves.

As the gaggle of electronic journalists were unloading their cameras, tape recorders, klieg lights and microphones, a dozen police burst through the door to hunt down a bomb they had been tipped was planted in the steak house. A search revealed no evidence the class struggle had turned violent.

Crew-cut, raspy voiced Schaap was the first of the rebels to emerge from the back room, telling the assemblage of working journalists, “I hope you guys aren’t planning to write about this seriously.”

Soon the seven rebels were seated around a table, beneath fading photos of fighters, horses, and millionaires, before a forest of microphones.

Red-faced Walt Kelly, the senior insurgent, read a statement. He said Murphy’s allegation that his group was harming the strike negotiations was like “blaming the Johnstown flood on a leaky toilet in Altoona.” He added:

“We have decided, therefore, to wait until the current negotiations are successfully completed before pressing for reforms in the structure of newspaper unionism…As of now we have no union and no members. But we have an office, 75 East 55th Street, and we have an idea.”

The issue of craft versus industrial unions was fought and resolved by the Guild in 1937, when it voted to affiliate with John L. Lewis and the CIO. The insurgents themselves were divided over whether they wanted to be an autonomous group within the existing Guild, “one great big union” IWW-style, or a truly separate union for writers and editors.

But with the tension of the immediate formation of a rival union removed from the agenda, the press conference quickly descended into low comedy, starring Breslin.

The Runyonesque Trib columnist began, appropriately, by attacking the management of the Guild’s bar on West 44th Street. “If you can’t make money,” he said, “from a bunch of newspapermen with a bar, you might as well commit suicide.”

Then Breslin, who eagerly admitted his ignorance of the history of the labor movement, got annoyed at the legal questions asked him by the agent of the AFL-CIO news.

“Dual unionism? What’s that?” glared Breslin. “You don’t ask sensible questions. Can’t you even listen? Come on, get out of here,” he added menacingly, clenching and unclenching his huge fists.

Cartoonist Kelly then picked up the assault on the Guild, complaining that it was controlled by people who are not creative and not writers. “There are people in that union,” he said, “whose job is to trap cats out in Central Park.”

Then Kelly, wearying of the act, intoned, “Thank you Mister President,” the traditional signal for the conclusion of presidential press conferences. When the reporters persisted in peppering the divided insurgents with more questions, Kelly suddenly launched into an imitation of Mike Quill, finishing by tearing up his own press release and shouting Quill’s famous last words “I hope you drop dead in your judges’ robes.”

As the press applauded, Breslin, his debt to the IRA forebears paid, lurched toward the bar.

And Schaap, the most thoughtful of the rebels, wore an expression recalling Billy Moyers’ at the moment the President displayed his scar to the world.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Why Mailer Matters

Norman Kingsley Mailer may have been his own biggest fan and, without doubt, he was his own worst enemy.

By his own invitation, most of his postmortems focused on his literary ranking, or lack of one. It was a comparison Mailer steadily encouraged over the years as he fretted over his status like some aging minor-league ballplayer.

Likewise, you couldn’t write his obituary without telling about the near-fatal wife-stabbing, the ear-ripping wrestling match, or the too-trusting mentor who helped win the release of a talented but murderous convict who promptly killed again.

In life, he so pissed people off that even Budd Schulberg, the gentle nonagenarian who shared his love of all things boxing, felt no compunction about relating in the pages of the New York Post last week the embarrassing tale of Mailer’s graceless performance and flat-out-wrong predictions at the 1962 Floyd Patterson–Sonny Liston bout.

The kindest salute came from gossip columnist Liz Smith, who manages to make a living by never saying an unkind word about anyone, alive or dead. “He was a big soft-hearted guy in my book,” wrote the tabloid sweetheart.

But take it from this child of the sixties, someone who cheerfully passed over his last four or five door-stopping novels, but who devoured every word of The Naked and the Dead, Barbary Shore, The Deer Park, An American Dream, Why Are We in Vietnam?, and most of the big journalistic tomes: No one, with the possible exception of Bob Dylan, loomed larger in the imagination of my particular generational faction than Norman Mailer.

