"Totally coup, yo."

Taibbi


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Let Them Eat Pork

Dec

18

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Defense Bill Raids Personnel Funds to Pay For Weapons

BY MATT TAIBBI

“The measure also trims personnel and maintenance accounts from previous versions of the measure to pump up weapons procurement for Afghanistan and Iraq by almost $2 billion.”

via The Associated Press: Wrap-up bill clears Senate hurdle.

Every year about this time a tiny trickle of little-noticed news stories weeds its way into the papers, usually in the back sections. It’s the same narrative every year: Congress lumps all the unpassed appropriations bills together, slaps them full of pork, and quietly passes them (often in the dead of night) while everyone is already thinking about Christmas.

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OPEN ASS, INSERT HEAD

Aug

05

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If Paulson’s a national hero, I’m Batman
BY MATT TAIBBI

Hank Paulson is a national hero. I said it last October and I’m sticking by it. And now, there’s actual evidence to back me up. The TARP bailout worked. The Wall Street crisis is over.”

-Evan Newmark, It’s Time to Enshrine Hank Paulson as National Hero

So here’s the letter I wrote to the Wall Street Journal after reading Evan Newmark’s paean to Hank Paulson last week:

Dear WSJ,

Just out of curiosity — did Evan Newmark ever work for Goldman, Sachs? And if the answer to the question is yes, don’t you think that might have been a good fact to disclose before he fellated Hank Paulson in his “Mean Street” column?

Sincerely,
Matt Taibbi

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The 50 Most Loathsome Americans, 2002

Jan

10

by

At times like these, when our government is telling us (and the rest of the world) to get on board for a war halfway around the world, it can be instructive to take a moment to consider who the real enemies are right here at home. No doubt you have your own pet people to despise from among the nation’s political, cultural, and media establishment, but without further ado, here’s our list: THE BEAST 50 MOST LOATHSOME PEOPLE IN AMERICA.


50. BOB WOODWARD

Misdeeds: Unseated one president and then spent the rest of his career sucking up to politicians through expense-accounted lunches. Wrote a 10-part series profiling Bush’s White House after 9/11 that read like a “Penthouse Forum” letter. Clearly fantasizes about giving advice to second-tier senators.

Aggravating Factor: Robert Redford went on to be a pompous Hollywood institution, too.

Aesthetic: Typewriter-bearing decommissioned drag queen.


49. LYNNE CHENEY

Misdeeds: Most wives of elite politicians take up charitable causes. Dick Cheney’s wife teamed up with Joe Lieberman to form a group called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which drew up a blacklist of academics whose patriotism was judged to have “fallen short” in the wake of 9/11. Among the targets: the president of Wesleyan University, who said that “disparities and injustices” in American society can provoke violence, and a University of Oregon professor emeritus who said that “we need to understand the reasons behind the terrifying hatred directed against the U.S. and find ways to act that will not foment more hatred for generations to come.”

Aggravating Factor: Wrote a novel called Sisters that contained lesbian themes in 1981; currently freaks out every time her openly gay daughter is mentioned by journalists.

Aesthetic: Bea Arthur’s nasty mother on The Golden Girls.


48. TONY BLAIR

Misdeeds: Not an American, but might as well be: being America’s bitch counts. It used to be that politicians sold out their constituents to larger domestic interests; now, with power and money largely spread across borders and centered in transnational companies, politicians have the option of selling out entire countries. Blair’s recent pronouncements about the Iraqi threat were so obviously scripted in Washington, it was embarrassing.

Aggravating Factor: Recently attempted to outlaw one of England’s last distinguishing silly customs-fox hunting. Can goofy hats and bisexual thespianism be far behind?

Aesthetic: Slavish young p.r. exec who flatters the CEO before disappearing to read foot fetishism magazines in the bathroom down the hall.


47. JAY LENO

Misdeeds: Pathologically driven entertainer whose success came as a result of his work ethic: in his youth he did more than 300 shows a year in Boston comedy clubs. Like most comedians, his drive obviously derives from a rapacious inner self-hatred, but unlike most comedians, he expresses this not in self-deprecation or actual humor, but in a frantic, painful public quest to retain his job through a galactic volume of horrible jokes and shameless flattery. A few years ago it was Bill Clinton dick jokes, this year it’s bin-Laden-cave jokes; whatever sells, just keep pumping them out.

Aggravating Factor: Told 18,802 political jokes in his first ten years on the Tonight Show, not a single one of them funny enough to keep Dick Cheney off his show.

Aesthetic: High school hard-luck case who made it big and is rubbing it in.


46. TREY ANASTASIO

Misdeeds: The pied piper of Vermont, Anastasio and his Phish bandmates have brainwashed white kids into believing that not showering, eating mushrooms, and listening to a jam band play cover songs is the path to enlightenment. When he stopped touring with Phish, their fans had no choice but to follow fifth and sixth-rate jam bands, giving rise to the beyond-awful Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, or any other whimsically named group of slapdicks that think adding bongo drums and a mandolin makes for good music. Anastasio’s one redeeming factor is that at least one kid has probably died by choking on a glow stick at one of his concerts.

Aggravating Factor: Doesn’t even encourage kids to do drugs. Kept Relics magazine going after Jerry Garcia’s death.

Aesthetic: High school A/V club moderator meets art teacher.


45. DAVID BROOKS

Misdeeds: The author of a lengthy self-love letter entitled Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, Brooks has arrived as the official autobiographer of the new elite. His vision of the new upper class-”Bobos” stands for “Bourgeois Bohemians”-is that of the end result of a grand historical effort at meritocracy, i.e., everyone who is rich deserves to be rich, not because of any Social-Darwinist superiority, but mainly because they have… good taste. In an amusing twist on Fukuyama’s End of History, he claimed that the Bobos’ taste in furniture represented the apex of the human effort at interior design, one that would never need to be improved upon.

Aggravating Factor: On Bobo mating: “[On] the Times weddings page, you can almost feel the force of the mingling SAT scores. It’s Dartmouth marries Berkeley, MBA weds PhD… and summa cum laude embraces summa cum laude (you rarely see a summa settling for a magna-the tension in such a marriage would be too great).”

Aesthetic: Turbocharged IKEA customer.


44. CHARLOTTE BEERS

Misdeeds: Was last year named Undersecretary of State and placed in charge of government propaganda. A former Madison Avenue ad executive who made her name marketing Uncle Ben’s rice, Beers referred to the United States as an “elegant brand” and the President and Secretary of State as “symbols of the brand.” Boasted that her target of a 30 percent conversion rate among Muslims was “a sales curve that any corporation would envy. ”

Aggravating Factor: Is a close friend of Martha Stewart.

Aesthetic: Empowered, sexually active menopausal.


43. TOM BROKAW

Misdeeds: There’s just something about this guy that makes you want to reach for a sharp object every time you turn on the news… Maybe it’s his heavily marketed image of smug self-righteousness, or maybe it’s the fact that The Greatest Generation, his vapid catch-phrase stretched to book length, was a monstrous best-seller. Hunter Thompson once said that Nixon’s idea of a good joke was a paraplegic who couldn’t reach high enough to vote Democratic, but Brokaw is a person that it’s hard to imagine has any idea at all of a good joke.

Aggravating Factor: He commented on NBC Nightly News that while the Office of Homeland Security might have sounded like a name from a “totalitarian regime,” the 9/11 attacks “proved that something in America has to change.”

Aesthetic: The quirky fourth in a golfing party of Dupont executives.


42. MICHAEL MOORE

Misdeeds: Every would-be oppositionist in the country has lined up to blow Moore every since he put out the amazing film Roger and Me, anointing him as a leading political figure and a brilliant creative mind even though he’s been an unfunny, egomaniacal blowhard for over ten years now. Moore wears his dissident credentials not on his sleeve, but on his head and his waistline: his mesh baseball cap and fat body are now the leading brand-ID marker for political discontent among the narrow, incestuous “enlightened left” demographic. Gertrude Stein said that “A mouth is a mouth is a mouth”; Moore shows that a media darling is a media darling is a media darling.

Aggravating Factor: The O’Reilly Factor is a hundred times more entertaining than TV Nation ever was.

Aesthetic: Upper-class poor hygiene and grooming habits disguised as working-class sloth.


