Artvoice publisher Jamie Moses barged into our office waving a pool cue. And that was just the beginning.
By Matt Taibbi
We’re from out of town, so maybe we don’t know. Maybe Artvoice publisher Jamie Moses has actually done some good things for this city, and maybe he’s actually well-liked in some circles. If that’s the case, we apologize for not seeing the forest for the trees; our bad. We really don’t have any way of knowing better.
But our experience so far with one of Buffalo’s most prominent citizens has been so bizarre and improbable, and so bubbling over with sordid high comedy, that we felt that there was no way we could not go public with it. If you’re a loyal Artvoice reader, good luck and good health to you; you might want to skip this story.
But if you want to hear one of the weirdest tales of small-town megalomania since the Clintons left Little Rock, read on. This one is a doozie.
It all started exactly three Fridays ago, on the afternoon of May 30, on the QEW just east of Brantford. After three mostly sleepless and ultimately very drunken days, the BEAST staff had put the finishing touches on its first issue, and sent it to be printed. Three of us–Kevin McElwee, Masha Hedberg, and I–were on our way to Brantford’s Ricter Web publishing house to cut our new Canadian partners a check, and inspect the proofs.
We were about a half-hour away when Kevin’s cell phone rang. On the other end of the line was Scott Russell, the Ricter Web sales rep we’d dealt with throughout the week.
Scott had bad news.
Ricter Web, he explained, was also the printer for Buffalo’s Artvoice. And because they worked with Artvoice, he said, his company would be unable to publish our paper, if we were going to run material that was critical of their client. Specifically, he was referring to two articles on page 6 of our inaugural issue: “Artvoice Death Toll at 7,” which lampooned Artvoice for spending money on a color cover instead of on starving children abroad, and “Minor Celebrity Math,” which compared the gruesome face of publisher Jamie Moses to that of Nosferatu and Ivan Lendl, among others.
Just take out those articles, Scott said cheerily, and Ricter Web will be happy to print the BEAST.
Tchya, right. We at the BEAST may not be the best businesspeople, but we felt pretty sure that choosing a censor for a printer was probably not the soundest business strategy for a new newspaper. We told Scott that we’d take our business elsewhere, thank you very much.
A few minutes after turning around to go home, an unpleasant thought occurred to us, and I pulled over again to call Scott back with one final request.
“Listen,” I said, “I know I don’t need to tell you this, but we would like some assurances from you that you will not be distributing the proofs to our paper to anyone else. For a variety of reasons, we’d really rather that no one saw it until it was out on the streets. We particularly don’t want Artvoice to see it. You understand.”
Scott, who sounded on the phone like a standard-issue cubicle sales weasel, and later proved to be one, said he understood. “Of course, Matt, of course,” he said. “We follow strict confidentiality around here. Nothing to worry about. You can rely on us!”
I hung up. Ten minutes later, we got another call. It was our publisher Paul Fallon, back in Buffalo. Jamie Moses was in his office, waving a fax copy of our unpublished article in one hand, and in the other–a pool cue!
“Where’s the guy who wrote this?!” he was screaming. “I’m going to bash his head in!”
Welcome to Buffalo
A quick note: when we first arrived in Buffalo, friends warned us about Jamie Moses. “Jamie is going to fucking freak if you so much as mention him in print,” came a typical warning. “In fact, he’s going to freak even if you don’t mention him. You’d better be careful.”
Whatever, we thought. We’d just come from running a newspaper in the mafia capital of the world–Moscow–and as such had some experience in dealing with touchy characters. When you come from a place where assassinations of troublesome journalists are routine, it seems absurd to worry about the threat posed by a touchy-feely American publisher of an alternative newspaper called Artvoice–particularly one who spends his Wednesday evenings decked out in faded denim, playing covers of Dire Straits songs to single-digit bar audiences.
