The Beltway Pundits Pout Wouldn'tit be extraordinary if the media elite put their cards on the table and admittednow whom they'll be advocating in the 2000 presidential election? It's reallyno secret. The New York Times, in its news columns and editorials, isfor Al Gore (and Hillary Clinton for Senate); The Wall StreetJournal favors Steve Forbes; the New York Post will endorseGeorge W. Bush (and Rudy Giuliani); The Washington Post,Baltimore Sun and Boston Globe are Gore dailies, but I'll betin the end the Los Angeles Times prefers Bush. The tv network anchors,of course, are all Gore shills. Among the political journals, The Weekly Standard will grudgingly approve Bush; The National Review is a Forbesbooster; and The New Republic, well, if you don't know the answer tothat, you might as well stop reading right now. Time and Newsweekcan be counted upon to push a continuation of the Clinton-Gore administration.
So it wasn'tsurprising that in a June 2 editorial The Wall Street Journalcalled for a series of debates before the primary season begins. It's theirhope that Forbes will outflank Bush, who, heretofore, hasn't exhibited a sparklingextemporaneous speaking ability. Jonathan Alter, in his June 21 Newsweekcolumn "Between the Lines," spent half his space rehashing the JamesHormel appointment as ambassador to Luxembourg and trying to naildown Bush on the issue of homosexuality. The subhed to his piece betrays Newsweek'sbias: "To win, Bush must bend the GOP to his will, not the other way around. We're waiting."
Guess what?Unless Bush has a nervous breakdown or is eaten by a bear in Iowa duringthe next eight months, he'll be the GOP presidential nominee. Despite idioticcomparisons to past front-runners (the Boston Globe's lazy David Nyhanis a chief offender, continually comparing the Bush campaign to TeddyKennedy's tepid challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980), in truth, Bush's commanding lead at this point in the campaign is unprecedented in modernAmerican politics. As for critics like Alter, who cling to the '96 axiom thatthe far right controls the Republican nominating process, they haven't beenpaying attention. Bush has amassed not only an enormous amount of money-freezingout every other candidate save Forbes, and making preemptive television buysin the mega-media states like New York and California that willclosely follow the New Hampshire primary-but also an astounding arrayof endorsements from every wing of the Republican Party.
Everyonefrom moderates like Giuliani, Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucciand Maine Sen. Susan Collins, to hard-line conservatives likeGeorgia Sen. Paul Coverdell, SC Sen. Strom Thurmondand the Democrats' current bogeyman Rep. Tom DeLay are aboard Bush's"Great Expectations" express. Ralph Reed, once the de factochief of the Christian Coalition, is advising Bush.
Alter saysthat Bush will have to follow Bill Clinton's example of '92, when the Presidentattacked Sister Souljah, effectively shutting up Jesse Jackson.There are two differences here: First, Clinton went after the Sister after hehad the nomination wrapped up; second, Bush has already corralled every factionof his party. There's simply no need for him to figuratively deck Bob Barror Pat Robertson.
RichardCohen, whacking off in the June 1 Washington Post, surpassed evenhis standard for knee-jerk Beltway punditry. Making the preposterous claim thatBush hasn't taken any positions on the issues that will shape the presidentialcampaign, Cohen writes: "This sign of political-intellectual activity inAustin [Bush's rapid response to the Cox Report on Chinese espionage]is like getting a radio signal from outer space: Is there intelligent life outthere? So far, the signs from Texas have not been encouraging. Where other candidatesissue position papers, Bush essentially issues non-position ones... He stands for nothing other than winning-and that, especially in the ideologically fractiousprimaries, can be a prescription for losing."
What a loadof garbage.
HotshotWashington-Boston columnists like Cohen are not only pro-Gore,they're pissed that Bush hasn't granted them private audiences, that he hasn'tcome groveling to their news cubicles with exclusive interviews. They don'tthink it's kosher that unlike John McCain, Bush hasn't made the roundof Sunday and cable talk shows. It's just further evidence that the Washingtonpress corps behaves like a bunch of high-schoolers, who insist they dictatethe playing field; if the candidates don't approach them (like most dutifullydo) then they don't exist. They issue "non-positions."
In fact,Bush's list of beliefs is quite clear: pro-immigration; pro-capital punishment;lower taxes; a strong military, with a foreign policy that has "a touchof iron"; limited government; against hate crime legislation; for moralityin the White House; a tough but fair overhaul of education; pro-life, with therealization that that's not the number-one issue in the country (unlike otherpast and present GOP candidates); an overhaul of Social Security to includesignificant privatization; and reaching out to minority voters that his partyhas traditionally written off as part of the Democratic base.
Unlike AlGore, Bush speaks fluent Spanish and polls well among Hispanic and black voters;in fact, in current polls-as relatively insignificant as they are at this juncture-Bushis leading Gore in both California and New York. (A recent San FranciscoExaminer poll showed a 49-44 percent lead for Bush over Gore.) If that trendholds up, the election's over, given Bush's lock on the Sun Belt and, with thelikely selection of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as his runningmate, he'll compete successfully in the Rust Belt.
