The Press Conference Rag
Billy Flynn and Election Day.


I don’t know about you civilians, but whenever I’m stuck for something to say about politics, I just do what my colleagues in the Mainstream Media — Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd, showbiz wannabes both — do: I reach for the cheap pop-cultural reference, and let my readers do the heavy subtextual lifting. I mean, what could be easier, other than simply phoning it in from the Richard Rodgers Theater or the Blarney Stone on Seventh Avenue?

So here goes: Chicago. Yes the town of Kander and Ebb. But also the town of Big Jim Colosimo, Al Capone, Bathhouse John Coughlin, Hinky-Dink Kenna, Deanie O’Bannion, Murray “the Camel” Humphreys, Bugs Moran, Hymie Weiss, the “terrible Gennas,” Sam Giancana, Moses Annenberg (race-wire crook, confessed tax-evasion felon, and father of the father of the eponymous “Annenberg Challenge”), Frank Nitti, Willie Bioff, Tony Rezko, William Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, the “Westside O’Donnells,” Jake Lingle, Richard J. Daley, Richard M. Daley, William M. Daley, future Daleys almost as numberless as future Kennedys, The Front Page, and David Axelrod.

Oh yes oh yes oh yes they both, oh yes they both oh yes they both reached for, the gun, the gun, the gun, the gun, oh yes they both reached for the gun, for the gun. Ring any bells, Roxie Hart?

If you’re getting the impression that I’m smearing the great city of the plain as a gangland metropolis controlled for decades by Irish, Italian, and Jewish crooks, well, you bet your bupkes I am. Even more than New York City — or, as we former New Yorkers call it, “Tammany Hall’s Home Town” — Chicago is a unique combination of predators and prey, of urban gangster/politicians, cynical, double-dealing newspapermen and salt-of-the-earth white, black, and Latino working ethnics, whose most fervent desire is to keep the streets clear of snow, to keep their alderman paid off. Polish, Lithuanian, Mexican, whatever — what do they care as long as the Cubs finally win a World Series? They have Countrywide mortgages to pay, unless Chris Dodd finally stops pontificating and ponies up on behalf of the little guy he professes to care about so much.

In a show of great numbers — “All That Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango,” “Mr. Cellophane,” and “Razzle Dazzle” — the best of all is “The Press Conference Rag: a Ventriloquist Act,” led by the defense lawyer, Billy Flynn. Flynn was based on the great Hell’s Kitchen shyster William J. Fallon, a.k.a., “The Great Mouthpiece,” a.k.a. “I’ll never bribe another juror, ”who lost not a single one of the more than 120 homicide cases he defended in Manhattan, and who managed to get Arnold Rothstein acquitted of fixing the 1919 World Series when he convinced a jury that the featherweight boxer Abe “the Little Hebrew” Attel, who made the payoffs on Rothstein’s behalf, was an entirely different person from the Abe Attel who had been indicted for the same crime in, of all places, Cook County. Imagine that!

In that little number, Billy Flynn transforms his client, Roxie, into a ventriloquist’s dummy and soon has the entire Chicago press corps singing along with her oh-so-innocent tune. Roxie becomes the people’s choice, the innocent, sort-of virgin educated in a convent school, the victim of a runaway marriage, who may or may not be guilty, but if she done it, the dirty bum had it coming.

The point is: the press loves a narrative even better than it likes a story. And that’s where David Axelrod comes in.

Because the “Axelrod of Evil” (as you wingnuts call him) understands something you dopey conservatives don’t. It doesn’t matter what’s true: It only matters what you can get the suckers to believe. And if you’ve got the media on your side, well, that’s more than half the battle. Just look at Massachusetts, where another Axelrod client, “Cadillac Deval” Patrick, somehow got elected governor.


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