Jewish World Review April 16, 1999 /30 Nissan 5759
Pressing My Nose Against the Window
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A woman from the Athens News sitting next to me was typing on her laptop, taking down Time managing editor Walter Isaacson’s unctuous introductory remarks, when an uptight middle-aged man—had to be a lawyer—turned around and hissed, "Can you stop that? It’s very annoying!"
Typical of this pro-Clinton crowd.
Later, when the gal on my left, a correspondent from the Times of London, ripped a piece of paper in half to give me her address, a woman crinkled her nose in disgust, as if to say, How dare you interrupt Curious George’s memories of Hillary with that racket! Earlier, I was nearly tossed from the room for snapping a few photos of Stephanopoulos; this was clearly not a media-friendly environment.
Stephanopoulos was a congenial guest, offering Democratic platitudes much like his commentary on Sunday’s This Week, and I give him credit for patiently repeating the same stories for probably the 80th time in the last month; then again, making a million bucks or more for a kiss-and-tell memoir about his days in the White House (his book All Too Human is a bestseller) isn’t a bad tradeoff.
Isaacson, on the other hand, dressed down—casual Friday!—in khakis and a white, button-down shirt, was nauseating in his sucking up to Clinton’s former aide.
Perhaps the two are pals, but when he opened by saying that Stephanopoulos is "one of the most reflective, self-aware and introspective persons I’ve met in the political arena," who’s had "the courage" to explain his years in the White House, I was glad I didn’t partake of the whitefish salad, fresh fruit and pastries. Really, Wally (I don’t know Isaacson, but what’s a little familiarity between strangers?), just because George is considered a traitor by the Clintons now, and has been thrashed by a number of reviewers, all that feel-good nonsense wasn’t necessary at an early hour. I mean, it’s not like the event was held in San Francisco.
Isaacson was also unbearable on the subject of Clinton, saying that although he doesn’t know him well, "Bill Clinton is the most seductive, charming person... He’s made me feel like I’m his best friend. By contrast, Al Gore is the opposite. There’s no emotion there."
But the capper to Isaacson’s hyperbole was this stunner: "George, the last line in your book is one of the great last lines of literature." He’s referring to Hillary Clinton saying, "I love you, George Stephanopoulos."
Gee whiz, Wally, get to the Caribbean and maybe bring along Carlyle’s The French Revolution or Darkness at Noon; you’ve been living in a political/corporate bubble for too long.
(By the way, I did get a boot out of Alexandra Jacobs’ "Eight-Day Week" blurb in last week’s New York Observer about the breakfast. She wrote: "Back when he was el grand señor at Random House Harold Evans had an idea: He’d host super-early breakfast talks and invite smug literary people to Barneys, where they’d sit wolfing down crullers, while we were still in REM sleep’s happy clutches. Then it all came crashing down when Harry suddenly left Random House and found a job at that hot paper, the Daily News. Well, this morning, the 92nd Street Y steals the breakfast concept and the man of honor is George (‘Most Happy Fella’) Stephanopoulos." Funny enough. Trouble is, Alex had the date wrong, listing it on Thursday instead of Friday, no doubt confusing a few of that paper’s 2000 readers.)
Stephanopoulos played the party line and said Al Gore has the 2000 presidential nomination sewn up, by dint of his organization in Iowa and New Hampshire, not to mention a huge amount of cash; but I got the feeling, from his occasional digs at the Internet’s inventor, and his fealty to former boss Dick Gephardt, that he’d really prefer Bill Bradley.
"Bradley hasn’t called anyone yet in New Hampshire," Stephanopoulos wistfully said, although he was quickly contradicted by Isaacson, who finally put his journalism hat on, khakis or no khakis. "We’ll see if Bradley comes with the one big issue that justifies unseating a sitting vice president," Stephanopoulos continued, with tortured logic (veeps have rarely had success in following their bosses).
He took a dig at George W. Bush, while fairly conceding the GOP nomination to the Governor, saying, "It’s hard to imagine how Bush has gotten to this point, how he’s rocketed to the top, with a decent but not particularly distinguished record in Texas."
I’d say it’s even more difficult to square how Clinton "rocketed" to the top in late ’91, but then that’s the power of journalist/publicists like Joe Klein and Sidney Blumenthal. And then Stephanopoulos teased the audience, claiming he believed the dark horses in the GOP race were Pat Buchanan, Dan Quayle and Lamar Alexander. He received the desired audience groans, but I think George has been on the book tour too long.