Accordingto the latest Time/CNN poll, Bush holds a 55-42 percent nationallead over Gore; for the GOP nomination, he swamps the competition, taking 54percent to Elizabeth Dole's 14 percent. In a Boston Herald/WCVB-TVpoll of New Hampshire voters, Bush draws 45 percent to 11 percent each for Doleand McCain.
And Bushfinally said that he would've voted to impeach President Clinton had he beenin the Senate this winter, because "The man lied." It took him longenough: I'm a supporter of Bush, but wasn't comforted by his avoidance of thiscrucial issue last year, when he simply said he was "embarrassed by thescandal" and questioned the filthy atmosphere in Washington.
In his firstcampaign appearance outside Texas, Bush told a wildly enthusiastic crowdin Cedar Rapids, IA: "I do not run polls to tell me what to think.I make decisions based on a conservative philosophy that is ingrained in myheart: Trust local people to make the right decision for schools, cities andcounties. Understand that capitalism is the backbone of our free-enterprisesystem... Understand the importance of family and the need for personal responsibility."
Taking ashot at bitter rivals like Lamar Alexander, Dan Quayle and PatBuchanan, Bush defended his oft-mocked slogan of "compassionate conservatism."He said: "Is compassion beneath us? Is mercy below us? Should our partybe led by someone who boasts of a hard heart?" That might sound corny,but after seven years of Clinton, even Mr. Rogers would be a tonic inthe White House. Alexander, whose campaign is nearly bust, is Bush'sharshest critic, saying in Des Moines on June 8, "We don't haveany idea if [Bush] is ready to be president. He's a popular one-term governorand the woods are full of popular one-term governors... Most voters in Iowacouldn't pick him out of a lineup. His whole objective in this campaign is to make sure the race never gets to the people."
Poor Lamar.He's been campaigning for president since 1993 and hasn't made a bit of headway.It's no wonder that he's even resorting to untruths like saying that Bush isa "one-term governor," when in fact the Texan was overwhelmingly reelectedin his state just last fall. Quayle, mired in single digits in the polls, said,according to the June 9 Des Moines Register, that "I'll bedarned if we're going to have a nomination that's inherited. That's not theway Republicans act. They want somebody to go in there and fight for it."I take no pleasure in pointing out another Quayle faux pas-the media has unfairlyruined his career by biased reporting-but his statement isn't true. And it'soften unfortunate, as in '96, when Bob Dole indeed "inherited"the nomination because it was "his turn," and subsequently ran theworst presidential campaign in memory, worse even than Michael Dukakis'of 1988.
Meanwhile,Forbes' most compelling declaration of the week, as his badly produced SocialSecurity television ads blanketed the country, was to attack the newly designed$20 bill. He told the Des Moines Chamber of Commerce that when he becomespresident, "We will have money that looks real again," not "likeMonopoly money." And Buchanan, whose time as a candidate has come and gone,especially with the departure of his invaluable sister Bay as chief strategist,not to mention the legal troubles of his older brother Hank, is clutchingat rhetorical straws. Also in Iowa last week, he said, "We challenged KingGeorge as we called him in '92 and we think we're going to go up against thePrince of Wales in 2000, and we think we'll do just fine."
The NewYorker's "Political Scene" blowhard Joe Klein-a blighton editor David Remnick's evolving editorial philosophy that sofar seems like a combination of William Shawn's stodgy sobriety and TinaBrown's freneticism-had absolutely nothing new to say in his campaign reportfor the June 14 issue. Klein made the trenchant observation that none of thealso-ran candidates "are having much luck raising money," and thatonly Bush, Gore, Bill Bradley and McCain can be considered, "asof now," as possible successors to Clinton.
He's wrongabout McCain: the Arizona senator, whom I wouldn't be surprised to seedrop out of the race before New Hampshire, is just a whirlwind of contradictoryideas. Give him his due on Kosovo, speaking out forcefully while Clintonwas playing golf, but how do you square his conservative credentials with goofyideas like taking on the tobacco companies and thus effectively raising taxes-aregressive form of taxation at that-and his cosponsorship of campaign financereform with liberal Sen. Russ Feingold? I have a theory: Because of McCain'scaptivity in Vietnam, he has a reckless streak, popping off about anythingthat's on his mind, that's more commonly seen in men and women who are in their80s and don't give a hoot whom they piss off. Aside from his viciousjoke about Chelsea Clinton last year, McCain, according to BostonHerald columnist Joe Sciacca, was at it again recently in that city:"The nice thing about getting Alzheimer's is you get to hide your own Eastereggs."
NominatingMcCain would be a nightmare for the GOP: In the middle of a heated televiseddebate with Al Gore, he's apt to ask the Vice President to step outside andduke it out. Like a real man.