That’s why we come to praise Mailer. Not just the writer—others are better equipped for that job—but the feisty, irascible New Yorker who tried to carry a generation on his shoulders: the son of Crown Heights, the Boys High grad who made it to Harvard, the jug-eared young man who went to war, the imaginer of alternative newspapers, the brief inmate of Bellevue’s psych ward, the passionate, kamikaze mayoral candidate, the head-butting, put-your-dukes-up saloon intellectual, the perpetual celebrator of himself. We sing of him.

Norman Mailer. Relentless radical, ultimate hipster, pugilist poseur, feminist scourge, outrageous rake. Think of him what you will, his like will not pass this way again.

From the first encounter, his name and words hit like an electric jolt. If his language was sometimes obscure, the shock still measured in megawatts.


The first jolt came from a sighting of a little pamphlet from City Lights Books, the reprint of his essay, “The White Negro.” Along with the startling title, it had that Bizarro World cover, a photographic negative of a white man turned black, that leaped out from a table on a long-vanished downtown bookstore. For 50 cents, how could you miss? It was published in 1957, but reading it in the early ’60s, it still sounded new and dangerous. “A stench of fear has come out of every pore of American life,” he had told you by page two, “and we suffer from a collective failure of nerve.” If that was the ailment, he also had a prescription: “Hip,” he wrote, “is the sophistication of the wise primitive in a giant jungle.”

Jolt two came in sequential issues of Esquire, to which I subscribed in order to find more Mailer. Parents and friends assumed it was the soft-core porn sprinkled through the pages. The porn didn’t hurt, but it was Mailer that mattered. Imitating Dickens, he wrote An American Dream against deadline and it ran across eight issues, each episode steadily more disturbing and intriguing.

Yet it wasn’t just the words. It was the man who wrote them.

By the late ’60s, he had become an anti-war stalwart. Arrested and jailed in the 1967 march on the Pentagon—the basis for his The Armies of the Night—he kept following the radical trail. In August 1968, he joined a crew of other renegade intellectuals, including Jean Genet and William Burroughs, in Chicago, where they took part in the massive protests at the Democratic Convention. That was my first direct sighting. With a police riot raging one night along Michigan Avenue, three of us had taken sanctuary in the quiet streets behind the Hilton hotel where the delegates were housed. From out of the darkness, a short, barrel-chested man with a massive head swaggered and swayed toward us. He lurched left and then right, the telltale march of the inebriated.

We stopped in our tracks as we recognized the unmistakable form of the famous writer-turned-antiwar-partisan. He halted as well, presumably conducting his ritual head-to-toe survey of potential opponents. “Mr. Mailer,” one of us blurted. The ice was broken. “My troops!” he cried as he threw himself around our shoulders one by one. “You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful. My troops!” We might have followed this drunken general anywhere, but he staggered past us into the night.

[

A year later, the general was sighted again, back in New York this time, and leading a different brigade. This one was composed of writers who imagined themselves politicians, a boxer or two who thought themselves writers, and a phalanx of political enthusiasts aflame with the hopeless notion that Norman Mailer could somehow be elected mayor of New York, and the more attainable idea that a hell of a lot of fun could be had in trying.

It was his unequivocal “Bring the troops home now” demand that won our hearts. Not that the mayor of New York had much clout in that area, but it was better than the waffling John Lindsay, who then held City Hall. On local matters, Mailer’s campaign had some singular ideas as well. Its chief battle cry was that the city should become the 51st state, a goal Mailer and his running mate, the then equally hard-living columnist Jimmy Breslin, acknowledged was politically unfeasible. The other was “All power to the neighborhoods,” a something-for-everyone scheme aimed at fueling minority hopes, while defusing the fears of whites in the outer boroughs.


“Vote the rascals in” was their delightful slogan, mounted on a lone billboard hung above their rickety headquarters in a walk-up across from the old Coliseum on Columbus Circle. They were guided by campaign manager Joe Flaherty, an ex-longshoreman turned Village Voice writer who later wrote the magnificent political book Managing Mailer. Starting in late April 1969, they took their show on the road. Speaking at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to police students about their anti-crime ideas, they encountered, as Flaherty recalled, a few skeptics. “If you and Breslin go ape on the same evening,” one cop asked, “who will run the city?”

