What McGowan?s referring to is the harassment complaint that?s been filed against him in Manhattan Criminal Court by Sean Hannity and Steve Malzberg, the unintelligent right-wing WABC talk-radio bleacher bums. Apparently, McGowan peppered the radio personalities with hundreds of critical, sometimes abusive, faxes between January and June of this year, with the result that Hannity and Malzberg decided to drag him before the law.
I called McGowan last week, and he told me the whole dreary story. Talk about media brutality. Even if your sympathies didn?t rest naturally with anybody who antagonizes Malzberg and Hannity?the former?s an adenoidal hysteric; the latter?s the sort of man whose forehead seems perpetually creased by confusion and who?d have been happy running low-level patronage errands for Guy Molinari if he hadn?t been bent on making it in radio?McGowan, with his bluff, effusive manner, would win you over. McGowan, whom local talk-radio aficionados will recognize as the fellow who calls repeatedly into talk shows (but not often Hannity?s or Malzberg?s, he claims) under the name "Danny From East New York," characterizes himself as a "right-wing hippie" who, despite sharing some political sympathies with Hannity and Malzberg, was offended in particular by their support for Justin Volpe, as well as by Hannity?s anti-marijuana position. Now McGowan?s essentially getting persecuted for sending the two men the sorts of nasty notes dozens of which NYPress publishes in "The Mail" every month. What a revolting joke.
Besides, as McGowan points out, "Three hundred faxes to Malzberg in a six-month period is an average of two a day."
"They solicit the faxes on WABC," he adds. "They broadcast the fax number over the air and they put the fax number on their Internet website and encourage you to send them faxes. Two a day is not too many. And 200 to Sean Hannity means less than two a day. If they?re claiming that it?s the amount of faxes, we think that has no merit. And if they?re claiming it?s the content of the faxes, my lawyer says I have not broken the law... He says that I haven?t threatened anyone?s person or property."
Well, what about that content? It?s wonderful stuff. Indeed, even the few samples of McGowan?s invective that are included in Malzberg?s deposition are amusing; you?ve got to believe that the latter?s one of the funnier court documents that New York City?s bureaucracy?s ever coughed up.
"Deponent [that?s Malzberg] and informant [that?s Hannity] both state that said faxes caused them substantial annoyance and alarm," the deposition reads, "both because of the large number of said faxes, and because said faxes typically contained obscenities and insults directed toward deponent and informant, to wit, YOU LOWDOWN HYPOCRITE BACKSTABBING PUNK WINDSUCKING PUSSY BITCH DOG and /YOU JERK EACH OTHER OFF."
Says McGowan, after reading me that passage: "Now, I never put all of those words together in anything, you know? But if this is the worst that they have, I don?t think that?s too bad. I thought they were going to try to get me for something else?like, you know, claiming that I?m an anti-Semite because Malzberg?s Jewish or something. Which would be the furthest thing from the truth..."
McGowan also treated me to a bunch of the faxes he?d sent to the two dopes, and they?re even better. They almost make you wish you?d wasted your time listening to Hannity and Malzberg?so you?d know exactly to what McGowan had been referring.
"Vanity Haniti," sneers one flyer before going on to refer to WABC?s parent company and Hannity?s other employer, Fox: "Fox-Dizni hard on hand job leads field in self-adoration. Digs self so much he feeds himself too much. Looks chubby on bus ad. Lose some fat you conceited whore."
("And then I saw [Hannity?s] poster on the side of the bus," McGowan tells me. "You know, the Fox 5 poster. And I just looked at him, and I said you?re really sickening. So I just told him he looked fat in the poster. Stuff like that.")
Or again to Hannity: "When will you apologize Haniti for the rape of Abner Loima?s character and reputation? It was forethought systematic you skumbag. The guy should sue you. What you did was outright slander. A vicious hit by a kop-lovin kreep."
Testify, my brother!
