"The mainstream papers credit each other," claims Milton Allimadi, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the black-oriented weekly paper The Black Star News. "[But] they'll never credit a paper like Black Star." Allimadi's referring to an instance of daily newspaper cluelessness to make your skin crawl. Last week, the dailies reported "new" details in that weird Christian Curry/Morgan Stanley Dean Witter case?details that Black Star had actually reported last December and March.
Christian Curry is the young black guy who was fired from his analyst position at Morgan Stanley last year after photographs of his undressed self appeared in the gay magazine Playguy. Curry (he's straight?the pictures are the product of the part-time modeling career he pursued in college) accused the securities firm of discrimination; Morgan Stanley claimed it fired Curry because he was guilty of funny business with the firm's expense accounts. The securities firm subsequently accused Curry of conspiring to plant forged racist e-mails on company computers in order to bolster a bias suit he planned to file. Last week, though, as The New York Times' David Barstow, among others, reported, the Manhattan D.A. "dropped all criminal charges against Mr. Curry, saying that Morgan Stanley had paid $10,000 to the prosecution's star witness in the forgery plot." Morgan Stanley, in other words, may have set Curry up. Which brings us back to Black Star, the December 1998 issue of which bore the cover line "The Sting: Was Black Ex-Morgan Stanley Employee Entrapped?" "The Manhattan District Attorney's office," wrote Allimadi in that issue, "may be looking into activity that could constitute Federal racketeering and obstruction of justice in connection with the arrest of a Black ex-employee of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., a person involved in the probe has disclosed to The Black Star News. "The situation stems from the arrest of the ex-employee, and the possible role Morgan Stanley may have played in connection with the activities of Joseph Luethke, a once-confidential police informant. The informant was instrumental in the arrest of Christian Curry, 22, an employee dismissed in April by the company." Allimadi continues later: "At issue is whether the company paid Luethke to secure incriminating information about Curry, the ex-employee, in order to smother the civil suit the company knew he intended to file." Black Star even provided evidence that an account had existed into which Morgan Stanley had funneled Luethke's payment money. And, in its March 16 issue (Black Star had, since December, gone weekly), the newspaper reported that Morgan Stanley's legal department had "acknowledged receiving at least two letters from a man [Luethke] who later became a police informant, discussing what role he may play in [the] case."
Allimadi, 37, is of course familiar with the frustrations that attend running and writing for a small, niche publication. He publishes the 15,000-circulation Black Star News?which he founded in 1997, with seed money from Bill Cosby?out of his apartment, using a pool of freelance writers, and he only recently hired two full-time ad salesmen, thus finally relieving himself of the chore of soliciting advertising himself. His goal, he says, is to provide the sort of quality black-oriented investigative journalism that's lacking in New York, especially since the City Sun's 1996 demise. Still, the dailies' failure to credit his publication seems to surprise him, especially given that he informed the major papers' business editors of his scoops when he published them. "We said, 'Hey man, we've been saying this since December,'" Allimadi says, describing his response to the dailies' reports last week. "But it's kind of tough for somebody to believe that something like this could possibly be going on at Morgan Stanley, number one. And number two, how does a paper with 15,000 circulation get [the story]? It's easy to not believe us." Allimadi continues: "Even Christian himself kind of didn't believe it in the beginning. He didn't know he was set up until I approached him... I presented the scenario and I said, 'this is what I'm hearing. These are documents I've got.' And he was astounded." The Black Star News is available on selected newsstands for $1. It can also be accessed at www.blackstarnews.com.
The Columbia Journalism Review, the mandate of which we thought was to police the media's standards, has decided that it's in the business of pressuring alternative weekly papers like NYPress to reveal their sources.
That's what a recent phone call one of our editors received a couple of weeks ago from a CJR staffer indicates, anyway. The CJR representative was outraged that NYPress had published, in our 4/21 issue, that humiliating leaked letter from Village Voice managing editor Doug Simmons to CJR editor Marshall Loeb, and wanted to know who, on her end, had sent it to us. Here was the representative of a journalism watchdog publication, demanding that we commit a journalistic sin. We declined to humor her.
Not, the CJR staffer announced, that she'd actually seen the issue of NYPress in question. Which probably means that either Simmons or another Voice representative had called CJR and bullied them. (It also means that at least one CJR employee interviews editors about material she hasn't bothered to read first.)