41. LOU DOBBS

Misdeeds: Whenever you’re in the mood to have someone stare you in the face and say, “People like me are overeating and laughing at your failure because our high-paying advertisers manipulated the market,” you can always turn on Moneyline. The pioneer of the snorting, this-is-where-the-action-really-is Wall Street TV program appears to be gaining four pounds a year, a remarkable number given that he was nicknamed “The Fat Pig” in CNN’s New York studios 15 years ago.

Aggravating Factor: Repeatedly soft-pedaled his coverage of Arthur Andersen’s role in Enron; the firm had sponsored his “Business Unusual” show between 1997 and 1999 and paid him for speaking gigs.

Aesthetic: Mostly sexless gray-hair-and-suspenders look, tinged with a faint trace of submerged sadism.


40. CRIS CARTER

Misdeeds: Is a former cocaine addict who found God and became even more insufferable afterward; said, upon leaving the Vikings, that it wasn’t about the money but that he wanted to win a championship, then subsequently blew off the Rams to visit the Browns; set the cause of the black man back a hundred years by appearing as a slouching yes-man next to Dan Marino and Cris Collinsworth on HBO’s Inside the NFL.

Aggravating Factor: Wouldn’t play this year for a mere million dollars.

Aesthetic: Expensive but failed attempt at elder-statesman look.


39. JOE LIEBERMAN

Misdeeds: Is short; is vengefully unprincipled; seems like the kind of person who out of all of the people solemnly hanging their heads at a funeral would be most likely to be thinking about calling his pollster. Wishes he weren’t Jewish, so that he could be John McCain. The poster boy of the Democratic Party drowning in its own vacuity, frantically discharging political ballast in order to reach the surface.

Aggravating Factor: Makes Al Gore seem human.

Aesthetic: A high-school principal who gives taller kids twice the usual amount of detention.


38. TOM CLANCY

Misdeeds: America’s Tolstoy. Writes vast epics in which all the characters are either enemies or law enforcement operatives trying to reach the ear of the president. Describes an SS-20 the way Flaubert would have described Emma Bovary’s dress. In a staggering indictment of our intellectual climate, he is beginning to be taken seriously as a literary figure.

Aggravating Factor: Jack Ryan films make it harder to appreciate Harrison Ford’s early movies.

Aesthetic: West Point career counselor.


37. JOHN RITTER

Misdeeds: Chevy Chase was funny when he was falling down, but with this guy you feel upset that he’s acting and not really falling on his face. Another great example of how things have gotten worse since the 80′s: while Three’s Company was tolerable in an amusing, lowest-common-denominator kind of way, 8 Simple Rules… has no denominator at all. Like most of our entertainment, it’s just there, like mold. Its basic message is the continued employment of John Ritter, which in this celebrity-obsessed, E! Entertainment era is actually a marginal kind of genuine drama for many viewers-and that should scare the living shit out of all of us.

Aggravating Factor: Janeane Garofalo says that “He took the worst show on television (Three’s Company) and made it good.”

Aesthetic: John Ritter-like. The whole point of being who he is is that he has his own aesthetic.


36. DAVID HOROWITZ

Misdeeds: Made off with one of the great intellectual quidae pro quo in American history, exchanging his radical roots-Horowitz was a founder of the excellent Ramparts magazine of the sixties and an intimate friend of Black Panther Huey Newton-for a new role as a denouncing ex-radical conservative. Predictably, it paid off in a series of hugely lucrative book contracts and regular gigs as a campus speaker (including a recent spot at UB). It’s safe to say that he would rather switch… than fight. The National Review pays a hell of a lot more than Ramparts.

Aggravating Factor: Recently argued that anyone who advocates radical change, including organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Lawyers’ Guild, is guilty of criminal treason even if they do not commit criminal acts.

Aesthetic: Conservative who wears a sixties beard and unkempt thinning hair, probably for marketing purposes.


35. THE UNBORN CHILD OF J-LO AND BEN AFFLECK

Misdeeds: Failing to abort self in earliest stages of development. Exhibits remarkably limited facial expression (the two presented so far are barely distinguishable from each other) and virtual no emotional range outside of fatuity.

Aggravating Factor: Already a tabloid darling.

Aesthetic: J-Lo meets Stephen Dorff.


34. PAT ROBERTSON

Misdeeds: Won’t rest until we’re all on our knees, praying to Jesus and dreaming of jobs at Wal-Mart.

Aggravating Factor: Back in 1992, said this about apartheid in South Africa: “I think ‘one man, one vote,’ just unrestricted democracy, would not be wise. There needs to be some kind of protection for the minority which the white people represent now, a minority, and they need and have a right to demand a protection of their rights.”

Aesthetic: Inquisitor-perfect hygiene.


33. MICHAEL BAY

Misdeeds: Unfortunately, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor contained all of the elements that Bay and his producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and 14-year-old boys love: America’s armed forces, explosions, jingoism, and a ragtag group who defy all odds and ultimately save the day. He also contributed Bad Boys, The Rock, and Armaggedon to the national oeuvre. A constant guest at the Playboy Mansion, he’s always featured in the party pictures section with a sly grin, open bathrobe, and a blonde bimbo who almost certainly has one of the following: fake tits, a shaved snapper, a kitten, or the lack of a male role model in her adolescence which led her to believe that men will only like her if she has fake tits, a shaved snapper, and a kitten.

Aggravating Factor: Made $25,000,000 for directing Pearl Harbor. That’s approximately $25,000 for each man whose memory he dishonored with that abortion of a movie.

Aesthetic: The love child of Craig Kilborn and a Golden Retriever.


32. THOMAS FRIEDMAN

Misdeeds: Mustachioed New York Times columnist who is celebrated in polite society for his “thoughtful” and “brave” political positions, for instance the decision to run a column entitled “Give War a Chance.” Believes the entire world should be forced, militarily if necessary, to accept the American model of prosperity, which he calls “The Golden Straitjacket.”

Aggravating Factor: Author of perhaps the worst and most mentally displeasing metaphors in the history of the English language, terms like “BisCzarism” and “The Electronic Herd.”

Aesthetic: Bit actor on 70′s cop show; Buick salesman.


31. MICHAEL EISNER

Misdeeds: Disney owns half the planet, makes shitty movies, and drapes the teen landscape with no-talent sexual narcissists like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera. As CEO, takes home hundreds of millions of dollars every year while paying Bangladeshi textile workers 15 cents per t-shirt and Vietnamese toy-making laborers 8 cents an hour, four times less than the state subsistence level of 32 cents an hour.

Aggravating Factor: Makes you feel guilty about putting money in his pocket by watching Monday Night Football.

Aesthetic: All forehead and tie; archeologists will one day study those jaws.


30. SHERYL CROW

Misdeeds: Wrote the modern-day “Don’t Worry Be Happy” with her hit, “Soak Up The Sun,” which is about “Not having what you want, but wanting what you’ve got.” The song is about having a crummy job that doesn’t pay enough, and the very instant it was recorded, Crow sold the commercial rights to the song to American Express.

Aggravating Factor: Refused to allow VH-1 to use footage of her in her pre nose-job days as a backup singer for Michael Jackson.

Aesthetic: Self magazine cover girl.


29. BILL O’REILLY

Misdeeds: At least Rush Limbaugh was funny every now and then. This new monster deals in untrammeled viciousness and invective, and his “Talking Points” help the Great Beast out there to reduce the entire world to six-word bulletins. He does a lot of waving and snorting at his guests whenever they disagree with him. To watch him is to be inspired to thrilling hatred, which may explain his ratings success, beyond the fact that 90% of the public buys him as real journalism.

Aggravating Factor: Claimed on the air that his former show, “Inside Edition,” won a Peabody award when it didn’t; assailed Tom Arnold for allowing highly entertaining former criminal Michael Irvin on “The Best Damn Sports Show, Period.”

Aesthetic: Brothel customer who won’t pay a dollar over the list price, occasionally gets rough and takes a long time.


28. STEVEN SPIELBERG

Misdeeds: Onslaught of films that are full of “wonder” and “splendor” and small innocent boys with bowl haircuts in confusing/terrifying situations. Thirty-year creative progression was from mechanical fish to mechanical lizards. You will want to kill many innocent people after seeing Always.

Aggravating Factor: Made you root for Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List. Has a palace in the Hamptons the size of Belize.

Aesthetic: Wears baseball cap to remind people he was a director once, only he doesn’t wear them on the set anymore.


27. GREGG WILLIAMS

Misdeeds: Who calls a 7-step drop-back pass play on second down when your team is on the opposing team’s 20-yard-line in OT? Who does that?

