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Jewish World Review April 23, 1999/ 7 Iyar 5759


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Baseball and Politics

(JWR) ---- (
1. My thanks to buddy Spike Vrusho, the psychedelic sportswriter who contributes to NYPress, for sending me the following bumpersticker: “Save Fenway Park!” I’ve already placed it on my office wall, just below a snapshot of Junior holding up his soccer trophy. Spike was being funny when he wrote: “Russ, Here’s one for the new Mercedes!” He’s always free to take a spin in the wagon, unlike the Voice’s “Press Clips” Cynthia Cotts, who’s calling around the country trying to figure out my finances. Hard cheese, sweetie, but you can claw with your fingernails till you hit China before you hit gold.

2. Darryl Strawberry? Throw the bum in the hoosegow. Sorry about his cancer but this is one dumb ballplayer who’s not only disgraced his wife but the Yanks as well. I agree with the Post’s Tom Keegan, who wrote last Friday: “Now it looks as if Strawberry has shown [George] Steinbrenner as little respect as if he had spit right in his face.”

On the subject of baseball, the Times ran a very stupid editorial on April 2, imaginatively headlined “Play Ball!” that whined about the gulf between the haves and have-nots in the Major Leagues. “If baseball has any problem that needs prompt attention, it is the growing disparity between the rich and poor teams. Of the 13 teams with payrolls above $48 million last year, only one had a losing record. Of the 17 teams below $48 million, only two had winning records. Something is clearly amiss when the Los Angeles Dodgers [owned by Times adversary Rupert Murdoch] are paying one player, Kevin Brown, $15 million—just slightly less than the $17 million Montreal is paying its entire team.”

What does the Times editorial board propose as a solution? Socialize baseball? That wouldn’t surprise me, but the writer then segued into a harangue against George Steinbrenner. This is a silly argument: I have no idea what the Montreal Expos’ owner’s financial stats are, but I have a suspicion that just like any individual or company that owns a professional sports franchise, he or the controlling conglomerate is not at poverty level. The United States is a capitalist country that fortunately doesn’t restrict baseball owners from throwing away millions on second-rate players.

You’d have to include the Florida Marlins in the have-not category, especially after former owner Wayne Huizenga did a Charlie Finley and stripped his ’97 World Series championship team. The new boss, John Henry, was profiled in the April 26 Fortune, and he’s not exactly hurting for cash, even as he parrots the Times line about the “economic disparity between the clubs.” But fear not: his company, John W. Henry & Co., made a fortune in “the secretive world of hedge funds” and now manages $2.2 billion for his family and private clients. Some have-not. If some proprietors want to be cheapskates that’s their prerogative; just as it is for Murdoch, Steinbrenner or Disney to lard their
payrolls. I don’t have that muckraker Cotts at my disposal right now to research Times editorials from the 50s, when the Yankees were the General Motors of baseball, but I doubt there were too many complaints about say, the Kansas City Athletics (the virtual training ground for future Yankees) not getting their share of the financial pie.

3. That pernicious finance department at Time Out New York is harassing me again. As I mentioned several weeks ago, the weekly has blessed yours truly with an unsolicited subscription—addressed to “Ross Smyth, NY PYSS CO”—and now expects payment. Obviously, this is happening all over the city and I hope that other unwitting recipients realize how unethical the magazine’s business practices are. By sending out these subscriptions, Time Out is able to claim fabricated circulation figures to potential advertisers, as well as conning stupid trade magazine reporters about their “explosive” growth. Frankly, whether Time Out prospers or not is beyond my control—I just don’t want the damn magazine delivered to my office, along with dunning notices from a collection agency. It means I’ll have to sacrifice scintillating cover features like the April 15 puff piece on Reese Witherspoon, but such are the concessions of a busy guy.

The New York Observer also showers unsolicited subs to Manhattan residents—I’ve received three in the past seven months—but at least they have the grace to discontinue sending the weekly (which I buy anyway) when no payment is forthcoming. Arthur Carter, the Observer’s owner, is a rich man who has a degree of class; the same can’t be said for the investors who own Time Out.

