Jewish World Review August 7, 2001/18 Menachem-Av, 5761


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Consumer Reports

Bush heats up -- NOTHING delighted me more last week than Rep. Dick Gephardt's frustrated frenzy on the House floor when it seemed obvious President Bush's last-minute deal with Rep. Charlie Norwood would derail the Democrat-backed trial lawyers' bill of rights. It was terrific theater: Gephardt shouting at his colleagues, "In the name of G-d, vote against this bill!"

(A close second was CNN's Walter Isaacson, late of the increasingly insipid Time, meeting last week with Republicans like Trent Lott, Dennis Hastert, J.C. Watts and Chuck Hagel in an effort, as Roll Call reported on Aug. 6, to "[S]eek advice on how to attract more right-leaning viewers to the sagging network.")

Bush's rash of victories before the congressional recess clearly shocked the elite media and the Democratic leadership: in addition to the HMO stunner in the House, the President prevailed on limited drilling in Alaska with the support of an unlikely ally, the Teamsters. He also shaved $2 billion off an emergency farm bill.

Granted, Bush still faces stiff opposition in the Senate when Congress convenes in September, but just 10 days ago no one would've predicted such a startling turnaround. As recently as July 26, Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank confidently asserted that the House's slim GOP majority would abandon Bush, fearful of their election prospects in 2002. He wrote: "Bush's options for reclaiming the agenda are not good... As he leaves for Texas for the month of August, the president has two options, neither one entirely attractive: fight for his agenda and risk gridlock; or acquiesce to moderates, passing laws but surrendering many of his key priorities." Talk about a journalist's "sketches in sand."

While I usually agree with The Weekly Standard's rotating editorialists, in their Aug. 13 issue, David Brooks-certainly the worst writer at the magazine-was premature in his assessment of the new president's tenure. Brooks, while acknowledging recent political wins, wrote that "[A] few speeches might make the difference between a transformational presidency and a merely managerial one."

Possibly Brooks has been hanging out with too many historians. In seven months, Bush has passed a necessary tax cut; effectively scuttled both the ABM treaty and the nonsensical Kyoto accord; laid the groundwork for both a missile defense system and Social Security reform; and, perhaps most importantly, articulated his vision of unfettered free trade and mass immigration. Brooks is correct that Bush hasn't effectively used his unique bully pulpit-and there's no excuse when he employs the gifted Michael Gerson as his lead speechwriter-but I suspect that before the year is over he'll make significant progress on that front.


After pimping for Al Gore, day-in, day-out, during the 2000 presidential campaign, The New York Times on Aug. 5 issued a nasty proclamation about the self-exiled Washingtonian: Don't run again in 2004. The editorial, "Al, Again," was remarkable for its thinly disguised venom. Gore, according to the anti-First Amendment lords on W. 43rd St., was wrong to take a break from politics, especially since President Bush and his ultraconservative cohorts-anyone to the right of Geraldo fits into that category-were rapidly destroying the country.

Gore will have a difficult time gaining the 2004 nomination, but he was smart to lay low during the first six months of the new administration. Had he barked about the tax cut or missile defense, the mainstream media-incensed enough that Gore blew the election-would've labeled him a "sore loser." It's rare that a defeated candidate criticizes the winner immediately: Nixon laid off JFK, the Bay of Pigs disaster notwithstanding; Barry Goldwater refrained from lambasting LBJ, even though the tortured Texan lied about his Vietnam strategy; Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush similarly were mute at first about their respective successors Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.


But the Times' incessant jihad against President Bush is so intense that the paper is constantly on the prowl for scapegoats. This past Sunday, as Gore announced plans for a limited reemergence this fall-campaigning for New Jersey's hack gubernatorial candidate James McGreevey, for example-the former Vice President took a rabbit-punch from his onetime patron.

Praising Gore as an "articulate leader" on foreign affairs and the environment-never mind that he was involved in a Russian finance scandal and was an architect of the '97 Kyoto summit that 95 U.S. senators opposed-the Times then slipped into its familiar attack mode. The editorial read: "[Gore] kept his reactions to himself, saying he wanted to refrain from criticizing the new president so America would have time to recover from the trauma of the Florida recount. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush and his allies used that time to promote programs that may have an effect on the country long after Florida has become a historical footnote."

I'll let the "footnote" comment slip except to remind readers that the Pulitzer-obsessed Times produced an inconclusive, book-length report on Florida less than a month ago.

The 2004 rebuke follows, starting with this condescending sentence: "Obviously, Mr. Gore has a right to leap back into the presidential sweepstakes and take his chances." How sporting of the democracy-when-it-suits-our-agenda Times, allowing the lifelong politician to compete with the likes of John Kerry, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman, all of whom they prefer to the 2000 loser. But the paper doesn't propose an outright ban on Gore's participation in public life. After writing off his prospects in 2004, the editorial concludes: "But Mr. Gore is sorely needed as a voice on behalf of the issues he championed in 2000... And if Mr. Gore decides to opt for being a sort of elder statesman rather than a presidential hopeful, he will never have to hear another critique of his wardrobe."