Aggravating Factor: So constantly in terror of losing his job that he probably has not noticed how ugly the Bills’ new road uniforms are.

Aesthetic: A dentist who you never warm up to in years of treatment.


26. DENNIS MILLER

Misdeeds: It’s that look he gives you when he laughs at the camera after a punch line, as if to say, “Man, can you believe I pulled that reference off?” Forget the fact that the dark shadow he cast over professional football has yet to be lifted; forget even that ABC had an “Annotated Dennis Miller” page on its MNF site to help football viewers grasp the odd reference to Titus Andronicus in the third quarter of the Ravens game; all you need to know about Dennis Miller is that he made smart-alecky-ness into an industry even less interesting and threatening than machine-tool building. Is also perhaps the most irritating corporate pitchman in history.

Aggravating Factor: Spoiled the satisfyingly ridiculous Wesley Snipes vehicle Murder at 1600 with his “Get a load of me playing a cop!” performance in a supporting role.

Aesthetic: Big Chill-style yuppie who smokes the occasional joint and livens up the Greenwich Village dinner party with a surprising vagina joke.


25. GEORGE PATAKI

Misdeeds: Only shows up in WNY to announce eminent sodomizing of Erie and Niagara County denizens by way of deals swung with leaders of a separate nation who will occupy various landmarks without the consent of citizens, garner staggering profits from the meager estates of the humblest patriots from the occupied region, take a little cut for himself, then sell that shit to the zombies in the more easterly sectors of the state as economic growth hoping to beg their votes predicated on ignorance. Probably would have thrown Buffalo (and pretty much any other aging outstate work horse) out of the barn in the wake of 9/11 if it weren’t for the suburban vote outweighing the voice of urban frustration and the New York State Constitution.

Aggravating Factor: Will serve another term due to his ridiculous posturing and the influence exerted on the Democratic Party’s consciousness by the mischievous Clinton twins.

Aesthetic: A clean-shaven Michael “Meathead” Stivic with a gag comb-over wig.


24. FAITH HILL

Misdeeds: Achieved immense fame with undetectable relevance. You know who her husband is, what health problems her infant child has suffered and how fucked up her relationship with Tim McGraw is, yet, you have no idea what she does for a living or any skill or any interests she possesses. If you do know she is a country singer, you can’t hum any of her songs or claim with any certainty that you’ve seen her in the same room with Christina Aguilera.

Aggravating Factor: Coupled with the fame of her husband they have relegated the memory of her relief-pitcher great father-in-law Tug McGraw to that of a parent of Country Music’s answer to George Michael.

Aesthetic: “The other woman” in any B-movie crossed with Barbie of the Mattel family.


23. OPRAH WINFREY

Misdeeds: Eyes, like those of a fish, are too far apart; is a gigantic self-directed industry and the “World’s Girlfriend.” A little-discussed offense is Winfrey’s role in pushing horrible literature on America; one appearance on her show is enough to launch vile schlock like Joan Wester Anderson’s The Power of Miracles to the top of the bestseller list. A leading citizen in a world where rich people are neither black nor white.

Aggravating Factor: The University of Texas now offers a course called “Oprah: Race/Business in America.”

Aesthetic: Proud self-improver; a triumphant “After” picture.


22. WILLIAM REHNQUIST

Misdeeds: Most people target Scalia and Thomas as the chief knee-jerk lunatics on the Supreme Court, but Rehnquist-who as a Republican pollster in the sixties was known to try to scare away blacks at polling places-is the only one of the three who actually has a real grasp of the law, which makes him much more dangerous. Wrote a violent dissenting opinion when the Court banned executions of the mentally ill.

Aggravating Factor: In the Bush v. Gore case, wrote, “”The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States.”

Aesthetic: The extreme evolution of the southern cop who breaks your taillight.


21. TONY ROBBINS

Misdeeds: Gave birth to a generation of self-obsessed psycho-isolationists who avoid the news and reality in general as a matter of principle and concentrate on the “positives”-usually sales-related jobs and anything else that makes them “happy.”

Aggravating Factor: There are a lot of people just like him out there now.

Aesthetic: Robust, tall, perfect teeth, everything you’re not.


20. TIGER WOODS

Misdeeds: He has refused to align himself with any specific race because of his complex ethnic make-up and this confuses his detractors and leaves pot-bellied, country club, Johnnie Walker swillers perplexed when trying to apply an appropriate and effective racial joke or epithet to him. He also refuses to align himself with his native country in international competition if any of his corporate sponsors is simultaneously hosting a high-stakes tournament. He will however pose as any one of a handful of ethnicities in his gluttonous TV commercial orgy. He just looks like his breath stinks.

Aggravating Factors: You’ll hear golf pundits, whatever the fuck that is, talk about Woods achieving his dominance in a period when there are so many great golfers. Horseshit. You would have never seen Nicklaus or Palmer quake and crumble in fear during the final round of tournament after tournament, like Mickelson and Duval do, when hearing Woods thunder down the fairways behind them. His greatness, like that of the late Michael Jordan’s, is sullied by the sheer absence of any significant talent out there to challenge them in their time.

Aesthetic: With his hat off, he looks like Zippy The Pinhead born to the union of Alfred E. Neumann and Hop Sing from Bonanza.


19. SARAH JESSICA PARKER

Misdeeds: Every time you think there might be a Roy Jones, Jr. fight on HBO, there’s Carrie Bradshaw and her gaggle of nervous, self-hating bourgeois Manhattan sluts fretting about their latest three-month relationship that may or may not turn into marriage. America took all the fun out of sex years ago by talking about it publicly so much; now we have shows that talk about talking about sex. It’s a wonder any man in Manhattan can ever get an erection.

Aggravating Factor: Seemed to think her performance as “The Broad” in State and Main was ironic.

Aesthetic: A woman’s idea of what a sexy woman looks like.


18. BOB KERREY

Misdeeds: Commanded the Navy-Seal massacre of 21 people, mostly women and children, at the village of Thanh Phong during the Vietnam War, won a Bronze Star for his efforts, and then was made an even bigger hero after the news came out for bringing home the “pain and sorrow” of Vietnam war veterans. This past year, he “confronted” his personal media tragedy by putting out a shallow, apparently hastily-written biography entitled When I Was a Young Man that glosses over the yucky stuff and generally presents the killing part as a typically painful coming-of-age story.

Aggravating Factor: Clearly still wants to run for President and will probably get his chance one day.

Aesthetic: X-Files facial structure, burning eyes, dull suits.


17. KEN BURNS

Misdeeds: Telling that horrendous misrepresentation of the War Between the States from a dizzying Yankee slant. It has been called a war of attrition, but the Civil War (the actual war, not to be confused with Burn’s more lengthy documentary of the same name) would have been over much sooner had the Yankee and Rebel soldiers faced each other over a grave trench and instead of mailing their letters home-the letters read throughout Burn’s fantasy-read them to each other until they all fell victim to apoplectic seizures triggered by vicious infections of excruciating boredom.

Aggravating Factor: He has continued to film his versions of historical drivel in the same torturous style. He made an entire nation of Volvo-driving Ikea addicts-with their disposable income earmarked for donation to a TV network that shows mostly sewing programs and shows trying to teach project kids the alphabet-believe they now know something about baseball and jazz. That’s dangerous shit.

Aesthetic: Mister Rogers’s soothing voice and Dudley Moore’s harmlessness with a haircut and beard taken from Dobie Gillis.


16. ARI FLEISCHER

Misdeeds: Wherever he ends up placed on this list will not be high enough. This motherfucker carries G.W. Bush’s demon seed in his anal womb, gestates a fresh offspring a couple times a day and produces a few Rosemary’s steamers at press conferences with all the non-chalance of a Spot Coffee latte jerk. Fleischer is the very bold assertion, by the powers that be, that Americans and their media representatives are too whip-shy to just say, “Wait a fucking minute. You’re telling a goddamned lie, Fleischie.” He is a brazen challenge from the tri-laterals and Bildenbergs, etc., that they know that we, as the TV umbilical-cable-dependent, won’t do anything to jeopardize our little no-compulsory-military-service, double-mocha-under-a-self-contained, climate-controlled indoor-suburban-shopping-theme-park-with-a-Botox-safety-net dream.

Aggravating Factor: He is less life-like than every other who has stood in his rank. Within weeks, there promises to be empirical evidence that Fleischer was produced by the same laboratory that gave us Nixon tron John Dean.