Besides, we thought. This is America, a free country. We have civilization and laws and stuff. If trouble comes, it’s not going to be from a guy with a name like “Ivan the Fork.” The worst thing that can happen here, we thought, is a letter from a lawyer–and we were willing to take our chances there.
In any case, if Monsieur Moses was going to go bonkers whether we went after him or not, we decided quickly that in that case, we might as well fire a shot across his bow. After all, it’s not as if there was no reason to. Even a brief exposure to Artvoice was sufficient to conclude that Moses’s paper represented more or less everything that’s wrong with what is called “alternative” journalism in America.
Most big American cities these days follow the Buffalo format when it comes to print news: on the one hand, you have a humorless and virulently conservative corporate daily, often owned by an out-of-towner (The Buffalo News), and on the other, you have an effete weekly tabloid with a funky color cover design that’s filled with all the film and music reviews you could ever want, a few desperate sex ads, and… not much else.
If you want to control the flow of information to the public while still maintaining the illusion of a free press, this is certainly the best way to do it: you make a staid, grossly biased corporate monster the only source of “hard” information, and then you identify as “alternative” one lonely well-written column by Michael Niman, surrounded by 100 pages of nightlife listings.
After ten or fifteen years of this arrangement, no one seems to think it’s strange anymore that the “alternative” newspaper appears to be aimed at some mystical personage who spends most of his time drinking gourmet coffees while fretting over new developments in the Oregon underground music scene, and who thinks performance art naturally deserves more ink space than NFL football. That person, of course, is none of us, but this just seems normal after a while.
The alternative publisher usually starts out as a right-thinking guy. He recycles, votes Democratic usually, pronounces “Nicaragua” with a close approximation of a Spanish accent. When he starts his paper, he usually does so with some vague idea of helping out “the cause,” whatever that is. But before you know it, he starts selling ads and making money. He’s standing at his cash machine one night with four hundred whole dollars in his hand, and he thinks to himself, “Hey, I can buy a lot of vintage clothing with this stuff.”
Next thing you know, he’s beefing up the money-making sections of his paper (i.e., the listings), thinning out the front parts, toning down his reviews a little here and there.
By the time he starts working stories about Yoga and Botox into his news cycle, the process is over, and Mr. Good Cause Recycler doesn’t stand for anything anymore but a market share. In a country where people are called human resources and what is called culture is really commerce , a newspaper that expresses nothing but a sales demographic is… meaningless.
We have enough meaninglessness in our lives. And if meaninglessness happens to look like a cross between Ivan Lendl and Nosferatu, you might as well say so. Why not? You’ve got to take your shots in this life when you can; it’s the only way to stay sane in an absurd world.
All the same, I was shocked to hear that Moses was in our office. This was something I was not prepared for, not even close. When Kevin handed me the phone, and I heard Paul Fallon on the other end of the line telling me he was handing the phone to Jamie, I experienced one of those rare moments when reality appears to dissolve at the edges. It was an utterly surreal scene, driving on a Canadian highway, awaiting the dread voice of an alternative tabloid assailant.
“Where are you?” came the voice on the other end of the line. It was an even, emotionless hiss.
“On my way back to Buffalo!” I blurted out.
There was a long pause. “When are you coming back?” Moses said, finally.
I make a mistake here in putting a question mark in the Moses quote. There was no verbal upturn at the end of his sentence. He was speaking in a completely even, psychotic monotone.
“When am I coming back to Buffalo? Later!” I said. Then, recovering myself, I added, “What the hell are you doing in our office?”
Moses said nothing for about eight seconds. Then, ignoring me, he repeated: “When exactly are you coming back to Buffalo?”
“Jesus Christ!” I said. “Listen, get out of our office or I’ll call the police!” No answer. Finally I told Moses to put Paul back on the line. He did. Paul and I agreed to call the police. From Paul’s description, Moses–who previously had been issuing Scooby-Doo villain threats like “I’m going to get you guys,” and, “You’re not going to get away with this,”–suddenly changed his attitude when police were called. He turned around and, pool cue in hand, quietly crept back down the corridor.
