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Jewish World Review /Dec. 30, 1998 /11 Teves, 5759


Mugger Last Licks of ’98:
Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots

THE CRISIS AT THE NEW YORK TIMES isn’t constitutional, merely one of severe sloth. On Dec. 23 Maureen Dowd, who’s wasted away her reputation in a matter of months, wrote a pathetic column, one of her five worst of the year.

Yes, it was that disgraceful. Who knows why, but she attended a White House party for the press last week and, after getting some digs in about the sparse vittles, and the long lines to say hello to the hosts, she comes to a random bunch of conclusions, many of which are simply silly. The first, "Feminism is ruined," I do agree with. It was shameful that Gerry Ferraro lobbied female House members on Bill Clinton’s behalf, saying, "A man is a man is a man."

Just the latest humiliation for "feminism," which hasn’t fared well since The Year of the Woman in ’92. After viciously sullying Clarence Thomas, hounding Bob Packwood from office for what now seem like almost quaint indiscretions, feminists chucked their entire philosophy on behalf of a serial adulterer and liar because he’s "good" on women’s issues like abortion. Oh, and gay rights too. But who ever said hypocrites like Gloria Steinem, Barbara Boxer, Toni Morrison, Barbara Mikulski or Betty Friedan ever knew the meaning of the word irony?

But then Dowd wallows in gloom, writing: "Journalism is ruined. Now Larry Flynt, Matt Drudge, and Salon are running the show, dishing the dirt, while the rest of us try to figure out where that slippery little line between private and public is."

What a crock. As Drudge wrote on Dec. 22, it was Dowd who shocked the mainstream journalism world with a front-page piece in the Times speculating about an alleged affair between Frank Sinatra and Nancy Reagan. What a commotion that stirred, with Times traditionalists lined up against Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s incoming Boomers. Before you knew it, Dowd and Frank Rich shared space on the paper’s op-ed page. Besides, it’s not Flynt, Salon and Drudge who are running the show, but the White House. Does anyone have any doubt that Flynt is in cahoots with Sidney Blumenthal, James Carville (who had a bit part in The People vs. Larry Flynt) and White House investigator Terry Lenzner? Flynt’s a bit player: Although "respectable" journalists bemoan his current soupçon of notoriety, no one has pointed out that The Washington Post didn’t flinch at accepting his full-page ad offering $1 million for dirt on legislators.

As the Post’s media critic Howard Kurtz would know, since he freelances for almost anyone these days, it’s the bottom line that counts. Flynt is jizzed about the attention and promotion of his magazine, and the White House is glad to let him claim the credit for destroying Republicans. Tom DeLay, Dick Armey and John Kasich could be next. Bill Clinton will cluck about the politics of personal destruction in public, and then kick back, wolf down a Big Mac and have an underling write another check to Lenzner.

Then there’s Joe Conason, who in the Dec. 28 Observer warned William Rehnquist to watch his manners in the Senate impeachment trial, because scumbags like Conason are eager to rehash ancient peccadilloes about the Chief Justice. I’m not sure if Conason is officially on the White House payroll or just accepts cash in envelopes from his pal Blumenthal, but he’s far worse than a minnow like Flynt.

Besides, despite all the abuse Drudge has taken from the mainstream press, why have so many journalists followed his scoops, often claiming them as their own? Drudge may have his quirks, might go with a story before it’s completely vetted, but he’s a quick study and is now one of the most important forces in the media. If Dowd is jealous of that, hard cheese, dear.

Dowd also writes that "Socializing [in DC] is ruined." So move to Omaha. "Contrition is ruined," because "The Clinton confessions lose in authenticity as they gain in frequency." Then stop defending the impeached President and call for his resignation, you fruitcake! Finally, she concludes: "I fled the stuffy tent without laying eyes on the President to see if he looked ‘friendless and forsaken.’ But I still felt sorry for the guy. He must drive himself crazy too."

My advice to Times publisher Sulzberger, which will go unheeded, is let Maureen go the way of Anna Quindlen: Tell her to write a novel, take a trip around the world, watch soaps and eat bonbons, but stop writing columns until you get a grip.

