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Jewish World Review May 26, 1999/ 11 Sivan 5759


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Gun Control Solves Everything

(JWR) ---- (
MORE STRINGENT LAWS on who can purchase guns in America? Fine by me, but don’t kid yourself that the largely symbolic legislation passed by the Senate last week will halt the rash of copycat teen shootings in high schools. And neither will the hypocritical cries of politicians for Hollywood to police itself on the kind of entertainment it produces and markets.

It was nauseating to watch Vice President Al Gore proclaim that a new era has dawned in the United States when he cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate for limited gun control last week. He got a bump in the polls, and the pundits claimed his campaign had a “good week,” but according to his spokesman, Chris Lehane, “What was on our mind was not politics. It was the kids.” Presidential candidates are so sleazy: Why don’t they leave “the kids” out of their self-serving rhetoric?

And New York’s Nita Lowey, the sad-sack congresswoman waiting for Hillary to decide on a Senate bid, wasn’t much better, claiming that the Republican-controlled House must concur with the Senate immediately, not in June, when Speaker Denny Hastert has scheduled the vote. “The American people are demanding action,” she said last Friday. “There’s an urgency in this country.” I’d say there’s more of an “urgency” to procure Star Wars tickets, but then I’m not a politician looking for a cheap soundbite.

Gore’s sanctimony was almost as bad as Bill Clinton attempting, mostly in vain, to gather Hollywood moguls for a discussion about their moral responsibility for movie and television programming. He then hopped off to fundraisers with the very same people to raise money for Democratic campaigns. In a May 20 speech in Littleton, Clinton delivered empty words to parents and students: “We know somehow that what happened to you has pierced the soul of America, and it gives you a chance to be heard in a way no one else can be heard, by the President and by ordinary people in every community in this country. You can help us build a better future for all our children.” Maybe that was what the grieving relatives of the victims wanted to hear, but what the hell does it mean?

The current mantra of “gun control” won’t stop the random acts of violence by disturbed individuals, whether they’re teenagers or adults. And actually, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out in a May 24 editorial, violent crime has fallen dramatically nationwide in the last decade.

The Columbine tragedy has captured the national mood by pure chance: Had it happened three years ago there’s no telling if the same frenzy would’ve ensued. Remember the McDonald’s shootout? The Waco killings by overzealous government agents? Horrible bus accidents caused by drunk drivers? Even the recent Arkansas, Tennessee and Oregon school violence didn’t enthrall the media like the carnage in Colorado. The Oklahoma bombing and World Trade Center nightmare were like pimples compared to the recent events; Charlie Manson’s night of terror in California 30 years ago might as well have been a love-in. And Congressman Bob Wexler, do you remember Richard Speck?

The teen in Conyers, GA, last week, who wounded six people at Heritage High School, was a lovesick kid who obviously needed help; instead of coping with being dumped by a girlfriend in the usual way—moping, smoking too much dope, listening to The Doors’ “The End” for hours at a clip—he resorted to a rifle. Pre-Columbine, I’ll bet that the admittedly deranged T.J. Solomon would not have reacted in the same way.

The mainstream media has gone nuts, particularly the cable stations. Starting with the nonstop coverage of the O.J. Simpson travesty, the networks have devoted far too much time to crime; they say it’s responsible news-gathering, but of course it’s all skewed toward gaining higher ratings. The excessive attention to the death of Princess Di and the horrible murder of JonBenet Ramsey was appalling. In the case of the latter, more than two years after the little girl’s death, newspapers and shows like Geraldo are still concentrating on the unsolved case. Just last week came the headline that her brother Burke, not yet a teenager, was the suspected killer; two days later there was another bulletin that police authorities have dismissed his possible involvement.

Currently, everyone in the media’s an expert on teen angst and the evil National Rifle Association. Especially the moronic Rosie O’Donnell, who continually embarrasses herself on her popular daytime talk show when she speaks about anything but eyelifts and her supposed crush on Tom Cruise.

When actor Tom Selleck, who supports the NRA, appeared on O’Donnell’s show last Wednesday to plug his latest movie, he was immediately provoked by the host, who apparently isn’t exactly an American history scholar. Aside from her blatant hypocrisy—O’Donnell appears on commercials for Kmart, a leading gun seller—she’s also dim, explaining the Second Amendment to Selleck and her audience: “I think [the amendment] is in the Constitution so we can have muskets when the British people come over in 1800—I don’t think it’s in the Constitution to have assault weapons in the year 2000... This is the problem—people with opposing views, there is no compromise. You feel attacked, I feel attacked.”