Significantly, in a literarily accurate act of foreshadowing, he lingered a little in the hallway before he left. This troubled Paul enough that he ended up walking down to the lobby of the Statler Towers a few minutes later, just to make sure Moses had left.
He asked the Statler security guard–who incidentally had directed the weapon-wielding Moses directly to our office–if Moses had left. She said he hadn’t. Finally, after five minutes or so, Moses reached the first floor via the stairwell (our office, it is worth noting, is on the 16th floor). He lingered in the lobby for a minute, then went out the door. Paul followed after him, just to make sure he had left. When he spotted Paul, he turned around and approached him again.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m crazy like an Indian sometimes.”
Paul looked at him, thinking: An Indian? What the fuck is he talking about?
“You know,” Moses added, “I took on a bunch of bikers once.”
Paul said nothing, silently thinking to himself: “This small person is not entirely sane.”
The conversation petered out shortly after that. Moses zipped up his battle regalia (a leather biker jacket), hopped on his BMW bike, and zoomed off. Police arrived later, but Moses was long gone. We filed a complaint later that night.
Even with Moses out of the office, we still suddenly had a serious problem: no printer. The inaugural issue of the BEAST was in the can and ready to print, but we had no place to go–and more importantly, no place to go right away. You can’t just go to a Kinko’s to print a newspaper; the process takes time. And if one printer could be influenced to turn us away, so could others.
After five years of freely publishing in the Jeffersonian paradise of formerly communist Russia, we suddenly had to face the proposition that in First-Amendment-protected America, we might not be able to publish at all.
We thought we had the problem solved when we called Buffalo Newspress, the outfit that publishes Alt Press, among other things. A Newspress rep told us that Friday that he didn’t anticipate any problems, and that if we came in the following Monday afternoon, they could probably print the thing by Tuesday or Wednesday.
No such luck. At exactly nine a.m. on that Monday morning, a different Newspress rep, Todd Spalti, called us at home. He told Kevin that Newspress had “obtained some information” about us, and as such could not print our newspaper. I leave it to the reader to judge for himself exactly what happened there.
Personally, I was livid. I called Spalti back and demanded to know what had happened, and where this “information” had come from–not that I didn’t have a pretty good idea. A coward in the way that all business peons are, Spalti said that he couldn’t help me, that the decision came from the president of the company, etc. Naturally, the president of the company was not available to speak with me. When I asked what the name of this president was, Spalti hung up.
On our third try, we found a printer with no ties to Buffalo who took our business. I think it goes without saying that if that’s what it takes to put out a newspaper in this country–finding a printer geographically distant from your competitors–something is fairly twisted in Denmark.
On that same Monday that Newspress rejected us, a letter spilled out of Paul’s fax machine. It was from Jamie. Regarding the incident the previous Friday, he explained himself by saying that “I was in a rage and wanted only to ‘connect’ with the author of your Artvoice article.” Then he went on to threaten us with a lawsuit before moving on to the bizarre heart of his letter:
“Also, while we have nothing to do with the poetry appearing in Artvoice but merely donate that space to the Buffalo Literary Center, your writer is far from qualified to offer a critical opinion of anyone’s writing. Offering space to aspiring writers is meant to encourage their activity, and while your writer may think he’s being funny, he’s not. He’s just being mean.”
It was hard to imagine how a person last seen making an armed foray into an office shared by the NYCLU could believably call anyone “mean,” but whatever. Incidentally, I submit that anyone who reads poetry is qualified to criticize it, and that one does not need to have the literature degrees that we in fact have to see that the stuff in Artvoice makes Suzanne Somers seem like Lord Byron.
Jamie went on to complain that we had gone after him when there were more important issues in the city to worry about. “I suggest your employees actually do some research work and shake up the people and institutions who are responsible for the downward spiral this community is experiencing… You’re close enough to City Hall to spit on the building,” he wrote. “Why doesn’t your writer get off his large ass and waddle across the street for material?”
