The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, December 04, 2003  

Get Comfortable: We Have a Lot of Work to Do

It’s Thursday, and you know what that means, don’t you?

That means it’s “Tina Brown Thursday” at The Rittenhouse Review, a grand tradition, though one utterly lacking in pomp and circumstance, in large part because the institution only dates back about three weeks or so during which time it’s twice been postponed until Friday because, well, this is hard work.

In today’s installment we catch Brown in New York reporting from the dismally attended book party for Canadian-British newspaper publisher, alleged lawbreaker, and friend (of hers, not mine), Conrad Black. (“Company Hates Misery,” Washington Post, December 4.)

Having read the column twice now, we’re sending Tina home with a note that reads, once again: “Much improvement required.”

Right Night, Wrong Party

Imagine Brown’s disappointment upon arriving at the launch party for Black’s new book, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, and discovering that it was a complete bust. Almost nobody there and, I’m willing to bet, kind of disappointing hors d’oevres too. [Ed.: Note to Tina: Call Rebecca Hagelin. Ask for her “refreshments” recipes. She says they’re “good.” I don’t know, try Heritage Foundation, main number.]

Adding insult to injury, Brown reveals that the night’s really fun party, one honoring former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin upon the publication of his new book, In an Uncertain World, was occurring simultaneously and directly across the hall from Black’s affair. And adding humiliation to insult, it was a party to which Brown apparently can’t claim to have been invited. Such a shame. But who knew? Who could have known? Not Tina. She writes:

No one could have predicted that the book party for Conrad Black . . . would coincide with his stepping down as CEO of the publishing company Hollinger International . . . under a cloud of allegations of financial self-dealing and an SEC investigation.

Well, nobody except Black himself, of course, unless his lawyers, who must have had at least some clue, left him completely in the dark, which I doubt is what he pays them for.

Poor Tina. All dressed up and at the wrong party! Such a bummer. What a “buzz” killer. Hmm . . . how to put the best face on all this?

I know! I know! Drop names, Tina. You’re good at that.

And so she did:

Even with hosts as luminous as philanthropist Jayne Wrightsman and fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, acceptances shrank to a small band of loyalists like Henry Kissinger[,] Ronald Perelman[,] . . . and ex-con , Alfred A. Taubman.” [Ed.: Actually, Tina, his name is A. Alfred Taubman, but I realize this is unedited, first-draft material.]

Oh, please, that’s strictly B-list. Though I will say it makes me wonder what Augusto Pinochet, Michael Milken, and Diana Brooks used as excuses.

By the way, is DeDe allowed out of the house yet? I suppose so. And Taubman’s already out of prison? Gee whiz, I missed that entirely. I’m so glad he’s able to attend great-big-fun parties like this smash hit. As I recall, shortly before sentencing Taubman’s lawyers told the judge any incarceration at all would kill the old man, who, as it happened, was until the moment they carted him off working pretty hard overseeing his still vast range of investments. But that was then and this is now, and if anything, Tina Brown lives in the here and now, now, now, so she wasn’t asking any questions.

Getting Stupid About the Neocons

Ah well, enough of the social not-so-niceties. Brown is writing for the Post now, and although her column appears in the Style section, it’s time to get serious. Or at least to try. How’s this for blatant historical ignorance on Brown’s part?:

A belligerent neo-con before it was fashionable, Black has paradoxically contrived to write an admiring appraisal of Roosevelt’s pre-Pearl Harbor reluctance to fight the Nazis and the economic interventionism of the New Deal for which neo-cons of the `30s bitterly reviled FDR as “that man.”

Where to start with this mess? Being “a belligerent neo-con” is “fashionable”? Really? I know being a neoconservative, or calling yourself one, or aligning yourself with them, can help you get a good job in Washington these days, but “fashionable”?

I have a couple of friends who are deeply entrenched in the neoconservative cult (Just kidding, guys!), but they’ve been at it for a long time. Perhaps they’re beyond saving. But even in their most arrogant moments, which in their particular cases are blessedly few, I highly doubt they would call themselves “fashionable.” (And before someone from the New York Times Magazine reading this starts hurriedly jotting down “ideas” for the next editorial meeting, an article about how “cool” the neocons are is really not a “new” or “fresh” or “exciting” topic. Trust me on that one.)

More important, though, who the hell are the “neo-cons of the `30s”? There were no “neoconservatives” in the 1930s. Sure, there were a bunch of guys in New York who went to college together and ate lunch together and argued a lot and later wrote a lot and drank a lot and some of them fooled around a lot.

Much later, some of them became neoconservatives, which helped them get better jobs, teaching appointments, and advisory positions, and to form the committee on this and the institute for that, and to snag a regular column here or there, all of which enabled some of them to make some pretty decent money, and exert a good deal of influence under various administrations. Some even moved from the dowdy West Side to the classier East Side. But now their kids are just all over the place, which is getting really annoying.