One feels presumptuous schooling the Columbia Journalism Review in how to deal with this sort of nonsense?this sort of pressure from a representative of, as Simmons argued in the poignant letter we printed, the still relevant flagship newspaper of the Stern Publishing conglomerate. But here's how the conversation at the CJR watercooler after the Voice called should have gone.
"What are you snickering about?"
"Oh, nothing. Some guy from the Village Voice just called me. I told him to screw himself."
"I dunno. Some guy. Simmons or something. Pissed about that NYPress letter getting leaked."
"Oh. Well. Hey, who's running out for coffee?"
"It's Marshall's turn."
And in case CJR staffers are really unaware of it, which we doubt, there's a NYPress box at 116th and Broadway, right in front of the Columbia gates. Ask a Columbia student next time, sweetie: Papers happen to fly out of that box.
That shoe won't drop. God knows why New York Observer columnist Anne Roiphe didn't address the Littleton massacre in the first column she published after the atrocity occurred. Our own unsubstantiated theory is that Roiphe did in fact write about Littleton, but that her piece was so nutty?Roiphe's an unapologetic Upper West Side partisan, and the specter of middle-American white people committing violence would have stirred her to heights of political hysteria?that the proprietors of the Observer's increasingly interesting opinions page didn't want to run it, and made her write the filler piece about the Hamptons that ran instead. Why pander to local prejudice?
Last week, though, in the 5/24 Observer, Roiphe did address Littleton, and she threw us a curveball. We were looking forward to watching Roiphe inveigh against white children, Colorado inhabitants, Christians and other politically unreconstructed rabble. Instead, she gave us something stranger: an Upper West Side liberal's capitulation to the possibility of evil.
Roiphe's piece evinces a distinctly illiberal fatalism: "Our eternal, insoluble problem is with the violence within, the bloody bring-it-all-down violence that stirs in the heart of man and boy quite naturally, quite regularly, without prodding, without advertising?with or without religion in the homes or in the schools."
That's what used to be called "counterrevolutionary despair" in the progressive circles from which Roiphe sprang. She goes on: "We have violent media, and guns under the bed, because we have violent hearts, not the other way round. I speak as a person who believes in instincts and drives, nasty ones sometimes."
You mean a Clintonite blue-ribbon commission chaired by David Geffen won't solve the problem of violence?
"If we assume that man has written the Bible to make order of his experiences historical and emotional," Roiphe writes, "then we can look at the story of Noah and the Flood and see God bringing down a total destruction, not unlike what was in the rage-filled heads of the boys in Colorado. They, too, were disappointed in their world."
The interdenominational crowd at The Riverside Church are gonna love that. Then Roiphe violates feminist orthodoxy: "So many boys are on Ritalin only because they behaved like the male animals they really are. We can't reduce everything to biology and genes and evolution. But we can see the connections, observe the effects."
To assert that gender somehow has something to do with biology is to spit in the upper-middle-class feminist's holy chalice.
I have no idea why this meditation on evil and the biological foundations of aggression is in the Observer. I don't particularly want to read this stuff in a witty weekly paper. But as leaden as Roiphe's column can be here, it's fascinating, because Roiphe's ended up roughly where the New York Post's editorial board ended up in the wake of the Columbine shootings?skeptical of political solutions?but, to her credit, without the conservative's self-satisfied faith in religion and "values." Roiphe, in this column at least, is interestingly conflicted and confused and miserable.
"All this tells us is that the impulse to take it all down has been with us a long time, since before the Flood," Roiphe writes. "It appeared in disguised form in Genesis; it appeared in reality in Columbine High School."
That's hardly an argument for increased school funding and gun control.
Stealing an idea from Slate, let's have a little news quiz. Who wrote the following passage, posted last week in Salon?
"There are two sorts of columnists worth reading. One is the expert?someone like Robert Christgau of the Village Voice, a guy who's breathed music for 30 years and knows more about the subject than Billboard does. The other kind is simply fascinating?someone like Louis [sic] Lapham of Harper's Magazine, who can make a connection between Louis XIV's court and Reagan's cabinet one month and write on cultural commodification the next."