4. I don’t often disagree with The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, whose Friday column “Potomac Watch” is one of the smartest in the country. But last week he must’ve been in the midst of a bad stomach flu, for his piece “On Abortion, Forbes is Prophet Without Honor” is very confusing. Gigot’s main point is that mainstream Republicans have finally realized that if they intend to retake the White House in 2000, they’ll have to put incendiary pro-life rhetoric on the back burner, and understand that a majority of Americans are comfortable with Roe v. Wade. That makes sense. But his opening paragraph is puzzling: “The media are reporting that Republicans are waving the white flag on abortion. Don’t believe it. The real story is that Ralph Reed owes Steve Forbes an apology.”

Forbes, whose ’96 campaign focused on the flat tax, to the exclusion of social issues that the hard-right embraces, was excoriated by Reed, then leader of the Christian Coalition, for his nondoctrinaire stand on abortion. Reed went on to back Bob Dole, who ran the worst presidential campaign in at least a generation. Three years later, Forbes is pandering to the Religious Right, shamelessly so, I think, trying to prove he’s as pro-life as the next yahoo. And now Reed is a political consultant who’s bound to join George W. Bush’s team, because he’s convinced the Texas governor is a winner. I’ll grant Gigot the irony that he points out—Steve Forbes is now to the right of Ralph Reed—but the Journal columnist forgets that Reed was always a political animal first, Christian zealot second. He’s an astute strategist who doesn’t want to repeat past GOP presidential disasters.

Gigot correctly writes that liberals regularly compromise their principles, citing Labor’s concessions to their candidate and the feminists abandoning the Equal Rights Movement. (He could’ve described how utterly hypocritical feminists have been in the past year, defending Bill Clinton, a possible rapist, while still bedeviling Clarence Thomas, but I get the feeling he’s too polite.)

In his conclusion, Gigot supports the GOP candidates who are tamping down the abortion issue, thus abandoning Forbes: “Liberals gain from scaring moderate voters, while an overwhelmingly pro-choice media loves to foment GOP conflict. Meanwhile, Mr. [Gary] Bauer and Pat Buchanan will cry sellout for their own political gain, no matter how many elections they lose. But maybe, if we’re lucky, the growing number of practical pro-lifers will carry the day.”

So it seems to me that although Reed might’ve roughed up Forbes in the past, Gigot agrees with Pat Robertson’s former general and Gov. Bush as well. In fact, according to an April 15 Dallas Morning News column by Carl Leubsdorf, Robertson said about Bush’s position on abortion: “I’m not going to take issue with a few words.”

A Sublime Whine

THE FOLLOWING LETTER by Village Voice Managing Editor Doug Simmons to the Columbia Journalism Review was sent to us anonymously last week. It’s in response to Kevin McAuliffe’s article about NYPress in CJR’s March-April issue. Comments follow Simmons’ remarks.

March 9, 1999
Marshall Loeb
Columbia Journalism Review
Columbia University
New York, NY 10027

Dear Mr. Loeb:

By the late 80s, according to Kevin McAuliffe in the March/April CJR, The Village Voice had “hardened into screechy, stale, knee-jerk leftism.” He quotes a rival saying that the Voice is “still in a 70s time-warp editorially.” Another weighs in, “The Village Voice is mired in 60s clenched-fist journalism.” The three of them are lost in the past, and they should wake up and read this or next week’s Voice, if not the last 150 we’ve published.

McAuliffe’s out-of-date article stubbornly battles yesteryear’s paper as portrayed in his 1978 book, The Great American Newspaper: The Rise and Fall of the Village Voice. Twenty-one years later, he argues, we’re still falling (or hardening) for the same reasons—staff turmoil, bitter exits, dogma addiction. Yes, we’ve had fiery departures, though we’ve had many more in which writers have left on warm terms for richer opportunities. Many writers and editors remain, some with decades of Voice bylines behind them. (Thank you, Mr. McAuliffe, for saluting our free-thinking mainstays Nat Hentoff, Wayne Barrett, Michael Musto, and Michael Feingold, though you missed a bunch.)