On the whole, though, other than the occasional Stalinist who really did an about face, the first generation of those who later became or called themselves neoconservatives were hardly Roosevelt haters. And since most of those from that first generation are dead or quite elderly and the neoconservatives currently serving in the Bush administration or otherwise taking up valuable space on the nation’s op-ed pages were born years after FDR died, Brown’s intended point, whatever it might have been, is completely lost here.

Yearning for the Old Country

I get a kick out of British writers who, despite having spent many years in the U.S., still get confused when it comes to separating the culture of the old country from that of the new. “What’s interesting about Black is that he’s a throwback to the era when media moguls were still called press lords,” Brown writes in the Washington Post, the leading daily newspaper of the capital of the United States of America, addressing an audience that is unlikely ever to have heard the term “press lords” and couldn’t care less about its meaning back home.

One almost wonders for whom Tina Brown thinks she’s writing, other than Tina Brown, of course. Gushing over Black’s wife, Brown observes:

His wife, Barbara Amiel, writes a sharply barbed, rousingly pro-Israel column in the [London] Telegraph. She famously caused interesting trouble when she wrote up the anti-Semitic remarks made by the French ambassador at a dinner he thought was private. She gets away with it because she’s not only Lady Black but a brainy, brunette femme fatale with spectacular cleavage.

“It,” as in “she gets away with it,” being a flagrant disregard for the ethics of journalism, at least in the U.S., a country in which Brown inexplicably continues to be published. I wonder if Brown is aware we play by different rules over here.

By the way, did you ever read something and say to yourself, “I wish I wrote that”? I’m just asking, I guess because my mind is kind of wandering at the moment. The question certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with what Brown wrote about Amiel’s bust, which coming from anyone who anyone takes seriously, would be considered degrading and foul, but as it spewed from Brown, well, never mind, it’s all in jolly good fun! And isn’t Barbara just a hoot! Get this zaniness:

Once, at a dinner party at the publisher Lord Weidenfeld’s [Ed.: Who?] Chelsea [Ed.: London, not New York.] apartment (the party was for Al Taubman, as it happens) [Ed.: The aforementioned convicted criminal.], I appreciated the deftness with which at cocktail hour she [Ed.: That would be Amiel.] reconnoitered the dining room to switch place cards and seat herself next to a less grand but more amusing man. It was a moment right out of Anthony Trollope.

Well, yes, but it was also an example of the typical behavior of a scheming parvenu, all the more reason for Brown, who is of the same class, order, genus, and species, to applaud Amiel’s rude chicanery, which, when you think about it, was a pretty nasty slap in the faces of the evening’s hosts. (“Rather American that, wouldn’t you say, chap?” “Oh, yes, very much so.” “Horrible people, they.” “Oh, yes, very much so.”)

But Brown does go on, once again revealing how ignorant some Brits are when it comes to what most Americans think about all that rank and peerage and your ladyness stuff, and how confused Brown herself is about the whole thing:

The paradoxical thing about Black, though, is that imperial trappings -- the butlers, chefs and chauffeurs he charged to the company tab -- don’t seem to be the point for him. He gave up his Canadian citizenship so he could accept a British peerage. A place in the House of Lords -- something a more power-hungry, pretend-populist mogul like Rupert Murdoch scoffs at -- is crucial to Black’s self-image. Conrad has never had Murdoch's single-minded focus on world domination.

Two weeks ago when writing about Brown’s column I asked, to no one in particular, whether anyone at the Post was editing her submissions. Based on the paragraph cited above, today I know for sure that the answer to that question is “no.” Perhaps the entire Post operation is left virtually unsupervised on Wednesdays?

Read that paragraph again. In the first sentence Brown asserts “imperial trappings . . . don’t seem to be the point for him.” She then immediately scribbles, “He gave up his Canadian citizenship so he could accept a British peerage” -- hence “Lord Black” and for Ms. Amiel, “Lady Black” -- and adds that “[a] place in the House of Lords . . . is crucial to Black’s self-image.”

How is it that a man who disdains “imperial trappings” could simultaneously be so hell bent on obtaining a peerage “crucial” to his “self-image” that he would go so far as to renounce his citizenship to do so? This is self-evidently contradictory. And while Brown maintains Conrad lacks rival Murdoch’s “single-minded focus on world domination,” she fails to see that Conrad’s need for a title and a powerless seat in Westminster does nothing to add to almost anyone’s perception of his character.

Comic Relief

Okay, so that’s all bizarre and stupid and everything, but then Brown turns absolutely comical. Catch this:

Black has a touching, almost romantic respect for editorial prerogatives. When he has a beef with something in one of his newspapers he dispatches a fruity letter to the editor.

Isn’t that cute? Of course, Black lately has asserted at least one other editorial prerogative that Brown left unmentioned: writing a piece for the National Post defending himself against various allegations associated with the scandal at Hollinger that has left him in almost complete disgrace (hence Kissinger’s attendance at the little gathering), all under the “nom de plume” of David Asper, who just happens to be a real person and also the chairman of the very same National Post.

Just a slight and innocent oversight on Brown’s part, I suppose.

That’s all for now. See you again next week, at which time I’ll try to be more brief. But really, that’s up to Tina.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |