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Jewish World Review /Feb. 24, 1999 /7 Adar 5759


Mugger The New Yorker Takes the Local: Mister Hertzberg Strikes Out

I’LL ADMIT FROM THE OUTSET that I haven’t finished reading The New Yorker’s "double" issue devoted to the city that’s currently on newsstands. Maybe I was put off by Ed Sorel’s cover, which appeared to have been drawn on the train up to the weekly’s office.

More likely, it was Peter Carlson’s syrupy valentine to the issue that ran in The Washington Post on Feb. 16. How’s this for a groaning first sentence that some lazy Post editor didn’t spike: "There are 8 million stories in the naked city and here’s one of them."

Worse still was Nancy Franklin’s insufferably stupid "Comment" that led off "The Talk of the Town." A buffet of cliches, Franklin’s piece invokes Ed Koch, better known as Hizzoner, subway buskers, cabbies who drive too fast, the intolerable condition of public schools, the majesty of Central Park and the New York Public Library and the tension between Manhattan’s haves and have-nots.

Franklin writes: "Whatever you think of the results of the cleanup of Times Square, the speed with which the transformation occurred proves that where there’s a will there’s a way." Indeed, Nancy: Start Spreading The News. Her conclusion tops them all, and if I were Cindy Adams—God, what a thought!—I’d consult an attorney. Franklin: "Here you will have the worst and the best days of your life, and your response to both will be the same: Only in New York."

I slogged through Hendrik Hertzberg’s long, if perfunctory, history of New York’s tabloid newspapers. Just the first sentence tells us we’re in for an academic, and considering the author, necessarily condescending read: "Aside from certain subatomic particles and unrefrigerated egg-salad sandwiches, few physical objects are more ephemeral than a tabloid newspaper."

My first reaction was: Why didn’t editor David Remnick muster the creativity to assign Ben Katchor this story? The article is titled "Topless Tabloids of Gotham," some staffer’s sin of the week, with the subhed "Latest on Post v. News slay fest!" I suppose it has some worth to the New Yorker subscriber who doesn’t normally dirty himself with such reading, but it left me cold. Hertzberg, after a requisite recitation of the celebrities and villains who populate these newspapers (Monica, Pamela Anderson, Bill Clinton, O.J., etc.), then takes us back to a chronological examination of the New York tabloid. He explains some of the terms that are peculiar to this kind of periodical—"wood," "reefers" and the like—and says, "The writing, at its best, is as direct and riveting as a ransom note."

I’m sure that observation reassured the News’ usually excellent Michael Daly.

Such drivel nearly drove me to Nickelodeon, but I soldiered on, betting to myself that Hertzberg would eventually mention the two most famous contemporary tabloid headlines, and indeed he did: The News’ "Ford to City: Drop Dead" and the Post’s "Headless Body in Topless Bar." He meandered his way to Rupert Murdoch’s first purchase of the Post, acquired from the liberal Dorothy Schiff, and said that "Acquiring the Post put [Murdoch] on the American map." Incidentally, Hertzberg fails to note that in the same 60 days,
Murdoch also acquired, in one fell swoop, New York, New West and the Village Voice. A small point, perhaps, but one that would’ve lent credence—and maybe this wasn’t on Hertzberg’s agenda—to the notion that Murdoch was an equal-opportunity buyer, whether the publication was liberal, trendy or even radical. (And it must be stated that during Murdoch’s tenure as Voice owner—’77-’85—he interfered little with its editorial degeneration.)

The two photos that accompany Hertzberg’s article rankle as well. There’s a full-pager of Liz Smith, whom the author describes as "sweet" rather than the lapdog of p.r. spiders and the Vanity Fair promotions department that she in fact is; and a jarringly out-of-place picture of Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, co-editors of The New York Review of Books.

