Tuesday Reads: Politics Free ZonePosted: December 29, 2015 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: AJ Waines, books, Ernest Hemingway, giant squid sighting, JRR Tolkien, Paula Hawkins, Pompeii 9 Comments
In just a few more days it will be 2016, and the slow news zone of the holidays will be over. I sure hope the new year will be an improvement over 2015. At least I’m hoping to see woman President of the U.S. by next year’s end.
I’m going to avoid politics today. I’m just not in the mood for stories about Donald Trump attacking Hillary and anyone else who dares to say something truthful about him and his campaign.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the story of Pompeii and how the city was frozen in time by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The ancient city is in the news now, because Italy has restored six houses and opened them to public view. CNN:
Newly restored ruins in the ancient city of Pompeii, with intricate mosaic tiles, bathhouses and even graffiti were officially unveiled to the public on Thursday after a lengthy restoration process.
The project, including six restored homes, is the result of a 2012 partnership between the EU’s European Commission and Italian authorities.
The partnership spent 150 million Euros for 12 projects geared towards consolidating “high risk” structures, building a drainage system, and restoring artifacts at the UNESCO World Heritage site situated near Naples, Italy.
Pompeii is one of most famous historical sites in the world. In 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius buried the town and its unsuspecting inhabitants in hot rock, volcanic ash and noxious gas. Those who did not escape, suffocated or burned. Some were covered in several feet of ash and preserved and fossilized in the process. The resulting archeological record is remarkable. Its furnished rooms, paintings and even plaster casts of deceased inhabitants offer a detailed picture of life during the Early Roman Empire.
The Italian government has been accused of neglecting the historic site, but now it is apparently committed to maintaining and improving it.
The Daily Mail on the Villa of Mysteries:
The Villa dei Misteri (Villa of Mysteries), an estate on the outskirts of Pompeii’s city centre that features some of the best-preserved frescoes of the site, is now open to the public after one of many restoration projects ordered by the EU….
Pompeii, a busy commercial city overlooking the Mediterranean, was destroyed in A.D. 79 by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius that killed thousands of people and buried the city in 20 feet of volcanic ash.
But the ash also helped preserve Pompeii’s treasures, providing precious information about life in the ancient world.
The first excavations began in the 18th century, but even today only two-thirds of the site’s 60 hectares (150 acres) have been uncovered.
In recent years, Pompeii has been bedeviled by neglect and mismanagement characteristic of Italy’s underdeveloped south, as well as brushes with the corruption that has infected some other important public works in Italy, including its Expo 2015 World’s Fair in Milan and the Moses water barrier project in Venice.
The ash also preserved the shapes of the bodies of many people who perished in the disaster.
From Metro UK: Pompeii restoration reveals tragic scene of ‘scared boy cowering on his mother’s lap’.
Through plaster casts experts have managed to show the devastating scene of a ‘scared boy on his mother’s lap’.
It is thought the child, who was around four, had run to his mother as Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the Roman town in ash in 79 AD. Read about the making of the plaster casts at the link.
You can see many more stunning photos from Pompeii at the links I’ve provided and at this Pinterest page.
NPR recently covered the story of another important restoration project, that of Ernest Hemingway’s home in Cuba.
New Conservation Effort Aims To Protect Papa’s Papers.
It’s been a year since the U.S. and Cuba began normalizing relations. Tourism, business and cultural exchanges are booming. And there is another curious benefactor of those warmer ties — Ernest Hemingway, or at least, his legacy. The writer lived just outside of Havana for 20 years, and that house, called the Finca Vigia, has long been a national museum.
But years of hot, humid Caribbean weather has taken a toll on the author’s thousands of papers and books. A Boston-based foundation is helping restore those weathered treasures, and who better to lead that effort than the original dean of home repairs: Bob Vila, of public television’s This Old House. He tells NPR’s Carrie Kahn that he has a personal connection to Cuba. “I’m American-born Cuban,” he says. “My Havana-born parents emigrated during the latter part of World War II, and I was born in Miami, raised there and partially in Havana up until the revolution in 1959.”
