I’m still feeling incredibly depressed about Tuesday’s elections. It almost feels like I’m grieving over a death. Yesterday I was in shock. Today I’m feeling sadness mixed with some anger. How did this happen? Why did voters do this?
Just two years ago, President Obama was reelected decisively. Now midterm voters have elected Republicans, and not just in Congress. They’ve reelected far right governors in Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Ohio, and Maine; and they’ve put Republicans in state houses in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland!
Well there’s certainly no shortage of pundits and journalists willing to explain it all to us. Last night I read quite a few of these postmortem analyses. The main thing I learned was that it’s not just Republicans who hate Obama. Senate Democrats loathe him so intensely that they’ll cut their own throats to get back at him. So much so that Harry Reid sent his right hand man out to leak all the details to The Washington Post the weekend before Tuesday night’s devastating losses.
From Zachary Goldfarb at Wonkblog: Harry Reid’s top man tears apart the White House.
You almost never see this in politics. David Krone, the chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), launches a major attack on the White House in this blockbuster story by my colleagues Philip Rucker and Robert Costa….[The story] signals that the chilly relationship between President Obama and Senate Democrats is now entering a deep freeze.
Senate Democrats aren’t likely to care at all about Obama’s attempts to burnish his legacy in his final two years. They’re going to be laser-focused on winning the Senate back.
As he looks toward his final two years, Obama is looking toward a Congress with few friends, and many enemies, on both sides of the aisle.
So nice to know that Democratic Senators have our backs. Oh wait. It’s not about people or issues for them, just their own survival. And they’ll backstab the president and the American people in order to protect their precious domain. Why on earth did they fight tooth and nail to crown him as their nominee in 2008? It was most likely about campaign money then too.
Here’s the WaPo story in question, Battle for the Senate: How the GOP did it. The story is all about how Mich McConnell–who’s some kind of political genius according to Rucker and Costa–directed the Republican wipeout. I hope you’ll read the whole thing, but here’s the part about Krone and Senate Democrats:
After years of tension between President Obama and his former Senate colleagues, trust between Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue had eroded. A fight between the White House and Senate Democrats over a relatively small sum of money had mushroomed into a major confrontation.
At a March 4 Oval Office meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and other Senate leaders pleaded with Obama to transfer millions in party funds and to also help raise money for an outside group. “We were never going to get on the same page,” said David Krone, Reid’s chief of staff. “We were beating our heads against the wall.”
The tension represented something more fundamental than money — it was indicative of a wider resentment among Democrats in the Capitol of how the president was approaching the election and how, they felt, he was dragging them down. All year on the trail, Democratic incumbents would be pounded for administration blunders beyond their control — the disastrous rollout of the health-care law, problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, undocumented children flooding across the border, Islamic State terrorism and fears about Ebola.
“The president’s approval rating is barely 40 percent,” Krone said. “What else more is there to say? . . . He wasn’t going to play well in North Carolina or Iowa or New Hampshire. I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean that the message was bad, but sometimes the messenger isn’t good.”
And so Democratic candidates distanced themselves from Obama. And they lost bigtime. On Sunday Krone gave the Washington Post writers his notes from White House meetings and blabbed all the details, presumably in order to put the blame for losing the Senate on on the president.
With Democrats under assault from Republican super-PAC ads, Reid and his lieutenants, Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), went to the Oval Office on March 4 to ask Obama for help. They wanted him to transfer millions of dollars from the Democratic National Committee to the DSCC, a relatively routine transaction.
Beyond that, they had a more provocative request — they wanted Obama to help raise money for the Senate Majority PAC, an outside group run by former Reid advisers.
Obama and his advisers worried about the legality of his doing this and how it could affect his reputation. Krone thought they were “setting the rules as they saw fit….For some reason, they hid behind a lot of legal issues.”
The disagreements underscored a long-held contention on Capitol Hill that Obama’s political operation functioned purely for the president’s benefit and not for his party’s, although Obama allies note that the president shared with the Senate campaigns his massive lists of volunteer data and supporters’ e-mail addresses, considered by his advisers to be sacred documents.