The only mention of that irrelevant publication is connected to the Daily News columnist Lars-Erik Nelson, a fellow Hertzberg—and really, I don’t think he’s joking—deems "so smart that he moonlights" for Silvers and Epstein. That Nelson hoists his flag for class warfare and the Clintons in nearly every column he writes can’t be lost on Hertzberg; I can only conclude they’re of similar minds politically.

Hertzberg poses the hypothetical question that if you were forced to pick either the Post or News as your "sole source of information about the world we live in," you would "certainly pick the News." After all, the News employs Nelson, runs "Doonesbury," has better TV listings and cityside columnists and presents news in a "more balanced, less distorted manner." Given the News’ hysterical editorials, which are far more shrill than the Post’s, I think it’s obvious that Hertzberg reads neither on a regular basis.

(In Monday’s Times, media reporter Alex Kuczynski, writing about the News’ expanding Sunday paper, kicks in with a cliche that’s worthy of The New Yorker: "For New Yorkers who can’t get enough newsprint, there will soon be something new to go with their Sunday bagel, lox and mid-morning George Stephanopoulos fix." Somebody call the medics! I can’t take much more of this atrocious prose! But have no fear: Ed Kosner, the retread editor who’s overseeing the project, has hired Brill’s Content reject Michael Kramer to edit the News’ enlarged opinion section. "A work in progress," Kuczynski elicits from Kramer, "as eclectic a mix as possible, with a lot of short stuff as well as traditional, column-length pieces." Revolutionary.)

However, I did like Hertzberg’s slap at News owner Mortimer Zuckerman: "New York’s media elites read the Times for information and the Post for gossip and a giggle. The people who play softball with Mort Zuckerman in the Hamptons read the Post. They don’t generally read the News—a source of great frustration for the star pitcher." Hertzberg’s intimation of personal knowledge about Zuckerman’s pitching prowess is surely appalling, and I don’t think White House aides read Post reporter Deborah Orin’s stories with a "giggle," but who can ever get enough of Zuckerman-bashing?

Finally, as if Hertzberg hasn’t exhausted you yet with his elitist take on this species of newspaper, there’s this nauseating anecdote: "And [tabloids] are treasures. When I was a little boy, we had the Times delivered, but my father sometimes brought home the tabloids as a slightly naughty treat." Well, at least he didn’t describe the men and women who work at these papers as "ink-stained wretches." That, after so much hokum, would’ve made me heave.

A Search for the Clemens Upside

I’D JUST FINISHED ANOTHER TIRESOME AL HUNT COLUMN about the magic of presidential fraud John McCain last Thursday in the Journal when my second oldest brother gave me a buzz. After making small talk, he gloated about some horrible news that hadn’t made the morning papers.

Roger Clemens was now a Yankee. My brother, born in ’44, and a Yanks fan during the heyday of that heinous team when they were the General Motors of baseball, said with a sick laugh, "Yeah, but why did Steinbrenner have to get rid of Homer Bush?" I told him to knock off the funny stuff if he didn’t want me to hang up right then and there.

I’ve had three favorite baseball players in my many years as a Bosox fan: Dick Stuart, Carl Yastrzemski and Clemens. Sure, Dick Radatz, Rico Petrocelli, Tony Conigliaro, Bill Lee, Jim Rice and Jim Lonborg all rated, and now Nomar Garciaparra, but those three were my guys. It was a nightmare when the moronic Dan Duquette, Boston’s GM, allowed Clemens to leave for the Blue Jays (just like he screwed over Mo Vaughn so badly that that beloved Boston star split for the Angels after last season).

Duquette thought The Rocket was washed up, in the "twilight of his career": Instead, the ornery Texan totted up two consecutive Cy Young awards for the mediocre Jays. But now, with Clemens going to the hated Yanks, it makes a Bosox fan want to give up and just boycott the season altogether. The only upside is that my two sons will be able to see The Rocket at the Stadium and tell their kids about it: just as my brothers can brag about watching Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra; like my mother and two uncles could talk about sitting in the bleachers while Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio made baseball history.

