S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 3 August Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 


Hit & Run CCXXXVIII

 

At Suck we've never had any objection to petulant prolixity. But the self-exonerating star turn of our old friend Renata Adler in the October Harper's sets a forbidding new standard, not merely of haughty outrage-for-outrage's sake, but for the practice of journalism as a sort of self-administered acid flashback. Adler, you may recall, had been taken to task by a battery of writers in the New York Times this spring for trotting out, in her shrill New Yorker memoir, Gone, a bizarrely unsourced slur on the reputation of Watergate jurist John Sirica, to the effect that he was corrupt, dishonest and chummy with the mafia. When Times media correspondent Felicity Barringer gave Adler an opportunity to respond, she averred, in that haughty Gothic way of hers, that she would come forward with documentation at a time and in a venue of her own choosing — adding for good measure that Barringer's clamor for some immediate documentation was "deeply silly." Now that we have Adler's labored efforts to lend substance to her cheap shot in hand, they present a set of exponentially more silly answers. As journalism goes, her waspish, 12-page close reading of Sirica's memoir is equal parts desperate Cochranesque courtroom theatrics and McCarthy-ite guilt-by-association charges — an especial irony, since another of Renata's kitchen sink indictments of Sirica in Gone was that he was a cheerful crony of Tailgunner Joe.

The evidence, you ask? It turns out that Sirica's father Fred had a barbershop frequented by mighty suspicious charcters in the Mob-happy Prohibition era, and Sirica himself had a short career as a professional boxer in Washington when the sport was illegal in the District. From that nugget of fact, Adler spins this gossamer web of insinuation: "Illegal boxing ... requires payoffs ...You simply cannot do it on your own. It requires a syndicate — notoroiusly hostile to encroachments on its own turf." Ergo the mob-enabled career of Johnny "the Jurist" Sirica. Unfortunately for this clammy bit of theorizing, the Mob never established a serious presence in Sirica's native DC, nor was Washington boxing, while illegal on the books, exactly rife with payola and dark-shadowed intrigue. On the other hand, as ardent students of Mob trivia can tell you, east coast magazine distribution has long been lousy with Mafia ties — and Adler's windy, pointless excursis in desperate self-exculpation appeared in a magazine widely distributed, and headquartered, on the East Coast! By her own standards of proof, Renata "the Rudderless" Adler herself boasts "clear ties" to the Mafia. (Of course, it's a classic Mob tactic for the guilty made guy to be the first out of the gate with blistering accusations.)

It's much the same story with Renata's other cut-and-paste juxtapositions of gaps in Sirica's 1979 memoir To Set the Record Straight (What's this? A memoir with self-serving narrative gaps? Surely a sign of criminal activity!) with her own woolly set of unsourced, free-associative speculations: Sirica's dad suddenly, after years of poverty and failure, found the money to buy a house and a bigger, 12 chair barbershop! Sirica’s dad spent many winters in Florida, and Sirica himself traveled to visit the Sunshine state latifundia, at a time when he, too, had no reliable source of income! All to be taken, evidently, as proof of "clear ties to the Mafia," and not, for example, an inheritance, a windfall at the racetrack, or — most ludricously of all — hard work and nimble entrepreneurship. (Indeed, distilled into the nub of its reasoning, Adler's case collapses into a sort of indictment on grounds of outraged sensibilities: Someone of Sirica's low birth and seedy youth could only manage to advance himself with the assistance of a crime syndicate.) And in a gorgeous leap over logic, Adler protests that to question the interceding links in this daisy chain of insinuation, as the Times did, is to disclose the Gray Lady's status as nothing less than "a totalitarian institution convinced of its infallibility." Now, we love piling on the paper of record as much as the next fella, but let's just see if we have this straight: You can smear a dead judge's reputation, without troubling yourself with documentation, in a book, which is much more liable for the credibility of its factual content by virtue of both longer lead time and the canons of cultural authority. You protest that a newspaper reporter on deadline is silly for giving you the opportunity to produce proof of the original, lazily worded charge. And then you take up the better part of the back of the book in a once reputable literary monthly to present yourself as the victim of a "totalitarian" smear campaign, while inadvertently demonstrating yourself a washout in the unglamourous work of credible documentation. Were we driven to comment further, we might note as well, that in dispatches for the New Yorker and in a later book, Adler herself proved to be a hawk on libel law, taking the sides of both William Westmoreland and Ariel Sharon in their big-ticket suits against American media outlets. But some ironies defeat even our insatiable appetite; let us simply leave off with our own Adler-esque swipe at her publisher Simon and Shuster and Harper's for permitting this sort of cultural commentary as character assassination by other means to pass in the first place. Even the Mob has a better code of honor than this.

 

Good dog! While other canines his age lie around in the late summer heat waiting to die, grizzled public service commercial icon McGruff the Crime Dog is celebrating his 20th year Rolling Stones-style, taking it on the road with a corporate-backed multi-city tour. Hitting the stage Tuesday in Columbia, South Carolina, the properly-leashed anti-crime spokesman donated his costume — including, creepily, his pelt — to Columbia's police department in order to kick off the city's National Night Out celebration.

