Copyrighted material 404: Information Missing From Your Daily News

Summaries of under-reported news, short updates on previous Monitor stories

Doodles Weaver  + THE HUSH-HUSH CAMPAIGN   When the Demo and GOP presidential contest ended with the March primaries, so did meaningful press coverage of the candidates. Editorial cartoonists put aside their drawings of Al Gore's woodenness and renewed their swipes at Clinton. For Bush, it was not a moment too soon -- it was only a matter of time before the cartoonists discovered his spooky resemblance to character actor and funnyman Doodles Weaver.

But the Bush campaign has also taken measures to be certain that nothing embarassing about Dubya appears in the media. With the press corps, his staff enforces an unbending rule: absolutely nothing said by the candidate on the campaign airplane can appear in the media. Given that this is the only time that the press has access to Bush outside his formal public events, the deal leaves reporters with nothing to write about except for the official public speeches. It also raises serious ethical issues whether a candidate can impose such a blanket off-the-record policy.

As reported in an excellent article by Seth Mnookin in the May issue of Brill's Content, several potentially embarassing incidents have not been reported. Bush apparently made wisecracks about Gore's intelligence, "scoffed about rational people supporting gay marriage," and made "incendiary comments" about McCain. The magazine could only mention these incidents because they were described in interviews off the airplane by reporters on requirement of anonymity. There are minefields easier to negotiate than those conditions.

Besides protecting Bush, the policy also allows Dubya to ingratiate his charming self with the reporters. Mnookin writes about the result:

When I ask two reporters if they are friends with Bush, they pause before finally answering a reluctant no, and many members of the traveling press (with the notable execption of the Texas scribes) seem to bask in the governor's attention...

I fall for it, too. When I first meet up with the Bush campaign, the governor immediately siezes upon the fact that I am writing about the media and forges an us- against- the- world partnership.

And so it goes, right down the aisle. With reporter after reporter, Bush makes a personal connection, often based on an implied conspiracy. He pats reporters' stomachs and rubs their heads....

...Even seasoned journalists admit that the better you get to know a person, the tougher it is to go for the jugular. And so I wonder: Maybe I can pull my punches just a bit. Because I don't want him mad at me.

Gore has different restrictions, according to the article -- the press doesn't have access to him at all. Both are in sharp contrast to John McCain's free-wheeling "Straight Talk Express," where the candidate was always accessible to the press and ready to speak his mind, even when his views carried risk of being controversial.

More than any other time in recent history, the Bush conspiracy of silence resembles the 1984 presidential campaign, when the press allowed the White House to manage coverage of the president, showing Reagan in only carefully controlled situations. As Mark Hertsgaard wrote in his book on the press and the Reagan presidency, "On Bended Knee," Reagan was about 20 points ahead of Demo opponent Walter Mondale a month before the election. But in an October 7 debate with Mondale, the president shocked America by showing clear evidence of incompetence. His mind wandered, he contradicted himself (the poverty rate "has begun to decline, but it is still going up"), and he winged some questions with completely fantastic answers.

It was the first glimpse of the true Reagan that the nation saw. Hertsgaard wrote, "Surely, by 1984 White House reporters did not have to see daily evidence of Reagan's simplemindedness to know it existed, but they shrank back from raising that issue on their own; to avoid charges of unfairness to the President, they believed that they had to wait until Reagan raised it himself." Washington Post reporter David Hoffman later told the author, "the American people saw something for the first time that we've been waiting to tell them, and it was right before their eyes."

By controlling the press in a similar way, the Bush camp also risks that the governor will trip over his own tongue at the worst possible moment. But after so much tender handling, will it matter? Cynics should note that unmasking Reagan as a boob didn't stop him from an easy re-election victory. (May 8, 2000)

 + WE COME TO BURY RUDY, NOT TO PRAISE HIM   Probably no American politician fits the model of a Shakespearian villian as well as New York Mayor Giuliani. Quick to attack enemies (woe to any critic who calls his weekly radio show) and plotting against rivals (The Giuliani-funded "HillaryNo" web site is as vicious as they come), the mayor lacks only the hunchback to complete his Richard III impersonation. Most New Yorkers would probably not be surprised to find that he had rivals buried under a stairwell in Gracie Mansion.