I carry no water for Gore-his defense of Clinton in 1998 was disgraceful, and then trumped by his racial demagoguery and class warfare during last fall's campaign-but it's unseemly how the country's leading left-wing newspaper could so quickly consign a man they recently championed to the junk bin of "elder statesmen." On the same day, Maureen Dowd-who's aging in dog years and writing with less clarity than a French poodle-also lobs spitballs at Gore. Dowd's Sunday column, e-mailed from her DVD-stocked Washington sewer, is one more exercise in frivolity that merely proves her intellectual capabilities are now on the same level as those of Liz Smith or Al Franken.

Predictably, she focuses on Gore's current appearance, saying: "The beard is magnifique. So Continental, so Pepe Le Pew. In all those pictures from Europe, the newly hirsute Al Gore, looking like Orson Welles, strolls contentedly after a repast in Rome with Tipper."

Fine, Gore's comfort-food regimen has led to excess flab, but he's not clocking in at 300 pounds.


Dowd, who follows Alan Dershowitz's script which says that Bush stole the election, has no pity for the vanquished environmental kook. She does reveal one anecdote that, if true, adds to the volumes of narcissistic one-liners from Bill Clinton. She writes: "At W.'s inauguration, as Bill Clinton and Al Gore walked down the stairs, Bill stopped at James Baker's row. 'You were good in Florida, man, damn good,' Elvis told the Velvet Hammer. Gesturing toward Mr. Gore, he went on: 'But if this [epithet] would've listened to me and put me out on the trail, you'd of never had the chance to be good.'"

Then it's back to Times talking points: "As W. and Uncle Dick went about strip-mining the nation, allowing arsenic in the water and turning Alaska into a gas station, Democrats assumed Mr. Gore would lead the opposition... But he was too busy licking his wounds and calculating his comeback to respond when Earth really was In the Balance. He was too caught up in an image of himself as a bearded, buff Russell Crowe, standing in the Coliseum, listening to the mob scream his name: Maximus, Maximus. Poor Al. He is the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and yet he never will be."

Never mind that Clinton didn't reduce arsenic levels during his eight-year tenure, or that the tiny, "pristine" portion of Alaska-that the vast majority of Americans have never seen and never will-hasn't yet been touched. That's the kind of propaganda required from a Times employee. The real question is whether Dowd will ever emerge from her self-induced coma.

Is New York media columnist Michael Wolff a literary thief? You be the judge.

Wolff's July 23 piece about Judy Bachrach's vengeful hitjob on Tina Brown, Tina and Harry Come to America, begins: "One morning a few months ago, I finished my run and, following my usual routine, picked up a newspaper in the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel. On my way out, a woman in an outsize raincoat, with a refugee-like scarf around her head, weaved toward me. She seemed confused, or in some distress, or so nearsighted as to make you think immediately of Mr. Magoo. She reached out to steady herself on me and, in an English accent, which made her seem somehow even more befuddled, asked, 'Do you know the way to Madison Avenue?'

"'You're actually on Madison Avenue,' I replied, looking at her closely and realizing, suddenly, that the discombobulated woman was Tina Brown."

Here's Bachrach (page 143): "Tina was extremely nearsighted... Staffers would wave to her in passing, completely unobserved... She also, it was noticed, was afflicted with an imperfect sense of direction. A food vendor on Madison and 43rd Street would be approached by a confused Tina, requesting directions to West 44th Street. She was often oblivious, lost in thought, impenetrable."

Page 170: "Nor was the mythologized apartment, for all its flowery chintz and expensive mustardy hues, without its own secret flaws. 'Of course, the real thing was to go into their bedroom,' reported one guest. 'Because under their bed were stashed a million things. Tina can't boil an egg. They're like Mr. and Mrs. McGoo. Terribly disorganized. They need handlers.'"

Coincidence? I doubt it. As one of my colleagues said: "When I read that I thought it was too good to be true. There're millions of people in this city, and the man Brown asks for directions happens to be the one person, with the exception of maybe [Vanity Fair editor] Graydon Carter, most likely to make hay out of it."

Veracity is not Wolff's long suit. For example, in a May 28 puff piece on David Schneiderman, CEO of Village Voice Media LLC, he makes the following unsubstantiated claim: "While Schneiderman's career, in any man's business terms, is a great success-he's kept the shareholders happy, dramatically expanded the Voice enterprise, and achieved substantial wealth for himself (tens of millions of dollars, certainly)-that sort of analysis gets short shrift at the Voice."

I doubt the shareholders are satisfied with the Voice chain's performance this year-we're in the midst of a media recession, after all-but the speculation about Schneiderman's net worth is wacky. Where does Wolff suppose the CEO accumulated those "tens of millions"? When Leonard Stern sold the chain 20 months ago to the investment firm Weiss, Peck & Greer for a reported $160 million, it's extremely unlikely that Schneiderman received more than a tiny fraction of the proceeds, if that. Perhaps Schneiderman's a day-trading whiz, but Wolff doesn't provide any evidence.

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