"Listen, man," McGowan gushes. "I?ve been arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated harassment in the second degree. They both carry a year in jail with them. That?s how fucking outrageous this whole thing is."
McGowan is next due to appear in court on Aug. 31, for a pre-trial hearing.
"I?ve never been arrested in my life," he claims. "I?m a 50-year-old law-abiding person."
He adds: "I started tweaking these guys. But I never threatened anybody. I?m not stupid. My return address is on every fax I ever sent. I never tried to hide anything."
WABC radio?s fax number is 947-1340. Prevailing Westerlies It was with good cheer that I opened the newspaper on the subway to work Saturday morning and read that the Hearst Corporation is simultaneously purchasing the San Francisco Chronicle and offering its own San Francisco Examiner for sale. The situation seemed likely to develop fruitfully: to be specific, it?s possible that San Francisco will become a one-daily town. And while that?s a negative development in itself, it will have the droll effect of stimulating San Francisco Bay Guardian publisher Bruce B. Brugmann?that Bay Area Aeolus who?s deemed himself the nation?s preserver of journalistic ethics and integrity?to spectacular new heights of bloviation and moral pomposity. Really, this should be good; even by Saturday afternoon it was possible to wander outside, stick a wet finger into the air and feel a slight, but promising, hint of a westerly breeze. A breath of things to come: blow, winds, and crack your cheeks. A tempest?s gearing up. Batten down the hatches; reef the mainsails; lash down the tiller and heave to. Brugmann (corporate fascism! save the fourth estate!) is gonna make this storm huge. Voice 1, Alt Press 0 All the controversy generated by Talk?s debut aside, what?s more surprising than that Tina Brown?s created a stylish glossy and thrown Hillary Clinton onto its cover is the aggrandizing way the Village Voice?s Cynthia Cotts wrote about the new magazine last week.
"Last month," Cotts enthuses in the lead to her 8/4 "Press Clips" column, "Eddie Dean was just a writer for Washington?s City Paper, filing his first story for Tina Brown. Now, he is living the dream of every alternative press writer: he has crossed over into the glossy magazine world, with a feature byline in the first issue of Talk."
That?s a rather remarkable claim. First of all, it?s simply untrue that every alternative press writer dreams of crossing over into glossies. Does Cotts really imagine that her "Press Clips" predecessors James Ledbetter and the late Geoffrey Stokes were on the phone to Joe Dolce at Details all day?or to whomever?begging to write featurettes about Leo DiCaprio and front-of-the-book blurbs about walking sticks? Is it Peter Noel?s dream to write for a glossy? I wonder. Does she imagine that Sam Smith, proprietor of the excellent Progressive Review and an alternative press icon if ever there was one, has even once dialed Mark Golin?s phone number looking for work? A NYPress colleague of mine, whom I just bumped into in the bathroom, turns down glossy magazine queries all the time. It?s not that he thinks he?s too good for them. He doesn?t. It?s not a moral issue. He?s trying to make a living, too. It?s just that he?s working on a book right now; for the moment, his priorities, not to mention his dreams, are different from Cotts?. James Ledbetter has written for glossy magazines, but I doubt that if you asked him about it, he?d claim that doing so he?d fulfilled a "dream."
Cotts? piece is noteworthy for another reason, too: she praises the alternative press in a way that you couldn?t possibly do if you took that institution seriously enough to actually study it and become conversant with its journalism and its culture. In the following passage she?s interviewing Sam Sifton, the Talk senior editor/writer who worked for years at NYPress: "Sifton bristles at the suggestion that working for Talk might be a corrupting influence on Dean. He says most alternative press owners call their shops a ?stepping stone to wider circulation, and that?s exactly what Eddie?s got now?wider circulation.? He also praises Brown?s outreach to the alternative press, saying it proves ?there are, in fact, some lively, fresh, and above all, good journalists? in the world of free weeklies. Who knew?"