Aesthetic: C3PO melded with Carson Daly operating off a modified Charles Grodin chip.


15. JIM ROME

Misdeeds: Like Woods (see #20), he is also raceless but he co-opts a hackneyed litany of passe hip-hop culture tag lines. He makes Sportscenter seem daring and cutting edge. He abuses the first amendment from both radio and TV on a daily basis. He has about as much insight into the athlete’s psyche as does Joyce Brothers or Elton John. Rome is pathetically enamored with his emperorship over his cretinous listener-subjects. He abuses his mastery over the caller-participants of his show like some half-wit from King of the Hill who was made manager of a third-rate drive-thru. The only references he seems to have from the world of normal people are exhibited in his frequent mentions of his “college days,” which appears to be the last time Rome spent any time around a human being that he wasn’t interviewing. He has reset the standard for the kiss-ass, doormat interviewer when questioning difficult and press-shy stars.

Aggravating Factor: Recently re-signed radio deal. He can’t seem to reconcile with the fact that many towns and large markets don’t want him on the air and he will not shut up about it. He’s like some relentless, piss-soaked street bum that gets belligerent when you tell him you can’t give him any money today. He’s whiny and colossally judgmental on the scale of Rush Limbaugh.

Aesthetic: G.I. Joe with default goatee if he were drawn by the guy that does the Gil Thorpe comic strip.


14. EVE ENSLER

Misdeeds: Writer of the of the grossly overrated Vagina Monologues, which, according to Ensler herself, “explores the humor, pain, wisdom, and mystery hidden in vaginas.” Her play has become a phenomenon despite the fact that it is a Meredith Baxter-Lifetime movie but with lots of synomyns for cooter. Has convinced literally millions of women that they derive their identity not from their thoughts, taste, actions, or beliefs, but from their hairy, smelly vaginas. Likes to think that she’s being provocative by using the word vagina a lot and making lots of puns to advertise her play. e.g., “spread the word”, “think inside the box.” Here’s a clever pun for your campaign, Eve: “This play’s dialogue is tighter than a 12-year-old Thai prostitute.”

Aggravating Factor: Started V-Day, a campaign which seeks to end violence against women worldwide in five years by enlisting the likes of Brooke Shields to wear t-shirts with a red V on them. Wholeheartedly believes that asking Claire Danes questions like, “What would your vagina say if it could speak?” is the path to end thousands of years of violence. (Claire’s answer: “Hooray for this!”)

Aesthetic: Women’s Studies professor at a Pennsylvania liberal arts college.


13. SEAN HANNITY

Misdeeds: Without question one of the most smarmy, vile, hypocritical talking heads on television. Has the uncanny ability to vilify and generalize those who disagree with him, and then state that he’s not a partisan person. Exploits his devout Catholicism and patriotism to the point that it makes you think he’s selling something-like his book, whose cover features his giant head in front of one of the glossiest, waviest American flags ever. Much of his wrath can probably be traced to his displeasure that Reagan still can’t remember his name although he’s met him many times.

Aggravating Factor: Since 9/11, pretends to be genuinely convinced that anyone who disagrees with the Bush administration does not want America to be safe.

Aesthetic: Repressed kid from Long Island who got to college, was scared of sex, discovered other repressed white kids in conservative student group, joined them, devoted rest of life to blasting people who didn’t.


12. EMINEM

Misdeeds: Expecting people to care about his shitty childhood because he is white. Dissing his mama. Lifting weights after he got famous. Is the official voice of white teenage suburban boys. Has already worn out his shock value to the extent that his next album will have to include slurs against parapalegics and land-mine victims just to raise eyebrows.

Aggravating Factor: For someone who sells millions of records partly due to making fun of other people, has no sense of humor about himself.

Aesthetic: Trailer-trash cracker with just a hint of Down’s Syndrome.


11. LEE GREENWOOD

Misdeeds: Penned the not-so-subtle propaganda ballad, “God Bless the U.S.A.” This guy should actually embarrass most Southerners. Seems to be under the impression that he has a career of some sort.

Aggravating Factor: Entire career rests on whether or not the United States is at war with somebody.

Aesthetic: The straight, leather jacket-wearing twin brother of Christopher Lowell.


10. ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Misdeeds: Uses glasses to upgrade her image from WASP-y soccer mom to WASP-y soccer mom who reads. Thought dying her hair black would make her a real journalist. Cried on camera while reporting from Ground Zero.

Aggravating Factor: Has quite possibly the whitest name you can imagine. Her name is the equivalent of a black person named La’ Shawna Jackson-Watkins.

Aesthetic: Co-chair of the Elk Woods Country Club charity golf tournament.


9. KARL ROVE

Misdeeds: Many will wonder why George Bush isn’t on this list. Well, he is-in the person of White House strategist Karl Rove. Known in Washington as “Bush’s Brain,” Rove was a legend for many years among bar-frequenting Texas journalists, who noted that the insane drunken ramblings that came out of Rove’s mouth on Sunday night often escaped Bush’s lips on Monday afternoon. The inventor of such transparent lunacies as “compassionate conservatism” and the hidden hand behind much of the post-9/11 imagery surrounding the presidency, Rove is even better and more ruthless at his job than mean-spirited cancer victim Lee Atwater, and his presence virtually guarantees continued Bush rule through 2008.

Aggravating Factor: In 1970, he used a false identity to gain entry to the campaign offices of Illinois Democrat Alan Dixon, who was running for state treasurer. Once inside, Rove swiped some letterhead stationery and sent out 1,000 bogus invitations to the opening of the candidate’s headquarters promising “free beer, free food, girls, and a good time for nothing.”

Aesthetic: Boss Hogg with a CPA.


8. ROBIN WILLIAMS

Misdeeds: After a stint as a slightly annoying, but amusingly tolerable cokehead, Robin Williams decided he wanted to be a serious actor. His first incarnation was that of an iconoclastic goofball who upsets the stuffy establishment with his hijinks, while making people laugh and ending the movie with a tearful, impassioned plea to live life to its fullest. After that, Williams took it upon himself to remind everyone how great the human condition is because no matter how many times life gets you down, you can still laugh, and that’s what matters. He is now in his I’m-a-serious-actor-because-I-can-be-scary phase of his career.

Aggravating Factor: Even though everyone already kisses his ass, he still feels the need to win people over on TV appearances with those madcap improvisational impressions that he’s been doing for years. His latest standup comedy tour and HBO special was akin to a 22-year-old hanging out at a high school parking lot, trying to prove he’s still cool.

Aesthetic: Your short, hairy, annoying uncle


7. CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY

Misdeeds: Represents everything that is corrupt and wrong in the Catholic Church. As archbishop of Los Angeles, Mahony personally lobbied for and oversaw the construction of the $189.5-million-dollar Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, despite protests against a “fat cat cathedral” and evidence that the site chosen was a sacred Indian burial ground. The cathedral also boasts two conference centers, separated by a cafe and gift shop, with catering,, projection screens, and high-speed DSL access. Apparently, the LA archdiocese is unfamiliar with the Bible passage where Jesus throws the money changers out of the temple, or the part about a rich man getting into heaven being like a camel going through the eye of a needle, or the part that says you should not molest children, or just about any part except that one passage where Jesus takes a break from washing a leper’s feet to relax in the elegant atmosphere of an air-conditioned conference center.

Aggravating Factor: Exactly 16 days after the dedication of the cathedral, Cardinal Mahony announced that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest, would have to lay off 60 workers and cut eight programs due to a $4.3 million dollar deficit. The cardinal explained that the deficit was actually not related to the cost of the cathedral, but was in fact due to losses from investments in the stock market.

Aesthetic: Close your eyes and picture someone that acts like a CEO and protects people who molest children. Can you picture him yet? Now put a little red hat on him and a bunch of fancy robes. There you go!


6. 2002 USA BASKETBALL TEAM

Misdeeds: Too egregious even to mention; all should have their passports revoked and be deported to Myanmar.

Aggravating Factor: Ben Wallace repeatedly abused under the basket by Argentinean forwards.

Aesthetic: Hip-hop in retreat.


5. MARY KATE AND ASHLEY OLSEN

Misdeeds: Their entire life up to this point. The Olsen twins starred as the precocious Michelle on the abysmal Full House, a television show so vile that any sensible person would rather watch an abortion gone horribly wrong than sit through five minutes of it. As of this date the twins have sold 29 million books, 1.5 million albums, and 30 million videos. They also have their own line of video games, a magazine, CD-ROMs, and a fashion and lifestlye line available at Walmart which teach young girls that it’s OK to be walking through piles of shit as long as you have a cute skirt and flirty earrings.