In recentweeks Bush has hogged the covers of numerous magazines, such as Texas Monthly,The Weekly Standard, The American Spectator, Time andNewsweek, demonstrating that the media is forced to play by the candidate'stimetable, not the other way around. In a largely favorable Standard piece,headlined "The Anointed One," Fred Barnes concludes: "[Bushhas] all but leapfrogged the primaries and begun the general-election campaign...[strategist Karl, Bush's James Carville] Rove offers two historic testsfor determining who the candidate will be. Both suggest Bush has the nominationin hand. First, the candidate of the Republican establishment-governors, senators,House members, state legislators, party leaders-wins the nomination. And Bushis the establishment candidate. Second, a candidate who consistently leads hisGOP rivals by 10 points or more the year before the primaries wins. That againis Bush. So all that's left for Bush is to fashion a case for compassionateconservatism. It had better be a compelling one." [italics mine.]
Barnes isa Bush partisan; I think he simply doesn't want to jinx the Governor's inevitablenomination.
As for Bush'swild youth, Democrats are clutching at straws. While one journalist with tiesto Gore's dirty tricksters told me that the Democrats will "have a buffet"dissecting the Governor's alleged misdeeds, that doesn't square with anythingI've heard. One person in Austin told me: "Bush was an amateur drinker;I should know, I was a professional." And in the lengthy June TexasMonthly profile of Bush, his old friend Doug Hannah told reporterSkip Hollandsworth: "He wasn't that wild. We were such cheapskatesback then that if someone's parents were willing to pay for our liquor, we wouldgo over there, have dinner and drinks, and play Jeopardy until it was time forsomeone to drive us home."
Sure, that'sa buddy defending his friend against media dirt-diggers looking for damaginginfo, but as of yet, I haven't heard anyone accuse Bush of rape, perjuryor marital infidelity. Stop! In The Name Of Sanity! The stenchfrom Hillary Clinton's embryonic New York Senate campaign haspermeated every corner of the city, from haute restaurants in the E. 60s tothe East Village alleys where slackers and lifer junkies piss out theirlast hour of beer or cheap wine. I was stuck in traffic for more than an hourlast Friday morning taking Junior to camp uptown; writhing with irritation on6th Ave., I simply assumed that Hillary was clogging the streets with her entourage,perhaps making an appearance on RosieO'Donnell's silly televisionshow. It turned out that pop star Ricky Martin was at RockefellerCenter, but that didn't lighten my mood: We're in for too much Hillary inthe coming months, much of it at taxpayers' expense, and there's not a damnthing New Yorkers can do about it. On Saturdayafternoon, Junior and I took in the Mets-Red Sox game at Shea(superb tickets courtesy of NYPress managing editor Lisa Kearns)and though Alejandro had to park the car practically in Brooklyn becauseof the huge crowd, necessitating a two-mile walk to our seats, the two of ushad a swell time, despite the Bosox losing 4-2 and Junior striking out thistime in the foul ball department.
Anyway,at one point in the third inning, while my son was concentrating on NomarGarciaparra's at-bat, I struck up a conversation with the lady sittingnext to us. One thing led to another and I asked her about Hillary and whethershe'd vote for her. "Are you kidding? What's she done for people in thisstate? I'm for Rudy." She then lowered her voice and continued: "Andgood riddance to that shit of a husband of hers." The woman was from GreatNeck, an area where Hillary has to poll well to offset Giuliani'slock on upstate.
When I gothome an e-mail awaited from my friend Peggy Noonan, who was out on theroad on a Midwest business trip. She was in the environs of Saginaw,MI, and spoke to a bunch of people about politics. "Guess what thefresh-faced farmers' wives wanted to know about first?" she wrote. "Hillary.A woman from a sugar beet farm said, 'I got your Wall Street Journal piece on Hill and blast-faxed it to all my friends!'" Noonan, on June 8,wrote the definitive examination of Hillary's solipsistic motivations.
In part,she said: "The entire campaign will be animated by the central insightshe has derived in the years since 1991: Voters can be fooled, and mesmerizedby repetition. A word here on the strange way they learned. Twenty years agoRonald Reagan used words and events to communicate truths: America is good;democracy is the best form of government; the government should be our servantand not our master; the Cold War can be won.
"Hillary'sgeneration of liberal political operatives watched, learned and added a variation:They would use words and images not to reveal but to obscure, not to clarifybut to confuse. They would mislead their way to power. They felt they were justified:They didn't think anything Mr. Reagan said was true, and yet the people supportedhim. Ergo they were manipulated. Ergo we will manipulate too."
