Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Papers Vs. the Pentagon

Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee after winning a legal running in the Pentagon Papers battles

During June of 1971, in an unprecedented push for prior restraint censorship, the U.S. government had sued to block the New York Times from any further publication of the Pentagon Papers — documents which contained the real history of the Vietnam war that the American government intended to keep secret from the American people.
“The Justice Department went to court and got an injunction against the Times, restraining a newspaper in advance from publishing specific articles, for the first time in the history f the republic,” Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee recalled. The New York Times had been silenced.
Following a furtive conversation with his old friend Daniel Ellsberg at an untraceable pay phone, Washington Post National Editor Ben Bagdikian flew to Boston to meet with the Pentagon insider. On the flight back the next morning, Bagdikian had two first-class seats — one for himself, and one for the large cardboard box containing more than 4,000 pages of Pentagon documents Ellsberg had given him.
The Post’s journalists went into a frenzy of research, working out of Bradlee’s house, not the office, as they prepared to pick up one of the most important news stories of the 20th century where the New York Times had been forced to leave off. Equally frenzied and confusing were the discussions with the Post’s lawyers.
“For the next 12 hours, the Bradlee library on N Street served as a remote newsroom, where editors and reporters started sorting, reading and annotating 4,400 pages, and the Bradlee living room served as a legal office, where lawyers and newspaper executives started the most basic discussions about the duty and right of a newspaper to publish, and the government’s right to prevent that publication, on national security grounds, or on any grounds at all, for those next 12 hours,” Bradlee wrote. “I went from one room to other, getting a sense of the story in one place, and a sense of the mood of the lawyers in the other.”
Finally a decision had to be made, and Publisher Katherine Graham had to make it. They got her on the phone and laid out the situation. She paused, and then said quickly, “Okay, I say let’s go. Let’s publish.”
“I dropped the phone like a hot potato and shouted the verdict, and the room erupted in cheers,” Bradlee wrote. “The cheers were instinctive. In those first moments, it was enough for all of us — including, let it be said quickly, the lawyers who had been arguing against publication — that Katherine had shown guts and commitment to the First Amendment, and support for her editors.
“But I think none of us truly understood the importance of her decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in the creation of a new Washington Post. I know I didn’t. I wanted to publish because we had vital documents explaining the biggest story of the last 10 years. That’s what newspapers do: they learn, they report, they verify, they write and they publish.
“What I didn’t understand, as Katherine’s ‘Okay … Let’s go. Let’s publish’ rang in my ears, was how permanently the ethos of the paper changed, and how it crystallized for editors and reporters everywhere how independent and determined and confident of its purpose the new Washington Post had become. In the days that followed, these feelings only increased. A paper that stands up to charges of treason, a paper that holds firm in the face of charges from the president, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General… A paper that holds its head high, committed unshakably to principle.”
Source: “A Good Life” by Ben Bradlee

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Oo Tiss?

“Oo tiss?” a tiny voice demanded when I called the plumber one day.
“This is Tanta Twaus,” I said. “And Tanta Twaus won’t give you any Twissmas pwesents this Twissmas if you do not put Mommy or Daddy on the other end of this doddam apparatus.”
“Appawana?” asked the tiny voice. At this point his mother, like a woman in transport and on her third martini, grabbed up the receiver.
“He said ‘Appomattox,’ didn’t he?” she cried. “Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Madam,” I said, chilling the word. “The answer to the question I just put to your son is Waterloo, not Appomattox. The next voice you hear will be that of me, dying in the flood of broken pipes and the rubble of falling ceilings.” And I slammed up the receiver.
— James Thurber, “The Darlings at the Top of the Stairs”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Snake at Twilight

The Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna argued that all things — chairs, mountains, people — are empty of any real being, of an inherent and independent reality.
His line of thought implied “…that there can be no difference between nirvana and the realm of cyclical rebirth (samsara). If everything is void of real existence, Nagarjuna reasoned, then in a profound sense everything is on the same footing, so one what basis can the distinction between nirvana and samsara be made? No difference can be found in things themselves since they are all ultimately ‘empty;’ the difference, therefore, must lie in our perception of them.
“The example is given of the person who mistakes a coil of rope for a snake at twilight and becomes terrified. When he realizes his mistake, his fear subsides and his desire to run away disappears.
“What is needed for liberation, then, Nagarjuna reasoned, is essentially correct vision — to see things as they really are — rather than to embark on a flight from one supposedly imperfect reality (samsara) to a better one (nirvana). Nirvana is thus reinterpreted … as a purified vision of what is seen by the ignorant as samsara. It follows that nirvana is here and now, if we could but see it.”
Of course, the opposite example also applies. We may unwarily perceive malevolent forces as innocuous things — as mere "cable news channels," for example.
 Source: “Buddhism: A Brief Insight” by Damien Keown