They got even less respect on a chaotic night in the auditorium of P.S. 41 on West 11th Street in the Village. A small, boldfaced notice in the May 8, 1969, Voice announced that Mailer would speak there on the subject of “Dr. Strangelove in the Seats of Power: City, State, and Nation”—not exactly your standard political stump speech. But that night, all we knew was that the great Mailer and Breslin were speaking nearby, and those of us eager to see and hear the charismatic duo squeezed into the hall and squatted on the floor near the stage.

The back of the room, however, and soon the stage itself were commandeered by members of a radical group known appropriately as “the Crazies.” Deciding that this was a prime opportunity to confront the ruling class and its liberal puppets, they hooted, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh,” and “Free the Panthers,” blew whistles, bounced a ball back and forth, and refused to let the candidates be heard.

Mailer, his feet planted squarely apart in boxing mode, was for once outmatched. He tried to shout past his hecklers, denouncing them as CIA agents, but it was hopeless. Breslin bellowed that these loudmouths wouldn’t “have the balls to try the same crap” at a rally for Mario Procaccino, the law-and-order Democrat from the Bronx who later won the primary. Eventually, the candidates fled as mutual epithets flew back and forth.

That spring, we wore buttons that read “Mailer-Breslin 51,” and another keeper—”No More Bullshit”—that unfortunately has long since disappeared. But few of us believed this was the ticket to political power. It was the thrill of the thing. Norman Mailer, America’s greatest writer, had said, “March.” We’d followed.

On sober reflection, it’s clear now that without Mailer in the race, the Democratic nomination might well have gone to Herman Badillo, the Puerto Rico–born borough president of the Bronx, who finished third and who ran on a platform of political empowerment and helping the poor. Mailer even said so himself to The New York Times in his own sober moment after he finished next to last with 41,000 votes in the June primary. “If I had known Badillo would do so well,” he admitted, “I might have hesitated about running.”

But there were other perks. In the midst of the campaign, it was announced that The Armies of the Night had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. Then publishers agreed to hand Mailer an unheard-of $1 million to write another nonfiction novel, as he called those works, this for the book that would become Of a Fire on the Moon.


Mailer and Voice Editor Dan Wolf in March of 1960
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

Despite that enormous success, no slight—real or imagined—rolled off his back. When Mailer decided that his campaign wasn’t getting the attention it deserved, he called a press conference—to denounce the press. “If you continue to treat us this way, you’re going to be a disgrace to your profession,” he scolded.

[

Included on his list of shame was the Voice, which had only featured large photos of Mailer and Breslin on its front page, run two lengthy stories announcing his campaign, and carried a detailed account of his appearance at a Brooklyn Democratic clubhouse. Not enough, Mailer insisted. He deserved day-long coverage, not just individual events.

By that time, his history with the weekly he’d helped to found was already fairly complicated. For a few short months after its 1955 launch, Mailer authored a regular
Voice column in which he scoped out his views on “The Hip and the Square,” and other themes that caught his fancy. It was an early example of his head-butting approach to the world.

“The only way I see myself becoming one of the cherished traditions of the Village,” he wrote in his maiden effort, “is to be actively disliked each week.”

He quickly lived up to that vow. Four months later, he declared himself through with the paper and its ham-fisted editors. Their crime? A copy-editing error had changed the word “nuance” into “nuisance.”

But he couldn’t really stay away. He showed up periodically in its pages, never more eloquently than in 1964, when he took up the then-raging debate on New York’s left as to whom to prefer: the longtime liberal darling, Republican Senator Kenneth Keating, or the carpetbagger Bobby Kennedy.

It was true, Mailer wrote, that Kennedy had “that prep-school arrogance” and had once been “that punk who used to play Junior D.A. to Joe McCarthy.” But Mailer spied the makings of a leader. “To vote for a man who is neuter is to vote for the plague,” he wrote. “I would rather vote for a man on the assumption he is a hero and have him turn into a monster than vote for a man who can never be a hero.”

Such was the force of word and attitude that drew so many to him for so long. But by the mid-’70s, a Mailer awash in success had happily turned himself into a Brillo-headed institution, adding movie director, television celebrity, and no-holds-barred debater to his résumé. In 1973, he threw a 50th birthday party for himself at the Four Seasons, charging $50 per couple. Several hundred came to pay homage, but when he made an incoherent speech containing a pointless dirty joke, he suffered the consequences. “Grotesque,” wrote one critic. The Voice, like everyone else, was soon giving him a dose of his own medicine.


