Although I don't make a habit of answering letters concerning things I've written?perhaps I've answered two in 32 years of scribbling (a Greek-American reader recently heaped abuse and hinted I was a Turk, quite wrongly, as I'm among the lucky few of my countrymen whose family comes from a part of Greece no Turk ever set foot on)?as this is not a case of difference of opinion, but one of fact, here goes:
First and foremost, anything that one thinks happened at Elaine's is suspect. People are known to drink at Elaine's, and Mr. Phillips, whom I have never met, or heard of, was probably drinking. I am sure that I was, and having said that, perhaps I've spent countless nights in his (I am sure) delightful company, but, sorry old man, I have no idea who you are. It is of course possible that while I was drunk and chatting with Thomas Phillips someone came up, shoved a "fanny pack" in my pocket and, well, you know the rest. It is also possible that when Mr. Phillips ran into me outside the zoo, he was emerging from an Elaine's night, and thought he saw the ubiquitous fanny pack and heard the ubiquitous sound.
As they say, everything is possible at Elaine's?by the way, as you claim to be a regular, Tom, please give her my regards and tell her I'll be seeing her sooner rather than later?but, in this case, extremely improbable.
Thomas Phillips' letter was hardly abusive, and there are worse crimes than falsely claiming not to own or use a cellphone, but the reason I am replying is because I am so goddamn sure of it. What I suspect is it's a case of mistaken identity. Tom Phillips had one too many, saw a Gary Cooper lookalike (actually I'm 4 feet, 8 inches, 350 pounds and couldn't get into South Africa for years) and, presto, Taki was caught fibbing about the most important issue of the last millennium.
And speaking of mistaken identity, here's one case that delighted me even more than when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. According to the London Daily Telegraph, during last year's peace negotiations on Kosovo, the American Secretary of State was mistaken for a cleaning lady by one of the Albanian delegation. An Albanian diplomat, Dugagjin Gorani, describes the scene: "One member of the delegation, who didn't realize who she was, and probably thinking she was some cleaning lady because it was after midnight, simply said to her, 'Give us five minutes and please go away.'"
In reply, Albright started swearing furiously at the group of delegates. Veton Surroi, another member of the delegation, recalls: "Mrs. Albright started using explicit language which the translators never could translate into Albanian."
Well, it's par for the course. If, say, Henry Kissinger were mistaken for a headwaiter by some ignoramus, old Henry would have come up with a devastating riposte, perhaps something like, "If carpentry was good enough for the Jesus Christ family, I'm sure waiting on tables is fine for Henry Kissinger..." Not Madeleine Alspite. She's obviously so complexed about being above her head in the great game of nations, she has to scream and swear in order to be taken seriously. Which will never happen. It is now obvious that the war over Kosovo was probably the biggest fuckup since the Trojans accepted a rather large wooden horse as a gift from the Greeks. Let's see: Milosevic is still in power, stronger than ever. Kosovo is a hellhole, with both communities devastated and homeless. It has been revealed that nearly half of the aid given for Kosovo was sold on the black market by the Albanian mafia. The humanitarian network was used by the KLA for arms smuggling. The presence of NATO-led troops in Kosovo is supporting a sinister white slave trade, in which women from impoverished parts of Eastern Europe are being bought and sold into prostitution, run by the Albanians. NATO air strikes have blocked navigation in the Danube, Europe's longest waterway, causing untold misery to Romania and Hungary, with people who depended on the traffic losing everything. A real catastrophe.
In return, the egregious Albright struts around the world, nostrils flaring, carrying a very small stick but using a very loud screech. Is it possible that Madeleine Albright was kidnapped by her Albanian lover, who goes by the nickname "the Snake," brainwashed and sent back to us as a Manchurian Candidate? Worse, is it possible that the Snake kidnapped her, flushed her down some toilet and sent us back a double? After all, most Balkan mafia molls look like Madeleine.