Since I arrived in 1985 I’ve seen a stretch or two of tumult, yet some three years ago it disappeared with new editor-in-chief Don Forst. He has focussed the staff’s passions into a team that slings hard news and original essays. Go ahead, recycle the cliche, with the decade of your choice. Here it’s 1999, and the Voice has rallied one of New York’s smartest and largest readerships—circulation as of December: 250,971—by drilling the Rudy Giuliani administration and its coldhearted police department, ditto for Pataki and Clinton policies. Our culture coverage flourishes; not only did it inspire the underground press, its blueprint is evident every Sunday in the Times Arts & Leisure section.

By dusting off ancient battlegrounds, McAuliffe makes an ironic if unexplored point, claiming that a newspaper could form around the talent that has left. Pushing his exaggeration, a newspaper indeed did rise from Voice skills—the 1986 debut of the lively New York Observer, where political writer Joe Conason, film critic Andrew Sarris, and edgy essayist Ron Rosenbaum, all once Voice staff writers, ply seasoned skills. The New York Observer, which targets Manhattan’s elites, isn’t mentioned in McAuliffe’s account. That’s perhaps because McAuliffe strains to make us fit the alternative press model. He surrenders the task to the gadfly editor of the New York Press, a minor, amusingly deranged competitor, the birth of which we apparently inspired. The Press certainly feeds off us, obsessively nitpicking our coverage. Its model, McAuliffe notes, springs from the Dan Wolf-era Voice (the 50s!), when wildly discursive, self-absorbed essays were not only fresh but economical—famished egos still work cheap.

McAuliffe likewise ignores our truly formidable competitors—New York magazine, The New Yorker, maybe even Time Out. Like the Press, these publications struggle to achieve or hold profits; unlike the Press, they sometimes successfully raid us for talent. And so do the city’s five daily newspapers (counting Newsday and The Wall Street Journal). The Press is a mangy squirrel in this market, where enough escort services exist to pay for its nuts. Of course, we have escort ads, too, though I understand our sex-worker ad clients are far more attractive and healthy. New York and the Observer also run sex ads, further blurring the alternative boundary.

The Voice has perhaps outgrown the form. This isn’t Phoenix or Denver, with a fat sleepy daily in which the weekly with ‘tude occasionally kicks ass. It’s hardly that easy in the roar of New York. Nonetheless, the Voice has closets filled with awards, including two Pulitzers. Our stories are regularly cited in (or plundered by) the big-foot press. Our staffers have written dozens of books (newly minted titles include Robert Christgau’s Grown Up All Wrong, J. Hoberman’s The Red Atlantis, and Gary Giddens’s Visions of Jazz, which just on a National Book Critics Circle award). We are a revitalized newspaper that has long been the standard by which others measure themselves.

Doug Simmons
Managing Editor

Associate editor Andrey Slivka replies: Here it is: the Voice’s amusing argument for its own continuing relevance. Did you imagine that the managing editor at the Village Voice is such a clumsy writer? Take the following sentence, for instance, in which Simmons, playing the good soldier, sets the record straight: “Since I arrived in 1985 I’ve seen a stretch or two of tumult, yet some three years ago it disappeared with new editor-in-chief Don Forst.”

So tumult disappeared with Don Forst? It disappeared when Forst left? It left with Don Forst? Obviously not. What Simmons means to say is that staff tumult disappeared when Forst arrived. And yet Simmons, the managing editor at what he calls an industry standard, manages to write the exact opposite.

Or take this one: Forst, Simmons assures us, “has focussed the staff’s passions into a team that slings hard news and original essays.” But in English, you don’t organize passions into a team, any more than you “sling” much other than hash. Simmons would have done better to write “has made our passionate staff into a team.” Nor, in English, is it acceptable to mix metaphors in the manner Simmons does. “By dusting off ancient battlegrounds”? Come on, brothers. You guys can do better.

