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Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 2000/ 19 Tishrei, 5761


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Consumer Reports

Notes from all over -- IF YOU'RE a swing voter, vacillating between Bush and Gore, here's one compelling reason to vote for the former: tort reform. I read an astounding story (courtesy of from Knoxville's News-Sentinel, about a couple suing a McDonald's franchise. I'm not a fan of the fast-food champ-the workers at our Chambers St. branch make U.S. postal workers seem like Japanese busy bees-but this Oct. 7 dispatch was a prime example of the outrageous litigation in this country, a travesty that is encouraged by the Clinton-Gore administration. It seems Mrs. Veronica Martin bought several burgers at the Lovell Rd. McDonald's, and when she began to eat one, a pickle slid from the bun and landed on her chin.

According to the lawsuit, which seeks $110,000 in damages for Veronica, and $15,000 for her husband Darrin, who's been "deprived of the services and consortium of his wife," the pickle was so hot it gave the woman a second-degree burn and left a scar on her chin.

This incident recalls the legendary judgment-which has now passed into folklore-in favor of a woman who spilled coffee, purchased from a New Mexico McDonald's, on herself, causing horrible suffering, and claimed the corporation was at fault. As if she couldn't have waited a minute or two for the beverage, properly served hot, to cool down. Same thing with the offending pickle. This kind of class-warfare litigation is abominable: greedy Americans, goaded on by ambulance-chasing lawyers, are encouraged to win a self-created lottery. Hot pickles, hot coffee, I don't get it. When I'm at a local pizza parlor, and rush to eat a slice, causing a mild burn on the roof of my mouth, whose fault is it? Mine.

There's a simple solution to this absurd rash of frivolous lawsuits. Require the plaintiff, if found by the court to be in the wrong, to pay the defendant's legal fees. I'm certainly in favor of citizens seeking justice, whether against a corporation, storefront business or police department, but if such a restriction were passed by state legislatures, you'd find the number of let's-get-rich lawsuits drop by about 99 percent.

More kooky behavior is going on in this era of American prosperity. In Adrian, MO, earlier this month, according to an Oct. 11 Associated Press report, a school principal ordered a group of fourth-grade boys to strip down to their underwear "during a search for a missing war medal." The medal was later found on the classroom floor. The elementary school's principal, Wallace Henrickson, apologized to the kids and bought them soft drinks. The ACLU, not my favorite organization, was enlisted by justifiably enraged parents, and is now mulling over legal action.

Here's the stunner in the AP story: "School attorney Beverly Propst said the district was investigating and would take action if it was determined that an improper search occurred."

Is such an invasion of privacy ever proper? Why this Henrickson character wasn't pink-slipped on the spot is beyond me. This is a case of admitted wrongdoing, and there's no need for the red tape of the ACLU or for any other lawyers getting involved.

Finally, also in Missouri, this UPI Oct. 13 headline, "Police seek man who sucks toes," caught my attention. Get this: "Police said the man struck up a conversation with a woman about pantyhose, saying his wife had sent him out to buy some. He asked the woman what kind she was wearing. She kicked off her shoe to show him. 'And the next thing you know, he's sucking on her toes,' Detective Joe Eagan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 'He has the pigs in his mouth.'" Sounds like a mutual pick-up situation to me, straight out of a John Waters movie, but maybe I'm spending too much time picking up stray quarters and missing the Big Picture.

. The New York Post's Rod Dreher isn't the most astute political pundit-although he towers above his finger-in-the-wind colleague John Podhoretz-but his Oct. 15 column about the Mideast war was right on the button.

Dreher begins: "Now is the time for all medicine factory employees in the Muslim world to stay home from work. At least until after Tuesday night's final presidential debate.

"Given the Clinton administration's shameful record, there is every reason to expect Third World blood to be shed to save Al Gore's flagging bid for the presidency.

"To be sure, the prospect of Osama bin Laden and his fanatical cohorts turned into terrorist tartare by U.S. bombs is deeply satisfying to contemplate.

"And the cowards who murdered the men and women of the USS Cole have given the United States every reason to hit the guilty back hard, as we must.

"But who can trust Clinton to do it right, to act on hard facts and clear principle unsullied by selfishness? Our dog-wagging commander-in-chief is no stranger to committing acts of war to protect himself politically."

At this point, the administration hasn't a clue who the responsible terrorists are, or even if the disaster was due to an internal problem within the ship. Dreher's column might be a touch hyperbolic, but given Clinton's track record when it comes to ordering politically convenient air strikes, who can blame him?


Naturally, Gore's brain-dead spokesman Chris Lehane accused the Bush-Cheney ticket of practicing cheap politics in the midst of the Mideast unrest and Clinton's journey there to help quell the violence. While Bush applauded the President's efforts, and joined Gore in a condemnation of those responsible for the USS Cole tragedy, he and Cheney also continued to criticize the present administration's energy polices. Lehane, who last summer likened Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter to Joseph McCarthy for having the audacity to question Attorney General Janet Reno's partisan Justice Dept., solemnly told reporters, "Given the situation, people ought to be careful, be responsible."