Read more about the project and listen to the story at the link above.
Did you hear about the siting of a giant squid in Japan on December 24? From CNN:
It isn’t every day that a mystery from the deep swims into plain sight. But on Christmas Eve, spectators on a pier in Toyama Bay in central Japan were treated to a rare sighting of a giant squid.
The creature swam under fishing boats and close to the surface of Toyama Bay, better known for its firefly squid, and reportedly hung around the bay for several hours before it was ushered back to open water.
It was captured on video by a submersible camera, and even joined by a diver, Akinobu Kimura, owner of Diving Shop Kaiyu, who swam in close proximity to the red-and-white real-life sea monster.
“My curiosity was way bigger than fear, so I jumped into the water and go close to it,” he told CNN.
“This squid was not damaged and looked lively, spurting ink and trying to entangle his tentacles around me. I guided the squid toward to the ocean, several hundred meters from the area it was found in, and it disappeared into the deep sea.” Here’s a screen shot from video footage (CBS News).
I was browsing through some end-of-the-year articles on books, and I came across this interesting article at the BBC. The article is based on a new book by Dominic Sandbrook:
Did Tolkien Write Juvenile Trash?
Taking Tolkien seriously is inevitably complicated by the fact that he has long been associated in the public mind with a sweaty, furtive gang of misfits and weirdoes – by which I mean those critics who for more than half a century have been sneering at his books and their readers. Self-consciously highbrow types often have surprisingly intolerant views about what other people ought to be writing, and when the first volume of The Lord of the Rings was published in the summer of 1954, a few weeks before Lord of the Flies, many were appalled by its nostalgic medievalism.
A prime example was the American modernist Edmund Wilson, who in a hilariously wrong-headed review for The Nation dismissed Tolkien’s book as “juvenile trash”, marked by – of all things! – an “impotence of imagination”. In the New Statesman, meanwhile, Maurice Richardson, himself a writer of surreal fantasy stories, conceded that The Lord of the Rings might appeal to “very leisured boys”, but claimed that it made him want to march through the streets carrying the sign: “Adults of all ages! Unite against the infantilist invasion.”
Even decades later, long after Tolkien’s book had become an international cultural phenomenon, the academic medievalist Peter Godman was still assuring readers of the London Review of Books that it was merely an “entertaining diversion for pre-teenage children”. Michael Moorcock, likening it to the works of A A Milne, dismissed The Lord of the Rings as “a pernicious confirmation of the values of a morally bankrupt middle class“, while Philip Pullman, always keen to sneer at those authors from whom he had borrowed so liberally, called it “trivial“, and “not worth arguing with”. Yet none of this, of course, has ever made the slightest dent in Tolkien’s popularity.
Read the rest at the link.
Finally, here’s an interesting piece on a popular book of the moment and how it got confused with another book of the same title.
NPR Books: A Tale Of Two Titles: A Girl, A Train And Thousands Of Confused Readers.
The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller, set in contemporary London, with a female protagonist and a female author — Paula Hawkins. It was published this year, and received wide acclaim.
Girl on a Train is a psychological thriller, set in contemporary London, with a female protagonist and a female author — Alison Waines. It was published in 2013, and received almost no attention….
“An incredible number of people were buying the wrong book,” reporter David Benoit tells NPR’s Linda Wertheimer.
Benoit revealed the case of mistaken identity in the Wall Street Journal — after he experienced it first-hand….
Now Waine’s book is selling well.
“Writing had always been a hobby for her,” Benoit says, but this year she says she sold over 30,000 copies of her book.
And she’s excited to see what happens when her next book comes out….
“Many readers who admit they bought the wrong book liked it anyway,” Benoit wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
“One woman I talked to actually liked Miss Waines’ book better than Miss Hawkins’ book,” Benoit tells Wertheimer.
She made her book club, which had planned on reading the best-seller, pick up Girl on a Train instead.
I might just check that one out.
What stories are you following today? Please share in the comment thread and have a great day.
