The worst New Year

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Journalists have to work on holidays, because cops and firefighters and doctors and nurses and EMTs and soldiers work on holidays, and someone has to report on what the heroes are up to while the rest of us are drinking ourselves silly.

And that’s why I always worked on Christmas. It’s not my holiday, so to do otherwise would be selfish.

But because I always worked Christmas, I always had off on New Year’s Eve. Quid pro quo, and all that.

Except for New Year’s Eve 2000, a night of work that still infuriates me, 14 years later. Continue reading

The day I made a 14-year-old kid the happiest Jew in New York

Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you all about the day I made a 14-year-old stranger the happiest Jewish boy in New York.

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and it brings back memories of something that happened back in 1973 or so, when I was a kid on the sports desk of the New York Post.

The Post was a very different newspaper back then, a few years before Murdoch bought it and turned the steering wheel hard to the right. It was a leftist newspaper, owned by a woman named Dorothy Schiff, and it was very much the favored tabloid of New York’s liberal Jewish population. The popular joke was that on the day the world ended, The Post’s wood would read:

WORLD ENDS
Jews suffer most

The sports department had a list of bylines that was not only awe-inspiring, but coincidentally upheld the reputation. Ike Gellis. Sid Friedlander. Milton Gross. Maury Allen. Vic Ziegel. Paul Zimmerman. Larry Merchant. Leonard Lewin. Leonard Cohen. Gene Roswell. Dick Klayman.

Need a minyan? Call Post Sports.

And that clearly was what the woman on the other end of the line had in mind when the phone rang in the office late one afternoon, a few days before Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. (I don’t remember which, but the rules are generally the same. A “good” Jew puts on a tie and jacket and goes to shul.)

It was late afternoon, and I was all alone in the office. Ike, Sid, Jack, Dick, Bob and Jerry had all gone home. My job, as the kid, was to stick around until the last race at Aqueduct was over, edit the wire report and take it to the composing room. First one in, last one out. What a job!

The phone rang. What follows is pretty much how it went down.

Me: Post Sports.

Her: Are you Jewish?

Me: Ummmm . . . What was that? (WTF???)

Her: Are you Jewish?

Me: Ummmmm, OK, what the hell. Yes. (I expect to be hanging up the phone in a couple of seconds.)

Her: You’re Jewish.

Me: Yes. (Here it comes.)

Her: Great. We’re having a problem and we need you to solve it.

Me: OK. (WTF???)

Her: We have a 14-year-old son and he wants to go to Forest Hills (where they played the U.S. Open back then, before they built the tennis complex at Flushing Meadows) on Friday. But it’s Rosh Hashanah (or Yom Kippur, I don’t remember) and his father and I say he belongs in temple. But he says he doesn’t want to go to temple, he wants to go see the tennis. We need a referee. We’ve agreed to let you make the decision.

(This woman is an idiot.)

Now, I’m sure her son read the New York Post sports pages religiously (ahem), and that she figured she was being a really cool mom letting someone in the sports department make this monumental decision, and that since the sports department had a gazillion Jews, the Jewish person on the phone would make the “right” decision, and her son would do what the guy in the sports department said.

But the Jew she got was me.

Me: Let me get this straight. You want me to decide whether your kid goes to Forest Hills or to shul on Friday?

Her: Yes.

Me: (Lady, you’re crazy.) OK. First of all, I need to make something very clear. I am speaking for me, not for the management of The New York Post or the sports department of The New York Post. In no way does my decision represent that of anyone other than myself. Is that understood?

Her: Yes.

Me: OK. Here’s my answer. You can force your son to go to shul, but you can’t force him to want to be there, and he’ll most definitely resent it, because he wants to go to Forest Hills. My decision is that HE’S OLD ENOUGH TO MAKE UP HIS OWN MIND about these things. I hope he enjoys the tennis.

That poor woman. She got the wrong Jew.

— 30 —

It’s 2013, time to bury ‘Redskins’

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Two pantheons of sports journalism, Slate and Mother Jones, took the bold move this week of announcing that they would no longer refer to the National Football League team that plays in Washington, D.C., as the “Redskins.”

The move was both silly and self-serving, because . . . well . . .

Slate? Mother Jones?

Yeah, they’re the first places I go when I want to bone up on my football.

But there’s one other thing worth mentioning here . . .

They were right.

So it’s time to press for a few other outlets – more important outlets – to take the same bold step. Are you listening, ESPN? Can you hear me, Sports Illustrated? Do I have your attention yet, NBC and Fox and CBS and ABC? How about it, Washington Post?