These matters are very important, and we simply cannot have a secretary of state who may or may not be who we think she is. Albright's father helped himself to someone else's house and treasures after the war. Her family still refuses to acknowledge their father's theft, not to mention return the loot. Perhaps Madeleine is Ali Baba in disguise. (Or could she be an alien from outer space sent to disturb our civilization? After all, she looks like ET's grandmother.) Anything is possible. All I know is that if I see her at Elaine's talking into a cellphone in Albanian, her game is up.
Peter Eavis Feature
Global Greed Goldman Sachs has one of the most envied Rolodexes on Wall Street. The 131-year-old investment bank has arranged stock or bond offerings for many of the world's largest corporations. You're a company that wants to issue billions of dollars of shares at a good price with the slickest marketing and the minimum of hassles? Well, go to Goldman.
But Goldman's deal-makers, despite reaping Croesus-shaming profits in 1999, have signed up a group that would make even Death Row Records blush. The Rolls-Royce of the financial world is currently chauffeuring the most sinister of passengers.
Goldman, leading a syndicate of other banks, wants to float shares in a state-owned Chinese company called PetroChina, and aims to raise a massive $5 billion for the firm on U.S. and Hong Kong stock exchanges. One problem: PetroChina's parent, China National Petroleum Corp., has a large stake in an oil project run by Sudan's Islamic government, which is probably responsible for the death of more than one million Christians and animists in the south of the country. Next to the regime of Sudanese president Omar el-Bashir, P.W. Botha's looks like Jimmy Carter's.
The deal, which is scheduled to fly in late February or early March, has attracted some attention from both the business and nonfinancial media. But for whatever reason, no one appears to have made the obvious point: this is the dark side of globalism. It shows how far companies will go to gain what their verbally challenged executives often term "global reach."
First off, Goldman doesn't need this deal to help its bottom line. A little math makes this clear. If the underwriting fee on the PetroChina offering is 3 percent of the hoped-for $5 billion?low for a U.S. deal, but probably right for a trophy foreign issue like this?then the banks involved will have $150 million to divvy up. As the deal's lead manager, Goldman could get half the pot, or $75 million. Let's be charitably unrealistic and say Goldman keeps its expenses low on a deal like this and makes, say, $50 million. That's equivalent to a mere 1.8 percent of Goldman's $2.7 billion in net profits in its last fiscal year, ending November 1999. Peanuts?by anyone's measure.
Goldman says none of the money raised for China-focused PetroChina will be used by its parent, which is responsible for overseas operations. That's lame. If you give a drunk money for food, he has more to spend on booze. And with China-specific capital needs satisfied through PetroChina, CNPC can plow deeper into Sudan and elsewhere. In fact, Stratfor, an online intelligence service, recently pointed out that PetroChina's domestic oil fields are yielding little in comparison with CNPC's offshore wells. In other words, the Chinese government appears to be using Goldman to put a good old stockbroker spin on a sale of questionable assets.
Sure, many will say plain old greed is the motivation behind the Goldman-PetroChina transaction. But there may be something much bigger and more sinister at play. Despite PetroChina's shortcomings and the heated opposition from human rights groups, the bank's determination to press ahead seems its way of saying: absolutely nothing is going to interfere with our globalist ambitions. Indeed, globalism has become something of an obsession for Goldman, as well as many other U.S. corporations.
Take the person who has become the bank's best-known public face: Abby Joseph Cohen, its market strategist. Cohen is frequently wheeled out by Goldman to tell the world that the stock market isn't overvalued. Resembling a headmistress, she comes over more trustworthy than the sleek twentysomething power femmes of Wall Street. One of her main scriptures is that globalism is a big contributor to the meteoric increase in U.S. stock prices. So the return of what she calls protectionism could cause the market to fall, she says.
Cohen's globalist tendencies were on bold display earlier this month when she spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where the kingpins of the New World Order meet each year. And judging by other appearances at Davos, it's not just aggressive investment banks like Goldman that are getting carried away with their own power. Michael Dell, the 34-year-old head of the world's most powerful personal computer company, spoke of the need to have more computers in schools?predictable p.c. nonsense. But then, in strangely unreported remarks, Dell explained how to get all this good stuff done without relying on pesky short-termist politicians. Businesses could do it instead, he said, because they're better placed to make strategies that "may be different from what the populace in general wants to hear." This must be the New New Corporatism.