A livid Selleck barked back: “I haven’t attacked you, I disagreed with you. I haven’t mentioned assault weapons once. I didn’t come on your show to have a debate. I came on your show to plug a movie—that’s what I’m doing here... I think you’re being stupid.” The next day, on the equally vapid Live with Regis & Kathie Lee, Selleck said of O’Donnell’s ambush: “I think it was an example of the moral vanity and intolerance that is all too often fueling the political debate in this country.”

O’Donnell half-apologized to Selleck, but then continued on a rant: “I do not apologize for my feelings on this issue because the NRA is the strongest lobby in Washington.” There’s no denying the NRA’s clout—with Democrats as well as Republicans—but plenty of lobbying groups shape the way campaign cash is distributed: the legal profession, for example, tobacco companies, unions and, of course, the entertainment industry.

Howard Stern couldn’t resist getting his fix of ink over the controversy, but as usual, despite his shtick, he made a lot of sense. On his radio show Thursday, Stern, who spoke live from 30 Rockefeller Center, where O’Donnell tapes her show, said: “Rosie O’Donnell is a hypocrite. Why is Rosie O’Donnell selling guns through Kmart? Why is she confronting Tom Selleck when she’s a gun saleswoman? She puts on a big dummy like Tom Selleck—who’s comparable to talking to a retarded person—and argued with him when he wasn’t prepared. I’m prepared. Put me on!”

According to Friday’s New York Post, Stern continued: “I don’t think guns are the problem. We’ve got a bunch of screwball parents, and we have a society where people don’t take responsibility for their own actions... Rosie O’Donnell will not speak to me because she’s afraid to talk about any real issues with someone who can communicate.” In Saturday’s Post, letter writer Bob Hunt, of Old Bridge, NJ, put
O’Donnell in her place. “While I am not a member of the NRA, and support certain reasonable restrictions on guns that the NRA opposes, I found Ms. O’Donnell’s ad hominem attack to be short on civility and logic... If Alec Baldwin had been the guest, would Ms. O’Donnell have fired a number of broadsides at him for encouraging people…to kill Rep. Henry Hyde?”

And it’s not just the media: consider the following examples of bizarre behavior in schools since Columbine:

• According to the May 14 Denver Post, eight sixth-grade girls, suspected of casting spells on classmates, “were pulled from class...and lectured for nearly two hours by a vice principal on the evils of witchcraft.”

• At McDowell Elementary School in Hudson, OH, a nine-year-old boy was suspended for two days because of a fortune cookie message—“You will die with honor”—he concocted for a school project, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on May 13. The boy’s mother, Jean Bauman, was dumbfounded over the punishment and said: “I am very frustrated... They [the school officials] see something verbal or written as much more serious than a kid who goes out and slugs another kid.”

• In Howell, NJ, a 23-year-old Spanish teacher was fired for fabricating a bomb threat—which caused a two-hour evacuation of Howell High School—according to the May 13 Asbury Park Press. The woman, Dana M. Kukielka, told police she was “frightened for the safety of herself and the rest of the school as result of what happened in Littleton.”

• At Northeast High School in Philadelphia, the coeditor of the high school paper, Josh Cornfield, wrote an editorial—appearing nine days after Columbine—that said: “Maybe the school should open a section for smokers or maybe you should all be shot. That’s right: Shot! It may be radical but you’re going to die anyway. It may not be an instant death, but it will be a slow painful death... We could make it easier and shoot you all.” As reported by the Philadelphia Daily News, the principal of the school met with Cornfield and then “took disciplinary action against school staff who monitored the paper.”

• Massad Ayoob, director of the Lethal Force Institute in Concord, NH, wrote an op-ed piece in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal that advocated arming teachers. He wrote: “This is not as drastic a measure as it may seem. No school has its own fire-fighting battalion on the grounds, but all adult employees of the school know how to operate fire extinguishers and supervise an orderly fire drill. A school nurse is generally on hand, but virtually all teachers and school administrators have learned basic first aid and CPR. It is but a small step from here to train school personnel in the use of firearms, and to arm at least some of them.”

Please, someone tell me America hasn’t gone nuts.

• The Virginian-Pilot ran a story on May 24 about a high school junior, Chris Bullock, who faces expulsion from Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach because of an essay he wrote in March for a “Standards of Learning” test. According to reporters Alice Warchol and Matthew Bowers, “Bullock wrote about a fictional student giving a speech... In the last paragraph of the essay, the student reveals that he has a nuclear bomb strapped to his chest.” Bullock was arrested and charged with threatening to bomb a school, but was immediately released. Bullock’s lawyer, Moody Stallings Jr., challenging the possible expulsion, told the newspaper, “I think it is utter nonsense and hysteria to charge someone for answering an essay question using their imagination... This [was written] pre-Columbine. This would have never been brought to anyone’s attention except for Columbine. How far back are we going to go?”

