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Jewish World Review July 21, 1999/ 8 Av 5759


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What the World Needs Now?
A News Blackout --
THE PLANE CRASH that took the lives of John Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn and sister-in-law Lauren Bessette was an unspeakable tragedy only exacerbated by the coldhearted mass media intrusion on their families’ privacy. The perpetrators will counter that the Kennedys are public figures, America’s “Royal Family,” and other such nonsense, but the plain fact is that three young people are dead and their relatives and friends should be left alone to mourn. Instead, for the next month it’ll be Lady Di-II, U.S.-style, and it makes me ashamed to be a journalist.

The Kennedys lived a few blocks from my family in Tribeca, and so we witnessed the surreal neighborhood scene last weekend. Television crews stood in front of their empty N. Moore St. apartment, filming what?

Radio reporters interviewed the “little people” at local hangouts like Bubby’s, Fourth Estate and Socrates, who dutifully said John was a regular guy who bought flowers at the same deli they did, and would gladly sign autographs. On Sunday morning, MUGGER III and I went to see our friend Mary Parvin at Fourth Estate, and strolled around the block to see if the “journalists” were still keeping vigil. What a question.

Of course they were, to the extent that one reporter even asked my four-year-old son for his reaction. CNN and the major networks broadcast almost nonstop coverage—and don’t tell me it’s cynical to assume that behind the scenes the gleeful expectation of higher ratings was on the minds of producers, as their teams worked overtime and called out for pizza and indulged in gallows humor—of the search for the plane, as if any new information would be immediately forthcoming. Time and Newsweek had to call in their suburban troops to remake their covers and inside features, which is legitimate, especially since these will be the bestselling issues of the year thus far.

What really irks me is the minutiae of the coverage: the examination of Kennedy’s flying record, what Carolyn was wearing on the flight, the weather conditions, the questions of whether or not they should’ve boarded a commercial airline. In the end, obviously, it doesn’t matter: They’re dead and the story should end there. God only knows what Oprah, Larry King, Barbara Walters and Geraldo have up their sleeves; it was painful opening the dailies to find pundit after pundit bemoaning the end of Camelot once more. How many times can the American public lose its innocence?

And, as usual, Bill Clinton will go even more overboard in the emotion department. Granted, it’s his place to make a statement to the country, but you just know he’ll continue to debase the sad occasion with poll-conscious oratory. Initially, he’s been restrained; just wait until the funeral. Other politicians will exploit the deaths as well. Count on Al Gore; I hope George W. Bush, who’s had little contact with the Kennedy family, will be simply gracious in paying his respects. Sen. Orrin Hatch was already groaning on for CNN’s King about the near-mystical Catholic faith of the Kennedys. I believe that was true about matriarch Rose Kennedy, and Ethel Kennedy, but the third generation of the family has never worn religion on their sleeves, in either words or actions.

Danny Hellman
There’s already been column inch upon column inch in the newspapers about an entire nation in “mourning.” That’s simply not true. This is an instance of a celebrity meeting an untimely death; unfortunately, it’ll be given more attention than Littleton, Kosovo and Rwanda combined. I want no part of it, don’t want to hear the eulogies, don’t want to read the sick postings on the Internet from those who hated anyone named Kennedy, don’t want to hear blabbermouths like Liz Smith groan on about a man who was so successful, so drop-dead handsome, such a brilliant editor with the failing George. The lying will be outrageous. Yes, when someone dies, especially prematurely, it’s natural for a family to put him on a pedestal; that doesn’t mean the entire country has to.

Still, newspaper writers have to fill space, and some do so better than others. I don’t begrudge the New York Post’s Jack Newfield his heartfelt words at all; he truly was a close friend of the family. I could argue about the headline of his July 18 column, “Good night, sweet prince of a noble family,” but his writing is sincere: “John was never arrested. He never stained his family’s name. He didn’t run around with a posse of goon bodyguards. He was good in a way very few famous men are.” Newfield’s colleague Andrea Peyser, on the other hand, let on to readers on the same day that she can’t write on deadline. Read this hysterical bit: “The first reaction upon waking is: It can’t be true. Not him. Not now. Then, denial: This must be some kind of hideous mistake! He wasn’t on that plane. He’s safe. And anger: Why was he flying in that dinky aircraft, in the dark? John, don’t you know what could happen to you?... My heart is broken this sad, dreary day. This can’t be true. He can’t be dead.”