Aggravating Factor: Their company expects to rake in roughly 1 billion dollars in sales in the next year, which hopefully a crooked manager will steal from them because these sluts are already worth $38 million each.

Aesthetic: One half Britney Spears, one half Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ


4. BONO

Misdeeds: This walking sunglass ad earnestly believes he was born in precisely the right era to seize the moment and sell all the Bono he can get rid of to a wandering Diaspora of displaced lefties who are so certain their world encompassing only the simple conflicts of apartheid and rogue whaling would get them into their 50s. For all his worry and empathy directed toward the tribulations of the afflicted, he sure has a lot of time left over for schlock pop songineering and post-hipster cinematic abortions.

Aggravating Factor: He becomes visibly more inane and pandering by the video-byte and yet shows no sign of fading from our view.

Aesthetic: Stockard Channing circa-Grease meets Bob Geldof circa-Sun City with a computer-projected 23-year aging factor.


3. YOU

Misdeeds: Your life is an empty void from birth to death, and you think that just because you reproduced, you invented the wheel. Emptiness on a grand scale is the crime of celebrities; the rest of us are lost in a sea of misdemeanors… each other.

Aggravating Factor: We’re one of you.

Aesthetic: None.


2. TOM GRUDNOWSKI

Misdeeds: CEO of Fair Isaac, the nation’s largest credit scoring agency, and the one primarily responsible for the system that allows auto amd health insurance companies to charge vastly higher rates to people who have faulty credit histories. It’s bad enough that you can’t get credit if you have some problems in your past; now your late Visa payments might make it harder for you to drive or see a doctor.

Aggravating Factor: Anonymous nature of credit industry makes it virtually impossible to find any personal information about one of the most powerful people in the country.

Aesthetic: A faceless ghost who hovers like a cloud over most people every day, infecting them with worries.


1. ANN COULTER

Misdeeds: Goebbels with tits. The phenomenon we all should have seen coming; the merger of bimbo sex appeal and neo-fascist vituperation. In an age when every Hollywood hero is a CIA administrator and people express their rebelliousness by playing the stock market, it only makes sense that we’d have a sex symbol who lobbies to massacre foreigners and forcibly convert the survivors to Christianity. Charlene Tilton seems a distant memory.

Aggravating Factors: Explaining political sympathies: “I love Texas Republicans! They’re these beautiful women, they’re so great-looking, they’re completely loaded. They’re dripping in this gorgeous jewelry.” Believes John Walker Lindh should be executed, so college liberals will understand that “they can be killed, too.”

Aesthetic: Eva Braun meets Sex and the City meets Alpha Rho Lambda.


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PRIZE SNOOZE

May

31

by

by Matt Taibbi

I’m new to Buffalo, but already I feel offended on the city’s behalf every time I turn on the news. No city in the country gets less love from the national media than Buffalo. And no city’s journalists get left out of the fun more. When was the last time you saw a TV reporter from Buffalo standing in a flak jacket in front of a burning tank? When was the last time you saw an overpaid Buffalo journalist (Tim Russert no longer counts) with a self-satisfied smirk on his face lobbing out softball questions from a panel at a Presidential debate? The answers in both cases are never and never– and the sad news, folks, is that that will probably never change.

Here’s an illustration of how bad things are for Buffalo. Just last week, when the remains of Chandra Levy’s body were found in a park in Washington, every major network in the country had a reporter in a jogging costume at the park within two hours. Fox TV’s Greta Van Susteren was there in 90 minutes. As I watched her doing her live shot, I thought there was something strange about the camera was set up. Van Susteren’s trademark masculine chin was just as freakishly cubical and convex as always, but the background in the shot looked fuzzy, remote. After a minute, I thought to myself: “Gosh, Greta’s pretty far off the ground. She’s gotten taller.”

But that was only the way it looked. In fact, Van Susteren was standing on top of Wolf Blitzer, Sam Donaldson, and 23 other bureau hacks from local affiliates all over the country. The journalists were standing in a pile there at Rock Creek. They were stacked so high that the networks had to shoot from crane-buckets and towers. But there was no one there from Buffalo, not even on the print side– in fact, as far as I can tell, there was no Buffalo reporter even in the city at all.

Buffalo’s best chance to get in on the feeding frenzy, the Buffalo News, mailed it in. Their front-page Chandra story the next day was a dull double-bylined offering by two out-of-house reporters, Steve Twomey and Sari Horowitz of the Washington Post.

The Levy story, frivolous as it obviously is, is a perfect illustration of how the structure of modern media fails smaller markets like Buffalo. Year after year, the Buffalo News attains some of the highest profitability margins of any newspaper in the country. Just a few years ago, Editor and Publisher magazine rated it as the most profitable newspaper in the country. It has a billionaire owner and seemingly limitless resources to pursue its own coverage of breaking news. Yet it doesn’t even have its own reporters in the nation’s capital to cover hot-button news stories. If a major city’s sole print daily can’t even cover Washington, what kind of coverage of the rest of the planet can it possibly get?

The owner of the News, hurrumphing billionaire Warren Buffet, has an answer to that question. As a director of the Washington Post and the owner of a 17 percent stake in that paper, he would naturally answer that, by allowing the Buffalo News to take advantage of the fine coverage of his other, more famous paper, he is doing the citizens of Buffalo a favor. And indeed, when Buffet bought the News, it was widely hoped that an owner with deep pockets and media connections would help raise journalistic standards in the city. At the time of the sale, Buffet issued a statement that was widely cheered and quoted: “I want to achieve business success in newspapers, but will be unhappy unless it is accompanied by journalistic success.”

But in fact what Buffet’s business acumen has meant for the city is a one-horse daily newspaper market, and a pattern of cost-cutting that has left the News itself utterly dependent on outside sources for non-local coverage. As for the efficacy of using material from the reputable and much-ballyhooed Washington Post, well… one need only look at this year’s Pulitzer Prize awards to see what that has meant for ordinary readers in places like Buffalo, who live far from the action.

The Post, as it does every year (the Post and the New York Times usually win about half of the Pulitzers overall and generally all of the important ones, while lesser papers like the Boston Globe are usually thrown a bone for things like sports coverage or editorial cartooning), won a handful of Pulitzers in 2002. One of the three awards that it won this spring was for National Reporting. This particular award is directly relevant to Buffalo, since most all of the articles submitted for the prize were also republished in the Buffalo News.

In lieu of having its own home-grown reporters cluelessly wandering the mall at Washington in search of dubious scoops, Buffalo last year had the privilege of reading storied muckraker Bob WoodwardWoodward’s celebrated insider bulletins from the Hill. The Pulitzer committee, which singled out stories like the October 21 “CIA Told to Do ‘Whatever Necessary’ to Kill Bin Laden,” (republished in the Buffalo News under the homier headline of “Bush Backs CIA on Killing of bin Laden”) for praise, deemed this a good thing. But upon closer examination, what the committee was really praising the Post for was its willingness to restrict itself to sources higher up in the ivory tower than a small-town reporter would likely have access to.

The Post’s National Reporting award was for “comprehensive coverage of America’s war on terrorism, which regularly brought forth new information together with skilled analysis of unfolding developments.” The Pulitzer Committee’s ruling was that the Post coverage of the most important story of this or any other recent year was the best that the country had to offer. Cities like Buffalo that relied on Post coverage, in other words, had no reason to complain of being uninformed about 9/11.

But get this: of the eleven stories the Post submitted to the Pulitzer Committee for the award, a full six relied exclusively on government sources, the vast majority of them unnamed. And as sportswriters say, this game wasn’t even as close as the score indicated. Even in those stories that didn’t rely entirely on government sources, the overwhelming majority of the information still came directly from anonymous employees of the state.

I actually went through all the articles and did a count. By my reckoning, 67 of the 78 quoted sources in the eleven Post articles were government sources. And again, the vast majority of those sources were unnamed.

It is hard to call reporting that relies solely on government sources real journalism. The Soviets did it, of course, giving prizes to Pravda and Izvestia journalists for their efficient clerical work in relaying official Communist party press releases to the masses. In the States, we confidently called that kind of reporting total bullshit for over 70 years. But when one of our own journalists does exactly the same thing, we can’t give him awards fast enough.