On the sameday, in the New York Post, Jack Newfield wrote an entertainingcolumn in which he admitted that, as a columnist, he relished a Rudy-Hillaryslugfest. Most reporters aren't so honest. However, as a New Yorker, he continued,he'd rather see neither of the publicity hounds in the race, preferring a matchupof Rick Lazio or Peter King on the GOP side, pitted against eitherAndrew Cuomo or Carl McCall. Not in the cards, Jack, and you knowit. In the column, he's an equal-opportunity (to use Upper West Sidelingo) basher, reciting Hillary's long list of unexplained White Houseand Arkansas legal mysteries, and pillorying Giuliani for his mean spiritedness.Right on both counts, I'd say, but I don't understand the following sentence:"Rudy is essentially a one-trick pony. He cut crime and improved the qualityof life. He never found a second trick." Pardon me, Mr. Newfield, but makingNew York a safer and more hospitable place to live and work is not a small accomplishment;I don't know that he needs to do much more.
About Hillary,he says she "sounds more like Boss Tweed than Eleanor Roosevelt...a grandiose,overly entitled materialist-almost a yuppie Ma Barker. What a race, Ma Barkervs. Eliot Ness."
If Newfieldweren't such a committed Democrat, he'd close his column with an endorsementof Giuliani. Despite his abhorrence of GOP right-wingers, the veteran politicalobserver knows that Giuliani is a political moderate, who's pro-choice, pro-gayrights, and even endorsed Mario Cuomo in '94. But Newfield's past won'tallow such heresy. When November of 2000 rolls around, I predict he'll reluctantlysupport Hillary, despite all the coherent objections he raised in this excellentcolumn.
The Times'Maureen Dowd, her Pulitzer celebration now just a memory, forgedback into battle against Ken Starr in her June 13 "Liberties"column. Flush with the news that Starr won't indict either Clinton, Maureenwhines that Starr is an uptight fussbudget who doesn't know when to quit: Althoughthe Independent Counsel won't prosecute he plans to issue an all-inclusive reporton the Clintons' scandalous behavior. Maureen's pissed. She says that Starris "darkly scheming to destroy a Clinton on our dime," omitting thefact that Hillary's forays into New York have largely been paid for by Americantaxpayers. She writes: "Now he plots to release his final report on theClintons at a time when it could scald Hillary's nascent Senate campaign...It's likely to stir up the Gatsbyesque [I'd argue Li'l Abner-esque] flotsamand jetsam floating in the wake of her Senate dream. He will want to dredgeup all the damaging Hillary garbage..."
Yeah, sowhat? She's almost as dishonorable as her husband; I say it's fair game. Dowdcan't write a column without referring to a Hollywood film-this timeAustin Powers-and says that Starr is out "to destroy our puerilebut lovable hero, the shagadelic playboy with the pelt on his chest, Bill Clinton.Oh, behave, baby!" Not only is Dowd's puzzling defense of the Clintonsvery, very strange, but what exactly is lovable about either Clinton?
Meanwhile,Mr. Hillary was all puffed up with his Kosovo "victory" lastweek, and was positively delusional in an appearance on Jim Leher'sThe News Hour Friday night. As reported by the Times' KatharineQ. Seelye on Saturday, Clinton reacted to GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel'sstatement that he's lost the American people's trust by saying that Republicanshad spent seven years "attacking me personally because they knew the Americanpeople agreed with my ideas and the direction in which I was taking the country,and on one occasion, much to my eternal regret, I gave them a little ammunition."
Amazing.This man spins himself. Lying to the country for eight months is "a littleammunition" to Clinton; refusing to acknowledge that voters repudiatedhis first two years in office by choosing a Republican Congress in '94-and affirmedthat control in two subsequent elections-is plain dishonest; and as far as personalattacks, even many diehard Democrats acknowledge that Clinton will be rememberedas the most morally corrupt president of this century.
I'll givethis much to Clinton: He's absolutely right to protest the GOP's stupid resistanceto his recess-appointment of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg.Who cares if Hormel is openly gay? When are Republicans going to realize that'san intolerant, and politically moot, view?
But backto the First Lady: As she's probably the first to remind the President, it'sher show now. Leave it to someone from Massachusetts, in this case JackWilliams, a tv anchor writing in the June 11 Boston Herald, to completelyconfuse the nation's current political mindset. He writes, in cheering Hillaryon: "And the Republican Party will help by self-destructing. The GOP iscontrolled by a small but powerful faction that will force otherwise able candidatesto toe the line on gun control and abortion, thus alienating the majority ofvoters." Even the Beltway print pundits have admitted that the GOPis desperate for a White House win and is ignoring the "small but powerfulfaction" that Williams cites. No wonder he's on local tv.
But evenmore dumb than Jack Williams is Bob Beckel, the Democratic consultantwho was Walter Mondale's chief strategist in his stunning campaignagainst Ronald Reagan in 1984. Appearing on the June 4 edition of Crossfire,in a discussion about the New York Senate race, Beckel must've been either drunkor on wacky weed to come out with the following inaccurate statements.