A hot property in in the 1980s and early 1990s with his televised anti-crime campaign, McGruff has since seen his share of vocational dips and downturns, even taking a page from the Scooby-Doo career destruction manual and adding nephew "Scruff" to his multi-media efforts in 1993. A happy go-lucky innocent who frequently hallucinates his uncle's terrifying image, Scruff has since rallied to become the centerpiece of the kid-focused McGruff internet campaign, promoting the tried-and-true prevention strategies of running away from your cooler peers and occasionally ratting them out. But the tour is all McGruff. Armed with a recognition rating of more than 50 percent from two generations of American children and due any second for that Schoolhouse Rock bump in nostaliga-fueled publicity, McGruff will take a bite out of crime as long as his doggie dentures, and a loose coalition of public and private interests that serve as his master, enable him to do so.

 

The business press loves stories about companies cashing in on online music trading. There's eMusic mulling a subscription service, eMusic launching talks with Napster, and eMusic laying off 40 employees and scoring 117 points on FuckedCompany.com's dotcom dead pool. But apparently the company's management team still hasn't mastered the mechanics of its business plan, judging from reports in the music-trading community. "MP3 pirates are taking advantage of an eMusic '$10 free!' promotion to download every single album off their site," one mp3-loving corerspondent tells us. "One guy downloaded 170 albums from emusic.com by setting up hundreds of accounts with different usernames."

 

It brings a tear to our eyes to think we won't have Citigroup's Ed Horowitz to kick around any more. The banking giant's would-be Internet chief quit on Monday, a mere two months after he declared he was sticking with Citi and was taking it to "the next stage." The next stage, apparently, was marked "exit right." Horowitz has long been toothless, his e-Citi empire shrunk to a tenth its former size, with most of its parts cut up and sold to other Citi groups. Horowitz himself was demoted in March when Deryck Maughan, a lieutenant of Citi CEO Sandy Weill, was put in charge of the company's online operations.

Still, we're left wondering: was Horowitz's undoing, in the end, corporate politics or sheer ineptitude? His biggest accomplishment, an Internet-only bank codenamed Project Blueshift, ended up being an also-ran competitor. Citi f/i, as it debuted last year, had a number of problems: it's not clear whether consumers were more enraged by the horrid interface or the hassle of mailing deposits. More likely, the few who heard about it ended up being profoundly indifferent to the whole idea. Who needs an Internet bank, especially if you can't do anything new with it? While e-Citi plunged hundreds of millions of dollars down a black hole, entirely new financial services popped up like X.com's PayPal, which lets anyone with a credit card pay anyone with an email address. It's telling that Citigroup's latest initiatives -- a copycat payment service, an online account manager -- were developed with outside help, not cooked up in Horowitz's labs. Ex-CEO John Reed, who hired Horowitz in the first place, is famed for pioneering ATMs at Citibank in the 1970s. But Citibank's technology rock stars, it turns out, may just be one-hit wonders.

 

Nostalgic for last year's concert season? Not in upstate New York, where AP photos of looters rifling ATM machines, pillaging trailers, overturning sound towers and tearing down the "Peace Wall" at Woodstock '99 all raised questions about security. Uniformed police officers had been barred, replaced by private staff, and "Some members of the Peace Patrol even took part in the rioting," witnesses told SonicNet -- the music site which last week unveiled "Playing with Fire: the Untold Story from Woodstock '99." The chaos has been well publicized. One reporter remembered that the lead singer for Limp Bizkit "told the crowd he'd been asked by promoters to calm the volatile situation. 'But I don't think you should mellow out,' he was videotaped saying. 'This is 1999, mother--ers. Stick those Birkenstocks up your a--!'" Concert-goers also pelted Sheryl Crow with human waste; but in a USA Today interview, the performer contented herself with the search for easy answers. ("I think kids spend too much time in front of computers. They don't feel connected as a generation.") Over half a dozen rapes were reported to police (who a year later have failed to make an arrest) though one worker at a Woodstock '99 souvenier stand was sentenced to six years in prison for first-degree sodomy. But SonicNet discovered more blunders. Promoters failed to inform concert-goers that the surrounding Air Force Base "has been designated since 1987 as one of the worst hazardous-waste sites in the country..." This summer, revelers are probably relieved to be approaching the comparatively organized chaos at the Burning Man festival. Though in early July the festival was listed on the web page of Steve Hassan, "Destructive Cult Expert," and despite a stray rumor about unreported rapes, Burning Man's organizers have a better record. But with three weeks to go, there's always a chance that could change. Despite their "Leave No Trace" policy, this weekend Nevada campers discovered what appeared to be abandoned props from the festival's opera on an abandoned stretch of desert near Trego Peak....

 
courtesy of theSucksters