Actually, Junior did see The Rocket pitch once, but he wasn’t quite two years old. We had tickets in nosebleed territory, but the little guy stuck it out for seven innings. It was a lot of fun: We were accompanied by my nephew Cal and his buddy Dan, a few friends from NYPress, and Mrs. M, plump with MUGGER III in her belly, was a real sport for making the trip. One pitfall: The Yanks won the game, and as we were leaving some beery Bomber fans taunted me for wearing a Bosox cap, even though it was a day game and only the beginning of June.

Despite the tragic ending of the ’86 World Series, that was a banner year for Clemens and the Sox, as he reeled off 14 consecutive wins at one stretch, struck out 20 Seattle Mariners in an April game and won his first Cy Young award. I’ve seen him pitch at different ballparks—Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Memorial Stadium, the Toronto Skydome—and it’s usually been electrifying. Once, my brother and I bought first-row tickets, at 500 clams apiece, for the first game of the ’90 American League playoffs against the mighty Oakland A’s. Clemens left after the sixth with a 1-0 lead; of course, Boston’s stinky bullpen blew it and the Sox wound up losing by about eight runs and were swept in four games.

Clemens is also a hothead, a throwback to a different era of baseball—and a player that the anal purist George Will wouldn’t approve of—throwing at batters in retaliation for the opposing team’s pitchers’ brushbacks of his teammates. In Ursula Reel’s Post story last Friday she recounted a doozy of a Rocket story. After Clemens won the American League MVP award in ’86, Bill Clinton’s new best friend, Hank Aaron, protested, saying the honor should go only to everyday players.

Clemens responded: "I don’t put any stock in what he says. If it were Reggie Jackson—someone I respect—it might be different. I wish he was still playing. If he were, I’d probably crack his head open to show him how valuable I was." Hyperbole, sure, but Yanks fans who are disappointed that David Wells, the hard-living pitcher who went to the Jays for Clemens, is gone, won’t be let down by The Rocket.

Maybe that doesn’t include Jim Bouton, who ridiculed the Yanks’ new star in the Times last Sunday. Bouton, in bemoaning the loss of Wells, who until last year was essentially a journeyman ballplayer, wrote the following about Clemens: "What did the Yankees get in return? A pitching machine named Roger Clemens, the Cy Young Award winner who flunks chemistry—precisely the kind of guy the Yankees bragged about not having last year. The sort of player who’d rather join a winning team than work to build one."

What a bitter crock of hooey. Clemens was the Red Sox franchise player for more than 10 years and would’ve stayed with the team if a short-sighted general manager hadn’t forced him to seek different employment. How many other current major league stars have logged that much time with one team, Jim? Not Wells. And Clemens was the soul of the Red Sox, the man who helped build a winner several times in Boston. Now, in the last quarter of his career, who can blame him if he wants to pitch for a team that could win the World Series ring that eluded him in Boston?

JWR contributor "Mugger" is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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02/12/99:The Man Who Owns the World
02/10/99:The Impeachment Trial Splatters: Lindsey Graham Emerges a Hero
02/05/99: A Slight Stumble for Bush
01/29/99: Rich Is Back in the Tank
01/29/99: Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit
01/27/99:This Is Not America: Clinton’s Set to Walk and Party On, Suckers
01/25/99:Sniffles and High Fever: Kids Say the Darndest Things
01/20/99: Whole Lott(a) Waffling Goin' On
01/14/99: Senator Hillary Rodham in 2000: The First Step Back to the Oval Office
01/08/99: Drudge Is the Hero
01/06/99 : MUGGER & the Martians
12/30/98 : Last Licks of ’98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irving’s the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starr’s Magnificent Moment
11/18/98: Who could have imagined!?
11/11/98: Send Dowd Down to the Minors
11/05/98: Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush
10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabar’s: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1998, Russ Smith