Listen up, guys . . . History be damned, it’s time to abandon what is, in fact, a horribly racist name.

On March 13, 1994, The New York Times published an op-ed piece by Tim Giago, the founder of the Lakota Times, the first independently owned Native American newspaper in the U.S.

It was a wonderful, eye-opening op-ed . . . so much so that I stashed a photocopy in my briefcase. Nineteen years later, it’s still there.

Sadly, I can’t find it on the Times website, which is a shame because the link really should go to the original.

But Illinois Sen. Paul Simon found it as moving as I did, and he entered it into the Congressional Record, which appears to be pretty much the only place you can read it now. So read it:

Drop the Chop! Indian Nicknames Just Aren’t Right

“Redskins” is a word that should remind every American there was a time in our history when America paid bounties for human beings. There was a going rate for the scalps or hides of Indian men, women and children. These “redskins” trophies could be sold to most frontier trading posts. Along with coon skins, beaver skins and bear skins, the selling of “redskins” was also profitable.

On a recent radio talk show, I spoke with a young lady who had been a cheerleader for a team called the “Indians.” She said, “When I put on my feathers and war paint, donned my buckskins and beads, I felt I was honoring Indians.” I asked her, “If your team was called the African-Americans and you painted your face black, put on an Afro wig and donned a dashiki and then danced around singing songs and making noises you thought to be African, would you be honoring blacks?” Her answer was “No! Of course not! That would be insulting to them.” End of discussion.

That’s just a snippet. Read the whole piece. It speaks volumes, and it’s why I’ve been carrying that faded photocopy around for 19 years.

The key question Giago raised, which was brought up again this week, is:

If you were naming a team today, would you name it the Redskins?

If your answer is no, how can you tolerate keeping the name?

If your answer is yes, how would you feel about the Berlin Maccabees? The Birmingham Negroes?

This isn’t political correctness. It’s just correctness. It shouldn’t be so hard to do the right thing.

Change the damn name. Just do it. It’ll be OK.

Worth reading, 07/11/13

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New York Sizzles (Gail Collins, New York Times)

Gail Collins is hands-down the finest columnist in America. If she’s not in the Times on Saturday or Sunday, then the day is off to a lousy start. Today she offers her take on Weiner and Spitzer, and it is essential reading.

Time after time, we hear a scandal-tarred politician vow to go away and make amends. Time after time, we envision a stint as a missionary or a hospital volunteer. Time after time, we are disappointed.

Consider the example of former Congressman Steve Driehaus of Cincinnati, a person who, I should point out immediately, did not do anything wrong whatsoever except lose a race for re-election in 2010. He then packed up his family and went off to join the Peace Corps in Swaziland. “He’s working with folks with H.I.V./AIDS. He loves it,” reported his sister, Denise.

In this week’s TV tour, Spitzer failed to address the question of why he was not in Swaziland. He said on “Morning Joe” that during his five years in exile, “I’ve tried to do things that matter in a small, quiet way.” This seemed like a strange way to describe multiple stints hosting political talk shows.

People, it doesn’t get any better than that.

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Pat Robertson: I’m Not ‘Anti-Gay’ Because Gays Are Just Straight People Who’ve Forsaken God (Mediaite)

“I am very pleased that we have many, many, many homosexuals watching this program and many of them are looking for love and acceptance and help,” the minister began. “And I’m glad to report that we have thousands of these people who are saying, ‘Yes, we want to follow Jesus, we’re not happy with the lifestyle we’re in, and we want to have a better way.’ I think it’s wonderful that that’s happening.”

“We’re not anti-gay or anything,” he asserted, before explaining his belief that homosexuality has existed throughout time amongst those who have “forsaken” God. “It’s not something that is natural and when people reunite with the Lord, the Lord will get their priorities the way it is supposed to be,” he added.

Robertson concluded by arguing that those who are “into this homosexual thing” are typically victims of sexual abuse as children who, later in life think, “Well, I must be gay.”

“They aren’t,” he insisted. “They are heterosexual and they just need to come out of that.”

Good ol’ Uncle Pat. The rev’s an eyeroll a minute. Let’s harken back to the good ol’ days, right after September 11, when good ol’ Jerry Falwell said:

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say: “You helped this happen.”

And good ol’ Uncle Pat chimed in,

“Well, I totally concur.”

OK . . . I totally don’t.

Go away, Pat. Your meter expired a long time ago.

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Beyond the Courtroom (Charles Blow, New York Times)

Whatever happens in the George Zimmerman trial, it has produced a valuable and profound dialogue in America about some important issues surrounding race and justice, fear and aggression, and legal guilt and moral culpability.