Still on the Times, Frank Rich, another sorry columnist, bashed Lucianne Goldberg, one of 1998’s heroines, comparing her to Flynt, saying, "Lucy or Larry—now there’s the choice from hell." Rich has an inflated view of the Christian Coalition’s clout in politics today—it seems every other essay of his warns that we’ll all be incarcerated by Gary Bauer and his soldiers (he’d never dare mention black evangelist Alan Keyes in those apocalyptic missives)—and claims that pro-life congressmen like Steve Largent and Zach Wamp were responsible for Bob Livingston’s downfall. Rich, with his usual blinders on, gives the Coalition too much credit. It was the White House, Frank, that did Livingston in: If you’d get off the religious hobbyhorse, open your eyes and put two and two together, you’d figure that out.

Finally, the Times editorial page continues to be snowed by Clinton. After the President’s insulting pep rally on the South White House lawn, just after his impeachment, where he blamed Republicans for prying into his private life, and hypocritically echoed Dick Gephardt’s call for the end of "the politics of personal destruction," I can’t figure out why the Times wants to let him off the hook.

After all, just the next day James Carville, on Meet the Press, promised revenge on all those Republicans who voted against the President. Carville ranted: "The Republicans have chosen to overturn the ’96 election and ignored the ’98 election. In 2000, we’re not going to storm the barricades, but we’re going to storm the polling places. And all you people out there like me that love this President, love this country and love this Constitution, I want you to enjoy yourself this Christmas. Carve your turkeys, kiss your kids, hug your parents, watch TV because after the first of the year, we’re going to organize, we’re going to activate and we’re going to take this country back, and we’re going to take this Constitution back. And these people are going to pay for what they did. This was a cowardly and dastardly thing that they did, and there’s going to be retribution and the retribution is going to be at the polling place."

Carville cloaked his scheme of dirty tricks with the soothing phrase "polling places," but it’ll be just more of his gutter politics. As for the White House, Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart just shrugged off Carville’s incendiary remarks, saying, "James has strong opinions."

Anyway, last Wednesday, a Times editorialist wrote: "For the first time in weeks, the political dynamic in Washington is moving toward censuring Mr. Clinton. Even some of the moderate House Republicans who voted for impeachment articles that explicitly call for his removal from office are now, belatedly, embracing censure. With some help from Bill Clinton, it could happen soon." Just disgusting.

Perhaps the best comparison between the two camps can be found in Time’s "Men of the Year" issue. (By the way, can you believe the wimpy editors there almost put Mark McGwire on the cover in 1998?) Speaking about the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Ken Starr said: "Had Mr. Gallup been running around the countryside [taking polls], he would have been guiding Mr. Lincoln not to give the House Divided speech. It was not as well received by as much of the populace as was necessary in order to be elected to the U.S. Senate. But he gave it... Why was it the right thing to do? Because it was grounded in a very fundamental sense of right and wrong, which was in the fullness of time broadly shared by at least a substantial part of the American electorate. And then, of course, there’s the stuff of marble monuments to remind us that there is right and there is wrong and that a nation cannot endure based on wrong, which was his fundamental message. And this [Clinton’s perjury and obstruction of justice] is wrong. So."

Margaret Carlson, Time columnist, speaks for those who are willing to forgive Clinton, no matter what his crimes. "Clinton is weak, not evil. He violated the Commandments, not the Constitution, and should be solemnly censured for it. In this season of Christmas, perhaps some Wise Men will appear in the Senate. One will do. If he comes, he could be next year’s Man of the Year."

Funny, the polls are bouncing all over about Clinton’s fate, part of which can be ascribed to the holidays and the still-robust economy. Who feels like being mean on Christmas Eve? My hope is that once the new year begins, smarter heads will prevail, "the people" that David Bonior and other enemies of the truth like to trot out will come to their senses and there will be a full Senate trial.

(On Dec. 26, just before we left for the airport, some evidence that good cheer has been exhausted was seen at an intersection in Tribeca. A cabby was stopped at the light, and an older man was crossing the street, but waved the driver ahead, not realizing that he had the right of way. The cabby, with a mouth full of donut, opened his window and yelled: "Hey *^%%, you’ve got a red light, get moving!" Things are back to normal.)