All year, Obama traveled frequently to raise money for the party. On June 17, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough offered to increase Obama’s appearances at DSCC fundraisers and to give donors access to the president through a “Dinner with Barack” contest and high-dollar roundtable discussions.
But Krone said McDonough told him there would be no cash transfer to the DSCC, because the DNC still had to retire its 2012 debt. On Sept. 9, Reid pressured Obama to take out a loan at the DNC to fund a DSCC transfer, Krone said. The DNC did open a line of credit and sent the DSCC a total of $5 million, beginning with $500,000 on Sept. 15 and following with $1.5 million installments on Sept. 30, Oct. 15 and Oct. 24.
None of that was good enough for Krone. “I don’t think that the political team at the White House truly was up to speed and up to par doing what needed to get done,” Krone said.
Please read the whole article. It describes how the Republicans developed their strategy and carried it out, and how Democrats f**ked up. Basically, Democrats ran away from Obama and tacked to the right, while Republicans tried to hide their real policies and ran to the left. The inside story on how the DSCC handled (or didn’t handle) Alison Grimes is in there too. I’m not going to excerpt from it, but here’s another must read WaPo article about Krone’s backstabbing: Midterm disaster rips apart awkward ties between Obama and Senate Democrats.
Sally Kohn writes at The Daily Beast, How’d the GOP Win? By Running Left. Kohn notes what we’ve all been talking about here. Voters put Republicans in office everywhere, yet they voted for questions on the minimum wage (Arkansas, South Dakota, Nebraska), required sick leave (Massachusetts); and they also voted down efforts to restrict abortion.
Across the issues, there’s evidence to suggest that Republican candidates won in part by masquerading as moderates, embracing the sorts of Democratic positions—or at least rhetoric—that enjoy wide voter support, even in red states. Republican candidates in states like Georgia and Virginia lamented high poverty rates. Victorious Republican Gov. Nathan Deal boasted of his progress in reducing the number of incarcerated black men in Georgia. Cory Gardner and others hammered on stagnant wages for the middle class. Republican James Lankford, who won the race for the Senate in Oklahoma, began a debate with his opponent by railing against income inequality.
Republican Bill Cassidy, who heads to a run-off for the Senate against Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, also lamented on the campaign trail that “income inequality has increased.” Thom Tillis, the Republican victor in the North Carolina Senate race, hammered Democrat Kay Hagan for supporting a sales tax that “harmed the poor and working families more than anyone else.” The winner in the Illinois governor’s race, Republican Bruce Rauner, suggested that taxes should target businesses instead of “low-income working families.”
“You’d expect to hear that kind of talk from Democrats, or maybe socialists,” wrote Slate’s William Saletan. But no, it was Republicans who managed to pull off this stunning electoral jujitsu in contorting their rhetoric to be entirely unrecognizable from their actual conservative policies and beliefs.
In other words, Republican candidates obscured their real positions (and they were trained to do it–see the WaPo article I wrote about above), while Democrats did everything possible distance themselves from President Obama and refused to defend even his successes. Alison Grimes wouldn’t even say she voted for him in 2012, even though she was an delegate at the Democratic convention!
I love this piece by Tommy Christopher at The Daily Banter, Democrats Ran Away From Obama and It Cost Them Dearly On Election Day.
The 2014 midterm election was never going to be kind to Democrats, with a map that favored Republicans to pick up at least some seats in the Senate, and a 2010 redistricting spree that practically guarantees a GOP majority in the House for, well, ever. But with an avalanche of good news about health care and the economy, and a Death Star-sized advantage on the issue of immigration reform, Democrats rolled up their sleeves and ran as hard away from that as they could. So, how’d that work out for them? [….]