At the Daily News, Stanley Crouch had a strange lead to his eulogy on July 19: “When Princess Di got it, I didn’t get it.”

Newsday’s James Pinkerton, also writing on July 19, concluded his column with an oddly sentimental line that’s uncharacteristic of his work. “And now he’s lost, and we’re facing a stiller world.” That’s what Time’s odious Lance Morrow would claim is the beer talking. The world is no more “still” after Kennedy’s death; he was just one more person who died, although far too young.

Jimmy Breslin, big surprise, was just downright mean. Not about Kennedy, of course. Instead, he wrote in Newsday on Monday: "Jack Kennedy was president for 1,000 days. Jimmy Carter was president longer than that. Who would you rather hear about, Carter or Kennedy? Ford was a president? Who was he? Who is he? Who cares? He bores. Clinton has been president for three more years than Kennedy and I want somebody to tell me one phrase he turned in his whole time of flat, banal English. Except for that finger wagging, 'that woman.' This is a president? That is all he could add to the language? All the rest, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, are minor names. You say Kennedy and all these years later something comes alive. Go ahead, go to the moon. Because it is hard.” Nixon and Reagan are “minor” names? Jimmy, you hittin’ the sauce again?

Then there was the Times’ John Tierney, on Monday, with his condescending twaddle: “The Kennedys became everyone’s surrogate family, a balm for the many rootless people here and across America.” Speak for yourself, John.

Again in the Times, on Monday, Douglas Brinkley wrote on the paper’s op-ed page: “Americans in their 30’s, like me, grew up with John Kennedy... With his earnest demeanor, handsome countenance and admirable devotion to being a socially responsible citizen, he was my generation’s photogenic redeemer.” Brinkley, an historian and professor at the University of New Orleans, diminishes his reputation with such sentimental slop.

In the July 26 Newsweek, Jonathan Alter was just as presumptuous, writing that Kennedy’s magazine George was “underrated.” No, it wasn’t. It’s a trivial, often silly, publication that most likely would’ve folded soon even if Kennedy hadn’t perished. But the conclusion to Alter’s column tells me that all members of the Beltway media should take a yearlong vacation. He writes, incomprehensibly, “He was more than our ‘Prince Charming,’ as the New York tabs called him. We etched the past and the future on his fine face.” No, Jon, “we” didn’t, even if you did. Which I doubt.

A Kennedy death (but not Michael’s) wouldn’t be complete without a remembrance from Arthur Schlesinger Jr. And so in the July 26 Time, Schlesinger writes with atrocious elitism: “That is why he took up flying. When he traveled on commercial aircraft, fellow passengers would ask questions, seek autographs, exchange memories. He understood that they were people of good-will, and he could not bear to be impolite, but the benign interest of others was a burden. Once he got his flying license, he seemed a liberated man, free to travel as he wished without superfluous demands on time and energy. Nor was he a reckless pilot. The mystery of his death remains.”

Finally, as to the continuous talk of the “Kennedy curse” and allusions to Shakespearean and Greek tragedies, that’s all in the minds of imaginative writers. The Kennedy family is huge and is known for its aggressive, risk-taking lifestyle. It’s all in the odds of life.

I never met John Kennedy Jr. But if what friends tell me is true, that he was a likable, generous man, I have no doubt he’d be acutely embarrassed by this outpouring of confusing, and often self-serving, punditry.

Besides, after all the Kennedys’ years in public life, isn’t it time the media left them alone?

It Just Gets Worse for Gore

A few weeks ago in this column I gave some smart advice to Al Gore: Resign the vice presidency, team up with Bill Bradley and campaign for president full-time, unburdened by the baggage of Bill Clinton. So far, he’s taken a different fork in the road, adding layers of bureaucracy to his organization, spending money lavishly and still tumbling in the polls. Democrats of every bent—from Southern legislators to left-wingers like Paul Wellstone (who’s endorsed Bradley) to the vast majority of the mainstream press—are clearly spooked. (By the way, don’t believe for a second the line currently being peddled that the Beltway poohbahs are soft on George W. Bush: They’re still hoping against hope that Sen. John McCain’s candidacy will ignite. And after that honeymoon, the vast majority of the media elite will fall behind the Democratic nominee.)