"The only time [Giuliani] ever leaves Queens is when he goes to Albanyand asks for money. And guess what money he asks for? Money for New York Citythat comes out of the hides of upstaters... I know New York well; if there'sone thing upstaters hate worse than carpetbaggers it is New York City politicians."Beckel knows New York so well that he thinks Gracie Mansion is in Queens;he knows New York so well that he's under the impression Giuliani spends a lotof time with his rival George Pataki in Albany. And he's sucha savvy New Yorker that he thinks upstaters hate New York City politicians;perhaps Ed Koch or David Dinkins, but not the Republican Giuliani,especially when he's pitted against Hillary Clinton.
"...Rudy Giuliani's idea of crime is plungers in bathrooms... Rudy Giulianihad the great Giuliani SWAT team; you know, those guys who shot 71 [uh, 41,Mr. New Yorker] times at an unarmed man... Rudy Giuliani cleaned up New Yorkin a very simple way: He either had his police drive them out or shoot themout. You know what he did with the homeless? Do you know where they are? Theydrive them into Northern Central Park every night, and then during the day,they come back down... No, if you have a warm and fuzzy feeling about Rudy Giuliani,you have a warm feeling in your heart for serial killers. This guy is aboutas unpleasant a human being as I can imagine. That's why they love him in theQueens. That's why they won't like him in Poughkeepsie."
I can'tstand Giuliani, I loathe the man, but wouldn't it be splendid for hiscampaign if a nitwit like Beckel, who indulges in Al Franken routines,was Harold Ickes' chief lieutenant for the Hillary campaign? Queensvoters will adore Beckel.
It tookan anti-New Yorker to put the race in perspective: Writing in the June 6 BaltimoreSun, James Lileks said, "Aside from the nuts, though, millionsof liberal New Yorkers are more inclined to vote GOP than before. A conservativeis no longer a liberal who's been mugged; now a conservative is a liberal whohasn't been mugged in a while, and realizes he has a conservative to thank."
I get nauseouson the numerous occasions that Mayor Giuliani wears Yankees garb as ifhe's a 12-year-old, but Hillary's appearance at the White House last week withthe World Champion Bronx Bombers, in which she kissed George Steinbrenner("a great friend of the President and me"), a Republican, and donneda Yanks cap, was over the top. (George Will, on last Sunday's ThisWeek, said Hillary's sudden Yankees boosterism is "an embroideredlie.") The most pleasing aspect of this farce was that Al Sharptonwas also invited, leading to the question of just how Hillary will finesse thefraudulent preacher when he issues an inevitable endorsement of her candidacy.Will she kiss him too? That'll go over big in the suburbs and upstate.
FrankAhrens wrote in The Washington Post about Hillary's Thursday appearanceon the Today show, in which she played coy with host Katie Couricabout her New York plans. "'Are you a big Knicks fan?' Couric asked. 'I'mbecoming a big Knicks fan,' the first lady responded, laughing. 'More and moreevery day, huh?' Couric parried. And then a sleepy-eyed nation collectivelyhurled." Taki Growls And Prowls It was aboutan hour into a book party for David Halberstam at Patroon lastTuesday night, a swank event hosted by Vanity Fair editor GraydonCarter, when Taki shooed me away from the luxurious side room whereI was chatting with Mrs. M. "Go mingle, Russ," Taki dismissed me witha wave of his hand. "I'd rather spend some time with your lovely wife."Frankly, although I discount about 50 percent of Taki's rakish adventures thathe tells in rat-a-tat-tat conversation, there's no denying he has an eye forthe ladies. Why, just minutes before, a young woman entered the room and satby herself to smoke a cigarette. "Are you by yourself?" Taki yelledover to her. When she nodded yes, he replied, laughing heartily, "That'sa pity. You're much too beautiful to be alone." So I dutifullyfollowed Mr. Top Drawer's instructions and waded into the crowd, took a fewsnapshots and gratefully watched Eric Alterman exit with sidekick GeorgeStephanopoulos, after he'd satiated himself with Tom Brokaw facetime. I spoke briefly with Halberstam-he edited the terrific The Best AmericanSports Writing of the Century, the publication of which was the reason forthe soiree-and told him I was a fan of The Best and the Brightest, anunoriginal observation to the veteran author. But he was polite and simply nodded,saying, "Well, I'm not sure Mr. McNamara would agree with you."