Two hints: He probably wants a job at either the Village Voice or Harper's, and his name's Jeff Stark. The passage leads off his negative review of Bill Bryson's latest book, I'm a Stranger Here Myself.
Question Two. Which Village Voice writer produced the following lede in the paper's May 18 issue: "Press Clips was not going to write about Kosovo this week. However, the sight of State Department spinmeister Jamie Rubin defiling the atmosphere of a Washington restaurant by sucking cigarettes and blabbering on his cell phone while we were recovering from a hangover served to remind us of the (ob)noxious quality of Clintonian foreign policy and its handmaidens in the media."
That's tough talk from a newspaper whose nearly every pronouncement (with the exception of Nat Hentoff's writing) over the last year and a half has been a defense of Clinton. But the passage violates the first rule of writing for an alternative paper: Never discuss your dissolute drug or alcohol habits, which probably aren't that dissolute to start with; no more dissolute, probably, than those of anyone else with whom you attended college. It's the easy way out, it suggests a callow, undergraduate-style affection for "low-life" literature and it should be left to the experts, like Bob Falk of the New York Hangover.
The author of that passage was Jason Vest, filling in for Cynthia Cotts, who's presumably run away to join the circus. Richard Goldstein filled in for Cotts last week, and promptly made the woman?who we're told is on medical leave, but who knows??look as lively as Jane Austen in comparison.
One more quiz. Who produced the following passage about the cops on trial for victimizing Abner Louima?
"Can we first say that the accused Justin Volpe and Charles Shwarz both look like textbook illustrations of the Nation of Islam term 'Cave Boy'? Can we second how each seems the sort whose descent from the apes was interrupted before such burdensome human values as compassion, remorse, shame, or an innate inhibition against sadism could kick in?"
Sure we can, Greg Tate of the Village Voice. But get this: The people who are primarily reading you probably don't have much more use for you than they do for your average guido "Cave Boy" from Bensonhurst. The sooner you figure that out, the sooner you'll have a real political movement, instead of the ineffectual, racialist mess of intellectual corruption that you and the tools you work and write with call "left politics" today.
There's no need to sketch the thesis or narrative arc of Tate's article, which is entitled "Copland: Unrepentant, Pale-Faced, All-American Manhood at the Louima Trial." You know what you need to know just from the article's title and context, and from the passage I quoted above. So on to other points.
"The Brooklyn D.A.'s team is a serious, affable bunch," Tate writes. "Certainly they are more colorful and of color than Volpe, et al.,'s tribal phalanx."
They might be serious and affable, but they don't represent the Brooklyn D.A. The case is being tried in Federal Court, and prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's office. They might well, however, be both serious and affable.
And while I'll give Tate the benefit of the doubt when he claims the prosecutors are more colorful than the defense, it contravenes everything that you know about trials. Prosecutors are rarely "colorful," if by that we mean charismatic, entertaining (what does Tate mean by that?), chewing the courtroom rug. They don't have to be, and in fact shouldn't be: They've got the whole institutional weight of the state behind them, and have to act like it. It's defense lawyers who ham it up, because they've got to win over (or intimidate) a jury?and especially here, where the state's case would seem to be pretty foolproof, and where the defense includes the charismatic Marvyn Kornberg.
It's also notable that Tate admits that he "missed the grueling days of Louima's testimony," and first arrived only to hear "tapes of a dispatcher's exchanges with various patrolmen the morning of Louima and Volpe's alleged encounter." Tate's angry article, then?"[A]nother [courtroom spectator]," he writes, "proposed a death sentence for the accused in the Diallo case that would entail their each being shot 41 times, with their bodies somehow kept alive so they could suffer more. In the immortal words of Miles Davis, right off, brother, right off"?is partly based on hissing tapes, even as he missed the main event, Louima's problematic testimony, in which he admitted lying to a grand jury.
Then there's Tate's dismissal of the fact that two of the accused cops, Volpe and Wiese, are engaged to black women. "The defense also claims Volpe and Wiese's impending marriages to Black women are evidence they couldn't violate a Black man's rights. Roll over Thomas Jefferson, tell Sally Hemings the news."
Tate thus implies that all interracial marriages?perhaps all marriages?are master-slave relationships. It's true that Volpe?whom it looks like the prosecutors have got dead to rights?is probably a monster, but this sort of Voice racialist self-parody is too much.