Yes, that's the trouble with many companies that ostentatiously proclaim themselves global. One minute they're showing ads full of children from every continent skipping over hillsides singing, the next you find out they're into some really sick stuff. Dell is a pussycat in comparison with someone like Ted Turner, who, for example, supports the Nazi-sounding "population control." And take Time Warner's Fortune 500 conference in Shanghai last year to coincide with the People's Republic of China's 50th birthday. Did the cake have 70 million candles to commemorate all those killed by the party?
Many key globalists, having witnessed the Seattle protests, are keen to put a much cuddlier image on their creed. But they'll have to do better than a recent effort made by mega-investor and Balkans-meddler George Soros. In a Davos discussion on how to make people feel safer in a global economy, he floored the audience with the prescription that we, as citizens, be "guided by the common interest rather than furthering our particular interests."
Nice George, but go tell it to your broker.
Petra Dickenson Feature
Oh, Canada According to The New York Times, which knows these things, Canadian "nationality consists of an identity crisis with which [we] have a national love affair." Well, Ottawa certainly has an identity crisis?it even mandates how many hours of Canadian, as opposed to the corrupting American, tv citizens are allowed to watch?but the rest of us are pretty certain who we are. We are the people who invented and play hockey. And hockey is for the adventurous and the bold. Someone you know is always playing it or talking about it and entire generations have grown up fantasizing of becoming Eddie Shores, Maurice Richards, Gordie Howes, Bobby Orrs and Wayne Gretzkys, true Canadian heroes all. Our national identity is so wound up with the experience of living with hockey that the government, ever so vigilant, wants to ensure we are spending enough of our taxes on it. Having devised elaborate rules to protect our "distinct Canadian identity" from the forces of "continentalism," our masters have turned their attention to the cultural apocalypse that would strike if some of our hockey teams left Canada.
After much deliberation, including a "hockey summit" with Canada's National Hockey League owners and players, the Ministry of Industry decreed that the taxpayers shall pay $20 million a year to keep our cultural heroes at home. Cuba, after all, is not the only country in the northern hemisphere having problems with keeping people from defecting to the U.S.
Looked at from the Marxist perspective, the six Canadian teams have an economic problem, even if the difficulties are of their own making. In 1991, the average NHL player earned $271,000 (U.S.). By 1999 that figure skyrocketed to $1.3 million (U.S.), a 480 percent increase. Compounding the problem is that to keep players from running into the hands of ruthless Americans, the Canadian owners have to pay them in hard currency?in U.S., not wimpy Canadian, dollars. But even that has not stemmed the defections of entire teams or the threat that more will follow. The club in imminent danger of being lost to the U.S. is the Ottawa Senators and the owner, Rod Bryden, is "not giving more money to this community" without some federal aid. In fact, his team was to be the first to benefit from the bailout and receive $3 million. True, it's only 3 mil in lousy Canadian dollars but that's the best the Canadian taxpayers can do. Now Mr. Bryden just happens to be the former national president of the governing Liberal Party, but so what, eh? You don't become a highly visible owner of a glamorous sports franchise and a chick magnet by sitting on your arse doing nothing for your country, do you?
That there never was any public appetite for a scheme to subsidize 22-year-old millionaires and their rich employers never fazed the feds. The bailout was a matter of national emergency. "In terms of what it is that being Canadian is really about, I'm not prepared to see [hockey] disappear without making at least a good effort to see that we can preserve it as long as we can," said Industry Minister John Manley. His was not a quick decision; the House of Commons' committee had studied the situation for quite some time, and not all of its recommendations were fiscally dishonest. Some went to remedy problems few knew had existed. The committee did not just worry about macho hockey millionaires, it agonized about women, too, and to really score with the public, it recommended that tax breaks be given to manufacturers of female-friendly sporting goods. Apparently, there has been a reluctance to produce stuff for women that only a federal loophole can overcome. Presumably, makers of jockstraps would not qualify for government favors but those good enough to manufacture sports bras and female thingies would, which makes the whole NHL subsidy all right then, eh?