“My Norman Mailer Problem and Ours” was the headline of a 1977 Voice piece by James Wolcott that critiqued Mailer’s debates on the Dick Cavett show with Gore Vidal. And that was one of the milder ones. “Norman Mailer Wastes Away”—a 1985 Voice story by the late Paul Cowan—was more typical.

And those weren’t even the feminist writers. Kate Millett’s scathing attacks on his sexism took up numerous pages. “Norman’s Ugly Conquest” was how the
Voice‘s Laurie Stone greeted Mailer’s 1980 ode to Marilyn Monroe.

There is one small, pleasing fragment that has survived from those battleground years. It is contained in a front-page illustration for the Voice of July 1, 1981, by the paper’s former stellar cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty. At the bottom of a scrambled New York tableau, Stamaty drew a perfect, pint-sized Mailer holding a copy of the Voice. “Scumbag Journalism, Page 42” is the caption popping out of his mouth. A blowup of the cover has long hung in the Voice‘s lobby, and since the single slow elevator gives us so much time there to ponder, I’ve looked at it often and wondered what prompted that particular blast.

Last week, I finally pulled one of the old green bound volumes off the library shelves to find out. As it happens, the hoped-for screed was only a small boxed correction. Mailer had telephoned, a nameless editor wrote, accusing the Voice of practicing “scumbag journalism” for having published a photo montage that made it seem as though he were together with Jack Henry Abbott, the murderous writer Mailer had helped free from prison. “He was also mighty angry,” the editor added, “that we published a photo of him in a dinner jacket.” Even then, Mailer had his pride.

There was one last sighting a couple of years ago. At a memorial service for a friend’s father, Mailer was sitting in the front row, still instantly recognizable from the back of the room by his formidable and now-frosty mane. When asked to speak, he grappled with the twin canes that he used in his last years and struggled to his feet. You had to fear that the old lion in winter was too weak for the task. But as soon as he faced his audience, the years slipped from his face and he let loose with his old mighty roar, a general summoning his troops.

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Jack Newfield, 1938-2004

Jack Newfield, whose 700 Voice pieces between 1964 and 1989 chronicled the left in New York and across America, died last week at 66. A columnist for the Daily News, Observer, Post, and Sun in more recent years, he was honored at a Wednesday funeral that included Mayor Bloomberg, Mario Cuomo, Fernando Ferrer, Jimmy Breslin, Dennis Rivera, Reverend Al Sharpton, and hundreds of his friends and readers.

Joining the Voice in its first decade, Newfield pioneered a new genre of advocacy journalism. But his larger contribution, patented here and transported on his customary yellow legal pads and manila folders to his daily columns, was a deeply personal investigative reporting that grew out of a consuming ethic and chased the new fact that could change policy or politics. His trademarks were: detail over dogma; leads that lassoed; each sentence, even in a 5,000-word opus, a crafted revelation. Simple and direct, he hated clauses more than criminals.

In his 2002 memoir, Somebody’s Gotta Tell It, Newfield defined his own lifelong method: “Pick an issue. Study it. Figure out who the decision makers you want to influence are. Name the guilty men. Make alliances with experts. Combine activism with the writing. Create a constituency for reform. And don’t stop till you have achieved some progress. This is what I mean by the Joe Frazier method. Keep coming forward. Be relentless. Don’t stop moving your hands. Break the other guy’s will.”

Nat Hentoff, who was already at the Voice when Newfield arrived four decades ago, said: “When I was coming up in Boston, there was this thing called ‘stick-to-it-iveness.’ Jack believed that if you broke a story, you’d just begun the process of change. He kept going.” Hentoff likened Newfield to a great jazz musician who, “even before he plays, communicates a presence as he sets up.” Newfield “radiated integrity.” Former Voice colleague Joe Conason recalled Jack’s “immunity to cynicism, profound sense of class, and optimism of will.” Tom Robbins, who worked with Newfield here and at the News, says he wrote stories with “a hammer, pounding one nail at a time.” His Voice headlines captured his crusades:

The Mayor Who Did Not Want to Know

Ray Harding & the Gluttony Party

The Men Who Are Killing A Noble Sport

Al D’Amato & the Shame of the Suburbs

The Last Unspeakable Nursing Home

The Landlord Who Puts Souls on Ice

How 9 White Men Cheated Half the City

The Men Who Are Burning NY

How the Mob Bleeds the Garment District

Lead Poisoning: Silent Epidemic in the Slums

Ten Worst Judges

Ten Worst Landlords

The Dreck Machine

Inspired by muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens, Jacob Riis, Michael Harrington, and I.F. Stone, he showcased in hard type the anger he prized as a professional prerequisite: “Compassion without anger can become merely sentiment or pity,” he wrote. “Knowledge without anger can stagnate into mere cynicism and apathy. Anger improves lucidity, persistence, audacity, and memory.”