There was certainly a Shakespearian aspect to his press conference on May 19 as he dropped out of the Senate race. When a reporter asked him if he ever cried, there was no sarchastic retort -- the mayor answered seriously that yes, he did weep. Only a few days earlier, such soul-baring would have been unthinkable. But while Shakespeare might have found his personal tragedies a fertile topic, the playwright would have preferred the dramatic story of a flawed hero being stabbed in the back by his former generals.

Even before recent events, there were powerful forces sharpening their knives for Giuliani. The state GOP had feuded with the mayor for more than a year; Repub Governor Pataki gave Giuliani only the most lukewarm endorsement. But there was no endorsement at all from the 300,000-strong Conservative Party, who boasted that for a quarter-century no GOP candidate had won a statewide election without their blessing.

Within hours of his withdrawl, attacks began. "The problem that Rudy Giuliani caused for 14 months is not going to be solved in 14 hours," sniped Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long. As Rick Lazio quickly won approval from GOP kingmakers in Albany, there seemed no end of Repubs anxious to take a few whacks at Rudy on behalf of the new pretender to the throne. The May 23 New York Times provided a forum: "He's [Lazio] got the personality," said an upstate legislator. "You can see that he's a clean kind of candidate. Rudy's ignored too many people. He'd be invited to things, and he'd never come up." The Times editorialized that comments like this raised the question of why Giuliani was supported in the first place. "The machine got behind the mayor," a Westchester politician was quoted. "I think what happened was the mayor presented himself as a viable candidate with a war chest to take on Hillary Clinton."

So in the end, it appears that Albany kingmakers loved Rudy's fat purse but loathed the man. As Lazio takes the stage, Giuliani now shuffles to the wings sick and humiliated. Lazio is everything Rudy was not: eager to please party leaders, likeable, young, and malleable. A perfect Henry VII to follow the mayor's King Richard. (May 28, 2000)

 + RUDY, WE HARDLY KNEW YE   It's a pity that Giuliani dropped out before the NY Senate race reached full steam; there are questions about his past that must have interesting answers, and he probably won't be forthcoming otherwise. A gloves-off campaign against Hillary Clinton would also have exposed Giuliani's dark side to a nationwide audience; surprisingly little about his broad abuse of power has appeared outside the New York press.

Begin by spinning the clock back to the early 70s: Rudolph Giuliani was a gung-ho Reformer. Soon after graduating law school, he was making a name as an assistant federal prosecutor in New York City. Already he had an affinity for the cops; his specialty was helping root out police department corruption. Rudy was in the right place at the right time. The 1972 Knapp Commission had recently exposed the NYC police as little more than an extortion ring (rent the movie "Serpico" for more background). Young Rudy befriended a cop who agreed to inform on corrupt fellow officers for immunity of his own crimes. A year and a half later, fifty cops were indicted. Giuliani convicted 12. Two others committed suicide.

The cop probe began with the assumption that the only thing keeping an officer honest was the fear that his buddy might rat him out, and sting operations became a running theme for the rest of Giuliani's career. It was a bargain with the devil; how far should police go in baiting traps to catch possible criminals? Rudy saw no limits. A few years later, he was calling for continuous and widespread covert investigations of all public employees and elected officials. In a revealing interview given to a Ralph Nader researcher for the 1982 book, "Reagan's Ruling Class," he spoke wistfully of his Orwellian vision: "The need for undercover investigation, controlled properly, is absolutely vital to getting at corruption and the knowledge that this could happen -- even if it isn't happening now, it could happen a year from now, two years from now -- keeps people from organizing systems of corruption, keeps them careful of who they're going to talk to."

Sting-meister Rudy found himself the #3 man in Reagan's Department of Justice, overseeing all criminal functions. For those years Giuliani ran the prison system, the federal attorneys, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Again, he first sounded like a reformer: he advocated humanitarian modifications to the federal prisons and tighter restrictions on guns, including a 30-day waiting period for pistols. But at the same time, Rudy made much ado about cracking down on street crime -- although fewer than six percent of such crimes fell under federal jurisdiction.