Things really could not possibly have gone worse for the Democrats. When the dust settles, Republicans will probably hold 54 Senate seats, if Democrat Mark Warner (D-Va.) can hold off a surprise challenge by Ed Gillespie, and may also flip Angus King (I-Maine). If Warner falls, then there could be a 56-44 Republican majority. In the House, Republicans look to pick up 25 seats, and in the states, Democrats lost in solidly blue states like Maryland and Illinois.
It doesn’t look like walking around saying “Barack who?“ and convincing President Obama to break his promise on immigration did Democrats any good at all. But the exit polls from Tuesday’s election strongly suggest that those moves did manage to hurt Democrats in states they desperately needed to carry (well, all of them). While Republicans gained with there bread-and-butter, white voters, Democrats lost support from 2012 among black voters (-4%), Hispanic voters (-7%), unmarried women (-7%), and unmarried men (-6%). As CNN’s last pre-election poll indicted, Obama was not a factor for 45% of voters, while another 19% said their vote was cast in support of the president. Only 33% said they cast their vote in opposition to the president. That number is consistent with every poll ever of Republican opposition to Obama.
Read the rest at the link.
This headline at Politico is a laugh riot: Voters want the GOP to fix the economy. Good luck with that. Follow the link to read Politico’s take on that if you want to.
I do think 2014 voters were frustrated with the economy. Although there have been many improvements, they’ve been slow to develop and have mostly benefited the wealthy. Americans aren’t seeing their wages go up, and most of the news jobs are low-paying and/or part-time.
Obama had a chance at the beginning of his first term to be another FDR. He could have fought for a bigger stimulus and instituted programs New Deal-type programs by executive order, as Roosevelt did during the Great Depression. Instead, Obama chose to invest his mandate in passing a Republican health care bill.
Obama has learned a few things over the past six years, and he has done some good things; but the truth is he was never the liberal his clueless 2008 supporters thought he was. As I said many times back then, Obama has no real ideology that I can discover. He’s a DLC-type technocrat. Remember when he claimed he was never a member, but the DLC had his picture posted prominently on their website? He has always believed in privatizing government programs and he was never truly committed to women’s reproductive rights. Just go back and read his book, The Audacity of Hope. I read it in 2008, and I immediately knew that Obama was not my kind of Democrat. But he was elected by people who bought the book, but apparently never read it.
But that’s all water under the bridge. He’s the President of the U.S. now, and I’ve done my best to support him. He’s done some good things, and I think he’s done a lot more for me than Harry Reid and his pals in the Senate.
That’s it for me this morning. What stories are you following? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and I hope you’ll have a pleasant Thursday.
The big news today is of course the Graham family’s shocking sale of The Washington Post to billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon. This, along with the sale of The Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John Henry and the sale of Newsweek to IBT Media, signal the true end of an era.
The days when Americans woke up to the daily newspaper on their doorsteps is long gone. The place to go for the latest news these days is the internet and print newspapers and news magazines are struggling to survive. But the Globe and Newsweek have been on the auction block for a long time; the Post sale was a complete surprise, even to its employees.
From David von Drehle at Time Magazine: A New Age for the Washington Post
It’s hard to startle the journalism business these days, given the scale and speed of disruption of the media industry. But the Graham family selling the Washington Post to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million is an exception. Few newspapers in the world are as closely identified with a single family.
The story of the Grahams and the Post used to be told in giant pictures on the wall of the newspaper lobby on L Street not far from the White House. One grainy photograph documented the day in 1933 when the brilliant financier Eugene Meyer bought the paper for a song at a bankruptcy sale on the courthouse steps. Another (a favorite of all of us who worked there) showed Meyer’s remarkable daughter, Katharine Graham, beaming as she left another D.C. courthouse in the company of her favorite editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee, after they prevailed over the government in the Pentagon Papers lawsuit.