Newfield’s other invention was embodied in the titles of two of his 10 books: The Permanent Government and City for Sale. In these bestsellers, as well as in articles he wrote at the Voice and elsewhere, he defined the compromising power of self-interest money in city politics. His exposés over decades—beginning with a table-by-table accounting of the wirepullers, contractors, leeches, and dealmakers at a Mayor Beame fundraising dinner in the 1970s—undergird a reform now closer to fruition than ever. Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s Campaign Finance Board are actively negotiating regulations that could dramatically restrict the contributions of those doing business with the city. The most significant change in city governance since the creation of the CFB in 1988, this reform may become his memorial tribute, driven by a mayor who takes no contributions and is thus free to champion it.

Ironically, Newfield won warm editorial and obit praise in the three conservative dailies but was faulted in a mixed Times review for “suggesting that facts should be subservient to larger understandings,” a pinpoint description of the Times‘ disinformation front pages that brought us to Baghdad. In fact, Jack was perpetually in search of facts that could lead to larger understandings, mining them, sometimes even milking them, but never manufacturing them. It is true that Newfield openly disdained Timesian “objectivity” that often winds up parroting an official line. So critiquing him by that elusive standard is like assessing a halfback by calculating an imaginary earned run average, using a time clock to measure distance. If Jack helped develop an alternative form, judge him by how he met its standards, rather than passing him through a Times filter.

The Times correctly cited Newfield’s memoir, though he actually wrote that politics “seemed more empty” in the later years of his life, not that it had “grown” empty. But any suggestion that readers were getting Newfield Lite at the end was belied by his masterful deconstruction of Ralph Reed in The Nation and the 35 or so columns and news stories he wrote for the Sun recently about his lifelong obsession: Brooklyn clubhouse corruption. The last interview he did, scrawled in a notebook at his home desk and dated November 15, was about the sale of Brooklyn judgeships, and the folder at his feet in his paper-strewn office, bulging with up-to-date reporting, was labeled “Tom DeLay.” While Newfield did write that he “discovered” that he liked writing positive, rather than negative, columns recently, it was a throwaway line, not an epitaph. He proved he could praise as passionately as he could attack by publishing a Thanksgiving Honor Roll of Heroes for almost 20 years, and he always believed punching out a public parasite was a positive story.


Jack’s father died when he was four, so Jack, propelled by loss in his own life, became a father to a generation of journalists. His two children, Rebecca and Joey, shared him with Maggie Haberman, Joanne Wasserman, Stu Marques, Marcia Kramer, Tom Robbins, Jim Callaghan, Paul Berman, Joe Conason, Jill Gardner, John P. Avlon, Bill Bastone, Mark Jacobson, myself, and many others. We still feel his hand guiding us whenever our fingers hit the keys. We will hear his whispered advice for thousands of stories yet to be written: Discover. Dissect. Dig. Track. Reveal. Confront. Besiege. Level. Care.

The journalists he adopted loved Jack Newfield, just like his lifelong brothers and sisters in type—Hentoff, Breslin, Pete Hamill, Murray Kempton, Nick Pileggi, Paul DuBrul, José Torres, Paul Cowan, Jules Feiffer, Eric Breindel, Joyce Wadler, Arthur Browne, Stanley Crouch, Norman Mailer, Gil Spencer, Victor Navasky, James Ridgeway, Wallace Matthews, Alex Cockburn, Dave Seifman, Fred Dicker, Susan Brownmiller, Juan Gonzalez, and Bob Caro.

For these fellow truthtellers, and for his readers across four decades, there is no better tribute than the one he quoted himself, in the final pages of his memoir, taken from a speech Martin Luther King delivered just 60 days before his assassination:

“I don’t want a long funeral. I’d like somebody to say that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. That I was a drum major for righteousness. And all the other shallow things won’t matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things to leave behind. I just want to leave a committed life behind.”