They see that Gov. Bush’s widespread support throughout the country threatens, right now, to swamp their party in the 2000 election. They recognize that Bush’s fine-tuned campaign apparatus, his Clintonesque skill on the stump, his buoyant optimism and, yes, his incredible amount of money, will not only win him the White House, but could very well increase the GOP hold on the Senate and House as well. Pundits like Crossfire’s Bill Press scream that Bush is “buying the election,” an outrageous charge given the felonious manner in which Clinton and Gore were elected in 1996.

I almost feel sorry for Gore. He’s been reduced to being the honorary chairman of a July 22 dinner, sponsored by the National Albanian American Council, to kick off the “Bean Bag Toys for Kosova’s Children” relief effort. Fittingly, Liddy Dole is the cochair and Cokie Roberts is the master of ceremonies. My house is filled with Beanie Babies and one thing is certain: You can put Erin, Roary, Spinner, Twigs, Baldy, Iggy, Kicks, Peace, Millennium, Princess Bear or Batty on a plate, douse them with salt & pepper and the meal will still come up zero on a nutrition scale.

So here’s another idea for depressed Democrats to consider. Gore is not going to turn this election around. In fact, he might even lose the nomination to Bradley, who in turn will go down to defeat against Bush. Clearly there’s time for a celebrity candidate to challenge both Gore and Bradley for the Democratic prize, someone who can excite the party and raise money quickly. Someone who President Clinton will not sabotage by making campaign appearances instead of playing golf or looking for another 21-year-old to screw around with.

Obviously, that person is Hillary Clinton. Why should she settle for a Senate contest in New York, which she has only an even chance of winning, when she’d have a lot more fun, and possibly success, going for it all? Gore is on track to lose California; Hillary could win it. Gore might even go down in New York and New Jersey; Hillary could take them. And the money wouldn’t be a problem. Why, Terry McAuliffe, the sleazy fundraiser who’s done so much for the Clintons, would rise to the challenge. After all, Hillary’s already set a goal of picking up $25 million for her New York Senate race, a number that would shatter the record for a non-incumbent. (But I don’t suppose Crossfire’s Press would suggest she’s trying to “buy” that election.) As far as her husband goes, there’s a chance that he would actually try to help her, figuring this would be his way around the 22nd Amendment.

(One digression: Voters’ minds are usually decided by symbolic moments rather than arcane policy proposals. One remark by Clinton last Tuesday proves that she must never deviate from a prepared script. At Jones Beach, she said: “I feel like I’m on Baywatch. I’ve heard about [the famous beach] literally all my life, from many friends who would come here and spend lots of glorious summer days. I’m just delighted to be here.”)

A goofy scenario? Not in this election cycle.

Aside from John Kennedy’s death, it was another extraordinary week in presidential politics. Sen. Bob Smith left the Republican Party and will instead seek the White House in a third party bid. This, in turn, caused a lot of ridiculous yammering from also-ran right-wingers like Gary Bauer and Pat Buchanan, who claimed it was an ominous sign for their party when such a valued senator deserted their ranks. Forget all this rhetoric, from disappointed candidates outflanked by Bush, that there isn’t any difference between the Governor and Gore. (Or Bradley: Another trend this past week is that the Vice President’s campaign is flailing so much that Democratic partisans, perhaps unconsciously, are speaking about the Democratic nominee as Gore or Bradley.)

When Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are all either outright supporting Bush or praising him despite pledges of impartiality, the cry that “grassroots” GOP activists will reject Bush rings hollow. The questions Republicans have to answer are these: Do you want Bush or Gore filling the next Supreme Court vacancies? Who is more likely, with a GOP-controlled Congress, to deliver meaningful tax cuts, such as the abolition of the “death tax”? Who will promote an agenda of less government regulation and not be beholden to corrupt labor unions? And who will restore dignity to the White House? The answer to all these questions, of course, is Bush, and crybabies like Lamar Alexander, Steve Forbes, Bauer and Smith look ridiculous and self-absorbed as they attempt to the derail the best GOP presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan.

I get a kick out of partisan journalists like Press who claim that Bush has too much money. In fact, Steve Forbes (!) has received a free ride, despite his vast inherited wealth, because he’s rightfully put in the loser category. Typical of this hypocrisy is a paragraph found in Dana Milbank’s latest New Republic piece (Aug. 2): "Those of us who don’t carry around plastic fetuses should be encouraged by the right’s loathing of Bush. If he’s making those kinds of enemies, he’s probably a sensible fellow. Still, the conservatives are right that there’s something obscene about his $36 million take. Gore would have been able to make an issue of it were it not for his own fund-raising controversies from 1996. Absurdly, the greatest voice now the little guy is Steve Forbes, who will spend his personal millions to make sure the Republican primary is competitive."