But the most important photograph, according to Mrs. Graham’s son and successor Donald E. Graham, was the one that showed Meyer in the company of Philip L. Graham, the brilliant and tragic husband of Katharine and father of Don. They were smiling like a pair of lotto winners, which they were. The year was 1954, and after years of effort and red ink, they had finally bought out their last remaining rival for dominance of the morning-newspaper market in Washington. As other families would learn in other cities across the country — the Chandlers in Los Angeles, the Coxes in Atlanta, the Knights in Miami and so on — dominance of the morning-newspaper routes would become a decades-long license to print money.
Owning the morning meant that the Post would thrive as afternoon newspapers fell to the competition of television news. (The last afternoon paper in Washington, the excellent Washington Star, winked out in 1981.) It meant that advertisers hoping to reach a broad Washington audience had no choice but to pay the Post’s steadily increasing rates. That day in 1954 was the key to everything the Post later became, Don told me one day about 10 years ago when we bumped into each other in the lobby. Watergate, all the Pulitzer Prizes, the foreign correspondents, the celebrity columnists — all of it was possible because the patriarch and his son-in-law managed to lock up the morning.
A couple more links on the Post sale:
James Fallows at The Atlantic: Why the Sale of the Washington Post Seems So Significant
I have known and liked Donald Graham and his family over the years; many of my friends in journalism have at one time or another worked at the Washington Post. My first reaction to news that the family had sold the paper is simple shock. But it is shock based not on my positive-but-not-deep personal connection to the paper and its people but rather on sheer generational disorientation.Readers below about age 40, who have known the Post only during its beleaguered, downsizing-its-way-out-of-trouble era, may find it hard to imagine the role it once played. Over the past decade-plus, the New York Times and theWall Street Journal have been the national newspaper organizations. It already seems antique even to use the word “newspaper” in such a construction, for reasons I don’t need to belabor now. But their flagship daily print publications make the NYT and the WSJ similar to the Financial Times and different from the other remaining ambitious news organizations — Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters, the broadcast and cable networks, NPR, etc.There was a time when you would automatically have included the Post in that first-tier national grouping. Other mainly regional or local papers were strong — the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, and on down a nostalgic list. But more than any of the rest of them, the Post was fully in the national-newspaper derby and measured itself every day against the Times in talent level, depth and breadth of reporting, international coverage, sophistication, and all the other measures of a nationally ambitious operation. People who have started reading the paper in the past dozen years — rather, who have notstarted reading it — probably can’t imagine this difference in stature. But it is dramatic, and real.
“The pattern of a newspaperman’s life is like the plot of ‘Black Beauty,’ ” A. J. Liebling wrote. “Sometimes he finds a kind master who gives him a dry stall and an occasional bran mash in the form of a Christmas bonus, sometimes he falls into the hands of a mean owner who drives him in spite of spavins and expects him to live on potato peelings.” And sometimes, out of the blue, the ownership changes and you don’t know what the hell you’re getting in your bucket—fresh oats or cut glass.
At around 4:25 Monday afternoon, the staff of the Washington Post was summoned to the paper’s auditorium, a vast room where the presses used to be. The meeting would begin at 4:30 P.M., they were told. Donald E. Graham, the leader of the Graham family, which has owned the paper since Eugene Meyer bought it at a bankruptcy auction in 1933, stood solemnly before journalists who had been demoralized over the years by staff cuts, precipitous plunges in circulation, and endless dark rumors. It was a room full of reporters and editors, and yet, as one told me, “we thought we were there to hear that the Grahams had sold the building.”
In fact, Graham told them, in a voice so full of emotion that he had to stop a few times to gather himself, they were selling the Post and a handful of smaller papers—for two hundred and fifty million dollars, to Jeff Bezos, the founder and C.E.O. of Amazon, who is estimated to be worth more than twenty-five billion dollars. Graham asked the people there not to tweet, just to listen. The assembled were so stunned that when it came time for questions no one had any for a while; Graham had to urge them out of their silence.
“This was just plain sad. Now we belong to a guy who is so rich that the paper is around one per cent of his net worth,” a reporter told me soon after the meeting. “This was the family acknowledging that we can’t do it anymore and we have to give it to someone else. And we love the Graham family, we are proud of the family.”