To get tough on street crime, Giuliani and others in the Justice Department saw an obvious solution: Since half of these crimes were drug-related, the government should merge the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, turning the FBI into national drug cops. It didn't happen of course, although the FBI does handle drugs and guns siezed by the DEA (or rather, mishandles the evidence, as we reported in a January 404 item). The mere proposal of the joint agency was chilling, however, particularly as the Reagan Administration was also proposing sweeping laws that would give police and the courts broader powers.

Although he was speaking frequently about street muggings, Giuliani paid little attention to white collar crime, saying there were "sufficent and substantial" resources already available. In reality, he either dropped or weakened prosecutions of several corporations. The most prominent example was a hold-over from the Carter years; McDonnell-Douglas had been charged with making bribes of $1.6 million to Pakistan and other countries. Once he took office, Giuliani dropped charges against the four corporate executives -- they didn't know that they were committing a crime, he said, and prosecuting them would be "an ex-post facto application of the new morality." There was public outrage over his decision, and the Reagan Administration was pressured to open an internal probe of Giuliani for possible wrongdoing. Rudy was cleared and McDonnell-Douglas escaped with a $55,000 criminal fine (a civil suit found the corporation guilty and demanded they pay $1.2 million in damages).

As District Attorney and later mayor, Rudy stunned New York with blitzkreig reforms. DA Giuliani dismantled the powerful Colombo crime family by using Mafia informers. Mayor Giuliani established an elite police "street crimes" unit that made roughly 450 stops per week with nearly 100 arrests, mostly for illegal handguns. Both communities and the police force rallied behind his zero-tolerance "broken windows" policy -- that petty crime was like smashed glass, which must be quickly repaired before it encourages similar crimes in the neighborhood. As a result the crime rate dropped like a brick, and at the end of Giuliani's first term as mayor in 1997, the City had a gleam that many thought had been lost forever. Three out of four New Yorkers approved of their mayor.

But Giuliani didn't seem to have the sense to apply the brakes. A brilliant analysis of his flaw was explained by Ed Vulliamy for the London Observer last month:

Ironically, the Mayor had created a good-time mood in New York and he was out of step with that mood. The prosecutor could not stop, and the offenses were soon out of proportion to his zeal. Under the aegis of the "broken windows" policy, Giuliani's crusade expanded from gun-toting drug-dealers to such folk as jaywalkers, hot-dog vendors and zig-zagging cab drivers. The crusade against crime became a crusade against immorality, as porn shops, strip clubs and the Sensation art show came under the Giuliani hammer.

The nadir in Giuliani's search for undesirables came last Christmas, when the Mayor declared a cruel war on the homeless. He instructed the police to drive them off the streets and into shelters, where they would have to register for work or face jail. Of course the policy failed, but by then the damage had been done by another Giuliani reform: fatally, he had trebled the size of the street crimes unit. If 138 cops could do all that damage, imagine what 380 could do.

Whatever legacy he has as mayor is marred by renegade police actions in recent years and his increasing refusal to hold the cops accountable. Where Rudy demanded a full investigation in 1997 when cops were charged with sodomizing Abner Louima, the mayor stood silent after his street crimes unit slaughtered the unarmed Amadou Diallo. And when a narc killed innocent Patrick Dorismond in a fumbled March drug sting, the mayor jumped into the fray defending the police and blaming "politically correct prejudice" for criticism of the incident. (Only sketchily reported outside the NYC area, an undercover cop approached Dorismond asking to buy crack cocaine. Dorismond angrily began a scuffle with the officer, who shot the unarmed 26 year-old black man at point-blank range.)