There werea bunch of writers and publishing celebs there whom I briefly spoke to: GayTalese, Peter Maas, Ken Auletta and Andrew Wylie. ButI spent most of my time with Carter, David Hirshey and Richard Johnson.The Post's "Page Six" chief, drinking a cosmopolitan, speculatedwith me on the rumors that Mort Zuckerman might sell or shut down theDaily News this fall (Johnson, betraying his Hamptons state ofmind, insisted on pronouncing that awful man's last name as Zook-er-man). AsI've written before, it'd be no skin off my nose if the News folds; thetab's a bore and its closing would only fatten the far superior Post.Johnson was more diplomatic, claiming that he craved the competition, even ifhe agreed the paper sucked. Some say that Conrad Black, the publishingmogul who counts London's Daily Telegraph and the weekly Spectator in his stable, might take the News off Mort's hands. I doubt it: Whoneeds all those union stick-'em-ups? A far more interesting rumor circulatedaround the room, the gist of which says that Black is in negotiation to buyThe New York Observer from Arthur Carter and morph theweekly into a conservative daily. A mighty tall order, if you ask me, but youcan't argue with Black's track record. Still, I have my doubts: After sinkingsome $50 million into his weekly over the past 12 years, I don't see the upsidefor Carter, aside from never again having to explain to his peers why he publishesJoe Conason and Anne Roiphe.
Hirsheyspent years at Esquire before moving over to Rupert Murdoch'sHarperCollins as an executive editor-a career uptick that must've beena godsend after editing that monthly's dubious "Dubious Achievement Awards"for 12 years, "a record that is as unassailable as Cal Ripken's,"Hirshey said. Dave Eggers, the brilliant Manhattan writer who'sworking with Hirshey on two books currently, bailed on that chore after justone issue. Hirshey's a fine gent, and told me about a few upcoming blockbusterprojects he's working on, but asked that I not divulge the contents. As compensation,the next day he faxed this anecdote about an Esquire piece in the Halberstambook, Richard Ben Cramer's celebrated '86 piece "What DoYou Think of Ted Williams Now?"
"Cramer spent three months stalking Williams and brought back 15,000 wordsthat 'couldn't be cut.' However, given the exigencies of magazines, even backthen, we only had room for 13,500. When the managing editor, a slight but combativewoman who just cleared five feet in height, informed Cramer that he needed totrim 1,500 words from his piece, he turned the color of a ripe apple and vaultedover me in an attempt to separate her head from her body. I was able to bearhughim away and usher him out of the office but he was not done with us.
"Thatnight I had to attend some black-tie deal with the magazine's editor Lee Eisenberg,a fact I must have casually mentioned to Cramer earlier in the week. So at 10p.m. Cramer returned to the Esquire offices at 2 Park Ave. and went towork. His first stop was the copy department where he charmed the culottes offthe head copy editor and told her that David and Lee had given him permissionto restore the trimmed 1,500 words and that she could call us at home if sheliked. She did and, of course, got no answer. Cramer, being a Pulitzer Prizewinner and all, had enough journalistic cred to convince her he would take fullresponsibility for any changes. Next, with the new 15,000 word galleys in hand,he went to the art department and told them they would have to drop a photoof Williams in the opening layout and shrink the type on the jump. When theybalked, he told them we had given him permission and they were welcome to checkwith us. Now came his biggest challenge. In order for us not to see his handiworkthe next morning, he would have to convince the production department that thepiece would have to ship that night because 'the printing plant isn't used tohandling pieces of this length and needed the extra day.'
"Incredibly,they bought it but not before trying to reach us for confirmation. At 2 a.m.,his mission accomplished, Cramer went home to sleep the sleep of the triumphant.Seven hours later, I arrived at the office and noticed three bouquets of roses at the receptionists' desk. They were addressed to the copy, art, and productiondepartments and all three carried the same note: 'Thanks for your grace underpressure, Richard Cramer.'
"Igot no flowers."
Taki andMrs. M were having an uproarious laugh when I returned to their corner and Iinsisted that he repeat the story. It seems that back in '86, Taki, the lateJeffrey Bernard (who wrote the classic "Low Life" column nextto Taki's "High Life" in The Spectator for many years) andFrancis Bacon were having several drinks at the then-trendy Langan'sBrasserie in Mayfair. Taki posed the question: "If you couldmake love to anyone in the world, who would it be?" Not missing a beat,Bacon replied: "Qaddafi." The comment was overheard by somemortified eavesdroppers at the table next to theirs and they berated Bacon,calling him a disreputable communist, among other things. According to Taki,a scene erupted and they had to continue their bender elsewhere, perhaps atBernard's beloved Coach and Horses in Soho. (The story remindedme of when Mrs. M and I went to London together for the first time and unsuccessfullystalked Bernard daily, reporting to Coach and Horses in the early afternoon,drinking a few pints and reading the dailies. Alas, we never did meet the heroicwriter, although we saw Peter O'Toole play him in Jeffrey Bernardis Unwell.)
Taki thenwarned us not to send Junior and MUGGER III to British boarding schools (asif we'd even consider letting go of our precious pranksters at their age), indulgedin some John Podhoretz-bashing, cracked up at his own jokes again, justlike his American soul mate Pat Buchanan, and told us how he oncetrumped an uptown journalist who was gassing on one night about his 18th-centuryancestors. Taki was appalled at the pretentiousness of the windbag and shutup the louse by saying that yes, ancestors are quite fascinating: "My fatherused to tell me that we had quite a wild bunch back in 300 BC." Taki speaksat such a clip and in such detail that, like I mentioned last week, if you driftaway you'll miss important segments of the story; sort of like how Kurt Andersen'sTurn of the Century requires intense concentration.