Here’s an example from the award-winning Post submissions– the December 9 piece, “U.S. Says New Tape Points to bin Laden,” written by Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung. This is a piece that the Soviets couldn’t have done any better. In it, the Post reported that a “new tape” obtained by U.S. intelligence services offers offers “the most conclusive evidence” to date that Osama bin Laden was behind the 9/11 bombings. Unnamed government sources quoted in the piece claimed that the tape shows bin Laden bragging about the attack to associates, and noting that the damage to the World Trade Center was “worse than [he] expected.”

The story was reported as fact despite the fact that the journalists were not even allowed to see the tape, or even see a transcript. It ran it despite the fact that none of the sources in the piece were willing to go on the record asserting the tape’s existence.

Given the fact that the Bush administration’s failure to publicly release concrete proof linking bin Laden to the attacks had already been an international issue, this was extremely dicey journalism. A truly independent newspaper would have laughed in the White House’s face had it called up to say, “We have proof that bin Laden did it. It’s on tape. But don’t quote us on that.”

The right response there would have been to say, “Uh-huh. Show us the tape and we’ll think about it.” But the Post blew off all of these considerations and just ran the piece under a big banner headline on the front page. Again, if the Soviets had done this (and they did, over and over, for instance in the numerous Pravda articles claiming that the Soviet Union had been “invited” to invade Afghanistan), we would have laughed at any suggestion that this was real journalism. But Pincus and DeYoung now have a Pulitzer Prize on their resumes.

A quick note on Pincus. Since all news articles in papers like the Washington Post seem more or less exactly alike, few people ever bother to look at the byline to wonder who wrote them. After all, you don’t ask the name of the chef that cooked your Big Mac. But in Pincus’s case, the byline is worth a look. Among journalists, his name is one of the most notorious in the business. In an article he wrote for the Post shortly after taking a job there in 1967, Pincus admitted proudly that he had worked for the CIA, representing the U.S. at international conferences in 1960 under an assumed identity. The Washington Times, one of the most conservative papers in the country, referred to Pincus in 1996 as the “CIA’s house reporter.”

It’s well-known in the business that when the intelligence community has something it really wants to put over on the people, it gives Pincus a call. A good example came in the famous San Jose Mercury-News fiasco in 1996, when the small California paper published an expose that claimed that the CIA had sold crack to fund the contras. Pincus led a counterattack by the big dailies dismissing the Mercury reporting as groundless.

He was an old hand at dismissing Contra-hijinks allegations by then. In 1989, Pincus’s take on the Iran-Contra allegations had been, “Just because a congressional commission in Costa Rica says something, doesn’t mean it’s true.” Obviously, he doesn’t bring the same muckraker skepticism to statements by American officials… but who’s counting?

If you bother looking closely, you can see that the Post itself is uneasy about its reliance on unnamed sources. This is clear when you look at the tortured wording of the attributions in the pieces. There are a finite number of different ways to say “According to one unnamed government source,” but the Post somehow manages to use all of them, sometimes within the same article. Take the aforementioned Woodward piece, “CIA Told to Do ‘Whatever Necessary’ to Kill bin Laden.” Here’s a list of the attributed sources in that piece:

  • “Officials”
  • “One senior official”
  • “A senior official”
  • “The Vice President”
  • “Another senior official”
  • “A senior Bush official”
  • “Another senior Bush official”
  • “One official”
  • “Bush officials”

It takes some doing not to repeat any of those phrases within an article. I mean, you have to really be looking out for it. And in this case, you wouldn’t be looking out for it if you weren’t painfully aware of how embarrassing the whole thing is.

This is what having Warren Buffet running your only serious newspaper does for a city like Buffalo. Here you have a city that’s in the midst of a serious fiscal crisis, brought on in no small part by a shortfall in expected income tax revenue sent back to the region by the state. That shortfall is obviously mainly due to the blow dealt to the New York State economy by 9/11. The terrorism issue, and the federal government’s decision to allocate more of its resources to a military buildup than to aid to New York State, is directly relevant to this city.

But instead of getting the perspective of a local reporter, who might be inclined to ask if a dozen new school buildings in Buffalo might be more useful in the long run than one pilotless drone that the Air Force fires into the side of a mountain somewhere in Afghanistan, we get a bunch of Georgetown hotshot hacks with monster expense accounts feeding us feel-good war news from the anonymous White House pals their paper just treated to lunch. It might be the truth, but who knows? Would you be willing to bet your school system on it? All of this sucks, but that’s the way things work in the Warren Buffet era– it just costs too much to let the natives in small cities do their own reporting. We don’t even get to gawk at Chandra Levy’s skull with our own eyes.


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MAYOR TO STAR IN GANGSTER DRAMA

May

31

by

Tony Masiello Rolls Out the Red Carpet for the BEAST

by Matt Taibbi

Masia and CrewIt didn’t seem like much of an idea at first. Co-editor Kevin McElwee and I, newly arrived in Buffalo from our previous home in Moscow, Russia, were hiding inside at a friend’s house during an April snowfall, toying with prank ideas for our inaugural issue. Mayor Anthony Maseillo’s name came up…

We’d only been in town for a few weeks, but it was hard not to notice that Buffalo had clearly… well, to put it as nicely as possible, it had clearly seen better days. A once-mighty industrial city now had boarded-up storefronts right in the heart of its downtown. Vast tracts of what in any other city would be prime real estate were empty and undeveloped… And the city planning seemed to have been achieved through a sort of accidental process; highways bulled through waterfront areas, a public university had been built way too far out of town to have a serious impact on the city economy, and the chief plan for urban renewal was intimately connected with an utterly insane but apparently sincere decision to give an Enron-like company, Adelphia, public money to build a fictional skyscraper in a district already overflowing with empty office space.

We asked around. The general consensus among friends in town was that the chief reason for Buffalo’s problems was that city leadership was corrupt and incompetent. As for the Mayor, he appeared to be a human being without much of a basic life plan at all. He had achieved power through the most ideologically unspecific means possible, running as both a Democrat and a Republican… and once he got into office, his plan to revive the city had remained as vague and ineffectual as his actual persona–a persona captured perfectly by his splotchy, career-weary face and half-hearted comb-over. “He’s not doing anything,” one friend told us. “God only knows what he’s doing with his time.”

Interesting question, we thought. Then it occurred to us to wonder: what if we could find out just exactly what the Mayor is doing with his time? We played around with a few ideas, then zoomed over to our office in the luxurious Statler towers to make some phony stationary. We had decided to offer the mayor a part-time job.

I should digress here to explain something. We here at the BEAST are expert and experienced pranksters. For five years, we were senior editors at one of the world’s most notorious newspapers–the Moscow-based eXile. Four years ago, we conned Mikhail Gorbachev himself into accepting an offer to be an assistant coach of the New York Jets under Bill Parcells. A few years after that, we had the caretakers of Lenin’s body offering us their services when we called as Kennedy family representatives seeking help in mummifying the disembodied foot of John F. Kennedy, Jr. And just last year, we laid siege to the Moscow office of The New York Times and threw a cream pie made of horse sperm in the face of Times bureau chief Michael Wines, one of the biggest assholes in all of vast Russia.

We have a military sensibility about our pranks. It’s not even so much that we enjoy it; it’s just what we do. So when it came time to start up a newspaper here in our new home in Buffalo, there was no question of not locating a practical joke target immediately for our first issue. Our first joke on American soil had to be grand in scale, and it had to meet our high professional standards.

Our plan for the Mayor almost seemed too primitive at first to be all that interesting. We decided to pose as executives for the HBO show The Sopranos and offer the Mayor some ridiculous and vaguely humiliating cameo role. The plan was to push it as far as possible until his office, or the Mayor himself, blinked. We had no plan for what to do, however, if he didn’t blink, not believing this to be possible. We have a lot to learn about Buffalo, it turns out.

The First Step

The first step was an exploratory phone call by “location scout Jeffrey Baines” to the Mayor’s press secretary, Matt Brown. Brown at first seemed dismissive and curt on the phone, which was about what we expected. After all, one would think that the leader of a major industrial city would have more pressing concerns than the possibility of scoring a bit part in a cable series, in particular one celebrating gangsters. His aides would be busy, impatient to get to the point… Nonetheless, Brown told us to follow up with our proposal in writing:

Listen to the call.  (2:01)

Brown:   Matt Brown. May I help you?