Long may The New York Observer survive. Sure, I’ve had beefs with the unaudited weekly that shoots for the most narrow of demographics, mainly for its continued employment of Joe Conason, but there’s a lot to read in the paper, much of it informative and entertaining. Like Ron Rosenbaum’s "Edgy Enthusiast" column and Moira Hodgson’s restaurant reviews.

Carl Swanson, new to their "Off the Record," beat, has pumped up the column in his short tenure, writing not only about water cooler gossip at Vanity Fair, but real journalism news and gossip as well. I do think he showed his age (under 30) with his paean to the Times’ Russell Baker last week, deifying a man who should’ve bowed out years ago, but that’s just a tic of youth. After all, Swanson was probably sniffing glue when the rest of us tuned out to Baker’s column. (Naturally, The Washington Post’s Kurtz wrote an obsequious farewell of his own in his media column this Monday. In a section subheaded "Say It Ain’t So," a cliche that should have been retired long before Baker, he opines that it’s "a sad moment for journalism" that Baker’s leaving. What ass-kissing nonsense. It’s the natural order of things that columnists eventually fade out. Baker hung on at least two decades past his prime.)

I loved the editorial in the same week urging Clinton to resign: Sure, it was clunkily written, with none of the elan of a Mark Helprin, but it got the point across, and its proximity across the page to Conason’s threat to Judge Rehnquist made it sweeter still. I also liked Michelangelo Signorile’s "Diary" piece in which he lambasted David Brock, the conservative turncoat who outed Michael Huffington in the January Esquire, for molding the former congressman in his own twisted image.

Then again, Anne Roiphe’s column was its usual mess, blaming Bill Clinton’s problems on everybody but himself. She writes: "Me, I hope they pay for this: the newspaper editors, our burg’s included, who hate him, the Speaker and the party leaders who orchestrated this putsch (and don’t think it’s anything else), the William Safires around the country who think they have avenged Richard Nixon when instead they have avenged Cotton Mather... So will they win in the long run? That is the important question. Bill Clinton had only a little more time, anyway. He blew it, sadly, because he didn’t see his enemies sandbagging him." Oh please. I don’t know Roiphe, but you’d think an Observer writer would have to pass a naivete test. Clinton directed all the politics of destruction in the past six years, and anything Richard Mellon Scaife contributed to the other side pales in comparison.

But this is my favorite passage from a very stupid and careless writer. About the impeachment, Roiphe writes: "Look at the faces of the white males trying not to smile in victory but to appear calm and virtuous. Listen to the string of baloney, the praising of Kenneth Starr, the overlooking of the investigation’s cost, $40 million, that might have been used to investigate a cure for cancer." Can you believe this shit? How much money, Anne, do you think Clinton spent on his wag-the-dog failed mission in Iraq on impeachment eve, a cause that idiot liberals like you objected to when it was George Bush’s war but embrace now that a president who’s favorable to abortion and gay rights is in office? Do you think all those missiles in Iraq cost $40 million? Do you think the bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical company, timed after Clinton’s first apology, cost $40 million? Maybe that money could’ve been used to cure cancer instead of saving a crook’s skin.

8. Only in California. In the Dec. 25 LA Weekly, under the headline "Banana Republicans," political correspondent Harold Meyerson, once again claiming a coup has taken place in the country, writes the following in reference to the House impeachment nine days ago. "It was the most awful day America has known since that June night, 30 years ago, when Robert Kennedy was assassinated—the last time the judgment of the American electorate was so entirely neglected."

Where do these Hollywood crusaders come up with such malarkey? First, Kennedy was shot the night he won the Democratic primary in California—most of the country had no say in the matter. Second, and no offense to the Kennedy clan, but I can think of plenty of more "awful" days in America since June 5, 1968: The Chicago convention just two months later. Kent State. O.J. Simpson’s acquittal. The Crash of ’87. Bill Clinton’s first election. The earthquakes in San Francisco and L.A. The L.A. riots in ’92. The World Trade Center bombings. TWA 800. The plane wreck at Lockerbie. What about you?

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


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

©1998, Russ Smith