Last Wednesday, in the cab going uptown to school, my seven-year-old son asked, "Dad, when was 'The Summer of Love'?" I put my hand on the buzzer as if I were a contestant on Concentration, a quiz show from that era: "Easy: 1967." He protested that someone told him it lasted throughout the 70s; I quashed the notion and briefly harmonized in my head with Scott McKenzie on "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)," arguably the anthem of that season 33 years ago. I thought about love beads and hash pipes and LIRR train trips to the East Village and Washington Square Park. We proceeded on the journey, making a right on Central Park South, and, as we do most mornings, wondered about the first statue you see in the park: Junior swears it's Hercules but I'm just not sure. I'm betting on Zeus. When it's not raining one weekend we'll go for a tour, I tell my son, and then we get back to talking Red Sox baseball and how many hits Nomar Garciaparra banged out in another Pedro Martinez win for the team.
The 60s: the decade that won't end. Conservatives today, even middle-aged ones, loathe it; liberals long for the good old days. I'm in the middle: the "reforms" that were actually embryonic in the late 60s, but came to fruition several years later, were often ill-conceived, discriminatory and a horrible waste of taxpayers' money. On the other hand, it was a very cool time to be a teenager, and all these David Brooks-type journalists who trash "The Summer of Love" must've been pretty woodheaded back then not to soak in all the psychedelic and groovy excesses.
The events of the last month remind me of those long-ago days. It's not that the time is right for fighting in the streets (except perhaps in Little Havana), but just as the year of 1968 produced a jet-speed stream of banner headlines?the Gene McCarthy shocker in New Hampshire, LBJ bowing out, King assassinated and the cities go nuts, RFK murdered in Los Angeles, Mayor Daley gives the finger to Sen. Abe Ribicoff in Chicago while protesters are bashed and gassed by the police, Nixon squeaks by Humphrey?today the country is glutted with non-stop information. The difference, of course, is that a generation ago actual events gave the relatively few news outlets a lot of work to do, while today the gargantuan media machines, both new and old, churn out product at a dizzying speed, even if much of it's trivial. (There's no humane reason for the massive coverage of the Columbine shootings; does Tom Brokaw want a copy-cat killing spree on his conscience?)
Maybe this is a stretch, maybe not: but just as Elian Gonzalez is a symbol to Cuban-Americans in Miami, he's also a metaphor for a techno age that's out of control. One of the themes of this column is that the elite media, fat and sassy with upper-middle-class lifestyles (in contrast to reporters in the 60s), imposes its political and social bias on readers, in the news pages as well as editorials. So, Bill Clinton is an A-okay guy because he lied just about sex, even if it was under oath. But Elian's relatives in Florida are bonkers, bitter exiles who dream about a Cuba that's forever gone, even while the government is issuing propaganda left and right, allowing Cuban "diplomats" to consort with the boy, as the media falls right into another Clinton-Reno trap. Dan Rather worries aloud on tv that the image of a commando pointing a gun at the child during the pre-dawn raid last Saturday has to be countered with a "happy" photo or trouble will surely ensue.
Sam Donaldson is still stewing over Leo DiCaprio's interviewing President Clinton, publicly pissed that a mere actor is doing a reporter's job and oh my lord what has television come to. Meanwhile, he ignores the fact that tv "reporters" have been mere entertainers for years, well-paid ones at that, and that he's the perfect symbol of a national buffoon yelling and ranting at official press conferences, rarely obtaining any real scoops but putting on a show for his audience. In reality, the hubbub over DiCaprio is more about money than anything else: the ABC reporters are jealous that a movie star, who happens to make $20 million a picture, is pissing in their corner. No, DiCaprio is not a journalist and of course his Earth Day questions were naive and even stupid, a perfect situation for Clinton to exploit. But the young man is a superb actor?his chosen line of work?and is far more accomplished at his craft than 99 percent of the ABC employees who whined about management's decision to let Leo in the White House.
Really, give DiCaprio a three-month crash course in journalism, and he'd be just as qualified as morons like Matt Lauer, Wolf Blitzer, Donaldson, Katie Couric, Geraldo, Richard Berke, Thomas Oliphant or Richard Cohen to interview leaders of the government. It's not as if Peter Jennings extracts anything of real meaning from President Clinton, who is, after all, at least temporarily part of his social circle.
And please Mr. Post-man, you who are the editor, when will you do New York a service and fire John Podhoretz, the columnist who, along with Steve Dunleavy, detracts from the tabloid's potential as a serious local conservative antidote to the Hillary-mad New York Times. Podhoretz really is an idiot: in the stretch of two months early this year, he wrote columns saying that Sen. John McCain (The Only P.O.W. Who Matters, to paraphrase the Clash) was "toast" because he didn't compete in Iowa and let George W. Bush win; when St. John stunned the political world and trounced the Texas governor in New Hampshire, just a week later, all of a sudden it was Bush who was "toast." Mark the Pod's words. And when it was all over, and McCain took his media canonization seriously (which explains his overheated sermons about Christian leaders, rhetoric that turned out the GOP vote and doomed McCain's real shot at the nomination), Podhoretz was back in the Texan's fold. A columnist who can't make up his own mind, who's so baffled by daily events that he publicly changes his mind almost from one column to the next, is deservedly a laughingstock. As the Pod most certainly is.
