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Jewish World Review June 13, 2001/ 23 Sivan, 5761


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It's possible: The New York Times will get even worse -- POP QUIZ: Who was the powerful elected official in Washington, D.C. who cracked the joke a couple of years ago that Chelsea Clinton must be the biological child of Hillary Clinton and Janet Reno?

Phil Gramm?

Tom DeLay?

Asa Hutchinson?

Naw, it was the Beltway sweetheart John McCain, telling a funny to worshipful reporters, presumably before admonishing them not to glamorize his Vietnam experience, because he was no hero. That incident, for which McCain apologized, as he always does, except when making light of "gooks," has been forgotten by a media that insists the First Family has to take their twins' brush with the law in stride-for after all, if Chelsea had behaved so irresponsibly, those dirty conservatives would pounce on it.

That's my warm-up for a short discussion about the continuing erosion of The New York Times-an evergreen of a topic, I know, but the paper loses credibility every day it publishes. Again in the July Vanity Fair, Suzanna Andrews contributes a profile of Howell Raines, the Times' editorial page editor who, on May 21, was promoted to executive editor. Raines, inexplicably given credit for enlivening the Times' editorial pages, is also said, by anonymous sources at the paper, to be a major suck-up to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Said a Times "senior person": "Howell has played Arthur from day one. Arthur was a little insecure about his intellectual capabilities, and that's where Howell has been very clear, filling in the gaps." Another said Raines was "the perfect courtier."

How jolly for those of us who actually read the editorial page. The fiction that the Times and Raines were unrelenting in their criticism of Bill Clinton is repeated in Andrews' article; one political reporter, on background, theorized, "People said that there wasn't room for two southern boys in Washington, that Howell went to school with boys like Clinton and didn't like them."

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, who loves to be quoted, offered this opinion about Raines' editorials: "It assumed the worst about Clinton's political character, when the problem was his personal character. It assumed he didn't have the political guts or strength, which wasn't always the case."

But Raines isn't all that clever. True, the Times might've chastised Clinton for his degradation of the presidency, but it endorsed the man twice and was in favor of his acquittal in the impeachment proceedings. Had Raines called for Clinton's resignation, as more than 100 less-influential newspapers did in the fall of 1998, it's likely the political debate would've changed, since many Democratic senators would then have had cover to vote their conscience. Al Gore would have become President, and as an incumbent who restored dignity to the White House would've won the 2000 presidential election by a landslide.

Instead, the Times is now the disloyal opposition, reduced to issuing Democratic Party press releases that seem to argue that the United States is arrogant to believe it's the world's one superpower. How else to explain this pro-China editorial on June 10? Raines and his assistants are troubled that the Bush administration "may be inclined to see China primarily as an emerging military threat." What a daft notion Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have there.

This one sentence, however, is not to be believed: "China has legitimate concerns that its relatively small nuclear missile force could be blunted by an American shield." Yes, Howell, let's worry that, say five years from now, China's attack on Los Angeles might be thwarted by the U.S. military.

One of Howell Raines' pets is "Liberties" columnist Maureen Dowd who after one column (June 3) that was written without pop culture props quickly returned to her funny-farm state of mind. Last Sunday, Dowd's piece, headlined "She's Not Really Ill...," lambasted the medical profession for prescribing Prozac, Paxil, Serzone and other antidepressants that she lumps together as "feel-good pills."

Before they moved to L.A.

She writes: "I usually avoid sweeping generalizations [advanced stage of denial]. Lately, however, I have come to the unavoidable conclusion that all women have gone crazy. O.K., maybe not all. But certainly most. Sure, it's a little inflammatory to claim that most women are nuts and on drugs and that the drugs are clearly not working. But I have some anecdotal evidence to back it up. First of all, I noticed that a lot of women I know are wacko-bango."

Seems to me, judging by her columns of the past two years, Mo could use a pharmaceutical cocktail or two. Consider the lead paragraph of her June 6 essay, which in an if-you-dig-a-hole- you'll-wind-up-in-China sort of way tries to make sense of today's political drama in Washington. Pop an old-fashioned Valium and read this doozy: "Lucy and Desi did it when they moved to Connecticut. 'Bewitched' did it when Dick York was replaced by Dick Sargent. Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis did it when they did it. Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser did it when had baby Mabel. Laverne and Shirley did it when they moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles."

Dowd's referring to the "hip and popular" website that identifies the moment or event when a sitcom or celebrity becomes part of Entertainment Weekly's "out" list. Dowd continues: "Clarence Thomas jumped the shark watching pornography, and Ken Starr writing it... Karl Rove vaulted Jaws by keeping conservatives so purring that he scared Jim Jeffords and large chunks of the American public [we'll ignore the reality that "large chunks of the American public" have never heard of Rove]... Tom Daschle is riding the tiger, not jumping the shark. And Ari Fleischer, the sultan of the oily and useless press conference, has never even managed to get into the water... And Hillary? Was it the bloated health care plan? The Yankee cap? The great White House gift heist? Nah. The New York senator transcends mere jumping. She is the shark."

I guess that means Hillary isn't "wacko-bango."

Raines' other star, Frank Rich, has deep problems of his own, but his biweekly Times columns don't fall into Dowd's ditzy-broad category. They're just plain disgusting. Rich, whose resentment of his parents and the Ozzie and Harriet version of the 1950s comes up from time to time, had the audacity to scold President Bush in last Saturday's paper. He wrote: "Washington is still aghast at how a presumed Bush team player can, by one dramatic action, expose the sham of an administration's supposedly invincible people skills and the unfairness of its policies.

But such indeed has been the coup-a 'coup of one,' as Trent Lott might say-pulled off by Jenna Bush. Had George W. Bush conducted a charm offensive when his daughter was hospitalized for an emergency appendectomy at Christmas-rather than fleeing for golf in Boca Grande, Fla.-would she be in open revolt now?"

Rich, with older children from his first marriage, is hardly in a position to criticize Bush. Was he privy to the details of Jenna Bush's hospital stay and the conversations between her parents? Not likely. Bush can be criticized on many fronts-cozying up to Big Labor on steel imports, not speaking out more forcefully on American citizens jailed in China, his tacit support of Lott and his trying to appease environmentalists are my current peeves-but who is Rich, of all people, to slam the President on his private relationship with his twin daughters?

Rich is a pig, slurping down extra portions at the trough provided by Howell Raines and Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

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

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© 2001, Russ Smith