A funny thing happened to the government's proposal, however. Canada, normally a hotbed of apathy, went ballistic. "Minister Manley, with the blessing of the Prime Minister, has arrogantly given the Trudeau salute to taxpayers who have overwhelmingly told this government that bailing out professional sports teams is not a public policy priority," said the Canadian Taxpayer Federation, speaking for many. (For those unfamiliar with the "Trudeau salute" and under the illusion that one of the prized Canadian traits is civility, Pierre Trudeau, former Prime Minister and the mentor of the current PM, used to flip his finger at the annoying masses.) Prime Minister Jean Chretien was in Florida when his government announced the bailout, having arrived a few weeks after Elian Gonzalez. Still, the PM's stay in Vero Beach was nearly ruined by irate Liberal MPs and senior party officials who were frantically calling him to withdraw the plan before the situation got out of hand. Amazingly, the government did cancel the subsidy.
The NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, said he was "disappointed" and that the federal turnaround is a blow that forces the league and the teams to "take a deep breath and regroup." No doubt, the league's approach will be more subtle in the future. No more public bailouts, only quiet pressures on local governments for rent waivers and free stadiums, the way American professional franchisees do it. After all, if you are going to pay in U.S. dollars, you might as well learn from the Yanks and screw somebody. As for the Canadian taxpayers, if worse comes to worst and there is no NHL, we'll still have a lot to be thankful for. Our government has allowed us to watch Canadian tv and Pamela Anderson is one great-looking Canadian. My own preferences run more toward Brendan Fraser, but to each her own, eh?
George Szamuely The Bunker
McCain's Money There is something deliciously appropriate about William Kristol's hysterical embrace of Sen. John McCain. Kristol and McCain have for some time been two of the most pernicious figures in American politics. They fell in love last year as the bombs were dropping on Belgrade. Every 15 minutes or so one or the other would be on the box demanding the death of yet more Serbs and the introduction of "ground troops." For some years now Kristol had been searching for some larger-than-life man who would succeed in realizing his puerile dream of "national greatness." McCain clearly is this man. All one needs is empty bluster and limitless self-righteousness.
In a recent issue of The Weekly Standard Bill Kristol and David Brooks announced that "John McCain is taking on the Republican establishment? Like Reagan and Gingrich, McCain makes the corporate and lobbyist types nervous." Corporate and lobbyist types nervous? They have to be kidding. McCain's entire career?including marriage to the heiress to one of the nation's largest Anheuser-Busch distributorships after he returned from Vietnam and dropped his first wife?is testimony to the power of corporate America.
McCain has spent all his time hanging around with corporate lobbyists, showering political favors hither and yon in return for campaign contributions. For all his vaunted combativeness, he has always taken on only the easiest of targets. He is against "pork." (Who isn't?) He is against the tobacco industry. (Okay, but he is for the alcohol industry?the family connection helps.) He is against "soft money" even as he helps himself to large dollops of "hard money."
And he is the noisiest of patriots. He wants to pick a fight with everyone. American "values" are always on the line. The "rogue states" are always about to commit dastardly deeds. During last year's murderous spree, egged on by the war-crazed media, he talked as if he really believed he was the commander-in-chief. "When I urged the President of the United States not to rule out the option of ground forces," he declared sonorously, "then I also assumed responsibility for what may be the loss of young Americans' lives... I don't know how it affects my campaign. But I've basically put my campaign on hold to some degree."
A senator gassing away with Bob Novak or Bernie Shaw in the middle of the afternoon has not "assumed responsibility" for anything. Nor was he unaware how his demagoguery was playing in the media.
For the past three years McCain has used his chairmanship of the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Science Committee to squeeze campaign contributions from huge corporations. McCain's biggest campaign contributors all have business before his committee. New Times' Amy Silverman has reported that people who testified before the committee between January 1997 and November 1999 donated nearly $800,000. They made the contributions personally or through their employers' PACs. Of those who testified, representatives of industry outnumbered consumer groups by more than 10 to one. Witnesses for industry accounted for all of the contributions. Companies like America Online, EchoStar, Union Pacific and US West?all of whom regularly have business before his committee?have hosted fundraisers for McCain.