It must be tough working in the Gore Republic bunker right now. Imagine owner Marty Peretz on his cell phone, yelling at his reporters, "Do something for Al!" What Milbank chooses not to mention is that, Bush aside, Gore would’ve broken the record for a first-half-of-the-year financial filing on contributions with his $18 million. Would that have been obscene? Of course not, ’cause You Can Call Me Al.

Another liberal columnist, Mark Shields, just doesn’t like the fact that Bush has the nomination all but in the bag. Hmm, he furrows his brow, it’s bad for democracy, bad for the Constitution and especially bad for Democrats! He concludes a column in the July 17 Washington Post: "A cakewalk to a coronation for the Republican front-runner would be harmful to his chances in the fall. A competitive, robust, rugged conflict for the nomination would better serve the eventual chances of the party nominee, better serve his party and, more important, better serve the country."

Horsefeathers. Bob Dole had the life scared out of him in the ’96 primaries, losing New Hampshire, and his presidential campaign was still a nightmare. A "rugged conflict for the [GOP] nomination" would better serve Bradley or Gore. Why can’t journalists look themselves in the mirror and say, "Hey, I think I’ll be honest today!" It would better serve their families and, more important, better serve the country.

John Kasich was smart to drop out of the race even before the August straw poll in Iowa. As a result, it’s likely that the influential Ohio congressman, who won’t be running for reelection, will receive an important position in the Bush administration. Alexander, when he finally packs it up, will be lucky to be appointed as a White House usher.

It says something when even Lars-Erik Nelson, the Daily News columnist who’s probably never voted for a Republican, writes a piece called “Bush Smears Are Low.” On July 9, Nelson called the Los Angeles Times story questioning Bush’s military record—why that paper has it out for Bush I haven’t figured out yet—“careful and balanced,” but “part of a destructive trend” among journalists to destroy presidential candidates. He writes: “It is not partisan malice. [I’ll let that whopper go for the moment, since Lars is making so much sense here.] We are more like thoughtless children pulling the wings off flies, just out of curiosity. Any time some new political figure pokes his head up and decides to run for high office, the press now feels obliged to find some fatal character flaw, some crooked deal in his past... His spouse, Laura, has been derided in The New York Times as a ‘Betty Crocker wife,’ meaning, no doubt, that she cooks for her own children. How bourgeois! How five minutes ago!

"Enough is enough. Bush has been a popular governor of Texas. He courageously stood up to the yahoos in his own party when they wanted to throw the children of undocumented immigrants out of the public schools. He remains a mystery on many important national issues, and he should be asked to explain where he stands. There may be excellent reasons not to vote for him. But there is no reason to destroy his character or question his intelligence or sneer at his family. That’s not journalism. It’s destructive mischief, and it hurts the country."

Apparently, Nelson, unlike so many of his ostrich colleagues, has realized that short of a gigantic scandal -- it would be hard to beat rape-- Bush will be the GOP nominee. Nelson’s ready for the general election, and will no doubt write thousands of words on behalf of either Gore or Bradley, but at least he’s come to grips with the political reality of Bush’s dominance. After all, it’s no accident that Republicans in Congress have suddenly awoke from their slumber and are actually proposing legislation that has some teeth. It’s because Bush is now the titular leader of the GOP. Ever since Newt Gingrich self-destructed in ’95 the party has been adrift. That’s all about to change.

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.


07/16/99: Time of the Season
07/14/99: Hillary Sucks Up The Media’s Gush And Mush
07/09/99: Hillary & Sharpton: So Happy Together
07/07/99: Al Gore’s Mondale Impersonation; Bush Conquers California
07/02/99:Make Room for MUGGER
06/30/99:It’s Not Too Early: Gore Needs to Raise the Bar
06/25/99: Summertime Cruise
06/23/99: The Times Unofficially Endorses Gore: Bush Confuses The Media
06/18/99: Taki Growls And Prowls
06/16/99: Bush Begins His March: The Beltway Pundits Pout
06/11/99: In the Days Of Gold
06/09/99: Pollution Alert: Hillary Clinton Loves New York
06/03/99: Life in the Danny Thomas Suite
06/02/99: A McCain For All Seasons
05/28/99: Brill's in The Wrong Profession
05/26/99: Gun Control Solves Everything
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