"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 7 December 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 12.7.00


Like smalltown wags sitting around the general store and watching the once-a-week Greyhound bus roll through, journalists in the Big Apple like to imagine what the world outside sleepy old Manhattan must be like. Considering their limited experience imagining the lives of the assorted flatlanders, rev'nooers, carpetbaggers and interlopers who inhabit the world outside their particular corner of Walton's Mountain, it's probably not surprising that New York reporters always seem to reach the same general conclusion. Apparently, Hollywood, the dotcom world, politics, and moguls of any sort are all guilty of exactly the same crimes: self-absorption, amusing dimwittedness in the face of a reporter's common sense (which New York's hard-hittingest have as a given), and enormous wealth and power that are sadly squandered. To wit, The New Yorker's recent "My Fake Job" piece (published in the now-infamous "Digital Age" issue). The article relates the general confusion that must exist in the dotcom world, as young writer Rodney Rothman plays a slacking feuilletonist (Rothman's preparation for the part included an overachieving college career and a fresh-out-of-school stint as head writer for David Letterman), who fakes his way into a Silicon Alley business by simply sitting down at a desk and pretending to work, announcing that he is "from the Chicago satellite office." In The New Yorker's rush to smirk, or sigh, at those dotcom thingies that have become such a blight on fair Gotham, the magazine seems to have overlooked the possibility that the writer could play a trick on The New Yorker as easily as he could hoodwink his fake employer. Specifically, Rothman didn't fake his way into the job at all; he set himself up through a contact at the company who happened to be his own mother (a suitably creepy angle, and one that, if followed up, might have made for a more interesting article). Various other details proved fishy, and the magazine finally knuckled under and apologized. Characteristically, editor David Remnick managed to turn his confession into another opportunity to kiss his own ass, downplaying the screwups and highlighting the magazine's superhuman scrupulousness. The worst of the problems, Remnick averred, "could easily have been fixed in the editing," which is about as specific as saying it could have been fixed in the writing. But given how many times we've seen these easy-sell, rote stories about the frivolous ways of LA, Washington, Silicon Valley, and any place where power and money and people not from New York gather, it may come as a surprise to the average New York journalist that it's not the rest of the world that needs to be fixed.

At last, a government official we can respect — the State Department's J. Stapleton Roy, who this week resigned his post under protest. That's right, protest. An assistant Secretary of State and three-time ambassador, Roy did what so few Clinton administration officials have been willing to do — quit on ethical principle (rather than merely writing a book). What set J. Stapleton Roy off wasn't any particular bombing campaign, crippling economic sanctions, laughable peace initiative, or (of particular interest to former Ambassador to Singapore Roy) squandering of US credibility in a failed campaign to save a moronic juvenile delinquent from being caned. No, J. Stapleton Roy had his fill this week when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright actually held someone responsible for the loss of a State Department laptop computer containing vital national security information. Since one of the men removed from his post was Stape Roy's own underling, this made Stape Roy look bad, and our boy walked. Not wanting to look bad at work no matter what the hell happens is a principle Suck respects above all others, but in this case we're most impressed with the way J. Stapleton Roy — who had a mere four vacation-depleted weeks to go in his term anyway — managed to sacrifice for his principles without actually sacrificing anything. All the glory of that last month at Foggy Bottom — the pats on the back, the invitation to visit again soon, the "World's Greatest Fisherman" coffee mug, the "surprise" going away party where you get to eat cake at your own desk — Roy threw it all away because it was the right thing to do. Four weeks of Clinton agenda be damned, you can only push a man in public service a few decades before he pushes back. We only hope that, with our pensions secured, our careers behind us, and with no further need for any damn laptops, we'll have what it takes to do the same.

America's greatest crises have always produced episodes in which the nation's dazzling and seemingly inexhaustible bounty is vividly demonstrated: millions of cornfed doughboys disembarking in France, the mighty Tennessee Valley Authority bringing power and light to the South, German pilots overwhelmed by skies filled with American planes, Japanese prisoners swooning as their trains rolled through the industrial vastness of the Rust Belt. At last, the Gore-Bush legal tangle has shown another American glory — the sheer, breathtaking depth of our national pundit reserves. Forget all that praise for a system that will eventually work. More than four weeks into post-election extra innings, we've barely had to go to the relief commentators. Sure, it's nice to have Roger Clemens ready to start game one of the World Series — but it's here, in inning twelve of game seven, that we begin to see just how deep the bench is. Across the expanses of MSNBCNNFOX, retired Senators, second-string cabinet officials, under-secretaries, talk radio hosts, Watergate lawyers, ghosts of politics past, and even dotcom journos work utility while the go-to Gergens, Wills, Finemans, and Russerts catch their breath. And there's a murderer's row of rookies just warming up, freshly brought up from the minors. Or maybe the proper analogy isn't baseball, but tag-team wrestling. Fresh pundits leap into the ring like wrestlers pouncing on the heel who took the belt away from them ten years ago. "Wait a minute!" Chris Matthews shouts over a Michael Dukakis rant, "That's Dick Thornburg's music!" And indeed, the former Bush Attorney General tosses Dukakis to the mat, only to find himself head slammed by a chair wielding retired Illinois Senator Paul Simon, with follow-up from Steve Forbes, leftist 'zine editrix Katrina vanden Heuvel, and countless heroes and villains still waiting to jump into the ring. The world may snicker at the 18th century electoral college and 16th century voting machines that got us into this mess. But the world also knows that even when talk is this cheap, we're still the richest nation on earth.

courtesy of the Sucksters