The Dorismond case showcases all the evil tricks the mayor had mastered over the years. As U.S. attorney in the 70s, he discovered he could get easy convictions with stings and entrapment -- although innocent citizens like Dorismond could be harmed as well. In the Justice Department, he learned well the tricks of boss Ronald Reagan: it's easy to gain broad new powers in the name of drug prevention. And when things go wrong, he has taken a page from both Clinton and Nixon by seeking to blame the victim. In the days following Dorismond's killing, city hall leaked autopsy results that there was a trace amount of marijuana in the security guard's body, and Giuliani released old, legally-sealed court records from the victim's youth showing some petty crime.

Giuliani should be blamed for the problems of modern-day New York, just as he should be credited for his earlier triumphs. And if you reflect upon our continuing social problems caused by the Reagan years, you'll find Giuliani was a major player in each. From his policies the War on Drugs escalated; the prison system was transformed into a national industry; local police departments were pumped up into paramilitary forces; rights of habeas corpus eroded; and enforcement of corporate crime became a joke.

Despite his health problems, despite his marital problems, Giuliani needs to be held accountable -- but the mainstream press has given Rudy a free ride, never raising the hard questions they should. Giuliani may well run for another national office; before his diagnosis, he campaigned with presidential contender John McCain. All the more reason to probe who he is and expose the damage that he has done. (May 22, 2000)

 + AND THEN THERE WAS ABE   Despite that everyone seemed to loathe the guy, polls still reported Giuliani in a dead heat with Hillary Clinton at the end of his Senate bid. This shows voters weren't supporting Rudy -- they were supporting "Anyone But Hillary." Giuliani leaned hard on this angle by hiring far-right ideologue Richard Viguerie, who was just gearing up for a direct-mail campaign attacking Clinton without mercy.

Without Giuliani's venom, the NY Senate race now mirrors the campaign for the White House -- a ho-hum choice between centrist Demo and Repub candidates-- right? Well, there's also Abe Hirschfeld... Um, Abe who?

Abe Hirschfeld Even before Rudy dropped out, the 80 year-old parking-lot magnate had full-page ads in all NY papers announcing his candidacy. In a list of his goals, Hirschfeld promises tax reform, urban redevelopment, and an end to New York City police brutality. He also promotes turning the Coliseum into a gambling casino, building a new high-speed subway lines using his patented rubber wheels (he mentions this twice), a "revolutionary food plan which enables a person to eat any amount," and a "practical method for raising almost perfect children, approved by a Harvard and Yale professor."

Whenever Abe appears in the news, questions of his sanity aren't far behind. He addresses these concerns directly in the ads with a quote from Time Magazine: "Asked if he was crazy, he replied, with great good grace, "I am. Any person who achieves things and accomplishes things is a little crazy."

As Monitor readers will recall from last year, Hirschfeld stunned courtroom observers when he handed a jury a checks for $2,500 after they deadlocked on tax fraud charges against him. Hirschfeld has also been in court for charges that he hired a hit man to kill his former business partner, and had been running newspaper ads about that case, although a judge had issued a gag order to stop. In March, the court fined and sentenced him to 90 days in jail for continuing the ads. A defiant Abe wore a gold and silver lame dinner jacket at his sentencing.

It was also Hirschfeld who last year promised to pay Paula Jones $1 million to settle her lawsuit against President Clinton. In February, Jones sued Hirschfeld on charges that she wasn't paid.

Abe's Senate ads emphasize his connections with the arts. They boast that he is exec producer of a "soon to be released major motion picture, Prince of Central Park." The ads also note he produced Phantom of the Opera II in West Palm Beach, Florida (the "II" is an important tip-off that this is ain't the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber operatic musical). The ads end with an eccentric blurb that tries to tie everything together in a kind of Grand Unified Pitch:


The Builder in the Spirit of
Robert Moses
Fiorello La Guardia
Nelson Rockefeller
Jackie Mason
of Love Thy Neighbor,
which I produced
It's very unlikely he'll win, of course, but so far this Senate race has been defined by protest votes, and there are certainly many New Yorkers who want neither Clinton nor Lazio to have a chair in Congress. What better way to protest both candidates than a vote for Abe? The public would benefit from those promised child-rearing and diet methods, and Congress would find itself prepared to stage knock-off musicals and sitcoms. (May 22, 2000)

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