The biggest contributor to McCain has been the telecommunications industry, which has contributed almost $1 million. That includes US West, Bell South and Bell Atlantic, which are trying to get into the long-distance telephone service and Internet access business. And McCain is pushing telecommunications legislation to do just that. Viacom, Boeing and AT&T are all major contributors to McCain. McCain's committee oversees the Federal Aviation Administration; McCain has received at least $83,900 from major airline employees and their PACs. Overall he has received at least $182,000 from the aviation industry. Not coincidentally, Congress gutted the so-called Airline Passenger Bill of Rights. For years McCain has tried to win an increase in the number of slots at Reagan National Airport for the Arizona-based America West Airlines. America West Airlines has donated at least $11,500 to McCain.
It is no surprise then to find so many corporate lobbyists involved in McCain's campaign. Former Reagan aide Rick Davis is his campaign manager. The Associated Press reports that Davis has taken a leave of absence from the firm of Davis, Manafort and Freedman, where he is managing partner. The firm's clients include Comsat. Under legislation McCain is helping to write, it would no longer control access to the global satellite consortium, Intelsat. Another client is SBC Communications, which, like other Bell companies, wants federal approval to carry data over long-distance lines.
Kenneth Duberstein is another McCain operative. Formerly chief of staff in Ronald Reagan's White House, he is now a member of McCain's national campaign steering committee. He is also chairman of the Duberstein Group, whose clients include United Airlines and CSX, one of the nation's largest freight railroads. The AP further notes that McCain is involved in negotiations to renew the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees United. McCain has also introduced legislation to renew the Surface Transportation Board, which regulates CSX. Another member of McCain's national campaign steering committee is former Congressman Vin Weber. Weber runs the Washington office of Clark and Weinstock. Its clients include the Air Transport Association?the trade group for the nation's airlines?and AT&T, whose executives contributed $10,000 to McCain's campaign shortly after McCain introduced legislation that could have made it easier for the phone giant to expand further into the cable television business.
One thing we can be sure of, with McCain as president and Kristol his chief advocate, the military-industrial complex will be humming happily. I don't know about anyone else though.
Charles Glass London Desk
Bombing Lebanon When Israel gets angry, try not to be Lebanese. It doesn't seem to matter who provokes Israel's wrath, its government cannot break the habit of taking it out on Lebanon. It used to get mad at the Palestine Liberation Organization, and, sure as shooting, it would bomb Lebanon. Now when it loses patience with Syria, it considers carefully what to do, and, you guessed it, it bombs Lebanon.
No one should be surprised to see warplanes dispatched over Lebanon because the Orthodox vigilantes in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim throw rocks at people for driving on the Sabbath. Israel bombs Lebanon, north and south, up and down the coast. It hits houses and electricity plants, guerrilla bases and villages. In the latest bout of Israeli bellicosity, Lebanon lost three electricity stations. Lebanese far from the front lines of the Israeli-occupied south are, as a result, living most of their nights in darkness.
Lest anyone in Lebanon hit back at Israel, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy issued a warning: "If Katyusha rockets fall on our settlements, the soil of Lebanon will burn." I'm trying to imagine what would make soil burn. In many years of covering wars in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, I've seen trees, office buildings and hospitals on fire, not to mention the bodies of people and animals. I've seen vineyards and grass go up in flames, leaving the earth scorched. But in all the lands that have been overrun by Iraqis, Somalis, Ethiopians, Israelis and Serbs, I've never seen dirt burn. Napalm might do it, I suppose, going deep into the soil the way its manufacturers intend it to penetrate human pores. Nuclear warheads could do the job, certainly, and Israel has those in abundance. Israeli military scientists, however, may have developed some new explosive that sets dirt on fire. Code-name: Topsoil Terminator. If the new superweapon proves effective, it would ignite not only the dry soil of the desert, but wet marshlands, riverbanks and seabeds.