Saturday Afternoon Reads: The Feminine MystiquePosted: February 23, 2013 Filed under: just because, U.S. Politics, Women's Rights | Tags: afternoon reads, Betty Friedan, books, education, feminism, psychology, The Feminine Mystique 40 Comments
I decided to focus this post on something other than the debt, deficit, sequester obsession that has taken over American politics, so I’m writing about a book I read in high school that changed my life forever. Feel free to use this as an open thread, and post your links freely in the comments.
This week marked the 50th anniversary of a book that truly changed my life, The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. It was first published on February 19, 1963. I read it in paperback when I was a junior in high school, probably in early 1964.
I already knew I didn’t want to be a housewife like my mom, but there weren’t many alternatives for girls in those days. Ideally, you were supposed to get married and have children and forget about having a career or focusing on your own unique interests. You were supposed to enjoy cleaning house and supporting your husband’s career and if you didn’t enjoy it, there was something wrong with you–you weren’t a real woman.
The main reason for girls to go to college was to find a husband. Oh sure, you could study and learn about things that interest you, but that would all go by the wayside once you found a man. After that, it was all about him. If you couldn’t find a husband, then you might have to work. You could be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary–that was about it. Women who insisted on being college professors, doctors, lawyers were few and far between and they had a tough time of it.
Then Betty Friedan’s book came out, and it hit a nerve for millions of American women and girls, including me. Here’s the famous opening paragraph:
“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—‘Is this all?’”
Friedan called it “the problem with no name.”
As I read the book, I began to develop more sympathy for my mother’s plight. During World War II, women had been called upon to go to work to support the war effort and replace men who had been drafted or had enlisted in the military. But when the men came back, they needed the jobs and women were expected to go back to their homes and be satisfied with doing housework, child rearing, decorating, and entertaining for no pay. Friedan wrote about how “experts” had produced reams of propaganda in the effort to get women to find joy and fulfillment in being housewives and mothers. The “feminist mystique” for Friedan said “that the highest value and the only commitment for women is the fulfillment of their own femininity.”
I’ve told this story before, but when I was a senior in high school I wrote an essay for my English class called “Women Are People Too.” My male teacher was somewhat taken aback by my arguments, but he still asked me to read my paper aloud in class. I was jeered and mock for it, of course. Later my economics teacher–a true leftist–found out about the essay and read it in my economic class. Today it seems strange, but most of the other students in my school were horrified by the notion of women being equal to men.
My father, an English professor, had a woman colleague Lucille C.–a full professor who had never married. My mother said that most men would be intimidated by her brilliance and success. Anyway, when I told Lucille about how all the other kids were making fun of me for my essay, she told me to tell them I was a member of FOMA, which stood for “Future Old Maids of America.” I loved it!
Much has changed since 1963. Women now assume they have a right to an education and a career as a well as the right to choose (if they can afford it) whether to stay home with children or work outside the home. But as we have seen in the past four plus years, misogyny is alive and well in the good ol’ USA, and we still have a very long way to go to achieve anything like real gender equality.
Carlene Bauer spoke for me when she wrote at The New York Observer:
When Friedan writes that early feminists “had to prove that women were human,” it is hard not to feel a shock of recognition and indict our own moment as well, especially after the election that just passed. But American women still find themselves struggling against a strangely virulent, insidious misogyny. If our culture truly thought women were human, 19 states would not have enacted provisions to restrict abortion last year. There would be no question whether to renew the Violence Against Women Act. Women would not make 77 cents to every man’s dollar, and make less than our male counterparts even in fields where we dominate. We wouldn’t have terms like “legitimate rape” or “personhood.” Women who decided not to have children would not be called “selfish,” as if they were themselves children who had a problem with sharing. If our culture truly allowed them to have strong, complex, contradictory feelings and believed they were sexual creatures for whom pleasure was a biological right, perhaps adult women would not be escaping en masse into badly written fantasy novels about teenage girls being ravished by vampires.
Bauer also noted that some problems with the book, most notably Friedan’s homophobia.