BEAST:   Hi, Mr. Brown. My name is Jeffrey Baines. I’m a location scout for the HBO television series, The Sopranos. And I had a question for you. I’m up here in Buffalo. We’re going to be shooting part of an episode that’s going to run next fall in the Niagara Falls area. And our senior producer, Sam Weiss, has been in consultation with the writers, and they’re interested in getting Mayor Masiello to appear in a cameo… and we wanted to know if there’s a possibility of speaking to Mr. Masiello, or at least sending him a letter.

Brown:   (unimpressed) Uh, you can send a letter.

BEAST:   Okay.

Brown:   You can send a letter to, obviously, the Mayor, Anthony Masiello, care of Matthew Brown. It’s 65 Niagara Sq., room 201, Buffalo, NY 14202. Let me give you my fax number.

BEAST:   Yeah. I was going to say–it might be better if we do this by fax.

Brown:   Yeah.

LetterWithin minutes after this call, we had our designers putting the finishing touches on our mock HBO stationary. It wasn’t very convincing–any 17-year-old Miramax intern worth his eyebrow stud would have been able to spot it as a phony from 200 yards away–but we figured it might be good enough to get past a professional political operative or two at City Hall. Once that was done, we typed up a letter to the Mayor from “Senior Producer Sam Weiss,” which included the following summation of the proposed plot:

“The storyline is very simple. Our lead character, a mob boss named Tony Soprano, has discovered that Jackie Aprile, Jr., the young man who has recently proposed marriage to his daughter, has a ‘goomah,’ or mistress, in Niagara Falls. In a rage, Tony books a ticket on Jet Blue to fly up to the area to confront Jackie. It then occurred to us to introduce a scene in which, by coincidence, Tony finds himself sitting next to you, Mayor Masiello, on the plane.

“Over the course of the flight, Tony–who himself has a mistress–unburdens himself to the friendly mayor about his own marital problems. Always ready to offer advice to a stranger, you urge Tony to reconcile with his wife, and offer suggestions on how to rekindle the romance. What suggestions you offer would obviously be something we’d like to consult with you about, but one direction we were thinking of going in would be urging Tony to discover a love of the arts with his wife–painting, poetry, music. “The episode could then conclude later on with a visit to the Albright Knox Art Museum, during which you explain to a bewildered Tony–who is still unaware that you are the Mayor–the beauty of the post-impressionist school of painting.”

Now, in the real world, this letter should have been sufficiently ridiculous to scare off any even mildly cogent public employee from taking it seriously. But when we had a female BEAST staffer call back as “Danielle,” Sam Weiss’s bubbly personal assistant, we found otherwise:

Listen to the call.  (5:49)

BEAST:   Hello, may I speak with the press department?

Mayor’s Office:   (female receptionist’s voice) I’m sorry. Mr. Brown, the Mayor’s director of communications, is off until Monday.

BEAST:   Oh, I see, maybe you can help me then. This is Danielle, from HBO films.

Mayor’s Office:   Mmm-hm!

BEAST:   We sent Mr. Brown–er, the Mayor, care of Mr. Brown–a proposal for a cameo in The Sopranos show?

Mayor’s Office:   Yes.

BEAST:   And I wanted to make sure that the fax was received.

Mayor’s Office:   Hold on, I’ll connect you to Bernadette.

The receptionist disappeared for a moment, giving us an opportunity to adjust the levels on our tape recorder. In a flash, she was back:

Mayor’s Office:   Hello?

BEAST:   Is this Bernadette?

Mayor’s Office:   Um, no, this is still the receptionist.

BEAST:   Okay.

Mayor’s Office:   Yes, he did receive the information, and he’s very happy about it.

BEAST:   He’s very happy about it?

Mayor’s Office:   Yes.

BEAST:   Excellent. Would it be possible for Mr. Weiss to speak with Mr. Brown on Monday, then?

Mayor’s Office:   Yes.

Before we let the receptionist off the phone, we decided to try to up the ante. Every good practical joke should contain one element of utter absurdity, so that after the fact, the victim has no excuse for falling for the trap. In this case we decided to offer, on behalf of our fictional cigar-chomping Jewish producer, a peculiar gift. Once we broached the subject, the receptionist connected us to someone a little higher up on the Masiello chain of command–the Mayor’s personal bodyguard, Juan Phillips:

Phillips:   Good afternoon. Officer Phillips.

BEAST:   Uh, Good afternoon. I’m sorry. This is Danielle Kuczkowski from HBO films.

Phillips:   Yes.

BEAST:   Um, I have a somewhat strange question.

Phillips:   Okay.

BEAST:   Mr. Sam Weiss was hoping to send the Mayor a small gift. And I’m just curious to know whether the Mayor would like… a porcelain unicorn. It’s autographed by James Spader, the actor. He makes them in his workshop in Westchester.

Phillips:   Okay.

BEAST:   It’s a bit of an unorthodox gift, so…

Phillips:   Wait a minute–what was the type of gift it was?

BEAST:Spader's Unicorn It’s a porcelain unicorn.

Phillips:   A unicorn?

BEAST:   A unicorn.

Phillips:   You’re talking about, like–the horse, with the…

BEAST:   The horse with the one horn?

Phillips:   Right!

BEAST:   Basically, I don’t know if you know this… James Spader, the actor…

Phillips:   You know, I’m not familiar with him. You know, that’s strange, because I am myself a movie buff, a play buff… James Bader?

BEAST:   James Spader. Maybe you remember… Sex, Lies and Videotape? Also, I think, White Castle…[eds. note: our bad. James Spader was never in a movie called White Castle].

Phillips:   Yes!

BEAST:   Crash, also, I believe…

Phillips:   (lying) Sure! Okay!

BEAST:   He makes these wonderful porcelain unicorns at his workshop in Westchester…

Here, Phillips entered into an impassioned soliloquy about the Mayor’s sensitive side:

Phillips:   Let me tell you something about our Mayor.

BEAST:   Mm-hmm.

Phillips:   Our mayor is a man of art.

BEAST:   (incredulous) Is a man of… art?

Phillips:   He loves all types of art.

BEAST:   Really?

Phillips:   From paintings, to sculptures…oriental rugs. He spends a good portion of his time at antique shops [!].

BEAST:   Oh, that’s just terrific!

Phillips:   He loves promoting our city. I’m the officer assigned to him. I just drove him around looking at the neighborhoods. He loves seeing trees and flowers in bloom. He has a thing about clean and green, he believes in that. He spends a lot of time at the art gallery himself… He loves it, he loves everything that deals with art. So if it’s something that’s being made by another actor [eds. note: another actor?], where he himself is making it, the Mayor will love it.

BEAST:   Oh, that’s wonderful.

Phillips:   You’ve got a great following here, there’s a great following of The Sopranos series here. In this office alone, we watch it… I don’t want to use the word religiously, but we watch it every week.

BEAST:   Wonderful! Do you watch it yourself?

Phillips:   Oh, yes. When The Sopranos came out on CD…

BEAST:   Yes?

Phillips:   I bought the whole set.

BEAST:   Well, it’s a great, great success. We’re very proud of the program.

At this point, Phillips digressed, filling us in on the Mayor’s recent appearance in a locally-produced movie that starred legendary camp TV actor Frank Gorsham (or, as Phillips put it, “Frank… I don’t know what his last name is, but he played the Riddler”). After hearing about the Mayor’s film history, we briefly worried that we might have to pay him Screen Actors’ Guild rates, then asked once again about the Mayor’s interest in our show:

BEAST:   So you think he’d be amenable to appearing in a cameo?

Phillips:   Oh, yes! He already stated that he was very excited. He showed me the letter the other day. He was very excited about it.

It took us a while, after the end of this phone call, to fully take in and appreciate the image of Mayor Masiello proudly showing off our cheesy home-drawn knock-off letter to his staff… But we couldn’t sit still for long:

The Ball was in Play

The next day, still in disbelief, we did the only logical thing: we went ahead and actually sent the Mayor a unicorn. We had a BEAST contributor in New York buy a pair of piece-of-shit, made-in-Taiwan, not-quite porcelain unicorns (one for us as a souvenir, and one for the Mayor), crudely inscribe the letters “J. Spader” on the side, and send one of them to City Hall from a Manhattan Post office.

Two days later, a phone rang in the apartment of our Manhattan intern, whose number we’d used on our letterhead. Our intern was not home, but her roommate, who’d been briefed for this eventuality, quickly asked to take a message when she heard the voice of Matt Brown, calling to thank us for the gift.

