Sunday, February 13, 2005

Sunday Reading

  • John W. Dean on Deep Throat (the anonymous source, not the porno-flick).

    I have little doubt that one of my former Nixon White House colleagues is history’s best-known anonymous source — Deep Throat. But I’ll be darned if I can figure out exactly which one.

    We’ll all know one day very soon, however. Bob Woodward, a reporter on the team that covered the Watergate story, has advised his executive editor at The Washington Post that Throat is ill. [Editor’s note: Executive Editor Len Downie has denied this, according to The Post’s media reporter.] And Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of The Post and one of the few people to whom Woodward confided his source’s identity, has publicly acknowledged that he has written Throat’s obituary.

    When that posthumous profile reveals the secret name, it will be flash powder on the long-simmering debate about reporters’ use of anonymous sources — an issue much in the news lately because my former law school classmate, Thomas F. Hogan, now the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, has been holding journalists in contempt of court for refusing to reveal their sources to a grand jury investigating the leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

    I’m caught in the middle on this discussion. As a columnist, occasional freelancer and author of six nonfiction books, I use unidentified sources myself. In fact, I just used one. The source who informed me that Woodward leaked the news of Throat’s illness to the executive editor of The Post gave me that information either on “deep background” or “off the record” (I never could get the distinction of those rules straightened out). So I apologize to my source if this information was never meant to be public, but it is a tidbit too hot to keep sitting on.

    Read the rest here.

  • Tim Grieve on the chairmanship of the DNC.

    Just before Howard Dean appeared for his first press conference as the Democrats’ new leader, a reporter asked a DNC aide to make sure that Dean spoke loudly so that he could be heard in the back of the over-crowded briefing room. “Thanks a lot,” Tom Ochs shot back. “I’ve spent the last two months trying to get him not to do that.”

    Ochs ran Dean’s campaign for the DNC chairmanship — quietly, and not just in the avoiding-another-scream sense. While other DNC candidates courted the press, Dean never needed the national exposure that a thousand interviews will bring. In a way, he needed the opposite — he needed to persuade the 447 voting members of the DNC that the man who made so much noise in the presidential race could also do the quieter work of reforming the Democratic party.

    That’s why Ochs had Dean focus almost obsessively on a single task: talking with voting members of the DNC. It worked. As John Patrick, a DNC member from Texas, told us, those one-on-one conversations left him seeing Dean “through different eyes.” During the Iowa caucuses, Patrick campaigned for Dick Gephardt — which is to say, against Howard Dean — and he initially backed former Texas Rep. Martin Frost in the DNC race. But when Frost dropped out, Dean was an easy second choice. “I don’t think he’s a different person than he was in Iowa, but I think I have a different perspective on him now,” Patrick said. “I’m not saying that I made the wrong choice then, but I’m certainly looking at Gov. Dean — Chairman Dean — differently now.”

    For Ochs, that was exactly the plan. Backstage at the DNC Winter meeting just after Dean won the chairmanship, Ochs told us that he signed on with the Dean campaign knowing that he had an uphill race ahead of him. “People were saying, ‘Howard Dean?’ People — probably half the people in this room — people were saying, ‘Dean’s running for president!’ ‘Dean’s too liberal.’ We knew that. We knew it.” But from early on, Ochs said, “what these voting members wanted, the most important thing they wanted, was somebody who is going to stand up for them.”

    Ochs said that the voters’ desire made Dean’s biggest perceived negative — his outspoken opposition to both Bush and Bush-lites — a positive in the DNC race. “After all,” Ochs said, “we were running to be the chairman of the Democratic Party. It’s OK to be a partisan.” Again and again, DNC members told us this weekend that Dean sealed the deal when he talked with them, either one-on-one or in the small regional caucus meetings around the country. Sober and subdued, Dean persuaded voters that he could be not just a fighter who stands up to George Bush but also a listener who will carry their concerns to the national party headquarters. Once voters had taken their own measure of Dean up close and in person, it was harder for anti-Dean forces to succeed with the kind of broad-brushed smears that might have worked on a larger, less involved electorate.

    Here is the rest of the article from Salon.com (subscription/Day Pass required).

  • John Leland on the golden oldies.

    The universal fantasy about being a rock star, at least the G-rated part, goes something like this: you make wildly popular new music, see your likeness splashed across magazine covers and MTV, and worry occasionally about becoming over the hill. You have great hair.

    But according to a new list of the 50 top-earning pop stars published in Rolling Stone, over the hill is the new golden pasture. Half the top 10 headliners are older than 50, and two are over 60. Only one act, Linkin Park, has members under 30.

    The annual list, which entails some guesswork, reverses the common perception of pop music. Not only is it not the province of youth; it’s also not the province of CD sales, hit songs and smutty videos.

    While sexy young stars take their turn strutting on the Billboard charts or MTV – or on the cover of Rolling Stone – the real pop pantheon, it seems, is an older group, no longer producing new hits, but re-enacting songs that are older than many of today’s pop idols.

    In other words, pop music may seem to be about Gwen Stefani, Ashlee Simpson and Ashanti, but its bottom line is about Celine Dion (No. 21 on the list), Bette Midler (No. 24) and Cher (No. 43).

    Consider the singer Usher, 26. He sold the most albums, flashed the hottest abs and caused the most swoons in 2004. But Usher ranked only No. 16 – well below the rumpled Phil Collins, 54, who ranked No. 8, or Jimmy Buffett, 59, who keeps his abs comfortable and safe behind Hawaiian shirts, and who ranked No. 5.

    Mr. Collins and Mr. Buffett, like fellow rock plutocrats Elton John, No. 4, Simon and Garfunkel, No. 10, and Sting, No. 15, are all of an age when hair is no longer a statement. It is a losing battle.

    The song plays on here.

  • David Mamet pays attention to Arthur Miller.

    Dustin Hoffman was playing Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.” I met Arthur Miller backstage after a performance. “Arthur,” I said, “it’s the oddest thing, but in the scene between Biff and Willy, it was as if I was listening to a play about my own relationship with my father.”

    I went on a bit, and looked over to see a small, distracted smile on his face. Of course, I thought. He’s not only heard this comment thousands of times, he has probably heard it from every man who ever saw the play.

    It is the great American Domestic Tragedy.

    And “The Crucible” is the American Political Tragedy.

    He wrote it to protest the horror of the McCarthy era. The plays are tragedies as each reasoned step brings the protagonists closer to their inevitable doom. We pity them as they are powerless to escape their fate. We feel fear because we recognize, in them, our own dilemmas. This is the purpose of drama, and particularly of tragedy: to allow us to participate in the repressed.

    We are freed, at the end of these two dramas, not because the playwright has arrived at a solution, but because he has reconciled us to the notion that there is no solution – that it is the human lot to try and fail, and that no one is immune from self-deception. We have, through following the course of the drama, laid aside, for two hours, the delusion that we are powerful and wise, and we leave the theater better for the rest.