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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday September 7, 1999 (Vol. One; No. 15)

Bradley’s Backup Band; Hillary’s Carpetbag Manor; Paper, Scissors, Chris Rock

1. As Bill Bradley prepares to formally announce his presidential campaign, Newsweek acted like a fanzine, calling him "straight out of Boys’ Life" and "Jimmy Stewart in satin shorts." They didn’t confuse people by noting Mr. Boy Scout’s attempt to get to Gore’s left on gays or his recent meeting with black radical Al Sharpton.

2. U.S. News and Time attempted to trace Hillary’s ever-changing strategic positioning on clemency for Puerto Rican terrorists. Time claimed Hillary’s power is on the wane: "Hillary's value to them will never be greater than it is now."

3. The Clintons bought a big house with a pool, in a neighborhood with a median income Democrats would call "super-rich," but Newsweek celebrated the new digs and their ethically questionable financing. That’s not quite the way they handled Nancy Reagan.

4. U.S. News discovered the gay-activist documentary It’s Elementary is threatening the PBS racket in Idaho.

5. The other Chris Farley (Time’s entertainment writer) praised Chris Rock’s "hard truths" that cut through "mediagenic spin." Like: Clinton’s perjuries about sex were "common sense"?

Time and U.S. News & World Report led their September 13 issues with similar cover packages: Time on "The I.Q. Gene?" and U.S. News on "How Kids Learn." Newsweek’s cover touted "Susan Faludi: Why Men Should Get a Break." This is Faludi’s second news magazine cover (in 1991, she shared the front of Time with Gloria Steinem). The feminist journalist, formerly with the liberal news side of The Wall Street Journal, was awarded 10 pages of excerpts and interviews to sell her new book on men, Stiffed. It arrived with typically florid overstatement: "Four decades later, as the nation wobbled toward the millennium, its pulse-takers all seemed to agree that a domestic apocalypse was underway: American manhood was under siege." Its methodology failed to surprise: "I began investigating this crisis where you might expect a feminist journalist to begin: at the weekly meetings of a domestic-violence group." For an un-feminist point of view in the same magazine, see George Will’s double-size column on new Princeton professor Peter Singer, who believes in infanticide, whom Will called "the abortion-rights movement’s worst nightmare." Probably why few Americans have heard of him.


As Bill Bradley prepares to formally announce his presidential campaign, Newsweek acted like a fanzine. Just as Newsweek allowed Faludi to preview her book in relation to Mark Barton’s Atlanta shooting spree just four weeks ago, Howard Fineman has offered an updated version of a weeks-earlier tribute to Al Gore’s loyal opposition.

Fineman declared: "He may soon have as much cash on hand as the vice president does. More important, he's offering a gauzy but uplifting call to nobility in politics, pledging to lead fellow baby boomers in a quest for racial harmony in a more civil society. Bradley is no saint, but he's an old-fashioned kind, straight out of Boys' Life: clean-living, level-headed, perfectly credentialed. His crowds don't whoop it up, but they seem relieved to find a Democrat who could keep the White House but cleanse it after Bill Clinton."

In his celebration of Bradley’s nobility and racial harmony, Fineman excluded any mention of Bradley’s recent trip to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network headquarters. In Sunday’s Washington Times, columnist Jeffrey Hart noted Sharpton’s vicious racist bona fides (including promoting the infamous Tawana Brawley hoax and helping incite the murderous riot at Freddy’s clothing store in Harlem) and relayed that when Bradley walked in, "he was folowed by Bill Perkins, a black New York City councilman. At a signal from Mr. [Khalid] Muhammad, who was in the crowd, black power militants surrounded Mr. Perkins and roughed him up. Mr. Perkins says they called him an ‘Uncle Tom’ who ‘deserves to be killed.’ Perhaps Mr. Bradley didn’t notice all this."

Newsweek reporter Matt Bai added to the ooze: "Bradley was that rare athlete who achieved a kind of larger mythology. He was Jimmy Stewart in satin shorts: the small-town son of a banker, self-effacing and studious, clean-cut and Christian, dazzling on the court but so gifted away from it that he put off the pros for Oxford....The clean image was no act: even in his dorm, while other kids tuned in to Dylan or the Beach Boys, Bradley listened to My Fair Lady." (Hey, didn’t they ridicule James Watt for insisting the Beach Boys were bad boys?)