It?s gracious of Sam to talk up the alternative press in which he used to work. But notice that Sifton?who knows a lot about alternative newspapers?says there are "some" good writers in weekly newspaper journalism. If you follow weekly papers, you?re aware that that "some" translates into "perhaps eight or nine around the whole country." Dean was one of them. Cotts? blithe "Who knew?" makes it sound as if it?s apodictic that the Cleveland Scenes and Memphis Flyers of the world are acrawl with Tom Wolfe-level genius journalistes, all quivering with talent and ripe for Mrs. Brown to come a-courtin?. Nothing could be further from the truth. (Besides, I wouldn?t be surprised if the staffs at many weekly newspapers in the American provinces haven?t even heard of Tina Brown or Talk. In general, staffers at alternative papers are worried about breaking even. They should also be worried about their grammar, but leave that be for now.)
So what?s this all about? Well, first of all?and this isn?t a very important matter, actually?it?s just another example of how misunderstood the alternative press can be, and even by writers like Cotts, who works within it.
Second, and more importantly, it?s about the fact that Cotts seems to be hiking up her skirts, flashing a little thigh in order to show the editors of the glossy mags that no, she?s not some typical Voice-style librarian/hippie who spends all day wearing a full-length denim skirt and shivering with fury over how the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has slighted the unions and the Negroes yet again. Look at me, she seems to be saying: like Eddie Dean, I?m one of those alt press types who?s...sassy...and potentially even...hirable.
Cotts? piece posted in the online magazine Feed last week hammers home this thesis. Surprisingly for a piece by someone associated with "Press Clips," which is one of the defining columns of a newspaper that?s perennially patting itself on the back for its brave and integritous progressive/alternative convictions, it?s basically an appreciation of Tina Brown. "The trope of gladiator sport is especially apt for Brown, who attracted huge crowds to Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. But the star-fucking image that attached to her in her Condé Nast days is far behind her?Talk is the magazine she was born to edit. And with cast, crew, and stars on hand and a premier issue on the stands, Brown?s troubles at the helm of The New Yorker seem as far away as her days as an ill-behaved, and oft-expelled bad girl in Britain?s boarding schools."
Like that. And let me be clear. It?s completely legitimate for Cotts, as a writer who?s trying to make a living, to advertise herself to the glossies. I?d never begrudge a writer a payday. In fact, even if Talk turns out to be uninteresting, I?m glad it exists to enrich the several friends of mine whose work appears in its inaugural issue.
But I will say this: Cotts? maneuvering here (I want to use the term "triangulation") says more about the alternative press than she might be aware. She?s implicitly admitting that newspapers like the contemporary Village Voice and its scores of imitators around the country are mostly worthless except inasmuch as they?re a sort of AA writing farm league into which Tina Brown can wade like a Yankees scout (or else, depending on what you think of the institution of the alt press, and how addicted you are to spinning your metaphors, like Jesus harrowing hell). It?s true: the alternative press is mostly miserable. But it?s amazing that the occupant of the Village Voice?s arguably most prestigious chair is willing to act as if she agrees with that proposition. To act so implies that the Voice now employs people in important positions who are no longer especially interested in being "alternative" or "oppositional." Not that the Voice has been either of those things for a generation now. But at least it?s always said it was?the paper has traditionally pretended to be everything that Tina Brown isn?t. That claim, however specious coming from the Voice?s well-heeled, middle-of-the-road Messingerite beatniks, was at least that: a claim, an identity. What?s the Village Voice without it? I wonder what Dan Wolf would think of the idea that the industry that his former newspaper claims to define is nothing but a place that writers want to get out of, so they can go write copy for Allure.
So there you have it, implied by a Voice representative what skeptics have been saying all along: the alternative press is by now?with some notable exceptions?a bum institution, meaningless except inasmuch as it represents a staging area from which the few good writers within it can plan a jailbreak. These days, even "Press Clips" knows where the action is; and knows that it sure as hell ain?t with the aging burghermeister agitators moping around Cooper Sq.