It’s a long and interesting essay–read the rest at the link.
Neil Irwin and Ylan Q. Mui at The Washington Post write that Bezos paid more than he needed to for the Post.
The purchase price is richer than many of those paid for other legacy print media properties in recent years.
The New York Times Co. agreed to sell the Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John W. Henry for only $70 million. Newsweek sold for a symbolic $1, plus assumed pension liabilities, to billionaire Sidney Harman in 2011.
The Post “has a much stronger position in its market than the Boston Globe does,” said John Morton, an independent newspaper industry analyst. “It doesn’t surprise me that it would command a much higher price.”
Still, Morton suggested that the prominence and the visibility of The Post made Bezos willing to pay a higher price than would be justified by the paper’s finances alone. “I think probably Jeff Bezos was willing to pay a premium to make this happen,” Morton said. “. . . Bezos has enough money that if he wants to make it a hobby, he can.”
Interestingly, The New York Times apparently sold The Globe for less than they could have gotten. According to the AP:
BOSTON — Three bidders who fell short in their attempts to purchase The Boston Globe say they offered more than Boston Red Sox owner John Henry’s winning $70 million bid and criticized the decision of the seller, The New York Times Co., to make a deal with him.
Springfield television station owner John Gormally, West Coast investment executive Robert Loring and U-T San Diego chief executive John Lynch all said their groups’ bids bested Henry’s.
Henry agreed to pay $70 million to buy the Globe, the Boston Metro and the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, about 50 miles from Boston. The bid, announced Saturday, was a fraction of the $1.1 billion the Times Co. paid 20 years ago.
Lynch said his group offered “significantly more” than Henry and wondered how the Times Co.’s shareholders would react after learning the company accepted a lower offer.
“I’m just stunned,” Lynch told the Boston Herald. “I thought this was a public company that had a fiduciary duty to get the most by its stockholders.”
Gormally says his bit was $80 million, but he admits that local ownership will probably be better for the Globe in the long run. Perhaps the Times wanted to do us Bostonians a favor.
I’m running out of space, so I’ll just add a few more stories in link dump fashion.Mark Ames on Vladamir Putin’s “human rights” record: Snowden’s Savior Announces Plans To Build 83 “Concentration Camps” Across Russia (link unlocked for 2 days)
A former student sues her high school for bullying she suffered–first lawsuit based on new Massachusetts anti-bullying law
Wendy Davis: Ready to ride for governor of Texas? (Christian Science Monitor)
How the World’s ‘Most Biodiverse Place’ Could Be Ransomed for Oil Money (Miami Herald via PBS)
Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.
Here’s a feel-good story for a quiet Sunday night:
When a rare, nearly 6-foot-tall giraffe was born Friday morning at the LEO Zoological Conservation Center, she had a crowd waiting for her.
Petal, a 6-year-old Rothschild giraffe — which are classified as endangered — gave birth to a healthy female calf with a group of other giraffes and conservation center staff watching.
“She’s a great mom,” said Marcella Leone, founder and director of the center. “She was very proud, trying to show off her newborn.”
Petal, now a second-time mother, has already bonded with her newborn, who looks like her, with a mix of dark patches broken up by bright cream channels.
There’s a contest to name the newborn, which you can enter here.
LEOZCC is a nonprofit, accredited conservation center and off-site breeding facility specializing in species at risk and conservation-based education programs. The mission of the Lionshare Educational Organization, which manages LEO Zoological Conservation Center, is to inspire conservation leadership by engaging people with wildlife and the natural world.
Here’s a video of the baby giraffe standing up for the very first time.
Isn’t that adorable?
I don’t know if you saw this story at The Daily Beast yesterday: Why Tea Partiers Are Boycotting Fox News
Apparently some Tea Partiers are upset with Fox News for not hammering the Benghazi story anymore.