Note: a week and a half later, Jamie would send a mass e-mail to City Hall officials (as well as to the FBI and the State Department; more on this later) complaining about the BEAST. Among his complaints was our disrespectful treatment of those same people who were responsible for the proverbial “downward spiral this community is experiencing.” The BEAST, Moses complained to (among others) Mayor Masiello and Matt Brown, “thinks City Hall is only good for playing pranks on.”
After chiding Paul to keep an eye on who his “dogies” bite (Moses is apparently unaware that a “dogie” is a cow, not a dog), Jamie wrapped up his letter: “As far as I’m concerned, I’m happy to have another publication on the street, and I would even be happy to help. But not if your strategy is to diminish our efforts. That kind of strategy is typical of the Buffalo mentality that’s poisoned this city for too long.”
Again, a strange comment coming from someone who just bought out his last competitor, Blue Dog. And… “diminish our efforts”? What, is Artvoice a polio vaccination drive? Very weird stuff. We laughed and threw the letter aside, thinking the incident was over.
Three days later, the BEAST was printed and we began to distribute. On the way back from a distribution run, Kevin and one of the interns spotted Jamie angrily reading the BEAST in a pizza place just a half-block from my house.
Upon going inside to get a slice and observe the scene, the intern also noticed that the rest of the copies of our paper were in the restaurant’s trash can.
I walked to the pizza place to photograph this scene. Jamie was sitting by the window with a man who we later determined was his lawyer, LeRoi Johnson.
I took a few pictures of the two as they examined our paper before Jamie came outside, walked up to me, and knocked my camera to the ground.
“Don’t take my fucking picture!” he shouted.
I picked up the camera. “Let me try this again,” I said.
I raised the camera again for a close-up shot, and pressed the shoot button, but it was a no go; Jamie had knocked the battery out the first time.
Nonetheless, he knocked it out of my hand again.
“Don’t take my picture, you fucking asshole!” he shouted.
I picked up the camera again and regarded our competitor. Moses is about half my size, but for a variety of compelling reasons, I was very reluctant to get into a fight with him. I’ll say this for him, though. One look at that face saved me $4.25 I might have later spent at Blockbuster renting a Wes Craven movie. His is truly a face for the ages.
We exchanged a few more pleasantries before Jamie stormed back into the pizza place, ending that scene.
Fast forward about a week. It’s midnight on a Tuesday. I’m returning home from a funeral in Long Island. I drop my girlfriend off at the house, then drive off to park the car. Walking back I encounter, standing in the shadows very near to my house, Jamie Moses.
It occurs to me that this might be a coincidence. He might be visiting someone here; I’d heard from friends that there are Artvoice staffers among my neighbors. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, I thought. Just to be sure, though, I walk up to him and ask: “What are you doing here?”
He stares at me. “I don’t have to tell you what I’m doing here,” he says.
Well, he’s right about that, I thought. So I walk on and head home. However, it occurs to me suddenly that if this is a coincidence, and he doesn’t know where I live, it might be best not to fill him in. So I walk past my house a ways and turn around to see what he’s doing.
He’s still standing there. He hasn’t moved; he’s standing in the dark, under a tree, watching me.
This is too much. I walk back to him.
“Listen,” I said. “If you’re going to stand there all night, I’m going to assume that you’re surveilling my house, and I’m going to call the police again.”
Moses said nothing, put on his helmet, and walked off. He exited by crossing the street, passing through a gate in a house opposite mine, going through a rear gate in that yard, and jumping on his motorcycle in a back alley.
Another Phantom of the Opera exit. If I ever end up in court with this guy, I thought, he’s going to leave the witness stand through a ventilator shaft behind the judge.
You know the expression, “No one makes a better husband than a reformed rake?” Well, no one makes a meaner capitalist than an ex-hippie.
