I've got just a few comments to offer this Friday as New York Press editor John Strausbaugh packs his duffel bag for a summerlong trip to Italy. While John and his lovely wife Diane are touring ancient ruins, eating swordfish and sausage, sipping Campari and trying to ignore the woes of [Salon.com], please direct all controversial queries to Lisa Kearns.
1. Robert L. Bartley, editor of The Wall Street Journal, has, at age 62, commenced a weekly column. On June 5 he promised that it would include a "personal touch," informed by his decades at the United States' most important daily newspaper. His inaugural effort, understandably, includes a short bio, telling of his Midwestern roots, his start in journalism and the progression of his political views. Bartley went from being a "Stassen Republican" to a brief infatuation with John F. Kennedy before, in the 60s, crystallizing the conservative views that are found on the Journal's editorial pages each weekday.
As introductory columns go, it was interesting and necessary. Not many readers know much about the humble (in person) Bartley, or his background. So far, so good.
The next day, Slate writer Timothy Noah, primary author of the website's "Chatterbox" column, took extraordinary exception to Bartley's debut, which he called "dreadful," "gassy," "flaccid," "sentimental" and "self-aggrandizing." However, Noah finds a silver lining for liberals who prefer the Democratic Party-line mush of The New York Times and The Washington Post over the Journal: "[The column] distracts Bartley from writing on subjects like the capital gains tax, about which, for some reason, he has real influence."
Noah, whose own intellect I perceive to be on the same level as John Rocker's (although Tim, I'll defend your First Amendment rights, too), minimizes the power of Bartley's pulpit. For in addition to writing himself, the respected Journal editor has assembled a nimble staff of some of the finest minds in the country, men and women who advocate gutsy views on more than just the capital gains tax. (Also, unlike most competitive op-ed sections, the Journal's actually includes humor.) Many of us would go nuts if it weren't for the Journal's energetic exploration of topics like excessive litigation, Oval Office corruption, the folly of campaign finance "reform," the political correctness that has eroded the curricula of both public and private schools, the scandalous behavior of labor unions and the absurd continuation of the statutory protections that were enacted beginning with the New Deal era and continue today, though they were scaled back during Ronald Reagan's landmark eight-year tenure as president.
Noah, who delights in misrepresenting the views of Journal stalwarts like Dorothy Rabinowitz and Paul Gigot, also doesn't tell readers of his June 6 toss-off about his past employment on the news side of The Wall Street Journal, a stint that current employees at the paper are too polite to describe on the record.
When the history of the journalism of the past 30 years is written, Noah won't even be a footnote, while Bartley will earn at least a chapter in any fair-minded book. Put it this way, old-timers: Noah is the Yanks' Hector Lopez to Bartley's Willie Mays.
2. Here's an easy question for the Tim Noahs of the world: Which daily newspaper, on June 8, didn't report that the new Quinnipiac College poll finds that New York Senate candidates Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton are locked in a 44-44 percent tie? I read about it in the Daily News, The Washington Post, Newsday, Salon.com and the New York Post. Why, that leaves?surprise?The New York Times!
Maybe it was Newsday reporter John Riley's take on the poll?and the Long Island paper is not exactly a Lazio backer?that scared off the Times. (The loathsome broadsheet does need to conserve every possible column inch for its "How Race Is Lived in America" series, a bald attempt at a Pulitzer if I've ever seen one.) Riley wrote: "In addition, the Quinnipiac poll indicated that despite an extensive listening tour of all 62 New York counties and her first barrage of television ads, Clinton's unfavorability rating is at its worst level ever. And by thin margins, most of the voters surveyed said Lazio was best qualified to be in the Senate and ranked him as a moderate candidate?despite Clinton's efforts to label Lazio as a Newt Gingrich-style conservative."
And by the way, the continued degradation of Gingrich is simply deplorable. The former speaker had many faults: he caved in to Bill Clinton's hillbilly charm too easily; he often spoke without thinking; and his vanity was without parallel in Washington. In addition, the hypocrisy Gingrich showed during the Lewinsky scandal, blasting Clinton while cheating on his own wife, was inexcusable. But he never lied under oath, and at least had the grace to resign his post.
But make no mistake about it: Gingrich was the most important Republican figure since Ronald Reagan. Orchestrating the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994 was a near-miraculous triumph that completely altered the political landscape. Had the Democrats retained both houses of Congress that year, Clinton would never have relented on the welfare reform bill, and most likely would've raised taxes again.
I can't embrace the mantra of my religious friends, "Hate the sin, but love the sinner," since that would require condoning the wicked and corrupt regime of the Clinton-Gore administration, so I'll just say that Newt Gingrich was a flawed political giant.
3. Al From Baltimore upbraided me for the June 7 MUGGER column, saying I was too hard on George Will. Despite Will's generally excellent columns in The Washington Post and his man-vs.-gnat parrying with the pathetic George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week, I still harbor a grudge for his calling former President Bush "a lapdog" back in 1986. Perhaps I'm being too much of an elephant.
Al writes: "You're so full of baloney. You say, 'I liked Bush except for the broken pledge on taxes.' Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Not to mention ADA, David Souter and a host of other liberal sins too numerous to mention. A good man, not a particularly good president. I give him credit for the Gulf War and Clarence, and that's about it.
"You just don't like Will's tweedy style. Of course I haven't read his book (Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball) that extolled Cal Ripken Jr. What book about Cal have I read? Why would I read a baseball book? I am not a member of the Cal fan club. He deserves a hearty mazel tov for not missing a day of work, but that's about it."