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Jewish World Review /Jan. 8, 1999 /19 Teves, 5759


Mugger Drudge Is the Hero

ON THURSDAY MORNING I hosted a panel at 8 a.m. (unlike alternative newspaper conventions, the room was packed at this early hour) that was ostensibly about letters to the editor. Laura Ingraham, cohost of the event, introduced the seminar and brought down the house with a brief joke: "Itís 10 a.m. in Hilton Head right now, and in between spiritual meetings and rounds of golf, President Clinton has promised there will be no bombings today. Pharmaceutical plants in the Third World are safe."

The Wall Street Journalís John Fund, Bill Kristol, the Chicago Tribuneís Jim Warren and Phillips Publishingís (parent of Regnery Books) Tom Phillips were my co-panelists and they all exceeded the five-minute limit on remarks, which kind of pissed me off because I had plenty of jokes, too. Phillips said, "What was bad for the country this year was terrific for Eagle Publishing. We had seven bestsellers. In fact, weíre now shrink-wrapping a Bill Clinton sixpack to sell."

And Warren, as is his trademark for his ubiquitous TV appearances, made a wry joke before going into a semiliberal spiel: "Iíll try to make this mercifully short after those thinly veiled commercials for Regnery Books and The Weekly Standard. I find letters to the editors boring; I donít read them or the editorials, so Iíll go on to another topic." As usual, he was pretty funny, although he did get a little flinty when I reminded him that he once claimed he would never appear on tv on the talking head shows. "I never said that," he protested. "Sorry," I laughed, "I was mixing you up with Eric Alterman." Warren didnít think that was funny either, but we shook hands anyway.

Before the q&a session, I reminded the audience that Larry Flynt was in league with the White House, that Maxine Waters should go live in a country where there are real coups and stay there, and that Trent Lott, given a shove by the eloquent Lindsey Graham, might still do the right thing and make sure the impeachment trial in the Senate lasts more than two weeks. Preaching to the converted, of course, but itís not like I could get away with this commentary on the Upper West Side.

Matt Drudge was the keynote speaker at lunch on Thursday and of course was a complete hit, with applause lines (real ones) coming more frequently than at Clintonís State of the Union address last year. Heís the man of the moment, especially in this crowd, and is justifiably milking it for all itís worth. As the assembled ate awful-looking foodóiceberg salads, iced tea and pastaóDrudge fed them a healthier diet of one-liners. He said, "I see the new Gallup poll, the year-ender, about Bill Clinton being the most admired man in America. Up from last yearó18 percent, as a matter of fact, three times more popular than the Pope. Hillary is thirdóthatís some sandwich." Drudge chuckled and waited for the audienceís laughter to die down. He spoke of his tangles with Sidney Blumenthal, made hilarious cracks about the hypocritical Howard Kurtz of The Washington Postó"He says the Internet is all about gossip: Then why is he always trolling AOL to find some of his own?"

As an anti-Clinton soldier, Drudge spoke of the irony of operating out of his one-bedroom Hollywood apartment. "I close my blinds so that the neighbors canít see Iím watching C-SPAN," he joked. He played to the audience by lampooning his celebrity neighbors: "Yeah, I love the limousine liberals who drive up to a mansion, go through gate after gate and tell the driver to keep the car warm while they go inside for an environmental fundraiser."

Drudge was a little flummoxed by a questioner who asked about accountability in the mediaóhow could he know what he put on the Web was accurate? Drudge dodged that and asked, "Why donít you ask CNN the same question?" Asked if he had a counterpart on the left, Drudge said no, "But there is an organization: Itís called The Washington Post." He promised an earthshaking scoop in the next few days, which turned out to be the love child, but wouldnít give many hints. Henry Hyde was the originally scheduled keynote speaker: "But while Hyde, with whom Iím glad to be walking on the same Earth," Drudge said, "is working in Washington on the Senate trial, Bill Clinton is playing golf. Gives you an idea of who cares about the law in this country."

After a late afternoon lunch with Jim and Molly Larkin at Los Dos Molinos, a consistent Phoenix New Times "Best Of" winner for burros and cheese crisps, I returned to the Biltmore for some reading and a snooze. The Weekend conventioneers were out for various activities: some went on a mountain hike, others went to a shooting range, others, I imagine, repaired to a midday church service or AA meeting. This is a strange bunch, but I feel comfortable in most settings, whether itís among Bible-thumpers, bankers, race track bums, barflies or jocks watching a football game on a wide-screen TV.

I draw the line at smelly hippies, young or old, whose idea of hygiene is a gargle of herbal tea in the morning, but basically Iím pretty tolerant. So when I set up shop at the Biltmoreís bar on New Yearís Eve, drinking espresso and club soda while poring through The Nation, it didnít bother me one iota that silly folks drinking blue cocktails and wearing rented tuxes surrounded me, or that the hotelís decorations, mixed up with Christmas lights and balloons waiting to fall at midnight, werenít exactly my idea of smart taste. My friend Michael Formica, an impeccable designer in the Village, would retch at the scene, but thatís his line of biz, not mine.

Later, around 10:30, I stopped in at the New Yearís Eve party at the Squaw Peak Terrace and had a chuckle watching these hardcore conservatives, some dressed in costume, including Drudge-like fedoras, dancing to "YMCA" andóyou had to be thereóa version of "The Macarena." Personally, I think it wouldíve been pretty cool if Soul Coughing landed this gigóthe junketeers wouldnít have known the difference and the irony factor would be all the more sweetóbut I was underdressed in a torn leather jacket and hightop Converses, so I split after about 15 minutes. After all, I still hadnít eaten dinner.