That conversation is about people’s right to feel suspicion and fear and whether those feelings need be justified to be real. It is about the degree to which suspicions and fears are culturally constructed, or at least culturally influenced, are innate or are born of personal experience.

More specifically, it is about how race, age and gender might influence our threat responses, and whether that is acceptable. For instance, as a thought experiment, reverse the race and ethnicities of Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman and see if that has any effect on your view of the night’s events. Now, go one step further and imagine that the teenager who was shot through the heart was not male but female and ask yourself again: does it have any effect on how you view the facts of this case?

Are we acculturated to grant some citizens the right to feel fear while systematically denying that right to others?

This is a terrific piece. As the George Zimmerman trial heads to the jury, I’m convinced that Zimmerman is not guilty of murder, because I don’t think he intended to kill Trayvon Martin. I also think it’s at least plausible that once Zimmerman encountered Trayvon — and make no mistake about it, it’s Zimmerman’s fault that the encounter took place — then he realized that the kid was able to hurt him or even kill him, and so he shot him.

In Florida, that’s standing your ground.

So I don’t think Zimmerman will be convicted — but I nonetheless think this is all his fault. What’s more, if Trayvon wasn’t black and wasn’t wearing a hoodie, we’re not even having this conversation. Zimmerman saw a black kid in a hoodie and everything fell apart from there.

So Zimmerman is not a murderer; he’s just a racist cop-wannabe with a concealed gun who decided that the black kid in the hoodie did not belong in his neighborhood. But I do believe he didn’t get out of his car intending to kill Trayvon.

Someday, Zimmerman will go out on a deep-sea fishing boat, and he’ll fall overboard, and all the others on the boat will hear a splash, and they’ll look up and say, “Hey, look, Zimmy fell overboard.” And then they’ll open up a cooler and have a few beers and figure justice has been done.

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Photographer captures incredible image of massive waterspout towering over Tampa Bay (Imaging Resource)

Pick a word. Any word . . . Omigod. Wow. Whoa. Yikes.

This thing is for real and I am in awe. I may even have to start rethinking that whole Big Bad Invisible Voodoo Guy in the Sky thing. (Shamelessly plugging my own post.)

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Bob McDonnell is unfit for office (Ruth Marcus, Washington Post)

There are two swift routes to political downfall. One is sex. The other is money. The first is humiliating but survivable. The second tends to be terminal, even criminal.

Today’s topic is the second, in the form of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and the now mountainous evidence that — whether he technically complied with Virginia’s Swiss cheese disclosure laws or not in accepting thousands of dollars in gifts from a wealthy businessman — he has no business continuing in office.

We in the metropolitan New York area are so fascinated by the adventures of Anthony and Eliot that we’ve been blissfully unaware of what’s been going on in Virginia, where Governor Bob is ducking from incoming.

That has to stop, because this is fascinating.

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A Free Miracle Food! (Nicholas Kristof, New York Times)

MOPTI, Mali — Can you name a miracle food that is universally available, free and can save children’s lives and maybe even make them smarter?

That’s not a trick question. There really is such a substance, now routinely squandered, that global health experts believe could save more than 800,000 lives annually. While you’re puzzling over the answer, let me tell you how I just saw it save a life here in West Africa.

I don’t think Mr. Kristof will mind much if I give away the ending without a spoiler alert. The free miracle food is breast milk.

And if you read nothing else today, read this.

Kristof returned from a several-month book leave last week, and he was sorely missed. Excellent column.

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Latest Businessweek Cover is Worth a Peek (Fishbowl)

Ummmmm . . . Now I’m wondering whom Bloomberg will be voting for. Weiner? Spitzer?

And what would the public reaction be if the New York Post did this?

Really, BusinessWeek? REALLY???

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Toshi Seeger, wife of folk legend Pete Seeger, dies (Lohud, via Poughkeepsie Journal)

Memo to obit writers: There are some things you MUST include in an obituary, especially when it concerns someone local.

That thing would be the deceased’s age.

Toshi Seeger was 91. I had to look that up elsewhere because the obit’s writer AND the editor failed to include it in the obit.

Pretty bad, Lohud.

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Justin Bieber Talks With Bill Clinton After Vulgar Video Surfaces, Calls Former President “Great Guy” (Gossip Cop)

So The Beebs apparently is feeling totally regretful about peeing into a restaurant’s mop bucket and screaming “F*** you, Bill Clinton!” at a picture of the 42nd president and spraying it with a kitchen bottle, because he went on Twitter last night and so humbly wrote . . .