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Doctor Banner and Mister Rogers

The late Bill Bixby, the late Fred Rogers and Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk
Mr. Rogers visits the set of the Incredible Hulk. I interviewed children’s television star Fred Rogers about this, and about small children's psychological reaction to superheroes, for David Anthony Kraft's Comic Interview magazine in the 1980s.
A decade before, when the Hulk series started on TV, I had interviewed Bill Bixby, the star of the series, at a CBS press event for newspaper reporters. I’ll never forget how Bixby mixed me a gin & tonic in the Hyatt Regency hospitality suit. He was a kind, hardworking actor whose life was dogged by nearly as much tragedy as Dr. David Banner’s.

"Gone Girl:" A Contrived Confection

Ben Affleck in "Gone Girl"

Matt Mattingly and I saw “Gone Girl,” a wonderfully contrived suspense thriller with the added treat of a mordant Hitchcockian sense of humor.
The story dares to offer non-ordinary characters from the outset. The heroine’s parents used her as the model of an internationally famous children’s book character, Amazing Amy — not the kind of thing that happened to anyone you know. And we have Riddler-like clues embedded into the plot with ruthless logic, and surprises big and small arriving every few minutes like razor-filled Candygrams. The film also takes welcome shots at the harpies who pitch ratbag, emotion-whore tabloid TV, and the fickleness of a herd-like American viewing public stupid enough to thunder away in whatever direction their cynical media wranglers care to stampede them.
The 1973 film “The Last of Sheila,” written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, springs to mind as another movie that offers a similar set of calculated puzzle-box delights.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ben Bradlee, Ace Reporter

Young Ben Bradlee, who would become a legendary American editor
Ben Bradlee’s first journalistic triumph at the Washington Post did not require the diligence of a Watergate reporter.
In 1948, fresh from a destroyer and his first newspaper job on a defunct New Hampshire weekly he had helped found, Bradlee landed an $80-a-week job on the Post starting Christmas Eve. Russ Wiggins, who was to be one of his three great mentors, was editor.
“My first real break came when Russ Wiggins was giving vent to one of his regular tirades against the evil and prevalence of gambling, which he regarded as a sin against common sense, especially among the poor who gambled with grocery money,” Bradlee recalled. “Why not take the new reporter, he asked Gilbert, and sic him on the bookies and numbers kingpins? No one in town knew me yet, Wiggins figured, and I could poke around unnoticed. I had received my first investigative assignment for the paper.
“Not a betting man myself, I knew enough to start looking for the answers in the Sports Department, particularly with my new buddy there, Morris Siegel. Mo was great company, funny, disrespectful and warm. He was the particular favorite of Sara Bassin, who ran the restaurant next to the Post, cashed our paychecks and told us to go home before it was too late.
“When I asked Mo for the names of the 10 biggest bookies in Washington, he grabbed a piece of copy paper and started scribbling some names: Snags, who did numbers, too. Gary, who ran the Atlas Club, an after-hours joint upstairs in the building between Bassin’s and the Post. Mo checked with his pals and made one phone call, and gave me a list with 10 names, plus addresses and phone numbers.
“I didn’t feel I could get back to Russ Wiggins that fast. He had given me the assignment less than half an hour before. So I waited a day, typed the list out on regular Post stationery, and gave it to him two days later.
“Wiggins looked at the list, shook his head in apparent admiration, and told Gilbert, ‘We’ve got a damned good man in this new fellow, Bradlee. I’ve been trying to get that list for years.’”
Source: “A Good Life” by Ben Bradlee

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Out of the Mouths of Comic Books...

When I was young, I thought that no one could possibly feel like he was becoming a puppet.  Now, I'm so sure.