Research Assistance: Eric Cantor, Deborah S. Esquenazi, and Daniel Ten Kate

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Say What?

“If you want a poll on the Kerry-Bush race, sit down and make up your own. It is just as good as the monstrous frauds presented on television and the newspaper first pages.” —Jimmy Breslin, Newsday, 9.16.04



Additional reporting: Laurie Anne Agnese and David Botti

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Criticism w/o Critique

The Jimmy Breslin flap—call it Quotemarkgate—pales before other fabrication scandals that have plagued the press. But these days any infraction is worth belaboring, especially if you can undermine a celebrity in the process. In Breslin’s case, the gossip was much more newsworthy than the error. He reported a comment by the homophobic Reverend Lou Sheldon to the effect that gays kidnap men in order to turn them queer. Breslin put quotation marks around this remark, though it had been uttered 12 years ago and he was recalling it from memory. Sheldon denied he’d ever said it. Newsday reprimanded its star columnist in an editor’s note, and there the matter rests.

Of course it’s important to represent people correctly. Breslin should have paraphrased wording he couldn’t be certain of. But is his sin worse than the distortions that frequently grace the New York Post? You be the judge—unless you’re a press critic.

Once upon a very different time, press critics weighed in regularly on the larger meaning of journalism. (Think of the legendary ’60s journal [More], if you go back that far.) But what most editors want from media writers today is industrial reporting, which means hiring, firing, backstabbing, bottom lines, and schadenfreude-producing errors. This beat has become Celebrity Justice for journos. It’s one thing for a media writer to also be a media operator, as Michael Wolff, formerly of New York and currently of Vanity Fair, has been. It’s quite another for a press critic to criticize.

I know many journalists who would like to comment on the deep structure of their profession and its suck-up to advertisers, not to mention the dominant social order. But their editors won’t let them. And don’t tell me about The Washington Post‘s media arbiter, Howard Kurtz. I’ve yet to see him tackle a question of fundamental bias, such as: Why do words like savage and animal appear frequently in tabloid accounts of black mothers charged with killing their babies, while such words are rarely used when the killer mom is white?

Rachel Donadio’s piece about the Breslin affair, in the New York Observer of April 19, broke the rule by offering a meditation on its subject’s place in journalism. The reason she got away with this speculation, I suspect, was Breslin’s celebrity. Then, too, her piece was a feature. (The paper’s “real” media column concerned itself with the cosmic question of crediting a competitor for a scoop.) Under this loose rubric, Donadio was free to argue that Breslin’s techniques have become so commonplace in reportage that they no longer constitute a “New” Journalism. I don’t agree. New Journalism, the real thing, is an intricate adaptation of (usually naturalistic) literary devices, animated occasionally by the first person. When I was in J-school and I wrote such pieces, they’d be returned with comments like, “I don’t know what this is, but you owe me a story.” Many newspaper editors would now agree, but back in the day it was possible to publish such stuff in a daily, not to mention an alternative weekly.

Most writing that passes for New Journalism today has a whole lot of color and a notable absence of authorial fire. Breslin remains an exception to this rule, which is why he makes a good retro icon. Of course, there are young practitioners of Breslin’s craft, but you won’t find them in many newspapers. Most alternative papers are as dedicated to service as any hooker. And even in higher-minded publications on slick paper, the line between reporting, reflecting, and opining is much more rigidly defined. Pieces in the first person are usually labeled as such, and you have to be a marquee writer before most editors will trust you to speak your mind.

I’m afraid the same is true for press criticism. True, there are people who rant about the media’s slant, but nearly all of them are on the right. Progressive media writers report while the conservatives get to comment. This is part of a larger phenomenon, in which liberal publications must prove their objectivity, but right-wing venues are free to spin, which makes them a lot livelier. For that matter, there are hardly any hardcore progs on the nation’s op-ed pages. The spectrum of opinion in American papers goes from pale left to paleo right.

You’d think it would be different for press critics, but it isn’t. Editors who force them to stick to just the facts are doing what editors always have in conservative times: keeping faith with power.


Cynthia Cotts is on vacation and will return next week.