Thanks to National Review Online, I came across a March 16 column written by St. Albans student Brian Finn, who contributes to the school newspaper there. St. Albans, as many know, is the Washington, DC, prep school from which Al Gore graduated in the mid-60s. Finn discovered that most of his fellow students are not rooting for the school's most famous alumnus: "In fact," he says, "the majority of the student body believes that Al Gore is an elitist who lacks the charisma and commanding presence needed in order to be our next president."

I've no idea whether Finn intends to pursue journalism as career, but the conclusion to his piece is more to the point than anything I've read in the national press all year. He writes: "If you ever hear Gore speak publicly, you will notice that it is as if he is talking to four-year-olds. This just illustrates a tendency among St. Albans students to regard those outside our privileged circle as simplistic... We are all too familiar with people like Al Gore and their competitive, ambitious demeanors. We don't want to look into Al Gore's cold, calculating eyes and have those eyes belong to us in thirty years."

The Boston Globe's ombudsman, Jack Thomas, is a fool. This was amply demonstrated last summer by his blithe attitude toward the punishment meted out, for a minor infraction, to Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby-a four-month suspension, with no pay. Had one of the paper's many Gore propagandists committed the same offense, it's certain that a wrist slap would've sufficed. So it was especially gratifying to read Thomas' column of Oct. 2, in which his first paragraph was a horrible breach of political correctness.

All feminists, womyn and men, please close your eyes: "As the great Globe columnist Jeremiah Murphy used to say, let's forget the heavy stuff today, and instead we sort through the mailbag of letters, mostly electronic, for a sampling of what's bugging readers, from the Grateful Dead to the best way to tell if a woman's breasts are real, an advisory that-in order to ensure your perseverance-we save until the end." Think Thomas is a Juggs subscriber? I'm betting on it.

I'm not sure the best assignment for a 24-year-old journalist in Manhattan is examining this city's media. No matter how precocious that writer may be, there's an argument to be made that a command of media history and a familiarity with the media's myths and legends are requirements for the job. Nevertheless, the confused editors at The New York Observer have entrusted the weekly's "Off the Record" column to Gabriel Snyder, who, as it happens, is 24 years old. And it shows.


For example, in a shameless suck-up to New York Times reporters, Snyder, in his Sept. 20 column, lectured Matt Drudge on the rudiments of journalism. This was shortly after the Internet pioneer, who's intensely disliked and dreaded by the elite media, bannered his website with details of stories that Times reporters were working on. One was about the list of White House and Camp David guests whom Hillary Clinton was shaking down for campaign contributions, a scoop that the Times didn't publish until after the first Clinton-Lazio debate.

Snyder takes the word of the Times men and women as gospel and then proceeds to lecture Drudge on his craft. He writes: "But Mr. Drudge's passionate hatred of the Clinton administration makes his reports immediately suspect. And his lack of understanding of journalism is apparent; he sees no difference between being a news source and a journalist."

One paragraph later, Snyder refers to former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart as "James Lockhart."

Also, while Drudge became famous for his work on the Lewinsky scandal, he prefers scoops over political partisanship. Remember, it was on Drudge's website that there was first mentioned the possible existence of photos of a nude George Bush dancing on a bar many years ago.

Factcheckers must share some of the blame when it comes to a pup like Snyder. In his last week's column, about Tom Wolfe's new book Hooking Up, Snyder makes the error of claiming that Wolfe's famous 1965 essays about The New Yorker were published "in New York magazine 1965." New York magazine debuted its first issue on April 8, 1968. Had Snyder bothered to do some research, he'd have discovered that the pieces were in the Sunday supplement of the daily New York Herald Tribune. The supplement, a Clay Felker-edited precursor to the weekly that became enormously influential in the magazine industry, was also called New York, but that's not the same as Snyder stating that a "New York magazine" existed in 1965. It didn't.

Snyder gets into deeper water when he reports that Hendrik Hertzberg, currently a New Yorker senior editor, "added that he still owns the original copies of New York magazine that carried the pieces." Hertzberg probably meant the supplement, not the magazine.

By mere coincidence, Hertzberg made a goof of his own the very same week, in his "Comment" in The New Yorker's "The Talk of the Town." In a pro-Gore essay, Hertzberg writes about the Vietnam experiences, or lack thereof, of the Vice President, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Gore, according to Hertzberg, was a virtual gladiator; Bush a dilettante who camped out with the National Guard.

He writes: "Vietnam, of course, brought out another pair of Clinton halves. The young Clinton saw the war as an agonizing challenge to conscience; he was more active in the antiwar movement than all but a few thousand of his contemporaries, much more so than Gore. Yet, like the young Bush, he looked for an easy way out. A spot in the stateside Guard would have suited him fine; in the event, he dodged and weaved until a low draft number came along to moot his problem."

It's said that if you remember the 60s, you weren't really there. I guess that explains Hertzberg's error: surely, as a man of draft age, this journalist knows that it wasn't a "low" draft number that saved your butt, but a "high" one. I clearly recall the night of the first lottery. My brother Doug was as 1-A as you could be, just out of college and in excellent health. He drew 345 and was home free. My brother Gary, however, a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, didn't make out as well, pulling a 176. He sweated it out for a year, wondering how far up our local draft board would go. Fortunately, it stopped at about 150 and he was off the hook.

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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© 2000, Russ Smith