“@billclinton thanks for taking the time to talk Mr. President. Your words meant alot. #greatguy,” the singer tweeted on Wednesday night.

Great guy.

I hope Bill sat down with Hillary and Chelsea at dinner last night and asked . . .

Either of you ever heard of this guy?

I dare you to match my score

Fourth of July Quiz (Gail Collins, New York Times)

The year is now half over, people! So it’s time to see how closely you’ve been following all the political news of 2013 so far. No cheating!
I don’t know if I should be proud or embarrassed, but — honest to god — I got 11 out of 11.
Take the quiz. And post your score. I DARE you to match me.
And no cheating!

Worth reading II, 07/03/13

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis shouldn’t be sainted for her filibuster (Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post)

I like Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis. I admire her intelligence, chutzpah and tenacity.

But her elevation to national heroine, essentially owing to her ability to speak for 11 hours straight without a break while wearing (how many times did we hear or read it?) “rouge-red sneakers,” is absurd….

… when the question of whether we should destroy human life at any stage is reduced to theater, leaving many journalists gushing like breathless red-carpet commentators, we have lost more than a sense of decorum.

One may agree with Davis’s principled stand on the Texas bill, which, she argued, tried to do too much. Even so, a little less glee from the bleachers would seem more appropriate to the moment.

This is one helluva read, regardless of where you stand on abortion. Now read it.

Billy, Reggie, George, Rupert and me

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My once-upon-a-time colleague Harvey Araton wrote a piece in the New York Times last week in which he mused . . .

[Alex] Rodriguez is fairly new to Twitter but, like Cashman, has long been a friend to old media in the muckraking tradition of George Steinbrenner. Somewhere, the pinstriped spirits of the Boss and Billy Martin must have had a good laugh this week, raised a glass to old times and wished they had had such immediate digital access to the masses….

@BillyTheKid @BossGeorge @ReggieTheStraw “The two of them deserve each other. One’s a born liar; the other’s convicted.” (1978)

And oh did that bring back some memories. The best of times, the worst of times. One of the most exhilarating nights of my career, and the horribleawfulterrible day that followed. It’s a tale of triumph and anxiety, an untold story of baseball’s notorious Bronx Zoo, and a terrifying meeting with a boss against whom The Boss himself paled in comparison.

Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you a story. It’s a long one. Grab a beer.

It’s July of 1978, and I’m the night sports editor at The New York Post, a dream job if I ever would have one. I’m all of 27 years old — TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS OLD!!! — and I’ve been entrusted to design and lay out and manage a team of editors in producing the newspaper’s celebrated sports section. Yeah, I love. This. Job.

The Yankees are the talk of the town, and Reggie Jackson, the straw that stirs the drink, is coming off a five-game suspension for bunting despite knowing full well that the dugout had taken back the bunt sign and he was to swing away in the 10th inning of an 11-inning loss. His refusal to follow orders has infuriated Billy Martin, the manager, who has succeeded in getting Reggie suspended. And George Steinbrenner, the owner, is blowing his top roughly every five minutes. The Yankees own the back page of New York’s warring tabloids, The Post and the Daily News. They own the sports section of the New York Times, as well. Newsday, too, not that you can find one in the city.

It’s a hot summer, and Billy, George and Reggie are fanning the flames. You can’t send the paper to press without checking first to find out whether Billy has sneezed, Reggie has coughed or George has passed gas.

So it’s around one in the morning when I get a call from The Post’s Yankees beat writer, Henry Hecht, who is at O’Hare Airport waiting to fly from Chicago to Kansas City.

Clear out the back page, Henry tells me. The Yanks are going to fire Billy Martin.

Huh?

Can’t tell you now, I have to catch a plane.

Yeah, I love a mystery.

A couple of hours later, Henry is in Kansas City and he calls me again.

Billy had a few drinks too many at the airport, he tells me — well, that’s hardly news — and he has said of Reggie and George  . . .

“One’s a born liar, the other’s convicted.”

Now, this is just not the sort of thing you’re supposed to say. Not about a future Hall of Famer who happens to be your star player, and not about the guy who pays you to manage his team — a guy who just so happens to have been CONVICTED a few years ago of illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign.

Henry tells me he’s already spoken with Steinbrenner, and Steinbrenner has told him Billy is toast. Stick a fork in him. Bye Bye Billy.

Henry says he asked Steinbrenner if he’d fire Billy in the morning, and Steinbrenner replied:

“If it takes that long.”