• Finally, in Fairfield, OH, a seven-year-old girl was expelled for the remainder of the semester for bringing a toy cap gun with her on a bus going to school. Her mother told The Cincinnati Enquirer on May 20: “She’s only 7. To her, it was only a toy. She didn’t wave it. She didn’t point it. She didn’t make any threats.” A cap gun! Who didn’t play with toy guns when they were kids? The school gave the parents the option of sending their daughter to a psychologist, at their expense, in lieu of suspension, and then forwarding the report to the school.

I don’t agree with the thrust of Jann Wenner’s editorial in the June 10 issue of his Rolling Stone, in which he calls for a virtual abolition of guns in the United States—a naive solution that’s in vogue among the far-too-vast punditocracy—but he made some intelligent, if self-serving (he, after all, has a young readership to protect), comments along the way. Wenner writes: “Will a modern McCarthyism take root in our high schools? Will any kid who is a bit too odd or angry now be viewed with suspicion? Are we going ‘profile’ children who dress in black, behave like outsiders, appear to be interested in violent movies or songs or officially disapproved video games? Shall we make the geeks even more isolated and humiliated?”

Dorothy Rabinowitz, writing in the May 17 Wall Street Journal, had the most levelheaded take on the media orgy after Columbine. Comparing Colorado killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris to Leopold and Loeb, the affluent boys who murdered Bobby Franks back in the 1920s, Rabinowitz recalls the arguments made by Clarence Darrow, lawyer for Leopold and Loeb. She writes that that murder was the “product of unhinged minds, [by] men without capacity for feeling—without which pathology they could not have been driven to such deeds by all the baneful influences in the world. An essential point all right—worth remembering when the next summit on Littleton convenes.”

As for the media and opportunistic politicians? Rabinowitz has utter contempt: “In Colorado, where hordes of the media were encamped, journalists kept up by watching television like everyone else. There were of course other matters keeping them busy, among them the effort to stay abreast of all the latest rumors about imminent arrests, a third shooter and the like... On television, by day and by night, the summit continues, with town meetings and similar special programming devoted to debate on all the factors named as contributors to this and earlier school massacres—lax gun laws, violent films, videogames, execrable music, alienation, the Internet, large schools, lack of supervision, lack of religious teaching and more.”

Face It: You’ll Never Be as Rich As Si

Whenever business writers are hard up for a story they turn to The New Yorker, not for a reading of “Talk of the Town,” but rather to report, sadly, that the magazine is still losing money. It probably is—in last week’s Crain’s New York Business, Valerie Block said that ad pages were down eight percent from last year, while revenues have sunk 17 percent—but all that’s beside the point. When will these journalists get it through their middle-class heads that Conde Nast’s Si Newhouse doesn’t care! A $10 million loss to him is like dropping a quarter on the sidewalk. The New Yorker, despite its editorial turbulence in recent years, remains one of journalism’s prize franchises: It’s a Picasso in Newhouse’s stable of magazines and he’s well aware of it. Really, it’s not as if he can be proud of owning Details.

Block writes, “Some observers say that the only way to get the title into the black is to cut the frequency in half, turning the weekly into a biweekly. The move would save on production costs.” That’s as stupid an idea I’ve heard for a magazine since Brill’s Content was launched. The New Yorker has a loyal readership—it’s the only magazine that I subscribe to for three years at a clip—and moving it to biweekly would simply irritate people, as well as making it less timely. It’s bad enough that so many “double” issues are being produced.

David Remnick, Tina Brown’s successor as The New Yorker’s editor, much to my surprise, is producing a magazine as vibrant as any in circulation. I don’t care for the weekly’s politics, and the cartoons still suck, but there isn’t a week I don’t thumb through its pages, if only to rile myself. For example, in its May 10 issue there was a long piece by Alex Ross on Bob Dylan that was quite remarkable, not only for the photo of Dylan that shaved at least 10 years off his age, but for the fact that it was written by someone who hadn’t been born when the icon’s first record was released. Granted, I had trouble with Ross’ obligatory nod to Greil Marcus as “the most formidable of rock critics,” and his obsession with Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks (a fine recording, but definitely silver-age), but his perspective was fresh and enthusiastic.

