Jewish World Review May 14, 1999/ 27 Iyar 5759
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On another subject completely, I was greatly amused at the dressing down William F. Buckley Jr. gave John Kennedy Jr. for inviting Larry Flynt as his guest to the recent White House Correspondents dinner on May 1.
Buckley is, of course, famously prissy, and his description of Flynt’s Hustler is a little silly in this day and age. (“Hustler is a magazine bought by pubescent boys with untempered curiosity about sexual perversions, and by adults with insatiable curiosity about sexual perversions, ‘adults’ who would read monthlies serializing the Marquis de Sade, if they were more literate.”) It’s hard to believe that Buckley, as a Yale buck two generations ago, didn’t visit Times Square and pop a few quarters in the video booths.
But I did like this excerpt from his May 6 syndicated column: “Now the survival of sadistic sex doesn’t surprise—it is a social pathology. But the question was asked by more than one guest the other night, ‘What does John Kennedy intend by inviting Larry Flynt as his guest?’ If there is another answer to that question than to shock everybody and draw attention to himself, come up with it, and send a copy to Professor Arthur Schlesinger to file for his next exonerative bulletin on the Kennedy family.”
Like $5 Million Will Make or Break Gannett
You know an idea is worthwhile when a horse-and-buggy journalist like Bill Kovach furrows his brow and says, “Well, I just don’t know about that.” Kovach, director of Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, was reacting to the news that USA Today, starting in October, will sell advertising space on its front page. According to The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, writing on May 6, Kovach said, “I just hate to see a retrograde movement back to putting news areas of newspapers up for sale to the highest bidder. You have to reserve some space, it seems to me, simply for the people who are buying the news because they paid 50 cents for the newspaper.”
What a load of hooey. I’m not a fan of USA Today—the articles are too short and usually too jolly for my taste—but placing ads on the front page is not the end of the world. In fact, the United States is about the only country where the sacrosanct notion of keeping page one of a broadsheet, or tabloid for that matter, free of commercial information still holds. Travel in Europe or Asia and well-respected newspapers, including ones that lean politically to the left, like London’s Guardian, usually reserve a corner on the page for a brand of liquor, new CD release, peanut butter, whatever. And often the sheets are pink, green and blue.
The New York Times, of course, runs a few lines of agate at the bottom of its front page—now that USA Today has crossed Kovach’s Rubicon, Arthur Sulzberger will probably eliminate them—but that’s considered a quaint artifact from another era, and is generally applauded by the pointy-heads like James Fallows and Timothy Noah who worry that a newspaper’s integrity is compromised by the layout of editorial content and advertising.
At least Kovach has company in the rest home of chin-scratchers. Someone with the handle of “Skyvue” in an Echo online conference wrote this about the USA Today decision: “They do a few things over there in Europe that might be frowned upon over here... They serve drinks without ice over there, too. Doesn’t mean I want my drink served that way. Rusty Smith puts ads on the front page of the vile NYPress. That’s proof enough for me that it’s a bad idea.”
Reed Timmer’s Glory
I might scrap the 27-inch-screen tv that was placed in front of my office desk two weeks ago. It’s beneficial to have cable, catching the last bit of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal in the morning, but a steady diet of CNN is making me crazier than when I was hooked on that toxic nicotine gum. I wrote last week about the mindless glut of Littleton news coverage; once that was over it was on to the tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas. Talk about bad taste: at 1:05 p.m. last Wednesday some CNN yo-yo correspondent interviewed “storm chaser” Reed Timmer about his role in tracking the storms. It was an horrific snippet of tv: Thousands of houses are destroyed, at least 41 people are dead and young WASPy Reed is rhapsodizing about being in the eye of the storm, seeing his “life flash before his eyes.” Straight out of Twister and just a nasty, inexcusable segment of CNN “news” footage.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t back to work for the victims. In a May 6 Washington Post article by Lois Romano and Paul Duggan, they describe the reaction of Betty Baker, a woman whose $357/month apartment was destroyed. When a tornado was at her door, Baker quickly drove to a school basement: “‘I wasn’t in there a minute until they said, “Everyone on the floor!” And that horrible noise started,’ she recalled. ‘And don’t you tell anyone it sounded like a freight train. It sounded like a bomb! Oh, God, I’ll never get over it.’”
Who can doubt she will? Unlike the CNN J-school graduates and cheeky Timmer, who were in the safety of their own homes or hotels that night, Baker, and thousands of others, were left pondering the future.
No Giuliani Spoken on The Road
I’ve had my quarrels with cabbies in New York—who hasn’t?—and it’s hard to be charitable toward the dope who doesn’t know where he’s going, smells like a wet rat and weaves in and out of traffic to gain all of 50 feet in a Holland Tunnel logjam. Not to mention those nutcases who speed recklessly on the FDR with a rickety car that could break down at any moment. But the majority of cabbies work long hours for lousy pay and have been singled out by Mayor Giuliani for abuse: That cops concentrate on ticketing taxi drivers, often with inexcusably stiff fines, while vans and trucks get away with double-parking on streets and causing huge traffic snafus, is simply unfair.