But there’s a slight problem. Henry and the Times’ beat reporter (I believe it was Murray Chass) were both with Billy when he said it, and they have agreed on the exact quote. But the Daily News’ reporter (I think it was Phil Pepe) was very inconveniently visiting the men’s room when it happened. And Billy is already telling Pepe he didn’t say it, which means that in the grand New York tabloid tradition, The Post is now saying that Billy said “One’s a born liar, the other’s convicted,” and The News is saying nope, never happened, nothing to see here.

But Henry says it happened, and the Times is in agreement, and George has told Henry he’ll be firing Billy in the morning, and that’s good enough for me.

But this is bigger than back page. This is front-page stuff at The New York Post. So now it’s around 4 in the morning and I get out of my chair and walk over to the paper’s managing editor on duty, an affable fellow named Phil Bunton, to tell him what we’ve got.

I tell Phil about Billy and Reggie and George and one’s a born liar and the other’s convicted and George says he’ll be firing Billy in the morning and Phil says:

“Let’s tell the editor.”

And he gets up and walks me over to the executive editor’s office, in which I’m expecting to find a red-faced man named Ted Bolwell, a bombastic man from Australia or England or somewhere where they don’t speak English, don’t understand baseball, and who in his short tenure has struck fear in a New York tabloid newsroom.

Did I mention that I’m 27?

Only it turns out once we walk into the office, that Bolwell is on vacation, and sitting in his chair is this guy:

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Yeah, that guy. Maybe you’ve seen his face before.

Rupert Murdoch is the new owner of The Post and I am well aware that he has a reputation for eating editors for dinner. They go well with a nice Chianti. And that thing I said about Australians not speaking English . . . I was just kidding. Did I mention that I’m 27?

So I tell Mr. Murdoch (no, I do not call him Rupert) about Billy and George and Reggie and one’s a born liar and the other’s convicted and George says he’ll fire Billy in the morning if it takes that long and Mr. Murdoch says to me:

Do you believe the story?

And I tell him I do and he says:

Do you trust your reporter?

And I tell him I do, because yeah, I do, and he waves me out of Ted Bolwell’s office and I go back to putting out a sports section.

And a couple of hours later The New York Post comes off the presses, and the wood reads:

YANKS TO FIRE
BILLY TODAY

Not “expected to fire.” “To Fire.”

Not soon. TODAY.

And what’s more, we’re the only ones with the story. The Times won’t hit the streets for a few more hours and The News is saying it didn’t happen.

Which means I am KING OF THE WORLD! And I’m only 27.

And I grab several copies of the paper on my way out the door, and I get into my car and start driving home. And it isn’t until I’m nearing the end of the Harlem River Drive, on the ramp approaching the George Washington Bridge, when it hits me . . .

I believe the story.

I trust my reporter.

BUT I DON’T TRUST MY REPORTER’S SOURCE!

And I don’t trust the source because the source is George Steinbrenner, and there’s always one rule when talking to George Steinbrenner, and that is that you don’t quote George Steinbrenner. You may merely quote a “source close to George Steinbrenner.” Never mind that the “source close to George Steinbrenner” wears George Steinbrenner’s underwear and sleeps in his bed — he is always and forever will be merely a “source close to George Steinbrenner.”

Which means George Steinbrenner can wake up in the morning, change his mind and deny everything the source close to George Steinbrenner has told The New York Post.

And that’s when I break out into a cold sweat. Because George may be The Boss, but MY boss is bigger than The Boss — and he will be very unhappy if The New York Post’s wood turns out to be wrong.

I arrive home and tell my wife the whole story, and explain that we could be moving back to my parents’ house if Billy doesn’t get fired. Today.

And then I go to sleep. Or try to. I wake up in a panic every hour or so and walk out of the bedroom to ask my wife if Billy is still wearing pinstripes.

Finally, in mid-afternoon, my wife opens the bedroom door and announces that the Yankees have just fired Billy Martin.

I’ve never been so happy to see a man lose his job.

— 30 —

Really, Matt?

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Hmmmm . . . Let’s have a look at what she really said.

Michelle Obama jokes: White House ‘a really nice prison’ (Washington Post)

Speaking at a summit of the wives of African leaders in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday,Michelle Obama and Laura Bush commiserated on the constrictions of being first lady and how hard it is to talk about substantive issues when people are focused on your hairstyle.

“There are prison-like elements, but it’s a really nice prison,” Michelle Obama said. ”You can’t complain. There are confining elements.”

Nuf said.

We now await the next totally misleading headline from the Drudge Report.