This book…should seem thrillingly, relievedly quaint. It does not. But it is surprisingly boring in spots—there are many moments where you can see the women’s magazine writer in Friedan giving herself over to breathless exhortation—and astoundingly homophobic. At one point Friedan rails against “the homosexuality that is spreading like a murky smog over the American scene.” Friedan has been criticized for not being as careful a researcher, or as honest a storyteller, or as civil-rights-minded as she could have been. But perhaps these criticisms are somewhat beside the point. There are numerous passages that, if you did not know their provenance, could be mistaken for sentences written in judgment of the present day.
In looking over The Feminine Mystique recently, I realized that I had forgotten how much scholarship and psychological analysis and scholarship Friedan included in the book. She was a psychology major at Smith College, graduating summa cum laude in 1942. For example, The Feminine Mystique contained a brilliant analysis of Freudian theory and its consequences for women. Friedan argued that education at women’s colleges had been dumbed down between the 1940s and 1960s, with educators limiting courses to “subjects deemed suitable for women” and their future roles as housewives. She suggested that girls were prevented from experiencing the normative identity crisis that was the focus of Erik Erikson’s developmental theory. And she argued that women had been kept at the lower, subsistence levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
How many books truly change society in dramatic ways. Betty Friedan’s book did that. A few more links to articles on the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique.
Michelle Bernard: Betty Friedan and black women: Is it time for a second look?
NYT: Criticisms of a Classic Abound
Mona Gable at BlogHer: How Far Have We Come?
ABC News: ‘Feminine Mystique’: 50 Years Later, Dated But Not Irrelevant
Caryl Rivers: ‘Feminine Mystique’ At 50: If Betty Friedan Could See Us Now
Janet Maslin: Looking Back at a Domestic Cri de Coeur
Alexandra Petri: The Feminist Mystique
Peter Dreier: The Feminine Mystique and Women’s Equality — 50 Years Later
Kathi Wolfe at The Washington Blade: Power of the ‘Feminine Mystique’
A discussion at NPR’s On Point: The Feminine Mystique at 50
This isn’t specifically about The Feminine Mystique, but I think it’s relevant. Allie Grasgreen at Inside Higher Ed: ‘The Rise of Women’ — a “new book explains why women outpace men in higher education.”
Please use this as an open thread, and post anything you like in the comments.
Sunday ReadsPosted: June 24, 2012 Filed under: 2012 presidential campaign, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Anna Pigeon, Barry Ernest, books, demography, Gulf coast, Hispanic voters, John F. Kennedy assassination, junk bond king, Koch Brothers, Michael Milken, Natchez Trace, Nevada Barr, Stonehenge, Tropical Storm Debby, Victoria Adams 14 Comments
After the discussion of detective stories on the morning thread yesterday, I was inspired to read another book by Nevada Barr. Barr is a former National Park ranger who writes novels about Anna Pigeon, a park ranger who works in law enforcement. The books take place in different national parks, as Anna is transferred from place to place during her career. The one I’m reading right now is called Hunting Season. It is the second book Barr has written that takes pace in the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. I like Barr’s books, because she describes beautiful outdoor settings and the animals and people who populate our national parks.
Another book I really enjoyed recently was The Girl on the Stairs. I think most of you know by now that I am interested in the Kennedy Assassination. I really liked this book because it was written in the form of a memoir.
The author, Barry Ernest became involved in research about the assassination as a young man. Early on he read in the Warren Report about a young woman named Victoria Adams who had witnessed the assassination from the fourth floor of the Texas book depository–two floors below where Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly shot at the president from a sixth floor window. Over the years Ernest interviewed almost every important witness of the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and worked with several early assassination researchers. He didn’t find Victoria Adams until many years later. I found the story of his journey of discovery fascinating and moving.
In the news, there’s a new theory about the purpose of Stonehenge–offered by a team of archaeologists who have been investigating the site for the past ten years.
Dismissing all previous theories, scientists working on the Stonehenge Riverside Project (SRP) believe the enigmatic stone circle was built as a grand act of union after a long period of conflict between east and west Britain.
Coming from southern England and from west Wales, the stones may have been used to represent the ancestors of some of Britain’s earliest farming communities.
