The man is straight out of Shakespeare — sometimes Iago, sometimes Lear, sometimes (in his better, though rare, moments) Prince Hal himself. (Never Falstaff, though.) Nobody doubts his brilliance or cunning, but oh, what venality. He could never get over the contempt he had for the kinds of people LBJ called “the Harvards” — those golden boys who effortlessly controlled the levers of power and sneered at awkward ladder-climbers like Richard Nixon.
Mark Feldstein’s “Poisoning the Press” pairs Nixon with one of his fiercest critics, muckraking columnist Jack Anderson. In Anderson, Nixon had more than a foe in the media — he had someone who was surprisingly like the 37th president himself. Like Nixon, Anderson had a ne’er-do-well brother and a fractious relationship with his father; like Nixon, Anderson was a working-class striver; like Nixon, Anderson grew fond of a wealthy lifestyle at the expense of his ethics. (One of Anderson’s early gets had to do with payoffs Nixon received from rich benefactors. Anderson would later sacrifice much of his regard for money.)
I’m going to see if I can go the weekend without checking social media — or most any media.
I used to joke with my friend John Blake about how my media and political intake would increase during election years. I’d start out in January checking a handful of sites maybe once or twice a day, including social media sites like Facebook, to see what was going on. By October I was practically living in cyberspace.
Then the election would come, and regardless how I felt about the result, I would wean myself away, paying attention to major events but generally letting the country flow on the way it has for 200-plus years.
This election, of course, was different. The president loves his Twitter; his opponents and the news media do all they can to keep up. It’s wearying, and yet it seems like it’s all anyone can talk about. Or, more accurately, scream about. (A few days ago, I tweeted — sorry, even I can’t help myself sometimes — that we’re living in a “pro wrestling world.” I’d prefer a Dick Cavett world, but I’m very much in the minority.)
Yet instead of weaning myself, I’m probably clicking more than I did in October. So I’m going to try to go on a digital diet this weekend.
That’s been particularly apparent during Syria’s civil war, during which al-Assad has presided over the destruction of his country, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and a refugee crisis that has shaken the world. Yet he holds on to power thanks to what an Atlantic writer called “the devil’s endgame.”
And the whole thing started with one scrawled line: “It’s your turn, Doctor Bashar al-Assad.”
Last spring, as the Presidential campaign exposed increasingly toxic divisions in America, Antonio García Martínez, a forty-year-old former Facebook product manager living in San Francisco, bought five wooded acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest and brought in generators, solar panels, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. “When society loses a healthy founding myth, it descends into chaos,” he told me. The author of “Chaos Monkeys,” an acerbic Silicon Valley memoir, García Martínez wanted a refuge that would be far from cities but not entirely isolated. “All these dudes think that one guy alone could somehow withstand the roving mob,” he said. “No, you’re going to need to form a local militia. You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse.”
He and his wife, who is in technology, keep a set of bags packed for themselves and their four-year-old daughter. He told me, “I kind of have this terror scenario: ‘Oh, my God, if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready.’ ”
Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent investor, recalls telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand. “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” the friend asked. “I’m, like, Huh?” Hoffman told me. New Zealand, he discovered, is a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm. Hoffman said, “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more. Once you’ve done the Masonic handshake, they’ll be, like, ‘Oh, you know, I have a broker who sells old ICBM silos, and they’re nuclear-hardened, and they kind of look like they would be interesting to live in.’ ”
Haven’t they read “On the Beach”? Margaret Atwood? “A Canticle for Leibowitz”? “The Road”? “Lord of the Flies”? Even T.C. Boyle’s “Drop City”?
I’m a city boy: Born in New York, raised in New Orleans, a resident of Atlanta for the last half of my life. The smallest place I ever lived for longer than a summer was Ann Arbor, Michigan, a sizable college town. I love cities: I love their vitality, their diversity, their amazing infrastructure. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a municipality smaller than 100,000 people. (I’m not counting suburbs; living in Mamaroneck, N.Y., is still very much living in New York City’s orbit.)
So I have almost no common ground with the residents of Connersville, Indiana.
Connersville is a town of about 13,500 in east-central Indiana. It’s perhaps 70 miles but a world away from Indianapolis, the state capital and center of a metro area of more than 1.7 million. Eight hundred fifty thousand live in the city itself. If I were living in Indiana, I’d definitely live in Indianapolis. (And I’d probably drive to Chicago regularly.)
George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel was referenced in one of the great commercials of all time, the Apple Macintosh ad directed by Ridley Scott that aired during the Super Bowl. “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984,’ ” the commercial proclaimed.
Later that year, a film was released based on the novel. John Hurt played protagonist Winston Smith. The work was critically praised but didn’t do well at the box office — no surprise for a piece that ends with the hero, who has sought to break free of his totalitarian state, tortured and once again loving Big Brother. (A similar film, Terry Gilliam’s 1985 “Brazil,” was more inventive — when you had Bob Hoskins as a malevolent technician and Robert De Niro as the fix-it hero Tuttle, how could it not be? — but also had a downbeat ending.)
But the work I remember was a CBS documentary that aired in the summer of 1983, “1984 Revisited.”
The earth did not open up to reveal hellfire and sulfurous caverns, nor did the clouds part for heavenly trumpets.
The temperature in Washington was 45 degrees Fahrenheit. It was cloudy with a band of rain moving through town. A friend tells me it’s been raining on and off with gray skies. It was a winter’s day.
Anyone who’s read this blog (both of you) know that I’m not a fan of the new president. I worry about his unpredictability and impulsiveness. I cringe at his bullying need for dominance. I disagree with many of the positions he’s espoused and with the stands of many of his cabinet appointees.
In his own way, Trump has set us free. Reporters must treat Inauguration Day as a kind of Liberation Day to explore news outside the usual Washington circles. He has been explicit in his disdain for the press and his dislike for press conferences, prickly to the nth degree about being challenged and known for his vindictive way with those who cross him. So, forget about the White House press room. It’s time to circle behind enemy lines.
On the one hand, I think Shafer is right. Donald Trump’s adversarial attitude, like Richard Nixon’s (a president Shafer refers to later in his column), should force major news organizations to turn to old-fashioned shoe leather instead of taking handouts from D.C. panjandrums. (I threw that word in there for my old copy editors.) Some of them, most likely Marty Baron’s Washington Post, will probably do some great work. (The Post’s David Fahrenthold already is.)
But the cable news networks? We shall see.
CNN reportedly made $1 billion in profit in 2016. I’m not sure the powers that be at Time Warner or News Corp. or pick your large multimedia conglomerate will want to take a big hit to their bottom line, especially if they’re being hounded on social media. (Hell, William Paley wasn’t a big fan of what Walter Cronkite said about Watergate in late ’72. After all, he had CBS and its affiliates to look out for.)
I couldn’t go anywhere on my Facebook feed without embedded videos of her speech and cheers for her in general. And most news sites I checked had the story above the fold or in a significant place on their phone apps.