Making the click-through worthwhile: Kicking off with some gratitude; why I don’t believe Hillary Clinton (and you probably won’t, either); the Grand Cleansing coming to America’s abusive powerful men; and somebody needs to fix a broken record at the New York Times.
First, Some Gratitude
The world is a better, freer place thanks to the generosity and dedication of Bruce and Suzie Kovner. The legendary author Tom Wolfe is getting up there in years, but he can still leave an audience roaring in laughter. I was reminded that he had added at least four distinctive phrases to the English lexicon: “radical chic,” “the Me Decade,” “the right stuff” — from his 1979 book about the early space program that inspired the film of the same name — and “good ol’ boy.” I might throw in a fifth: When I was a kid, “Masters of the Universe” meant He-Man battling Skeletor, but the grownups sometimes used it in ways I didn’t understand then; Wolfe reframed the term for the ambitious young investment bankers who made gargantuan fortunes on Wall Street, often acquiring egos to match.
The evening was another reminder that I am blessed to work with some exceptional people, serving a readership like no other in the world. Wherever you are as you read this, thank you for being here.
No, I don’t believe this:
Officials from the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. have said they were unaware that Perkins Coie facilitated the research on their behalf, even though the law firm was using their money to pay for it. Even Mrs. Clinton only found about Mr. Steele’s research after Buzzfeed published the dossier, according to two associates who discussed the matter with her. They said that she was disappointed that the research — as well as the fact that the F.B.I. was looking into connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia — was not made public before Election Day.
Really? The campaign spent some as-yet-unknown but probably considerable sum on research that they think could take down Trump, and it never gets mentioned to her in any conversation during the campaign? The only way that is true is if it were a deliberate effort to keep her out of the loop and preserve her “plausible deniability.” If you’re doing that, then you know what you’re doing is wrong, or at the very least supremely controversial.
You know why I’m so skeptical? Because Ken Vogel of the New York Times says he tried to nail down the Clinton campaign’s payment for the dossier for quite some time, but Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias “pushed back vigorously, saying, ‘you or your sources are wrong.’” In other words, the Clintons lied about this exact topic before. We have no reason to believe them now.
Some delightful spin about that lie:
On Tuesday, the veteran Democratic consultant Anita Dunn, who is working with Perkins Coie, explained Mr. Elias’s earlier response. “Obviously, he was not at liberty to confirm Perkins Coie as the client at that point, and should perhaps have ‘no commented’ more artfully,” Ms. Dunn wrote in an email.
See, “you or your sources are wrong” is not a “no comment” or “I cannot confirm or deny that.”
The Grand Cleansing Coming for America’s Powerful, Abusive Men
Last night, during a discussion of the recent spate of sexual harassment scandals, I made an assessment that is already proving incorrect. I pointed out that New York and Washington have different working cultures, and guessed that horrific behavior was more likely to thrive in wild, crazy, fashionable, and avant-garde New York, “the city that never sleeps,” compared to relatively uptight, cautious Washington. I know the nation’s capital has a reputation as Gomorrah-on-the-Potomac in some circles, but as I’ve written earlier, it’s an endangered species preserve for nerds and geeks. (Or perhaps I’m thinking of Washington of a few decades ago.) I figured the fears of scandal and lawsuit were stronger inside the Beltway and that the culture of the workplace would be less tolerant of the “hey, this is how the system works” attitude that enabled Harvey Weinstein for so long.
“During this period, I did pursue relationships with women that I worked with, including some junior to me,” Mark Halperin said in a statement to CNN Wednesday night. “I now understand from these accounts that my behavior was inappropriate and caused others pain. For that, I am deeply sorry and I apologize. Under the circumstances, I’m going to take a step back from my day-to-day work while I properly deal with this situation.”
You know Halperin from ABC News, regular Morning Joe appearances, the books Game Change and Double Down, and so on. The allegations include physical interactions that are too gross to describe in this newsletter, and go well beyond the realm of an inappropriate joke or a compliment that is meant well but is interpreted as sexual. I’m suddenly reminded of a comment from a female pundit years ago, indicating a strong revulsion at Halperin, without too much detail about why.
Earlier this week, another scandal shook the world of Washington journalism: “Leon Wieseltier, a prominent editor at The New Republic for three decades who was preparing to unveil a new magazine next week, apologized on Tuesday for “offenses against some of my colleagues in the past” after several women accused him of sexual harassment and inappropriate advances.”
Between this, the multitude of resignations and stunning payouts at Fox News, and the reports that Hollywood was an industrial-scale assembly line for sexual harassment and demanding sex for roles . . . I understand the urge to burn it all down. If every woman in the workplace hasn’t experienced harassment, it’s far too close to universal. (Although the point is fair that the spectrum of harassment is broad, with the most severe offenses warranting criminal investigation and jail time, and the most minor largely defined by the eye of the beholder. An infamous unpublished list of “[vulgar metaphor for bad] media men” included a list of offenses from rape to “flirting” and “weird lunch dates,” which doesn’t really seem to belong on the same list.)
There’s a metaphor about pens and inkwells that has apparently been completely ignored for decades. A consensual and happy relationship between a boss and an employee is complicated and difficult enough, and even that puts everyone in an awkward situation. Even if the boss’s girlfriend is doing the best work, her praise, promotions, raises and assignments will always be under a cloud of suspicion. His decisions will obviously be suspect. And everyone who isn’t in a relationship with the boss are likely to feel resentment and judged differently.
Some argue that the Harvey Weinstein scandal would not have come to light if Hillary Clinton had been elected president. This can’t be dismissed out of hand; if Weinstein could say that he had a close, longtime friendship with the President of the United States and who knows, perhaps her attorney general, would the New York Times have pursued the story so relentlessly and published it in the face of legal threats? If Harvey Weinstein could get Matt Damon and Russell Crowe to call reporters on his behalf, urging them to drop a story, would powerful political figures have been willing to do the same? Apparently even the Manhattan District Attorney’s office could mysteriously lose interest in allegations against Weinstein.
Would the media still be as interested in showcasing stories of sexually predatory men if Bill Clinton was the First Husband?
In an odd way, maybe this Grand Cleansing is a consequence of Trump’s victory. If stories of Trump’s unsavory behavior and comments failed to shock the nation, perhaps it’s because so many Americans saw and experienced all-too-similar acts in their own workplaces. That doesn’t justify sudden appearances in the dressing room of a women’s beauty pageant or claiming that women’s body parts can be grabbed. But it does point out that Trump is not a uniquely devilish satyr in modern life.
ADDENDA: New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes twice a week. Today’s offering? “The Menace of Trumpism.” Monday’s was “Trump’s Bogeyman: Women!” A week ago, “Trump Isn’t Hitler. But the Lying…” Last Monday: “Trump, Chieftain of Spite.” Beofre that: “Trump’s War Games.” Before that: “Attacking Media as Distraction.”
As far as I can tell, almost every Blow column since the inauguration has been about Trump, and how terrible he is. Okay, pal, we get it. Message received.
Is there any editor over at the Times who could drop by Blow’s desk and say, “Hey, Charles, was just thinking, is there anything besides Trump grabbing you these days?