According study leader Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, Britain’s Neolithic people became increasingly unified during the monument’s main construction around 3000 B.C. to 2500 B.C.
“There was a growing island-wide culture — the same styles of houses, pottery and other material forms were used from Orkney to the south coast,” Parker Pearson said.
“Stonehenge itself was a massive undertaking, requiring the labour of thousands to move stones from as far away as west Wales, shaping them and erecting them. Just the work itself, requiring everyone literally to pull together, would have been an act of unification,” Parker Pearson said.
Tropical Storm Debby is moving towards the Gulf of Mexico. I hope she won’t cause too much trouble for those of who who live down in Texas and Louisiana. Of course, as Dak pointed out to me last night, Debby might just head up toward New England after she’s finished with the Gulf coast. Yikes!
Tropical Storm Debby crawled slowly closer to the northern rim of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, its exact track still uncertain as forecasters warned the system could begin strengthening and produce near hurricane force winds in coming days.
Amid an ongoing threat of torrential downpours from Debby, authorities warned of the possibility of flooding and strong winds from Texas to Florida. At least one tornado linked to the storm touched down Saturday in southwest Florida, but no injuries were reported. Heavy squalls pounded parts of that state.
At 5 a.m. EDT Sunday, Debby was about 165 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
Debby was moving toward the north at 3 mph and was expected to strengthen as it gradually takes a more westward direction in coming hours.
In politics, there are two big secret meetings of superrich Republicans going on this weekend.
It’s going to be a big weekend in the world of big conservative money: Both Mitt Romney and billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch are holding hush-hush events with wealthy donors designed to keep the dollars coming in.
Romney’s three-day retreat, which is being held at the Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, is an opportunity for about 700 Romney’s biggest fundraisers to get some face time with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. (Many of them are “bundlers” – wealthy and well-connected individuals who call on their family, friends and associates to max out their contributions to Romney and the GOP – who have raised in the area of $250,000 for Romney.) Some of the biggest names in the Republican Party, and many of the top contenders to be Romney’s running mate, are also coming to Park City: CBS News has confirmed that attendees will include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Republican strategist Karl Rove, former Reagan chief of staff James Baker, Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker.
And there’s also the Koch brothers’ “confab.”
While Romney and his Republican allies are busy cultivating donors in Utah, the Koch brothers will be in San Diego holding a convention designed to help them generate hundreds of millions of dollars to advance conservative causes. At least we think they will: The event is shrouded in secrecy, and neither representatives for Koch Industries nor a number of expected attendees contacted by CBS News would even confirm that it is taking place.
Word got out last week that it was indeed happening, when Minnesota television station owner Stanley Hubbard confirmed its existence – and San Diego location – to Politico. In an apparent attempt to head off protesters and potential infiltrators, organizers and attendees will not say exactly where the convention will be held; a San Diego alternative newspaper is holding a “Find the Koch Brothers Confab” contest in order to figure it out. (CBS News’ attempts to confirm the venue have thus far been fruitless, though we have our suspicions.) Liberals have their own version of the Koch brothers’ confab called The Democracy Alliance, where security is similarly strict; both events are awash in security personnel looking to escort uninvited guests (such as reporters) off the premises.
The Boston Globe has an article about Mitt Romney’s history with Michael Milken, “the junk bond king.”
It was at the height of the 1980s buyout boom when Mitt Romney went in search of $300 million to finance one of the most lucrative deals he would ever manage. The man who would help provide the money was none other than the famed junk-bond king Michael Milken.
What transpired would become not just one of the most profitable leveraged buyouts of the era, but also one of the most revealing stories of Romney’s Bain Capital career. It showed how he pivoted from being a relatively cautious investor to risking his reputation for a big payoff. It is one that Romney has rarely, if ever, mentioned in his two bids for the presidency, perhaps because the Houston-based department store chain that Bain assembled later went into bankruptcy.