Whereas so many jaded critics and fans have written Dylan off for almost a generation now, Ross embarked on a cross-country tour of the singer’s concerts and emerged with unique observations. At the conclusion of his piece, Ross writes: “Dylan may be many things, but he is not a star: he can’t control his image in the public eye. At the same time, he doesn’t look, act, or sound like any great man that history records. He presents himself as a travelling musical salesman, like B.B. King or Ralph Stanley or Willie Nelson. He is generally unavailable to the media, but he is in no way a recluse, and reclusiveness is traditionally the zone in which American geniuses reside.”

As a boomer who’s followed Dylan since ’62—true, I was only seven then, but with four older brothers in the house, I couldn’t avoid being hooked—I had many quibbles with Ross’ take on him, but I think it was a gutsy article, and certainly more original than any other recent piece I’ve read about the pop legend.

On the other hand, Jane Mayer’s article about House Whip Tom DeLay in last week’s New Yorker was so one-sided that it could’ve been dictated by Bill Clinton’s brain-dead press secretary Joe Lockhart. Starting with a headline—“The Exterminator”—that’s by now a cliche, Mayer writes a portrait of DeLay that’s unfair, and utterly infused with the conventional wisdom about the man whom every DC insider journalist calls, with glee, “The Hammer.” For example, Mayer writes that GOP Rep. Peter King “believes that DeLay never accepted the public’s verdict that Clinton’s lies and misdeeds did not merit removal from office.” While polling did show that Americans were opposed to Clinton’s impeachment, it wasn’t their decision: It was up to Congress to ponder the felonious President’s fate. DeLay did lobby hard to convince his colleagues to impeach the President; that was his prerogative. There are many aspects about DeLay I’m not comfortable with—his association with the Christian right, for starters—but his relentless work on impeachment was heroic.

Likewise, Mayer digs into DeLay’s past and finds, according to people in Texas, that he “smoked, drank, and raised hell.” In addition, he’s had his share, like many politicians, of less-than-ethical campaign contributions. So what? The implication is that DeLay is a crook who was grossly hypocritical in his attacks on Clinton. That’s absurd: First, Clinton is the president of the United States, and must be held to a higher standard; second, put Clinton’s rap sheet next to DeLay’s and you’ll find the latter is a relative paragon of virtue.

Mayer is objectionable, but at least she’s a rigorous reporter, unlike The New Yorker’s other political columnist, Joe Klein, who appears to have been put out to pasture by Remnick.

(Stop the presses! As I write on Monday I’m assaulted by a Klein “Comment” in The New Yorker’s May 31 issue. True to form, he has nothing much on his mind; so why not waste some space on Hillary Clinton’s possible Senate race! That hasn’t been in the news lately. Here’s one of Klein’s trenchant observations, which falls into the “well duh” category: “There is also a fair amount of Clinton fatigue abroad in the land... At this point, the self-involved Clintons seem like teenagers finally going off to college. Do we really want them to stay around for six more years?” Well, no, Joe, we don’t: I wish you and other lazy columnists had done some research on Clinton back in ’91 before you anointed him the Democratic nominee for the following year’s election.)

Also in the May 24 issue was an awful media piece by Hendrik Hertzberg. Just the beginning of his first sentence makes a reader cringe: “A couple of years ago, after Mike Royko went to the big newsroom in the sky...” Does Hertzberg have a no-edit clause in his contract?

In describing the late Chicago newspaperman’s work, Hertzberg travels out of his own comfortable backyard, giving readers a primer on “soul-of-the-city” columnists; you know, those guys in the tabloids you read as a “guilty pleasure.” So nods are given to Jimmy Breslin, Herb Caen, Pete Hamill—“the New York tabloid prince”—and the Daily News’ Michael Daly, although his pedigree is somewhat tarnished by his Yale degree. Hertzberg reveals his ignorance, or carelessness, in this sentence about Mike Barnicle: “Mike Barnicle, defenestrated from the Boston Globe for making things up, freelances from a Middlesex County suburb, an internal exile.” Apparently Hertzberg’s tabloid reading doesn’t extend to the Daily News, where Barnicle writes every Sunday. Just one more Hertzberg cliche before I vomit: “The S.O.C. never writes the sort of Olympian essay known in the trade as a thumbsucker. If he wants to suck on something, he fishes a Camel out of a crumpled pack."

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


05/20/99: Gross, Quasi-Gifted and Broke (For Now)
05/19/99: Gore Pushes The Panic Button—Again
05/14/99: Watch Out: There’s Someone’s Behind You
05/12/99: Memory? What’s That You Asked?
05/07/99: There Will Always Be a Washington, DC
05/05/99: Colorado Exploitation: Why Can’t CNN Just Go Home?
04/30/99: John John: I’ll Moonlight, Too
04/28/99: T.J. Walker’s The Man!: A Former Clinton Disciple Repents
04/23/99: Baseball and Politics
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