Or maybe they can’t. The letter has an autumnal ambiance about it; Simmons’ is the tone of a dazed aristocrat awaking to hear the rabble clamoring at the palace walls; collecting his royal medals in the pathetic expectation that the sight of them will intimidate and stay the marauding peasants. Attention, Simmons insists, against all evidence, must be paid. Thus he writes of NYPress sentences as strange as the following: “Its model, McAuliffe notes, springs from the Dan Wolf-era Voice (the 50s!), when wildly discursive, self-absorbed essays were not only fresh but economical—famished egos still work cheap.”

So the Voice has apparently been forced to insult its own admirable past in order to justify its existence now (and notice, too, Simmons’ hilarious insistence at the beginning of the next sentence that the Voice considers The New Yorker a competitor; can one really imagine David Remnick or Tina Brown before him losing significant amounts of sleep at the thought of what the Voice is up to at any given moment?).

What a small-souled gesture: to abuse the paper’s remarkable history just because the contemporary Voice lacks the guts to make itself worthy of it.

Then there are Simmons’ several small dishonesties. First, it was the 60s, not the 50s, that were really the Dan Wolf era at the Voice—the 60s were when Wolf’s eccentric, revolutionary paper hit its stride. Simmons uses the 50s as a cheap symbol of conformity, against which his own irrelevant Voice might more brightly, if speciously, shine as a symbol of brave, free thought. A small point, but an important one, because it testifies to what’s characteristic of today’s Voice: a tolerance for weaselly thought and language.

Then there’s the following disingenuous passage. “Pushing his exaggeration,” Simmons writes, “a newspaper indeed did rise from Voice skills—the 1986 debut of the lively New York Observer, where political writer Joe Conason, film critic Andrew Sarris, and edgy essayist Ron Rosenbaum, all once Voice staff writers, ply seasoned skills.”

Forget, first of all, that literate people don’t “push” exaggerations or that the expression “plying skills” is a cliche, and focus instead on content. Sarris and Rosenbaum are famously products of that same Dan Wolf-era Voice for which Simmons has such contempt. Rosenbaum, in fact, left the Voice angrily not long after Wolf did. He now publishes in The New York Observer a column that, because of its eccentricity and intellectual bravery, couldn’t appear in today’s Voice. And yet a scrambling, defensive Simmons dares to adduce him as one of his own.

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


04/21/99: Sharpton’s Nostalgia Trip Is a Bust: The Backlash Is Immediate
04/16/99: Notes From A Baltimore Hick: Pressing My Nose Against the Window
04/14/99: The Bush JugGoreNaut Continues; Send Sharpton to A Rwanda Fat Farm
04/09/99: John McCain’s Moment
04/07/99:The Media Flips: It’s No Longer "Just About Sex"
04/05/99: The Gore Republic Gets Dressed Up. So What?
03/29/99:Louder Than Bombs: Jetlag and English Manners
03/26/99: Hollywood’s Horror Show
03/24/99: Black Ops Mark Vietnam War, Class War & the POW/MIA Issue
03/19/99: The Wealthy Survivor
03/17/99: Clinton’s a Broken Man: The GOP’s Huge Opportunity
03/12/99: Like Father, Like Son: New Hampshire in Another Era
03/11/99: Who is Dorothy Rabinowitz?
03/10/99: It’s George W.’s to Lose
02/26/99: Springsteen Ain’t No Chopped Liver; Vanity Press Musings
03/05/99: This Must Be the New World: The Mainstream Is Left Behind
02/26/99: Hillary, Juanita & Rudy Kazootie; First Baker, then Rich and Soon Lewis
02/24/99: The New Yorker Takes the Local: Mister Hertzberg Strikes Out; A Search for the Clemens Upside
02/19/99: The Howell Raines Conspiracy
02/17/99: History Lessons: An Immigrant’s Advice
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

©1999, Russ Smith