But what distinguishes this deal from the nearly 100 others that Romney did over a 15-year period was his close work with Milken’s firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. At the time of the deal, it was widely known that Milken and his company were under federal investigation, yet Romney decided to go ahead with the deal because Drexel had a unique ability to sell high-risk, high-yield debt instruments, known as “junk bonds.”
The Obama campaign has criticized the deal as showing Romney’s eagerness to make a “profit at any cost,” because workers lost jobs, and challenged Romney’s assertion that his business background best prepares him for the presidency. Romney, meanwhile, once referred to the deal as emanating from “the glorious days of Drexel Burnham,” saying, “it was fun while it lasted,” in a little-noticed interview with American Banker magazine.
At the New Yorker, John Cassidy asks whether Hispanics can “save Obama.”
I’ve decided to post some in-depth interviews with campaign officials, politicians, policy wonks, and others with something worthwhile to say. The first one, which you can read in full below, is with Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for Economic Progress and at the Century Foundation.
An expert on demography and polling data, Teixeira co-authored a very influential 2002 book titled “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” which argued that the Republican era that started in the late nineteen-sixties was coming to an end.
Many of the things that Teixeira and his co-author John Judis identified ten years ago—the rising number of Hispanic voters, an emerging gender gap between the two parties, and a shift to the Democrats among urban professionals—played into Obama’s victory in 2008. Despite Republican gains in the 2010 midterms and Mitt Romney’s recent rise in the polls, Teixeira believes that Obama is still well placed on the basis of demography and geography. “All the trends we identified that helped lead to Obama’s 2008 victory have continued apace,” he told me.
The rapidly growing Hispanic vote is particularly important, Teixeira insists. In Nevada, for example, it is now approaching twenty per cent, and the overall minority-vote share is close to forty per cent. And Mitt Romney, after taking a hard line against illegal immigration during the primaries, has no credible way to reach Hispanics. “I think they’re stuck, and I think they know they are stuck,” Teixeira said.
What’s happening in your neck of the woods today?
Tuesday Reads: New Political BooksPosted: May 1, 2012 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, books, Carl Bernstein, Deep Throat, Deepwater Horizon, Exxon Valdez, ExxonMobil, Lyndon B. Johnson, Norman Ornstein, Republican crazies, Robert Caro, Steve Coll, Thomas Mann, Watergate 21 Comments
There are lots of interesting books coming out this month, so thought I’d preview a few of them. I pre-ordered the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, which comes out today. I have the first two volumes, and I admit they’ve just been sitting on my bookshelf for years unread. I thought I might read vol. 4 first, since it covers the Kennedy assassination and Johnson’s first few years as President. Then maybe I’ll be inspired to read the earlier volumes. Caro is 77 this year. I hope he has time to finish this series, which is considered one of the greatest biographies of all time.
Another interesting book that is being released today is Steve Coll’s Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. The book is an investigation of the giant corporation beginning with the Exxon Valdez oil spill and ending with the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Salon published an excerpt from the book on Sunday.
Also coming out today is It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. The authors had an op-ed in the Washington Post a few days ago to preview the book: Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
And then yesterday there was a bit of a media circus over a book that will be released next Tuesday, May 8: Yours in Truth, by Jeff Himmelman–a biography of Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post back when it was a real newspaper. New York Magazine published an excerpt from the book that led to a fascinating back and forth over what I think are some pretty minor issues about the Washington Post’s Watergate coverage. The fascinating aspects of the story are the reactions of the people involved: Himmelman, Bradlee, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein.
Jeff Himmelman worked for years as a research assistant to Bob Woodward, helping him with articles for the WaPo, as well as Woodward’s book Bush at War. Woodward was Himmelman’s mentor.
My office was on the third floor of Bob’s house, down the hall from the framed apology from Nixon’s press secretary that sits at the top of the staircase. I was back working as Bob’s research assistant for a few months, after having more or less lived in his house from 1999 to 2002. Bob had been my first real boss, hiring me when I was 23. I’d been with him on September 11, as he charged toward the Capitol while the plane presumably targeting it was still in the air, and had helped him begin Bush at War, the first of his blockbuster portraits of the Bush presidency that were a late turning point in his legendary career. As a reporter, I was in awe of him. I had also gotten to know Carl Bernstein, who called often and sometimes stayed in the guest bedroom on the other end of the third floor. I still remember the charge I got out of relaying Carl’s phone messages—Bernstein for Woodward.
