Jewish World Review June 12, 2003 / 12 Sivan, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Raines and Clinton — boomers gone astray | At the height of the Jayson Blair Affair, Bill Clinton tried to help New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines.

According to a report first published by my Daily News colleague Paul D. Colford, the former President contacted Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and told him that resignation was too harsh a penalty for Raines.

Raines, like Clinton, is a Southern liberal of a certain age.

Despite their similarities (some say because of them) the Raines-run editorial page of The Times was very tough on Clinton, especially during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

So why did the former President intervene on Raines' behalf?

There is speculation that Clinton did it for political reasons, that he regards the loss of the Bush-phobic Raines as a blow to the Democratic Party. Maybe. But I have a different theory. I think Clinton reached out to help Raines because he felt the editor's pain.

After all, Clinton and Raines were undone by the same thing - an excessive fondness for eager, attractive but otherwise undistinguished young people. In that sense, Jayson Blair was Raines' Monica Lewinsky.

I do not mean to imply a sexual relationship between Raines and Blair. Not at all. But there was certainly something emotional in Raines' favoritism toward his young reporter. At the now-infamous Times town meeting, Raines confessed to looking "into my heart" and discovering a soft spot for Blair.

What was a 27-year-old kid doing in Raines' notoriously flinty heart?

Raines explained it in racial terms - as a white man from Alabama, he gave Blair an extra break. But there are a lot of black reporters at The Times - just as there were a lot of eager interns at the White House. Raines, in search of a protégé, picked Blair.

Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe Raines, like Clinton, was seduced.

I know, I know, Clinton and Raines were powerful men. But youthful charisma is a great equalizer in relationships, especially in the hands of manipulative and ambitious young people.

Lewinsky wasn't a great beauty, but she was intuitive enough to sense that she could have an affair with the President of the United States by snapping her underwear at him. Blair wasn't much of a reporter, but he saw he could be a star at The Times by taking Raines back to the '60s, to his own best days as an idealistic crusader for civil rights. Bill and Howell had personal itches. Monica and Jayson knew just where to scratch.

Getting played by a kid is a bitter experience, especially for members of a generation - my generation - that is notoriously unwilling to accept its own seniority. Hey, we're not old, we're young. It's just that we've been young for a long, long time. So long, in fact, that we've forgotten how easily and carelessly we once detected and exploited the anxieties and vulnerabilities of our elders.

When Clinton intervened to help Raines, I think he was reaching out, one victim of old-guy hubris to another.

It was a nice gesture, but we boomers are going to need more than scattered acts of generational solidarity to get us through the next decade or two.

Back in the '60s, we knew the dangers of getting involved with other, less worthy generations. Now inspired by the examples of Bill and Howell, we need to recapture our natural wariness.

All together now: Never trust anyone under 30!

Correction: My last column said Sen. Hillary Clinton graduated from Wesleyan University. She is, of course, a graduate of Wellesley College.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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