However, giving the Jan. 11 Nation a close read, which seemed a benevolent act of protest at The Weekend, I was struck by how long I could actually stay with the magazine. First, there was Arthur Miller, the literary equivalent of Arthur Schlesinger Jr., weighing in on the impeachment "crisis." Miller wrote Death of a Salesman and The Crucible and was married to Marilyn Monroe, so his life hasnít been a waste, but this gent ought to rest on his laurels and not get mixed up in politics and look like a silly old fool reliving his glory days of the 50s.

Miller once wrote with distinction; now heís reduced to parroting the lines of forgettable journalists like The Boston Globeís Thomas Oliphant and David Nyhan, complaining that "Our Bloodless Coup" is all about sex. Youíd think that Miller, who was well acquainted with real McCarthyism, would know better. Instead, he writes: "After all, can there be not one among the half-thousand members of both houses who has never lied about sex? Can we expect a confession from that one fellow, or lady perhaps, before he or she votes to destroy Bill Clinton forever? Donít hold your breath."

Why Clinton commands Arthur Millerís fealty is beyond me. I assume heís in the throes of old age and prone to silliness: Itís a shame he doesnít have the dignity of Joe DiMaggio and just keep silent.

Another old nag in the Nation stable, no doubt considered "a national treasure" by its readers, is Calvin Trillin. I was never a fan of the self-consciously folksy Trillin, although he sure makes Kansas City barbecue sound tasty, but heís reached the stage where heís the Jules Feiffer of humor writers, a literary fixture who just makes you think, "Please retire, now!" Trillinís contribution to The Nation in this issue is stupid beyond belief: "In every century, it seems,/The Constitutionís put to test/Important questions must be asked/And ours is, ĎDid he touch her breast?í"

Turn the page and Christopher Hitchens offers some relief. He recounts a story about Henry Kissinger at a cocktail party telling a Nation colleague of his that Bill Clinton "does not possess the strength of character to be a war criminal." Hitchens carves up Nation readers and liberals alike, unmasking their hypocrisy of protesting Clintonís impeachment while applauding his "demonstration bombing" of Iraq. How wonderful to read in The Nation a columnist calling Liz Holtzman a "woman of obvious low mentality," who possesses an "untidy mind" and exposing the fraudulent John Conyers of Michigan as "Nixonian."

The conclusion of his column, called "The Thief of Baghdad," is a stunner: "So, is it thinkable that American liberals, in defending what they regard as Clintonís own precious sexual freedom, have eagerly acquiesced in the random killing of civilians in unpopular countries? Well, they are the same morally null individuals who bleated that Judge Starr was a pornographer and who now flourish the bribed disclosures of Larry Flynt. It turns out that Clinton does possess the strength of character to be a war criminal, but preferably when itís all about himself."

I freely admit that Iím of the William Safire school on Iraq. Why not occupy Baghdad, knock off Saddam Hussein and get it over with before casualties quadruple in a protracted land war? All this dicking around with random bombing for political purposes is criminal. Like it or not, mine is a consistent position: Itís when liberals like Chuck Schumer, Robert Torricelli and Conyers, who vilified George Bush on Desert Storm, but weeks ago rallied around their morally bankrupt leader, are exposed that a writer like Hitchens is so valuable. Especially in The Nation.

Itís still the holiday season, so even I have a kind word or two for Katha Pollitt. Although sheís firmly in the camp that believes Clinton is being persecuted because of sex and only sex (I guess hush money and selling military technology to the Chinese government for campaign cash arenít crimes), she did come up with a great line: "As usual, warmongering is proving to be pure political Viagra. Clintonís ratings, already stratospheric, now rival Christís and Santaís."

And give my sweet gal Katha brownie points for honesty. Even though she calls Trent Lott a "newly outed white supremacist" because he spoke before a racist group, while excusing Clintonís denunciation of Sister Souljah to distance himself from Jesse Jackson, a complete contradiction, sheís clear about the current constitutional "crisis."

"Iíve opposed this whole impeachment business for one reason: I donít want the Christian crazies, antichoicers, gun lovers and racistsólet alone Sam and Cokieóto have the satisfaction. Iíd rather see them endlessly hoist with their own hypocritical petard by Larry Flynt, hero of the hour, whose million-dollar reward for Republican sexual scandal has already rid the stage of the maritally challenged Livingston."

One more bit of The Nation before I let you go. And, as they might say at that magazineís offices, itís a downer: Yes, Eric Alterman. Iíll be brief. Besides making an egregious error in his column, saying the Republicans have a "lame-duck majority," when in fact their control was merely reduced by the last election, Alterman whips up his readers by making bogeymen out of Tom DeLay, Bill Kristol and Robert Bork (all American heroes in my book). But Alterman, perhaps with a nudge from James Carville, veers toward hysteria at the end of his piece, writing, "Whatever one thinks of Bill Clinton, his opponents must be thwarted. They are the enemies of democracy and of the Constitution that insures its possibility. We long ago lost the luxury of choosing our allies. This is war."

War? Against what? Itís not as if a kook like Bob Barr is running for president. Alterman has chosen the side of Bill Clinton, Carville, Sidney Blumenthal, David Kendall, Janet Reno, Terry Lenzner, Larry Flynt, John Conyers, Maxine Waters, Jerrold Nadler and Dick Gephardt. My team? George W. Bush, John Engler, George Pataki, Bob Kerrey, Michael Kelly, Steve Forbes, Alex Cockburn and Robert Bartley.

Which side are you on?

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


01/06/99 : MUGGER & the Martians
12/30/98 : Last Licks of í98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irvingís the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starrís 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 Zabarís: 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