Bai also claimed that fundamentalist preaching in the 1960s made Bradley a moderate: "In what would become a hallmark of Bradley's political career, he grew suspicious of extreme positions, preferring to find a middle course." This wouldn’t explain Bradley’s trip to Sharpton Central, or his attempt to get to Gore’s left with radical gay activist groups. Newsweek didn’t seem to solicit the former New Jersey Senator’s opinion of the recent court decision forcing the Boy Scouts in New Jersey to admit gay leaders.

Bai concluded dreamily: "His retired jersey hangs in the rafters of Madison Square Garden and in the Hall of Fame. But he is still the banker's son, uneasy talking about himself, and even as he stumps through Iowa signing basketballs, he'd rather discuss health care than relive his own heroics. Fortunately for Bradley, he doesn't have to. ‘He played the game the right way, and I think he'll lead the country the right way,’ says the coach with his autograph. Bradley's fans have the legend -- and it's all they will ever need."


U.S. News and Time attempted to trace Hillary’s ever-changing strategic positioning on clemency for Puerto Rican terrorists. In her U.S. News column, Gloria Borger developed Hillary’s Puerto Rico poses: "For Hillary Rodham Clinton, this is her true Eleanor Roosevelt moment: Either she is or she isn't. Mrs. Roosevelt, the first lady's heroine, was a blatant pesterer about her political concerns, and happy to admit it. Mrs. Clinton is trying to have it both ways: Sure, we talk substance, she says. Oh, but not about that. For instance, while she supports the clemency for the 16 nationalists -- behind bars since 1980 on weapons charges but suspected of dozens of terrorist bombings -- she had ‘no involvement whatsoever’ in the decision, according to her spokesman. (The first lady was ‘caught by surprise’ by the decision, according to her friends.) As for the [Israeli spy Jonathan] Pollard matter, her spokesman added, ‘She understands the importance of this case and has no further comment.’ Until she talks to Bill?"

Borger argued: "It sure would have been refreshing to hear Mrs. Clinton disagree on the clemency matter -- or at least ask to review the written concerns of law-enforcement agencies -- but clearly that was too much to ask. (Bronx Democratic leader Robert Ramirez rails at the notion that the decision was a joint venture and a sop to her candidacy. ‘I find it offensive,’ he says. ‘She was in the Bronx the week before . . . and we spoke about economic renewal.’) Still, all is not lost: Why not draw the line on the release of Pollard? ‘She should say this guy was a spy, and it would cost her 10 Jewish votes,’ says one Clinton ally. ‘She's got to show that it's unseemly to use the presidency this way.’ And ultimately counterproductive. ‘This makes her into a ward politician, rather than a larger leader,’ says New York Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. ‘Jews are now asking, "Hey, you did it for the Puerto Ricans, why don't you do it for us?"’ And what, he is asked, would Rudy Giuliani do? ‘Tell them to drop dead.’"

In Time, Karen Tumulty brought the story up to date with Hillary’s new anti-clemency stance: "But before she could get any political mileage from this rebuke, the White House made clear that Clinton himself had sent the same message in a letter to their lawyers the day before, saying they had until this Friday to meet his terms. Even by the Clintons' marital standards, this was a strange one: two formidable politicians trying to prove their toughness and leaving people to wonder who outmaneuvered whom. ‘I don't know if she knew about the letter,’ said White House counsel office spokesman Jim Kennedy. ‘I know we didn't know about her statement.’

Tumulty questioned the clemency strategy, bungle by bungle: "It is possible that the sidelined President, in an effort to make his political talents useful, thought he was actually helping his wife by offering the clemency deal in the first place; the White House never really produced a convincing explanation why Clinton acted now on such a long-standing question, particularly over the unanimous objection of federal law-enforcement agencies." But Tumulty smelled Hillary’s power on the wane: "What is clear, and what her would-be constituents certainly understand, is that Hillary's value to them will never be greater than it is now. For even if she wins, it is hard to imagine a junior Senator having nearly the clout of an ambitious candidate who happens to have the President's ear."


The Clintons bought a big house with a pool, in a neighborhood with a median income Democrats would call "super-rich," but Newsweek celebrated the new digs and their ethically questionable financing. The magazine’s quippy "Conventional Wisdom Watch" feature began its "Westchester White House edition" with the sentence: "The Clintons aim to settle into Cheever country in 2000 -- a land of Volvo wagons and Manhattan commuters. Essential equipment: gas grill, rototiller, martini shaker, curtains." They also give the Clintons the typical up arrow: "First re-elected Dem prez since FDR needs co-signer to buy house. Next stop: Ikea."