On May 1, Chris Moriarty, a cabby, wrote a terrific op-ed piece in The New York Times. Writing that “police don’t exactly have a monopoly on rudeness in New York,” Moriarty went on to list some tips to passengers. Some were funny, others serious. For example: “Please don’t ask me to accept subway tokens as payment of the cab fare until the day comes when I can buy gasoline with my Metrocard.” Or: “Please don’t tell me to hurry because you are running late.” One more: “Please don’t ask my opinion of the new song you are working on and then start singing it. If it were any good you’d be in a limo, not my cab.”
That’s New Jersey moxie.
I loved Moriarty’s writing, “Please don’t say to a native English-speaking cabby: ‘Hey, WOW! You speak English?!!’” That is rude, but Moriarty has to admit it’s a rarity, and will become even more of an anomaly once the refugees from Kosovo get their hack licenses. Besides, there’s no guarantee an English-speaking driver will know his way around the city better than any of his colleagues. It’s always a crapshoot. I don’t agree with the writer’s admonition not to dare ask him to take you to Newark International during rush hour; the passenger has the right to travel where he or she wants; if the sign on top of the cab is lit, that means “for hire.”
I concede a cabby’s reluctance to pick up a mom or dad with their three kids all eating ice cream cones; also, it’s unreasonable to sit your sick child in the front seat next to the driver.
Moriarty’s most serious point is this: “Please don’t ask why I’m not clean shaven, because I’ll tell you I waited in line at the Taxi and Limousine Commission for 10 hours to correct a mistake made by the commission that caused me to lose two weeks of work and I now need to work 14-hour shifts seven days a week to make up the lost wages. Excuse me for venting.” Vent all you want, Chris, but I can’t imagine asking a cabby about his or her personal appearance. As novelist Kurt Andersen’s Turn of the Century caricature Timothy Featherstone might say, “I won’t go there.”
Moriarty closes with a request not to ask his opinion about Rudy Giuliani. I’ll confess I violate this rule almost every time I’m in a cab. And the taxi work force is united in their opinion that the Mayor is an “idiot,” “jackass,” “big cheese” or “pain in the neck.” In fact, most cabbies love to rant about Rudy and will go on at length about their quarrels with him. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if you’re from Queens, Ghana, Pakistan, Ireland or Russia: Rudy, whomever he runs against in the 2000 Senate race, just isn’t going to win this bloc of voters.
Watch Out: There’s Someone’s Behind You
Thanks to P.T. Sharpton, New York City is now a less safe place in which to live. According to a May 6 article in The New York Times, arrests fell by 14 percent in April compared to March; former Police Commissioner William J. Bratton told reporter David Barstow that the decline was a “peacetime dividend,” a result of the city becoming a “more orderly place.” Sure. It’s obvious that since Amadou Diallo’s death in February, cops are less inclined to chase after criminals, whether street urchins or potentially dangerous. And who can blame them? With the stir that Sharpton created in the city, with all his self-aggrandizing protests and gathering of celebrities to be arrested for an hour or two, public sentiment against the police department has turned ugly. Cops are scared, not only for their jobs, but for their very lives.
The New York Post, in an admittedly jingoistic editorial on May 7, disputed the notion, put forth in the Times, of a conscious work slowdown by police officers. “A more likely explanation is simple fear,” the writer said. “Not lack of physical courage; the NYPD has never been short of that. Cops rightly fear being caught in the coils of a legal system that is operating under pressure from demagogues and thugs eager to turn individuals into symbols that can be exploited for their own purposes. Dodgy street characters who might have been stopped and ‘tossed’ a year ago are now going unmolested.”
It’ll be interesting to see how Rudy Giuliani continues to handle this crisis, given his U.S. Senate aspirations. On the one hand, an even tougher stand toward criminals will win him votes upstate and in the suburbs, especially when the Democratic candidate, presumably Nita Lowey, will at least tacitly support Sharpton’s theatrics. Still, Giuliani has to be careful: A Republican candidate has to take at least a portion of the city vote—35 percent should do the trick—so he’ll probably tread lightly around the entire controversy. Which will mean at least a partial return to the Dinkins/Koch years when crime was an everyday fear.
I like and admire Robert Lederman, the 48-year-old artist who’s gained a degree of notoriety in the last few years for his caricatures of Giuliani as Hitler. He’s a smart man who believes passionately that the Mayor is a bully who will only get worse. But even Lederman, who’s written for NYPress, can get carried away with hyperbole. For example, he told a Jewish Week reporter last week that while Giuliani isn’t the living embodiment of Hitler yet, it could happen. On Lederman’s website, according to Adam Dickter’s story, he asks: “Is he sending millions to the gas chambers? Of course the answer for now is no. That’s the same answer one would have had to give if these questions were being asked...in 1932.”
Robert, get a grip. Remember, Giuliani is term-limited; even if he
doesn’t run for Senate, or doesn’t win, he’s out of Gracie Mansion at
the end of 2001. That doesn’t give him much time to stoke the ovens. My
fear is that Giuliani will wind up as George W. Bush’s attorney general
in the next administration. Still, this isn’t Germany, and the AG won’t
have the power that Hitler did. Liberals living in the past, like The
Nation’s Eric Alterman, might disagree, saying that a government that
has Republicans controlling the White House and Congress could pose a
threat to the country, but they’re just flapping their gums between sips
of cappuccino or herbal tea. I’d think that Lederman, while not letting
up for a minute his often hilarious, and dead-on, campaign against the
Mayor, would be satisfied that he’ll have to pick a new target in just
05/12/99: Memory? What’s That You Asked?