I asked Stephanopoulos for his reaction to Clinton apologist Garry Wills’ negative review of All Too Human in the April 4 New York Times "Book Review."
(The cover of the section was a takeoff of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album, a concept that was a cliche immediately after Frank Zappa produced an hilarious parody with We’re Only in it For the Money in ’68. Obviously, for commissioning that shopworn piece the Times art director should be fired and dispatched to Esquire immediately, where he or she would feel right at home.)
Stephanopoulos said he heard about the slam the Thursday before, and then tossed it upon purchasing the Times that Sunday. Wills essentially called him a crybaby, a whiner who was angry when he was banished from the White House’s inner circle. The insufferable pundit wrote: "But [Stephanopoulos] was not corrupted by power. He was corrupted by the fear of losing it, a fear he brought with him to the White House, not one he picked up there... [James] Carville, the antiracist Southerner from the large Roman Catholic family, will always be a more trustworthy ally than Stephanopoulos, the theologically trained schemer with the cherubic face."
Stephanopoulos, his pockets filled with greenbacks, a rare survivor from Clinton’s administration, shrugged, and said that when you write a book you can’t please everyone. Except perhaps himself.
More Malarkey From Marty Peretz
THE REDESIGNED NEW REPUBLIC is out (a double issue, April 26 & May 3) and as I suspected the project, which I’m sure was expensive, was change for change’s sake. Always a stupid reason to waste money. There will be the typical consternation of TNR readers (people are never in favor of a deviation from their habits, visual or otherwise), but I won’t join the parade of letter-writers to the Al Gore propaganda sheet disguised as a political journal.
The new logo is bigger and bolder, but the rest of the cover is a confusing jumble of teasers and bylines; in fact, paging through the revitalized TNR reminds me of Mother Jones, which seems to sport a new look every other year. Obviously, this issue was planned for months: It’s the largest edition in recent memory, 114 pages, and is packed with book advertisements, political lobbyist ads, a two-page spread from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a full page touting the Regency Hotel in Manhattan (owner Marty Peretz’s quarters in the city; so I’m guessing that’s either a favor for the big issue or on barter) and even a full-pager from Nissan.
I loved this line: "In developing this package, we were fortunate to have had the services of Roger Black, America’s leading magazine redesign specialist. Roger understands the mission of The New Republic; he crafted a design concordant with this magazine’s history and high standards."
What a bunch of baloney. Black, who’d be more useful playing dominoes in a nursing home with fellow out-to-pasture mediamen like Calvin Trillin, Clay Felker, Victor Navasky, Don Forst, Anthony Lewis, Peter Jennings and Randy Rothenberg, hasn’t introduced a single innovative idea in his new format for the magazine. Everything is familiar: a lot of heavy eight-point rules; four-color photos; illustrations by excellent artists like Drew Friedman, Gary Baseman and Philip Burke who are seen in a slew of other publications; and the magazine’s name printed sideways on pages of editorial content. If he spent more than a week or two on this job, while no doubt picking up a considerable paycheck, I’d be astonished.
Peretz takes pains to reassure readers that TNR’s "familiar cast of contributors" remains the same, and tellingly lists Dana Milbank, his chief editorial lapdog for Al Gore, first. Peretz concludes his useless remarks: "The New Republic is not just another publication but a community and a conversation to which reader participation remains essential as ever."
Fancy new clothes or not, it’s still a pamphlet that’s dedicated to electing Gore as the next president.
I found the following comment in the "Notebook" section particularly strange. It seems TNR has hired a new architecture critic, Martin Filler, and runs down his various credits. All of which is fine—it’s interesting to know the background of a new contributor—but the last line of the blurb is purely Clintonian: "We congratulate our readers on the shrewd and learned writing they are about to enjoy."
explain why I, and other TNR readers, are entitled to "congratulations"
because the magazine has a new critic?
Finally, in an attractive house ad that touts the redesign, the closer
in the copy reads: "The New Republic—the most powerful opinion magazine
around. And that’s a fact." Sure. I’ll just bet legislators and
competing journalists skip lunch to wait on line every Friday for the
new issue of The New
04/09/99: The Bush JugGoreNaut Continues; Send Sharpton to A Rwanda Fat Farm