Taki andI then turned to business and he warned me that the fine essayist Jim Holtwould have a piece in this issue that took a few jabs at Andersen. He was sorryabout it, knowing of my friendship with the best-selling author, but I toldhim John Strausbaugh and I had no interest in censoring well-writtencopy, even if it got us in dutch with a buddy.
Taki himselfwrote warmly of Andersen in the June 5 Spectator: "I returned toearth in the Bagel, at a wonderful dinner given by Melik Kaylan, the world'ssecond greatest living Turk, after Ahmet Ertegun, that is. Melik is an old buddyand he threw his bash for Kurt Andersen, author of Turn of the Century,the seminal novel of this and the next decade. Mark my words, what Tom Wolfe'sBonfire of the Vanities did for the Eighties, Andersen's mega-novel willdo for the millennium. I sat next to Walter Isaacson, editor-in-chief of Timemagazine, and as nice a person as I've come across in a hell of a long time.What struck me about Isaacson and Andersen was their lack of...shall we saythe Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie sophomoric arrogance and insecurity (well deserved).Real people those two, and both extremely successful in this business of ours.Funny how the Brit writers have gone Hollywood and the Yanks have not."
Taki triedto convince us to wander off to Elaine's for dinner, but we demurred;he vanished in a swirl of laughter, and we spent a few minutes chatting withphotographer Patrick McMullan and his friend Margie Beck. Turnsout the two of them also hail from Huntington, although, like my DowntownLittle League buddy Bob Franchi, they went to my rival high school,Walt Whitman. It's been years since I've seen McMullan, but he's an amiablefellow who was very kind to this newspaper back when it started in a tiny SpringSt. office in 1988. Along with Anita Sarko and Beauregard Houston-Montgomery,Patrick would stop by periodically to chat, wish us luck against the Voiceand also contributed some photos for six months or so.
Mrs. M andI then headed over to the bar where Graydon Carter was holding court. He wasin rare form, complimenting me on my "natty attire," and insistingthat when we first met in '87 I was sporting a ponytail. Disgusted, I told himhe was dead wrong. When Mrs. M said that she cuts my hair, Carter chortled andsimply said, "Well, that's a chore that must take less time each year."Ho, ho, ho. I asked if he'd turn around so I could take a party page pic ofhis dome. We both laughed, I louder than Graydon. On the way home, Mrs. M wasfeeling her oats, and two martinis, and said to the cabby: "Hey, Igor,what's your position on smoking? My husband could use a cigarette right now."I nudged her, and Igor replied: "Are you crazy? In New York City? We'dall get thrown in jail!" Talk's Already Tanking I've hadsome sport taking shots at Tina Brown's upcoming monthly Talk-itsdebut issue will be on newsstands in August-and her absurd, grandiose statementthat the publication will "both reflect and shape the American conversation,"but as her yearlong hibernation comes to a close, it's time for some seriousdiscussion about the magazine's prospects. It's the most puzzling start-up Ican remember: For starters, although I subscribe to some 80 periodicals, whosemailing lists are bought by other publications, I have yet to receive a direct-mailsolicitation from Talk. No one I know has either. That's odd, especiallysince Brown's goal is a circulation of 500,000, that often-elusive number (justask Steve Brill or John Kennedy) that will allow Talk tocompete with Vanity Fair and GQ, among others, for high-ticketadvertisers.
Then there'spublisher Ron Galotti's pitch to advertisers: Buy space in Talkand you'll receive product placement in a Miramax film (Talk isjointly owned by Disney/Miramax and Hearst Corp.). Perhaps thisupfront whoring of the product is meant to shock agencies into believing it'sa valuable benefit, but it certainly doesn't inspire respect among prospectivereaders. Galotti has also made news by his decision to limit the first fourissues to 100 ad pages. The ostensible reason is to avoid a blockbuster Septemberdebut, like George a few years back, only to be followed by issues thatare so thin they could be used as dental floss. I have no doubt that in theunlikely case that an advertiser wants the 101st page in the first several issues,Galotti's policy will be quickly amended.
But whatof the magazine's content? As I've written before, I think its punitive leadtime will be a significant factor in its eventual failure. For example, in theSeptember issue, so I've heard, is a political profile of George W. Bush:The interview was conducted in April and the author's piece given to editorsby the end of May. Obviously, when the column appears it'll be DOA: So muchwill have changed in the Bush campaign, and the presidential race in general,in the ensuing months that the piece, like so many in Brill's Content,for example, will be fatally dated.
I've heardthat the first cover will feature Hillary Clinton; the expectation wasthat Talk would contain the scoop that she's running for Daniel PatrickMoynihan's New York Senate seat. (The implication that Brown hasn'tgotten over her infatuation with the current First Lady and her dreamy husbandjust demonstrates how out of touch she's become. Let's remember: Brown is theperson who hired Joe Klein as political correspondent at The New Yorker.)