Debra Rosenberg and Evan Thomas breezed through the financial details: "Real-estate and financial mogul Terry McAuliffe stepped in and supplied the bank with $1.35 million in collateral, to be paid off or refinanced in five years. McAuliffe has bailed out the Clintons before: he was the Democrats' chief fund-raiser who built a surprisingly large $42 million war chest for Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign. An amiable Clinton golfing buddy who, perhaps as much as any friend, stood by the President during the Lewinsky scandal [what a loyal lad!], McAuliffe is also raising money for Hillary's Senate campaign. While unorthodox, McAuliffe's sugar-daddy role on the Clinton house appears to be perfectly legal."

Rosenberg and Thomas added the Clintons were good for it: "McAuliffe's money should be safe. A former president can earn about $100,000 a speech, more abroad. A dull and worthy book by Clinton would earn $1 million or less, but depending on how much he wants to kiss and tell, the book advance could skyrocket. If Hillary wins the New York Senate race, she'll be able to chip in $141,300 a year, plus a hefty book contract; if not, her speech fees would rival Bill's."

The Washington Post noted the median income in Chappaqua is around $220,000 a year, which would definitely land you in the "super-rich" category if you were a Democrat debating a tax cut. But Newsweek didn’t find the upper-class neighborhood disagreeably un-populist.

But in 1986, friends of the Reagans bought them a house in Bel Air. A Nexis search for "Reagan" and "Bel Air" suggested the magazine missed out on any digs at that time, but in the April 25, 1988 issue, reporter Thomas DeFrank recycled the liberal buzz: "The gossip mills were already spinning with the well-sourced word that Mrs. Reagan is unhappy about the presidential retirement home, a mansion in Bel Air, Calif., that was bought for $2.5 million by a group of the Reagans' friends to be leased to them after they leave Washington. ‘She'd rather be a little more upscale,’ says a friend. With only three bedrooms, six bathrooms, three maids' rooms and a butler's pantry, the house is the least fancy dwelling in the neighborhood. But the First Lady is said to be resigned. ‘To move up in that neighborhood would take $10 million,’ says a sympathetic friend. Mrs. Reagan hasn't given up hope, but the chances are that the couple will live in Bel Air at least until book contracts, speaking fees and the like improve their cash flow."


U.S. News discovered the gay-activist documentary It’s Elementary is threatening the PBS racket in Idaho. Ken Miller reported from Boise that "the PBS documentary has run in 115 markets and drawn some flak — but nothing quite like this. Idaho Falls businessman Frank VanderSloot has paid for 25 billboards that ask: ‘Should public television promote the homosexual lifestyle to your children?’ The Idaho Christian Coalition is running radio ads touting a similar message read by U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth. But the State Board of Education, which oversees Idaho Public TV, says it won't back down. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has vowed not to mess with the station's budget, but state legislators may not be so kind. The state provides about 30 percent of public television's $5 million annual budget, and this year the station is requesting a special $12 million for an upgrade. Talk about bad timing. Peter Morrill, Idaho Public TV's general manager, says key lawmakers are so furious that during a recent meeting they told him: ‘This might be a good time to re-evaluate whether we need public television in Idaho.’"


The other Chris Farley (Time’s entertainment writer) praised Chris Rock’s "hard truths" that cut through "mediagenic spin." Like: Clinton’s perjuries about sex were "common sense"? In his profile of Rock, Christopher John Farley proclaimed: "Rock's gift is this: he can make hard truths sound funny. It's an invaluable talent in a disinformation age in which it has become more and more difficult to talk about things as they actually are. There's a near constant rush toward metaphorization, toward transmuting events into mediagenic terms. Oral sex isn't about sex, some pundit or other tells us, it's about honesty. Snorting coke isn't about drugs, it's about the media. Shooting up your high school class isn't about gun control, it's about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Rock cuts through the b.s. Suddenly we wake up, like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, and find ourselves in a tub of goo with robots ruling the world."

Are these rare "hard truths" or just one sassy comic’s rehash of old cable-talk-show hack lines? MRC entertainment analyst Tom Johnson found in a February concert held a few hours after the Senate acquitted Clinton, Rock, according to the Washington Post's review, said, "They had the president on trial for absolutely nothing....You're supposed to try people for the crime, not for trying to get away from the crime." Obstructing justice, Rock added, just "shows [Clinton] has common sense." Now that’s "transmuting events into mediagenic terms."

-- Tim Graham



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