His most recent bout of self-righteous silliness? In a piece on April 26, Podhoretz told the political and media classes of the United States to take a deep breath and calm down. Like we need the Pod for a guidance counselor. He writes: "All right, everybody, cool it with the Hitler analogies. Comparing elected officials and law-enforcement officers here in the United States to the most evil man in human history and the storm troopers who carried out his will is disgusting, tasteless, inappropriate and improper. Such comparisons are not only a libel on those who are unjustly likened to Adolf Hitler; they belittle the enormity of the Holocaust and the sacrifices made by millions of servicemen to bring his incarnadine reign to an end."
I deplore chardonnay-populist Pat Buchanan's wacky revisionist WWII interpretation, and I'm glad he joined ranks with Lenora Fulani and other flakes and left the Republican Party. However, is it true that Hitler was the most evil man in human history? A monster to be sure, and in the top three, but in other parts of the world?just in the 20th century!?Stalin and Mao are seen as, justifiably, as impossibly heinous as Hitler. The insecure German dictator just made sure he got all the press.
Besides, WWII and the atrocities that preceded it are now truly from a different era; columnists can't invoke Hitler and the Holocaust every time they have a hangnail and need someone to blame. I agree that it was supremely ironic?post-post-ironic as Powerful Media's Michael Hirschorn might say?that Rudy Giuliani engaged in the hyperbole that Podhoretz complains about. And the Mayor's explanation that he wasn't directing his venom at the actual federal agents, but at Clinton and Reno, was a little thin.
Still, the "storm trooper" hyperbole has been so watered down over the years that it doesn't carry the same weight as it would've in 1960. It's simply a way to describe out-of-control government tactics: and in the case of the Clinton-Reno raid in Little Havana last week, it was accurate. Of course, Miami's Mayor Joe Carollo was over the top when he said the SWAT-team break-in of the Gonzalez household was reminiscent of Nazi Germany; but in an emotionally charged environment people let cliches spill out of their mouths.
What bugs me about Podhoretz's column is simple: in the course of human history the Jews of the 20th century are not the only people who've been horribly wiped out. To use the Pod's own words, to make such a case "belittles" every other holocaust that's taken place in every corner of the globe. I know Podhoretz is Jewish and he's writing for a New York audience, but let's cool it: Jews are not the only people who've suffered at the hands of tyrants and madmen.
In a different Post, the one from Washington, DC, the editors saw fit to print on April 27 a page-one jihad against Donato Dalrymple, one of the men who plucked Elian Gonzalez out of the Atlantic Ocean last Thanksgiving. According to reporter/editorialist-in-training Michael Leahy, Donato the Fisherman is sort of a con artist; in fact, on that fateful day, it was his first time actually fishing. Turns out the four-times-married Donato cleans houses as an occupation, is now living large on the talk-show circuit, enjoying the perks of lottery notoriety, and has one heck of a swelled head.
Leahy's first two paragraphs set up his out-of-nowhere attack on the Florida resident: "Three nights after a federal agent found him trying to hide in a cramped closet with Elian Gonzalez in his arms, Donato Dalrymple sits in his Georgetown hotel room at midnight, ready to talk for hours, his body clock by now like a Vegas lounge singer's.
"Oliver North rushed up to him a few hours ago to call him a hero. Some CNBC lovelies sought his attentions and autograph. And just five minutes ago, in a cab coming back from yet another television interview, he heard Howard Stern say his name on the radio. 'Howard Stern! Howard Stern!' he is exulting. 'It was just too cool,' says The Fisherman."
And you know what I say? Fuck Michael Leahy and The Washington Post.
Dalrymple is letting his fleeting fame go his head, just as many people would. He's the guy who turns in a suitcase containing a million bucks to the police and when the frantic owner retrieves it and offers a reward, Donato takes it. So what? The fact is, Donato the Fisherman, Donato the House Cleaner, Donato the Next Mayor of Miami?whatever you want to call him?helped save this little boy's life. If he hadn't, Leahy wouldn't be able to sit on his ass and write this poison screed against a guy who's just enjoying the attention he's stumbled into.
As reprehensible as Podhoretz and Leahy are, the pair aren't a patch on the entire CNN organization. On late Tuesday, the tv station's p.r. department sent out a press release bragging about its ratings over the weekend as they covered the Elian controversy. It read, in part: "In total day (5 a.m.-5 a.m.), CNN received a l.4 rating and delivered 1.1 million households. CNN/U.S. outperformed the nearest 24-hour cable competition in ratings and out-delivered all of the cable competition combined for total day and peak times." I've always had a problem with CNN's news coverage, which often seems like it's scripted by Bill Clinton and James Carville, and Bernie Shaw and Judy Woodruff are disgraceful on Inside Politics, but even they must be disgusted by their employer's public glee at a ratings score generated by one of the most outrageous examples of government brutality in the past generation.
I'm not saying that CNN's sales reps aren't entitled to crow to potential advertisers?that's their job?but do it behind closed doors, please.
Al Gore's floundering presidential quest and the question of when he'll bounce back is next on my list, but that'll have to wait until Tuesday. Why he let his campaign get off-track by a skeezy play for Cuban-American voters is beyond me: even if he picks Florida's Democratic Sen. Bob Graham as his runningmate, Gore won't win the state. In fact, he's only made life more difficult for himself with his Elian scam: one, it was a dumb diversion that's lasted a lot longer than he probably figured and kept him from attacking Bush on his record as Texas' governor; and two, it's reinforced the prevalent, and correct, perception that Gore, like his boss, has no moral compass.
It's called Gore Fatigue.