The p.r.department at Talk is very tense and rude, and refuses to comment aboutthe first cover celebrity. But if it is Hillary (a backup is apparently ElizabethTaylor, an equally insipid choice) it's a stupid move, considering HarveyWeinstein's close financial, political and personal connections to theClintons.
But whoknows? The Talk staff has kept its plans shrouded in such secrecy thatmaybe some synergistic surprise is in store. Perhaps Brown herself will gracethe cover, with the headline "I'm Back!" But I doubt it. Last Friday,it was reported in The New York Times that Brown had signed British authorMartin Amis "to write a memoir, a novel and a collection of essaysfor the new Talk Miramax imprint; a screenplay for Miramax Films and articlesfor Talk magazine." Amis is a recognizable name, and inspired crybaby NewYorker writer James Atlas to tell the Times that it is "reallyexciting for a startup venture to have signed up someone who iconographicallyis where literature is now," but given Brown's relationship with Amis,it's not really so much of a coup. Or, frankly, a reason to anxiously awaitthe first issue. Amis is a predictable defection to her camp. I'm sure his contractis lucrative, which isn't likely to please the many young writers who've beencourted with less-than-exorbitant fees.
Tina Brown,a talented and shrewd editor, has lost more than a few steps since her stunningdecision to leave The New Yorker last summer: She's an icon of the 80swho, I suspect, doesn't have a clue about how to start a grand magazine in this era of new communications. She can't simply reinvent her success at VanityFair, which she then brought to The New Yorker; it's a differentworld and Brown was asleep while the media go-getters were working. She's madea big deal about how Talk's pages will be glossy-deluxe and feature "European-style"photography and fashion spreads, like Paris Match or Stern. Sowhat? That won't drive customers to the newsstands or inspire people to subscribe;that is, if they're ever even pitched to subscribe.
Manhattan'smedia observers are mixed on the possibilities of Talk's success. MichaelWolff, New York's media critic, who wrote a fine piece on May 31lampooning traditional editors and publishers like Anna Wintour, JannWenner and Steve Brill, saying in essence that they haven't yet realizedthey're publishing dinosaurs, isn't optimistic. He told me: "I think TinaBrown has a better chance of starting a literate successful general interestmagazine than probably any other editor working today. Nevertheless, that'sprobably an impossible task. Or it's a $200 million task, which nobody, at thispublishing moment in time, is going to have the stomach for. I mean a monthlymagazine. A monthly magazine! Why bother?"
HendrikHertzberg, who worked with Brown at The New Yorker, was more generous:"I have no inside dope, just a vague feeling that their basic strategywill be to import the energy and graphic verve of continental European celebrity/quasi-newsmagazinejournalism. I expect Talk to make most of the competition, especiallyVanity Fair, seem a little fogyish. I predict editorial success. I haveno way of forming an opinion on whether that will translate to business viability.The whole infrastructure of traditional magazine publishing-the trees, the printingplants, the mail carriers, the trucks, the pulped returns-does seem increasinglyanachronistic, but that's another story."
In London'sDaily Telegraph last Friday, Philip Delves Broughton wrote a damningpiece about the odds of Talk's success. He begins: "'You write aboutus and I guarantee there'll be no co-operation down the line,' says Tina Brown'slatest spokesman, a goon seconded to her by her business partner, Miramax films.You would think they were chopping up bodies in the new offices of Talkmagazine in downtown Manhattan... For a magazine whose goal, in Brown's words,is to 'shape and reflect the American conversation,' the current line-up [ofTalk writers] is no marmalade-dropper."
Most peopleI spoke with either didn't want to comment or requested anonymity, demonstratingthat Brown still inspires a degree of fear in the industry.
One observertold me: "I'm afraid I agree with you about Talk's extremely slimchances as a commercial venture. I still think it can be good editorially, andhas a strong chance of being the best of its current kind (Esquire, GQ,Vanity Fair). But I also think, for the reasons you describe and more,that it will certainly be the last of the big general-interest monthly magazinestartups, and its commercial failure will be seen as end-of-the-century epochaland paradigmatic, like Life folding in '72. Moreover, if [Michael] Eisneris replaced during the next 12-24 months, which I'd say is a 50-50 bet, thechances of his successor being gung-ho on Talk seem slim. And I haven'tgotten a direct-mail package either."
Finally,another publishing veteran told me: "Prediction: In 18 months Tina Brownand Harvey Weinstein will be in litigation. It'll end badly. It'll turn outto be a movie magazine, just dreadful. She's a better editor than John Kennedy,but not much. [The Talk staff] are very arrogant and disliked out there.And Tina has a habit of using and throwing away people. As for the Euro fashionthing, it's not like they have the cream of photographers. It just won't bea necessary magazine."