Carl was important to Bob, but Ben Bradlee was something entirely different. Bob revered him, and so I did, too. I had only met Ben once, for a few seconds in Bob’s kitchen, but I had seen All the President’s Men. When Bob said, “I told them they should hire you,” I leaped at the chance.
Woodward’s mentor had been Ben Bradlee, long-time editor of the WaPo. So naturally when Woodward suggested Himmelman as a co-author of a memoir by Bradlee, Himmelman was thrilled. Eventually, Bradlee decided he didn’t want to write the book, but he was fine with Himmelman writing a biography. Bradlee generously opened up his archives to the young writer. All of which led up to a mini-Shakespearean tragedy.
Himmelman discovered that Bradlee had on a few occasions questioned whether Woodward’s portrayal of his relationship with Deep Throat had been embellished–perhaps the story about the signals he used to schedule meetings (using a flowerpot on Woodward’s apartment balcony, which has one of the best stainless steel juliet balconies by the way) with the mysterious source wasn’t quite true or perhaps there were more or fewer meetings in the parking garage than Woodward had described. Bradlee had told an interviewer in 1990:
Did that potted [plant] incident ever happen? … and meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don’t know how many meetings in the garage … There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight.
To me, that’s a big *so what?* Those details aren’t integral to the Watergate story.
The second big revelation in yesterday’s New York Magazine article was that one of Carl Bernstein’s anonymous sources had actually been had actually been a grand juror in Judge Sirica’s investigation. If that had ever come out, Woodward and Bernstein would have been jailed. The two young reporters and Bradlee had made the decision to approach some of the grand jurors, although it would have been a crime for the jurors to reveal any of the evidence. It was risky, but frankly, I have no problem with it. Journalists should take risks. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
In early December, Judge John Sirica was told by prosecutors that a grand juror had been approached by the Post reporters but had revealed nothing. Incensed, Sirica called Woodward and Bernstein into court two weeks later and warned against any further meddling. “Had they actually obtained information from that grand juror,” he wrote later, “they would have gone to jail.” According to the Post’s lawyers, who negotiated on their behalf, Sirica almost locked them up anyway.
Before the scolding from Sirica, Bernstein visited the apartment of a woman he identified, in the book, as “Z.” She wouldn’t talk to him in person, but she slipped her number under the door. “Your articles have been excellent,” she told him, advising him to read their own reporting carefully. “There is more truth in there than you must have realized,” she said. “Your perseverance has been admirable.” She sounded, Carl thought, “like some kind of mystic.”
Through an old memo from Bernstein, Himmelman learned that this woman was actually a grand juror, although Bernstein didn’t know that when he first approached her. They used her as a source in All the President’s Men without revealing her identity. Again, I have no problem with that. No one is going to jail for this now.
But Bob Woodward especially is very upset. Bernstein is concerned, but less than Woodward, who IMHO is self-involved, pompous ass. Anyway New York Mag published a response from Woodward and Bernstein along with Himmelman’s article.
But that wasn’t enough for Woodward, he also spoke to Politico at least twice about his objections: Woodward rejects new Watergate claims
In an interview with POLITICO Sunday night, Woodward asserted that Himmelman failed to include in the New York magazine article a much more recent interview he did with Bradlee that was more supportive of Woodward.
“There’s a transcript of an interview that Himmelman did with Bradlee 18 months ago in which Ben undercuts the [New York magazine] piece. It’s amazing that it’s not in Jeff’s piece,” Woodward said. “It’s almost like the way Nixon’s tapings did him in, Jeff’s own interview with Bradlee does him in.”
According to Woodward’s reading of the transcript, Bradlee told Himmelman: “If you would ask me, do I think that [Woodward] embellished, I would say no.”