“Particularly after the election, Fox keeps turning to the left,” said Stan Hjerlied, 75, of Fort Collins, Colo., and a participant in the boycott. He pointed to an interview Fox News CEO Roger Ailes gave after the election in which he said that the Republican Party and Fox News need to modernize, especially around immigration. “So we are really losing our only conservative network.”
The three-day boycott lasted Thursday morning through Sunday morning, and is the second time this group of activists have gone Fox-free in an effort to steer the coverage. Organizers say a two-day boycott earlier this month knocked 20 percent off of the network’s regular viewership. (A Daily Beast analysis of the same data showed that the boycott had little effect.) […]
A leader of the boycott, Kathy Amidon, of Nashville, declined an interview, instead directing The Daily Beast to a website, Benghazi-Truth. The website, a single-page, 23,000-word manifesto complete with multicolored fonts, supposedly incriminating videos of Fox News’s complicity in a coverup, and communist propaganda photographs, is kept by someone who identifies himself online as “Proe Graphique,” and who other members of boycott described as someone who works “in New York media.”
By way of explanation, the website reports: “People ask why not all mainstream media? Why just Boycott FOX? The answer, again, is that FOX needs the Tea Party/conservatives more than the conservatives need FOX after FOX turned left, basically selling out the people who made FOX successful in an attempt to earn an extra buck. FOX is extremely vulnerable to these boycotts while the rest of the MSM doesn’t need us at all, to speak of.”
Talk about biting off your own nose to spite your face! How far right are these people if they think Fox News is too far left?
This story isn’t really lightweight, but it’s so ridiculous that it’s almost funny. Greg Mitchell posted a piece that he wrote on assignment for the Washington Post on media failures on Iraq. Amazingly, ten years after the fact, the Post wimped out and killed the story. Here’s Mitchell’s introduction–you can read the whole think at his blog.
Due to “popular demand,” based on my post last night, I’m publishing below the assigned Outlook piece that I submitted to the Washington Post on Thursday. I see that the Post is now defending killing the piece because it didn’t offer sufficient “broader analytical points or insights.” I’ll let you decide if that’s true and why they might have rejected it.
The original appeared almost word-for-word at The Nation this weekend (there I added a reference to Bob Woodward and to Bob Simon). I had absolutely no plans to even mention that the piece was killed until late last night when I saw that Paul Farhi of the Post had written for Outlook a piece claiming that the media “didn’t fail” in the run-up to the Iraq war. That inspired me to write the post last night which has proved quite popular.
The cowardice of the corporate media is just amazing.
When I was a senior in high school, I had to write a lengthy term paper for my English class. I had recently read a book about a momentous Supreme Court decision, Gideon v. Wainwright. The book was Gideon’s Trumpet, by Anthony Lewis. I was so inspired by the book and the SCOTUS decision that I wrote my term paper about the case. I called it “Justice for the Poor.” I was a liberal from childhood and I’ve only moved further left in my old age!
From the summary of the case at the United States Courts website:
Clarence Earl Gideon was an unlikely hero. He was a man with an eighth-grade education who ran away from home when he was in middle school. He spent much of his early adult life as a drifter, spending time in and out of prisons for nonviolent crimes.
Gideon was charged with breaking and entering with the intent to commit a misdemeanor, which is a felony under Florida law. At trial, Gideon appeared in court without an attorney. In open court, he asked the judge to appoint counsel for him because he could not afford an attorney. The trial judge denied Gideon’s request because Florida law only permitted appointment of counsel for poor defendants charged with capital offenses.
At trial, Gideon represented himself – he made an opening statement to the jury, cross-examined the prosecution’s witnesses, presented witnesses in his own defense, declined to testify himself, and made arguments emphasizing his innocence. Despite his efforts, the jury found Gideon guilty and he was sentenced to five years imprisonment.
Gideon sought relief from his conviction by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Florida Supreme Court. In his petition, Gideon challenged his conviction and sentence on the ground that the trial judge’s refusal to appoint counsel violated Gideon’s constitutional rights. The Florida Supreme Court denied Gideon’s petition.