There was a time when Israel wielded the mere threat to invade Lebanon. It was a fearsome prospect to the Lebanese, who went to war against the PLO in 1975 in large part to avoid seeing it carried out. The threat became useless once it was used, in 1982. The Lebanese Shiite Muslims introduced the Israelis to their weapon of choice, the suicide car bomb, and Israel began backing out. Suddenly, the Lebanese?confronted with live Israeli soldiers on their unburned earth?were no longer afraid of them. Israeli boys have been dying in Lebanon ever since, and Israel's latest aerial adventure came in part because Shiite guerrillas killed six of them in Lebanon.
No matter how far south the Israeli Defense Forces moved, they hung on tenaciously to the strip, about 10 percent of Lebanese territory, which they first occupied March of 1978. Israel invaded at the time to crush the PLO, which has subsequently become its collaborator in controlling the natives of the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The U.S., which would later go to war with Iraq over the principle that other countries should not be invaded and occupied, supplied Israel with weapons and diplomatic support while it set up camp on Lebanon's fertile earth. The UN Security Council, however, passed one of its more muscular resolutions calling for "Israel immediately to cease its military action against Lebanese territorial integrity and withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory." Some would accuse Israel of violating the resolution, cynically pointing out that Israeli forces are still there.
The destruction of south Lebanon is one of the saddest tales of modern times, a 30-year war against peasants that began when the Palestinians moved their bases to Lebanon from Jordan. The bloody southern war displaced hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Shiites and created the slums of southern Beirut from which the Hezbollah, or Party of God, sprang during Israel's big invasion of 1982. Israel expelled the PLO from Beirut and found itself facing the newly created Hezbollah, a more vicious and effective enemy. Hezbollah, which ungraciously kidnapped me and a lot of other Westerners in the 1980s, wants to attack Israel steadily until it leaves Lebanon. From time to time, Syria, which has made Lebanon its colony, will not allow it to do so. Then, for Syrian reasons, south Lebanon becomes tranquil. When negotiations over the Golan Heights broke down, Syria allowed Hezbollah to resume its favorite pastime, attacking Israeli occupation forces. Yet Israel has not attacked Syria, whose army?although it could not win a war?could inflict damage on Israel far greater than anything the Hezbollah guerrillas are capable of.
We should know more about the dirty game between Syria and Israel on Lebanese soil, but only a few reporters?notably Britain's David Hirst and Robert Fisk?are around to keep an eye on it. Last September, Israel picked up a journalist in south Lebanon, a woman named Cosette Ibrahim, and two friends of hers. They locked her up in the notorious Khiam prison. That should discourage other Lebanese, and possibly foreign, reporters from looking too closely at what happens in the occupied area.
So, what is the solution? The Lebanese prime minister, a mild academic named Selim al Hoss, suggested, "We say that the solution, simply, would be to terminate the Israeli occupation." The Israelis say they intend to leave Lebanon in July. That's one idea. But perhaps there is a more useful one. The rest of the world could follow the Israeli example. Nearly every country is troubled by dissidence or external attack, and every country wants to know how to respond to violence and intimidation by drug dealers, religious fanatics and political malcontents. Here is my advice to them all. When Algeria is bothered by Islamic fundamentalist bombers, when Canada can no longer cope with Quebecois separatists, when Britain is beset by the IRA, when Spain is confronted by angry Basques, when Turkey wants to make a point with rebellious Kurds, when dear Mother Russia wants to teach a lesson to recalcitrant Chechens, they could do what Israel does: bomb Lebanon. The Lebanese don't mind. They're used to it.
Melik Kaylan The Spy
Fashion Week Fashion week, and the prurient will insist on bringing up the Versace affair. For some, his death put a bookmark in the blur of passing days, rather the way JFK's death did for others. They recall their exact position on the planet at the time. I can tell you that I was gloriously ensconced at a haute fashion wedding on the verdant outskirts of Rome. A warm, glowing afternoon, and Rome's lush somnolence had lulled the world's fashion nomenklatura half into postprandial sleep?when the whisper went around. A two-part message, as I remember. Versace's dead?don't tell anyone until later, especially Karl Lagerfeld. The Romans remain sticklers for protocol. Anyway, I obeyed, until we all ascended the limos heading hotelward. I'd been meaning to impress an exquisite fashionista from Israel, so I told her. And she burst loudly, poignantly, into a torrent of tears. I realized then that I'd overlooked the whole Versace phenomenon, a genuine phenomenon like Beatlemania, it seemed.
