CURIOUS GEORGE GOES MUD-SLINGING
Oscar Wilde once said that “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Then again, Oscar Wilde probably also said, “Have him cleaned and perfumed and brought to my dressing quarters,” every time a Greek freighter came into port, so let’s keep things in perspective.
Still he was onto something. In places where most people can’t make anything or do anything except talk, talk becomes extremely important. This could explain why in the current issue of George some woman named Jennifer Mendelsohn writes, “perhaps no one will be more delighted to make this list than Lucianne Goldberg’s son.” What’s the list? A typical George confection entitled “You know you’re a publicity hound if…” I’m up there with William Ginsburg, Lanny Davis, Bob Barr, Jennifer Laszlo, Robert Torricelli, and Jonathan Turley, among others.
Apparently I should be delighted because, “As long as you’re writing about him, he doesn’t care what you say.” This quote, which qualifies as a “quip” in Ms. Mendelsohn’s eyes, was offered by some unnamed Washington television producer. Some other reporter commented that my National Review column is “the most self-indulgent journalistic operation in the world.” And some D.C. correspondent offers this bon mot: “Hopefully we’re at 14 minutes and 59 seconds” of my fame. Ms. Mendelsohn writes, “Goldberg, 30, whose most recent employer was — surprise! — his mother, also organized his very own [failed] e-mail and fax effort…” to get Pat Buchanan’s job on Crossfire. According to Ms. Mendelsohn my involvement in this scandal is “accidental.” I am “freeloading on Mommy’s 15 minutes.”
Well. Obviously there’s some truth to be found here. How could I possibly deny that my column is self-indulgent? I reprint my conversations with my couch, inform my readers about my hangovers, plug my more serious writing, talk about my mail, ask for help in job searches, leave my errors in the copy so I have something to write about on Corrections Day, ask for raises, and woo my girlfriend on a regular basis from this space. It’d be pretty hard for me to duck that one. In fact, that is actually the point of the Goldberg File, aside from venting bilious rage, birthing half-baked theories, and trying to redeem the smallest possible return on my deposit of tens of thousands of hours of TV watching. I’ve got to work with what I’ve got handy. This is a daily column after all, and if I were making sneakers with the wages I get paid, Amnesty International would be sponsoring junkets for Susan Sarandon and Cindy Crawford to fly to my apartment for a sit-in. Hey, wait a second. There’s an idea there.
As for my bid for the Crossfire job: Yeah, what of it? I was public in my pundit putsch (unlike some others). Indeed, it was entirely a product of my self-indulgent column. I did win the contest, by the way; my failure lay in underestimating the producers’ willingness to be swayed by the voice of the people, or, well, to be fair, my people. ( By the way, word on the street is that Tucker Carlson is the odds-on favorite for the job. If I can’t have the job, then there’s nobody I’d rather see get it — except maybe the wrestler named Goldberg.). No harm, no foul.
But now, the fact-checker from George, which is sort of like saying “the rabbi at the ‘Bacon Hut’”, did call me and confirm my age (hmmm, bacon…). But what Ms. Mendelsohn and the intrepid scent-hounds of George failed to discover was that my most recent job — surprise — was not for my mother. I had been a television producer and freelance writer for years at a prominent Washington media company prior to this scandal and before that I was at the American Enterprise Institute. My V.P. title was for the most part a hobby and I had not done any serious agency work in years. This was not exactly a tightly held secret. Investigative techniques known as “phone calls” or “Nexis searches” would have revealed much.
(Indeed, my Nexis search on Ms. Mendelsohn reveals her oeuvre is comprised mostly of contributions to such weighty tomes as People and The Washingtonian, while I had contributed nothing but fluff to such scandal rags as Commentary, The Public Interest, The Weekly Standard, The Wilson Quarterly, and the Wall Street Journal well before “White House Intern” was a role in a porn movie.)
Actually, a Nexis search on me would have revealed that my involvement in the scandal was not quite accidental either — the picture of me in the piece, I believe, is from my grand-jury appearance, which would be a tip-off that my experiences amounted to somewhat more than watching Mike Isikoff drink my beer and eat my pistachios.
But, hey, let’s go with my accidental, “freeloading on mommy” celebrity thing. I want to put this scandal crap behind me and that is far better spin for me. But is this a card that John F. Kennedy Jr.’s George magazine is allowed to play? This is the magazine whose entire marketing strategy is devoted to the gravitas of a man whose only real accomplishment before founding the magazine was having his dad’s name. And let’s face it, he didn’t name himself did he? His career as a lawyer was a cautionary tale for people who thought that going to discos in the Hamptons is an effective substitute for studying for the bar.
I don’t want to pick on John-John. He has a fully developed theory about why his magazine is a public service and we’re all in the First Amendment business. But there is something very odd that a magazine that believes personalities are more interesting than issues, fashion more revealing than facts, and glamour the essence of journalistic glory, should be criticizing “publicity hounds.” Its editor posed naked in a spotlight to hi-light one editorial — certainly qualifying it for runner-up in the contest to be “the most self-indulgent journalistic operation in the world” — and almost every issue features a Q&A with such Churchillian statesmen as Madonna or Warren Beatty, asking them what they would do if they were president. Meanwhile, the magazine reprinted a spoof from The Hotline about a Congressman from the 17th district of Idaho, thinking it was real. It hadn’t occurred to the political polymaths at George that Idaho is about 15 districts shy.
This all is obviously overkill and smacks of protesting too much. Actually, this my first really negative write up and my skin’s gotten pretty thick over the last year dealing with Clintonites. But I also learned another, very Clintonian lesson in 1998. If someone takes a smack at you, you smack ’em back. Any magazine that puts me in the same category as Jennifer Laszlo — including “Bipedal mammals with vowels in their name” — is gonna hear from me. I know it’s self-indulgent but that’s the whole point.