Bradlee and wife Sally Quinn also defended Woodward to Politico. Poor Woodward–stabbed in the back by his beloved protege: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a thankless child! (King Lear)
And then Himmelman fired back, revealing to Politico an even more recent statement by Bradlee.
That interview between Bradlee and Himmelman took place on March 9, 2011, just two days after Woodward met with Bradlee and Himmelman at Bradlee’s house to encourage them not to publish the potentially damaging quotes from his 1990 interview.
In the 2011 interview, which Himmelman provided to POLITICO and are included in his forthcoming biography of Bradlee, Bradlee reiterates his initial doubts about Woodward’s reporting.
“I wanted to be crystal clear about it, so I just went ahead and asked him,” Himmelman writes. “‘You said what you said in 1990, and there’s a record of it…’”
Himmelman: “And you don’t retract it?”
Bradlee: “I don’t.”
If, like me you’re still fascinated by the Watergate story and by political journalism generally do go read the Himmelman article in NY Magazine. The part I found most interesting was how upset Woodward was by these minor revelations–he even begged Himmelman not to include them in the book and convinced Bradlee to also ask that Himmelman leave them out of the book. Woodward tried to convince Himmelman himself and then showed up at Bradlee’s house to enlist his mentor’s help. From the NY Mag. article:
When Bob arrived, he didn’t look like he’d slept a lot. We shook hands, but only in the most perfunctory way. Ben sat at the head of the dining-room table, and I sat to Ben’s left, facing Bob. There was no small talk. Bob had brought a thick manila folder with him, which he set down heavily on the table in a way that he meant for us to notice. When Ben asked what it was, Bob said, “Data.” Then he asked Ben what he thought of the whole situation.
“I’ve known this young man for some years now,” Ben said, meaning me, “and I trust his skills and his intent.” Then he looked down at the transcript and said, “Nothing in here really bothers me, but I know there’s something in here that bothers you. What’s in here that bothers you?”
Bob went into his pitch, which he proceeded to repeat over the course of the meeting. He would read the “residual fear” line out loud, and then say he couldn’t ﬁgure out how Ben could still have had doubts about his reporting so many years after Nixon resigned. This was the unresolvable crux of the problem, and one they circled for the duration of the meeting: How could Ben have doubted the ﬂowerpots and the garage meetings, when the rest of the reporting had turned out to be true? Bob thought this was inconsistent and hurtful. Ben didn’t. Bob tried everything he could to get Ben to disavow what he had said, or at least tell me I couldn’t use it. Ben wouldn’t do either of those things. “Bob, you’ve made your point,” Ben said after Bob had made his pitch four or five times. “Quit while you’re ahead.”
Clearly Bradlee agrees with me that this is no big deal. But Woodward is worried about his legacy. Sorry, Bob. You already sold out your legacy by becoming the Bush administration’s court stenographer.
Bob turned to me. I had worked for him; he had given an impromptu toast at my wedding. You know me and the world we live in, he said. People who didn’t like him and didn’t like the Post—the “fuckers out there,” as Ben had called them—were going to seize on these comments. “Don’t give fodder to the fuckers,” Bob said, and once he lit on this phrase he repeated it a couple of times. The quotes from the interview with Barbara were nothing more than outtakes from Ben’s book, he said. Ben hadn’t used them, and so I shouldn’t use them, either.
The article ends with the further revelation that the original tape of the 1990 interview has disappeared from the archive.
“What does that mean?” Ben asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think Woodward’s got it?”
“Maybe,” I said. He laughed, and then I laughed. The Watergate parallels were a little much, though we were surely imagining things. “His reaction to this thing was off the charts.”
“Off the charts!” Ben said. “It suggests that he’s really worried. That it might be true.”
Who cares about these little revelations about a long ago scandal? I don’t. Sadly, if Watergate happened today, it would be just a minor blip on the political radar. Huge scandals and abuses of power are now routinely ignored or defended by the supine and power-worshiping corporate media. But the insight this story provides into the psychology of Bob Woodward is fascinating.
Sorry this ended up being so long. I hope you’re not all bored stiff. So what’s on your reading list today?