Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 2004/ 5 Kislev 5765


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Tobacco Finally Gets a Win: It's a Moral Matter; And So Does Your Muthah! | Executives at Philip Morris USA probably had to furtively step outside last week —gloating is forbidden at this pariah company —but you know the high-fives and revival of the catch-phrase "You've Come a Long Way, Baby!" resounded within the tobacco industry.

Talk about early Christmas presents. At a time when smokers are considered barely more tolerable than convicted child molesters, a Los Angeles Times photographer snapped a young Marine in Fallujah with a cigarette dangling from his battle-scarred mug, and instantly we're back in Marlboro Country again. The picture was printed, according to the Times, in over 100 newspapers, and subsequently the 20-year-old Kentucky native, James Blake Miller, is the object of female adoration and gung-ho partisans of the war in Iraq.

"If you want to write something," Miller told Times reporter Patrick J. McDonnell, "tell Marlboro I'm down to four packs and I'm here in Falloujah till who knows when. Maybe they can send some more. And they can bring the price down a bit." Effin' A, dude! The article appeared on Nov. 13, and it's a safe bet that Philip Morris has already sent a plane filled with cigs for Miller and his buddies.

The photographer, Luis Sinco, certainly deserves a Pulitzer for the iconic image, but I suspect that the Chateau Margaux-sniffers who pick the winners each spring won't go near it. It's probably a quandary as well for the Times editors: On the one hand, what daily doesn't want another Pulitzer for its lobby trophy case; on the other, such an award would probably be viewed as tainted goods since the stench of tobacco would envelop the honor.

But who knows, if Maureen Dowd is correct in predicting that the United States is making a return to the 1950s cultural ethos —all because of George W. Bush, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney (but not, of course, the lame-duck Colin Powell) —maybe even Michael Bloomberg will rescind his ban on smoking in New York City bars.

And, if this longshot and regrettably whimsical theory has any merit, it's even possible that Time magazine will not only ditch its stupid "Person of the Year" headline for its last issue of the year —"man" or "woman" or "idea" remains more accurate —and submit to the obvious choice of Bush for its cover. Until young Miller became not only a symbol of the Marines, but embattled smokers as well, I was convinced Time's editors would snub the President and settle on a choice more palatable to its editorial point of view. Say a split cover of Michael Moore and Mel Gibson. Or "The Rising Evangelicals." More likely, "A Polarized Nation."

Oh, wait, this just in: a mole at the mag has forwarded the front-running selection. It'll be "The American Voter," with the cover image of a brain clogged by competing thoughts like stem cell research, gay weddings, abortion, Freedom Fries, Swift Boat vets, George Soros and Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Locally, the New York Post wasted no time in appropriating Sinco's photo, devoting its Nov. 11 front page to Miller, with the headline "Smokin': Marlboro men kick butt in Fallujah." Say what you will about the inside contents of the Post —slipping, I'd say, as long as Dick Morris remains as an op-ed columnist, a monumental lapse in judgment that's just barely compensated by Deborah Orrin's excellent political coverage —but the Marlboro cover was just the first in three straight knockout Post front pages.

The next day featured a dead terrorist, with the magnificently truthful words "Arafat Dead: And he won't be missed" accompanying a photo of the tyrant who French president Jacques Chirac (and citizen of the world Jimmy Carter) praised upon his passing. As an encore, the Post's Nov. 12 edition was another punch to the gut, with this headline: "The Arafat Lady Sings: Rich widow's farewell to Yasser."

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No one, except perhaps New York Times editors and CBS News bigwigs, denies the influence of blogs on the political and cultural discussion and debate —mostly the latter —in the communications industry, but maybe it's a time for all websites to shut down just for a single day so that people can catch their breath. It's all getting really nutty after the election, or maybe "haywire" is the more polite term. It was bad enough on Election Day when the excellent National Review Online's "The Corner" lapsed into complete meltdown after the early exit polls predicted a Kerry victory; worse still, from my perspective, when left-wing sites hit happy hour prematurely, as exuberantly as the Yankee players after they held a three-zip game lead over the Bosox in the ALCS.

It's not just the conspiracy numbers-crunchers, who claim Rove stole the election for Bush, that's standard fare, but normally coherent writers who simply need a rest. Josh Marshall, for one, whose Talking Points Memo devolved, month by month this year into an adjunct of the Kerry campaign, with a particular emphasis on demonizing columnist Robert Novak. Marshall's a very smart fellow, a capable writer, and until this campaign reached hysteria sometime back in January, was fully able to criticize or defend both parties, even though he's a committed Democrat.

My feelings about Andrew Sullivan are known to readers of this column —the guy changes his mind every hour, portrays himself as the Lenin of the "Blogger Revolution" even while he's a fixture at "legacy" publications like Time, The New Republic, London's Times and heaven knows where else —but he's taken a drubbing recently that's not cricket in my book. It's bad enough that Nation columnist and Springsteen flack Eric Alterman still refers to Sullivan as "Little Roy," as in Cohn, supposedly for his onetime backing of Bush, although I think it proves that homophobia is a tolerated 10-letter-word on the Upper West Side.

But now James Wolcott, the talented pop culture writer, has made an unholy alliance with the likes of Alterman. Last week, Wolcott, in his own blog, indulged, like many Netizens, in a thorough scorching of the beleaguered Sullivan for his unfortunate appearance on Bill Maher's talk show. Sullivan was blasting the irrelevant (unless you're in the top income tax bracket and can still remember the words to John Lennon's silly song "Power to the People") Noam Chomsky for receiving generous speaking fees, presumably far more than Sullivan takes in.

Fine by me. But then Wolcott slid under a rock and wrote: "The strangest thing in the broadcast happened when the show was over. The panelists stood, Sullivan's back to the camera, and as the credits rolled, he began squeezing, massaging his own buttocks with his hands. I thought he might be trying to dislodge a thong strap that run up rather deep, but no, he seemed to be feeling up his own butt. I've never seen anything quite like it, unless I was hallucinating, and if I start hallucinating about Andrew Sullivan copping a feel of his own butt, it's time to check into the clinic for a little Elizabeth Wurtzel layoff."

Capital idea, James! It's not just the Sullivan entry that's a little screwy. Attacking Glenn Reynolds, a politically moderate middle-aged man who reluctantly voted for Bush after considering the alternative, and whose website InstaPundit is among the very best, and least vituperative, blogs available today, is kind of dopey.

Wolcott takes a carving knife to Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, for objecting to his description of Sullivan's unfortunate attention to an itch. (It's a measure of Sullivan's current unpopularity —a print and cyber-punching bag —that he's taken such a drubbing. For example, the last time I can remember anyone commenting on a baseball player scratching his nuts was back in the era of Catfish Hunter.)

Wolcott: "A racist-t-shirt wearing professor of Creationism at Wayback University who goes by the handle of Instapundit claims that if a Republican had written what I did about Andrew Sullivan's phantom creeper on [Maher's show], it would have been considered "homophobic." Let me put Mr. Muzzle Velocity's wee mind at ease. Had it been William Bennett…administering himself a thorough posterior pat-down, I would investigated this story with the same zeal. [See, even when Wolcott goes all Wavy Gravy on us, he's still pretty funny, I mean with the self-deprecating notion that watching a tv show is "investigation."] Or if it had been, G-d help us, Linda Chavez smuggling an undocumented worker up her butt —same deal."

Last Sunday, Reynolds sent an email to the equal opportunity Smith household, commenting, "I don't know what the deal is with Wolcott. I think it's a mixture of inborn vileness and trolling for attention."

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

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