There are things that even John Ashcroft would be ashamed to try that your average tree-hugging lefty won’t hesitate to resort to. Specifically, he may try to imply that his competitor is a terrorist or a foreign agent, and invite various organs of the state intelligence apparatus to investigate.
On the day after I discovered Moses outside my house, word got back to us that Jamie had circulated an e-mail about our newspaper to a number of government officials in City Hall. It’s a remarkable letter, worth reprinting in its entirety. Incidentally, please excuse me for not correcting Jamie’s grammar: I only have a limited amount of time on this earth. In any case, here it is:
You may find this warning about the Beast publication worth reading. This is the paper who last week published a “prank” they played on Mayor Masiello by fraudulently posing as casting people from the “Sopranos.” Their internet announcement proclaims they intend to be the “meanest newspaper on American soil.” Their sister paper in Moscow, (which the Beast editor has co-edited for several years), eXile, has a front page of a soccer team kicking around the severed head of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl. They also have photos of the Columbine High murderers lying in a pool of blood with the caption “Klebold and Harris, keeping it real.” The eXile also just had a judgement filed against it for writing a disgusting article about a hockey players wife. Pavel Bure sued. In their Buffalo publication the Beast, the content more or less concludes all Buffalo women are sluts, pigs and whores, all the music sucks, everyone is fat and poorly dressed, Artvoice is boring [!], and City Hall is only good for playing pranks on… basically, their editorial strategy is to make anyone and everyone feel worthless…it’s a free country and I suppose that’s their privilege [eds. Note; note that Moses says "privilege" and not "right"]…however, the e-mail correspondence below suggests there must be something more evil at the root of this publication…the editor regularly posts intelligently written essays to a Russian e-mail newsletter on far ranging topics such as Russian oil exports, corporate fashion, etc.,, and has been published in the Nation. So this is not just some aggressive frat boys being obnoxious [Eds. Note: "This is...boys?" This guy writes for a living?]. They share offices with Alt and the A.C.L.U. in the Statler towers and list their publisher as Paul Fallon, son of Judge Fallon. However, the publisher of Alt phoned Artvoice even before their paper hit the streets trying to distance himself as quickly as possible from the publication and insisting that he wished he had never met Paul Fallon or these two guys from Moscow who are putting out the Beast.
Moses then attached a copy of an internet posting about the eXile written by one Peter Ekman. Ekman was a right-wing columnist in Moscow who is pissed at us because, after receiving a nasty letter from him, we published an ugly story about an incident in which he groped one of our secretaries in a bar.
The married Ekman subsequently tried to have the eXile banned from various newsgroups by describing us as a Neo-nazi organization. Proof of our Nazi sympathies came in the form of a spoof fashion piece we’d once run entitled “The eXile’s Third Reich Uniform of the Week,” in which a fictional gay fashion designer breathlessly reviewed the 1938 version of the Nazi Field Bishop uniform. The Moses letter contained these interesting allegations of neo-Nazism.
Moses was therefore simultaneously accusing us of being Nazis and of being “evil” because we wrote for the Nation and were connected with the ACLU. A Nazi Nation contributor from the ACLU; that’s a pretty tough sell. I can only imagine what reactions this inspired.
Now for the really funny part.
Here is a partial list of the people Moses sent this letter to: Anthony Masiello, Jim Pitts, Joel Giambra, Matt Brown. Local officials who should sympathize; logical choices.
Moses also sent the letter to a local FBI agent (whose name I am omitting), to the Department of State, and to the Justice Department. If we are Americans recently flown in from Russia who hang out with the ACLU and pick on Daniel Pearl, clearly we are terrorists and spies and warrant some attention.
There was one more address I left out. Moses sent the letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. Guess whose e-mail that is?
Colin Powell’s. Moses sent a letter to Colin Powell about the BEAST. All because we said he looked like Nosferatu. I don’t have a better punchline than that. That’s where it stands now; see you next issue, folks. If there is a next issue, that is. We can only hope the Middle East keeps the General busy.