Gideon next filed a handwritten petition in the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court agreed to hear the case to resolve the question of whether the right to counsel guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution applies to defendants in state court.
The Supremes decided that criminal defendants who could not afford an attorney should be provided with one.
The Court held that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial and, as such, applies the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In overturning Betts, Justice Black stated that “reason and reflection require us to recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” He further wrote that the “noble ideal” of “fair trials before impartial tribunals in which ever defendant stands equal before the law . . . cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”
I don’t think my English teacher was particularly liberal, but he said I convinced him with my paper and I got an “A.”
You can read more about this case at The Nation.
I really miss the Warren Court!
I came across a fascinating obituary yesterday in The Guardian. It’s about Peter Scott, who for years was a cat burgler who targeted movie stars and other very wealthy people. He was known as “The King of the Cat Burglers” and “The Human Fly.”
Peter Scott, the “King of the Cat Burglars”, who has died of cancer aged 82, was once Britain’s most prolific raider of the wealthy, specialising in the theft of jewellery and artworks from Mayfair mansions and stately homes. He was the subject of a film, starring a young Judi Dench, and the author of a memoir in which he claimed he was “sent by God to take back some of the wealth that the outrageously rich had taken from the rest of us”.
Born Peter Craig Gulston into a middle-class Belfast family, he was educated at the Belfast Royal Academy, where a contemporary was John Cole, the former BBC political editor and Guardian journalist. By the age of 12 Peter had decided on a life of crime rather than any of the legal options that would have been available to him. His teenage apprenticeship involved burgling houses in the wealthy Belfast suburbs, with his college scarf, rugby bag and debonair manner as disguise. He reckoned to have carried out more the 150 such thefts by the time he was finally arrested in 1952 and sent to Crumlin Road jail for six months.
Realising that he was now a marked man in Belfast, he changed his name to Scott, moved to London and found work as a club bouncer in the West End. But off duty, he won a reputation as an accomplished and athletic cat burglar, able to climb and penetrate the best-guarded home counties mansions. He specialised in stealing from the very rich or, as he put it, “the real meaty jugular vein of society”. Jail time – by the end of his career he had served about 14 years – was the price he was prepared to pay for being a real-life Raffles.
While inside for an early stretch, he met the then best-known thief in London, George “Taters” Chatham. Together the two of them stole millions of pounds’ worth of art and jewellery. Over the years, Scott claimed to have robbed Vivien Leigh and Zsa Zsa Gabor and to have taken Sophia Loren’s £200,000 necklace when she was in Britain filming The Millionairess in 1960. He robbed the late Shah of Iran’s English mansion, making sure not to disturb the peacocks, which acted as guard dogs. The French Riviera was another happy hunting ground.
Scott wrote a memoir called The Gentleman Thief, published in 1995. Even after the book was published and Scott was supposedly retired,
…in 1997, he was involved in the theft of Picasso’s Tête de Femme from a Mayfair gallery. Scott quoted WE Henley to the officers who arrested him: “Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody but unbowed.”They were unimpressed. He was jailed for three and a half years for handling stolen goods, having pleaded guilty halfway through the trial. “I was poaching excitement,” was how he explained his relapse.
Scott spent his later years as a tennis coach and tending the gardens of a church in Camden, north London – he had always sought horticultural work in jail – and offering advice to local youngsters about the pitfalls of crime.
There an even longer tribute to Scott at The Telegraph.
This guy reminded me so much of the Cary Grant character in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. In the movie, Grant plays a reformed cat burglar named John Robie. Like Scott, Robie loved to spend time in his garden caring for his roses. In the movie, someone is pulling off daring jewel thefts using Robie’s modus operandi, and Robie is naturally a suspect. In order to prove his innocence he has to catch the imitator. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie, but here’s the trailer. I couldn’t get it to embed. And here’s a clip in which Grace Kelly tries to trap Robie into stealing her (fake) diamonds, but instead . . . fireworks!