All the stranger, then, that so many questions surrounding his death remain unaddressed. Now this is not a column about that?not entirely anyway, but just enough to avoid being sued. No, it's a column about how low our industry, the truth-telling trade, has fallen. Last week Alan Keyes, the terrific black Republican presidential candidate, addressed the hypocrite throng at the National Press Club in DC. He exhorted them to just tell the truth, don't filter it, don't choose what we should or shouldn't hear, just tell us what happens. They stood and applauded! How Roman. Nero would smile in his tomb.
Those interminable agony sessions on C-SPAN when top journalists debate why the profession is so disliked?they never get it. Hour upon hour of debate, all bogus. The credulity is all theirs because they seem to believe that people don't detect the masquerade. One day an avenging Banquo's ghost will shimmer down and itemize with bony fingers the stories they ducked and twisted to build their careers. The solution, I've long argued, is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in permanent session for journalists where, amid emotional and healing scenes, they can recall each suppressed detail?and receive public absolution.
Think of the books we've seen muzzled. I only have so much space to make enemies, so I'll note only two. A book was written about the Versace story, due to come out last summer. The publisher Little, Brown, under pressure from the Versace family, killed it. The New York Times wrote about the incident. I can't say what the book contained but I do know that many thought the Mafia had killed him. Friends at London's Daily Telegraph told me that early editions of their paper reported a dead dove or pigeon found near the body?apparently a Mafia symbol. That detail disappeared from later issues. Some weeks later, the Dade County police, while searching for the culprit, declared for hours that they were ransacking the houseboat and finding nothing. It took them five hours to find the body there, in plain sight. I've no idea what all this means, but why can't we read a book about it?
The Sotheby's matter is subtler. Entitled Sotheby's Inside Story and written by veteran British art journalist Peter Watson, the 1997 book appeared first in London. He twinned the London launch with two documentaries on Brit tv showing secret film of Sotheby's agreeing to smuggle art out of Italy. The newspapers there and here loved it. Front page. 60 Minutes excerpted the videos and interviewed the author. All this before the book was even published in the U.S. Americans still couldn't read it. And none of the mass coverage mentioned the book's wilder passages showing, for example, that top Sotheby's personnel had acted as go-betweens for Iranian arms dealers and British officials. In short, as spies in this and other ways.
I'd seen some of the same documents as the author and knew something about this story. I called him and saluted his courage, especially since he made a living covering Sotheby's. But he'd pulled a few punches, I thought. "Well, I do have to work with them," he said. Fair enough. He'd already risked his career. Time came for the book's stateside launch. It got postponed and postponed. The art reporter of The New York Observer, Jeffrey Hogrefe, wrote a fiery column accusing the publishers of caving in to Sotheby's pressure. I contacted Joe Conason, whom I'd known for 15 years. I offered him a story on the documents behind the book?the book's own inside story, in effect. Terrific. Do it. I love it. He made me go over the manuscript three times and then, inexplicably, fell silent.
The book finally came out here to almost total silence. Hogrefe wrote the only review that I could find, and panned it mercilessly. Don't bother reading it, was the clear message. This, after many phone chats with me in praise of the British edition. At this point, the New York Post's "Page Six" took up the story and noted Hogrefe's volte face. They also asked Conason what had happened to my story?nearly a year after I wrote it. They were still considering it, he said. They still are, apparently, almost two years later.
Now, one can sympathize with the art hack twisting and bending. He, too, has to work with Sotheby's. Conason, however, postured for years as a hairy-chested lefty. We're political polar opposites, but I always suspected him of being principled. Before he matured into a noisome Clintonmonger on the Geraldo circuit. What happened, Joe? Whoever pays your rent these days must be a one-stop shopper at Sotheby's.
The message to Conason and his fellow climbers: come to the podium, confess your sins, just tell the truth.