It was now time to bring Sam Weiss onto the stage. The next day we had Danielle call Matt Brown back and patch through the heavyweight senior TV producer–actually our thirty year-old slacker co-editor Kevin McElwee, sitting at home smoking a Kools in a Bills t-shirt–for a serious talk:

Listen to the call.  (4:15)

BEAST:   Mr. Brown!

Brown:   Hi, how are you?

BEAST:   Yeah, Sam Weiss here. Good talking to you.

Brown:   Good talking to you. I called your office yesterday to thank you for the, uh… unicorn.

BEAST:   Oh, you got that!

Brown:   Yes, that was really nice.

BEAST:   Yes, James Spader is a great man. He does some good stuff for us. We’re very happy with him…

Brown:   That’s very thoughtful, very thoughtful. The Mayor’s in Albany today. He won’t be back until tomorrow morning. Um, he, we received your letter. He’s very interested in participating. And would like to, uh, you know, we’re just following your lead, for you to tell us how to proceed.

BEAST:   Uh, well, how did the Mayor feel about the general storyline?

Brown:   The storyline, he was very comfortable with it. The people in our internal staff kind of looked at it. You know everybody’s psyched about it. They think it’s great, great for Buffalo. [Eds. note: Great for Buffalo? How?]

BEAST:   Okay. Well, obviously, it’s just in the planning stages, in terms of a script. If there’s anything he’d feel uncomfortable about, we’d take that into consideration.

Brown:   Sure.

BEAST:   Well, that’s great. Great to hear. Do you think that it would be possible to speak to the Mayor at some point? Personally?

Brown:   Certainly.

BEAST:   Yes?

Brown:   Certainly!

BEAST:   You say he’ll be back tomorrow?

Brown:   Yeah. If there’s a number where I can have him contact you. That number [that I called the other day], is that a good number to reach you at?

BEAST:   (nervously, unconvincingly) Not generally. Right now I’m travelling. Yesterday, I was held up on the island. And I’m heading down to the D.C. area today. Could you tell me a good time to call? I’ll have my assistant conference me in.

Brown:   Um…Let’s see, he’s not back in Buffalo until ten… Why don’t we say three o’clock?

BEAST:   Three o’clock.

Brown:   Right.

BEAST:   Okay.

Not expecting to get hold of the mayor so quickly, we hesitated after this call, no longer sure of what to do. To give us more time to think, we invented a little accident for Mr. Weiss, hinting vaguely in our return call the next day that the senior producer had been involved in a ghastly car wreck and was now in traction (we would have added that he was also facing charges for running over two small black children, but the Mayor’s receptionist didn’t press the issue). In the meantime, we asked if we could come by and pick up a head shot of the Mayor.

Mr. Brown, in a voice that suggested that such requests were common at City Hall, said by all means; we made a date for a “location scout” to pick up a photo at City Hall.

Having been largely shut out of the acting up to this point, I dressed up as “location scout Geoff Winestock” and went over to City Hall two days later. While waiting in the Mayor’s reception room for the photo to be delivered, I took out my cell phone and loudly conducted a pre-arranged conversation with “Mr. Weiss” on the other end of the line. The gist of the conversation was that our “star,” James Gandolfini, a.k.a. Tony Sopranos, had rejected the Bradford bar on Chippewa as a location because “it was too light” and might make him look too fat on camera.

“Too fat?” I shouted into the phone. “Who does he think he is, Joan Crawford? We can’t do this scene in a basement!”

After a few minutes of this, a door opened at the side of the room, and Mayor Masiello poked his head out. I was momentarily caught off-guard by the Mayor’s height. A tall person and an ex-basketball player myself, I was dwarfed by the lanky exec, who drifted over to the receptionist’s desk while I conducted my call and appeared to silently eavesdrop while pretending to rearrange some papers on her desk. Once the call was over, he ducked back into his office.

They gave me the head shot and I went home.

Sometimes the reason for pulling this or that practical joke is obvious. If you send George Bush a $1000 campaign contribution on Nazi party stationery and he cashes it, it’s pretty clear what you’ve got, and why you did it. But sometimes it requires pulling back and getting some perspective on things before the point of a joke really becomes clear.

Think of it this way. If you’re broke and you don’t have a job and you’ve maybe got a child or a relative who’s dying–because the city is too busy negotiating casino deals with creeps from Southeast Asia, and helping huge companies pay for their private palaces, to give you health care–well, you can try forever and a day to get a public official with any responsibility at all on the telephone, and you never will.

But if you call up and pretend to be a Hollywood big shot, and dangle a silly little part in a trendy gangster show… Well, you can fly into town from halfway around the world without any friends or references at all, and you can have the Mayor of the city himself eating out of your hand in no time.

You know what politics is? It’s not about taking care of people anymore. It’s show business for ugly people. And when real show business comes knocking, even in the form of a show that celebrates gangsters and racketeering, almost any of our leaders these days will drop his “day job” in a second for a chance at the real thing. The rest of us, meanwhile, are left to suck eggs.

We Get the Mayor on the Phone

On Tuesday, May 28, we got the Mayor on the phone. Mr. Weiss, we explained, had recovered from his accident sufficiently to conduct business, and wanted to speak to the chief.

The resultant conversation was remarkable for its extreme awkwardness and for its many different paranoid undercurrents. But on the surface, it was exactly what we expected it to be: a Mayor of a major city–a city mired in a major financial crisis, and reeling from the collapse of one of its largest companies–abjectly expressing his desire to appear on a hit cable TV series. It should be noted that the Mayor’s receptionist offered to set up a meeting with the Mayor within fifteen minutes after we first called back.

That was too fast for us; we made it an hour. When the time came, we pushed “Sam” back to the phone for the climactic call:

Listen to the call.  (6:31)

BEAST:   Hi, Mayor Masiello!

Masiello:   (bursting with enthusiasm) Sam, Tony Masiello! Mayor of the great city of Buffalo, New York!

BEAST:   Great to talk to you, sir.

Masiello:   My pleasure. And thank you very much for your interest in Buffalo and Western New York.

BEAST:   Absolutely, absolutely. [irrelevantly] So I understand that you got the unicorn that we sent?

Masiello:   (not taken aback at all) Yes I did! Thank you very much. It’s so nice of you.

BEAST:   Yes, James Spader is a great… a great fella.

Masiello:   (pained) Thank you, I appreciate it.

BEAST:   We just had a few questions…

Masiello:   Sure.

BEAST:   As far as setting up the production and the planning of the episode, really…

Masiello:   Great.

BEAST:   Just wanted to ask you a few things. Did you ever sing any Karaoke?

Masiello:   (laughs) No, I, uh… I can’t sing a lick.

BEAST:   You don’t play any instruments or anything?

Masiello:   No, I do not.

BEAST:   Huh.

Masiello:   (hopefully) I can dance.

BEAST:   You can dance?

Masiello:   Heh, heh, heh.

BEAST:   Well, we can all dance a little, I guess.

Masiello:   That’s right. Is that… needed?

BEAST:   (distracted by laughter in room, ignoring him) Um… what about squash or flyfishing, anything like that?

Masiello:   Uh…No, I played basketball in high school and college. I was in my college hall of fame for basketball… I was drafted by the Indiana Pacers.

BEAST:   Really?

Masiello:   But I do not, um…I was not good at squash–or fishing.

BEAST:   And what about golf?

Masiello:   Yeah, I play golf, but I stink.

BEAST:   Well, we can all be a little better.

Masiello:   That’s right.

BEAST:   Um, okay, I think that’s probably just about it…

At this point, a weird volley of racially charged comments passed between ourselves and the Mayor. We had decided to ask about the Mayor’s heritage in the hopes that he might somehow connect it to The Sopranos show, but he took it the wrong way–and his response appeared loaded with implications that the obviously Jewish Weiss should have caught:

BEAST:   Maseillo… are your ancestors from the Abruzze province?

Masiello:   They’re from the region of Potenza. They’re not far from Naples.

BEAST:   Right, the home of pizza.

Masiello:   (venemously) Do you have family who are Italians?

At this point, Kevin was distracted because I was signaling to him to ask the Mayor about the casino deal… We wanted to see if he would be willing to expedite the building process so that we could shoot inside the new facility. As I was reminding him of this, Kevin simply ignored the Mayor’s question about Sam’s Italian relatives. Nonetheless, he waited patiently on the phone.

Masiello:   Hello?

BEAST:   Yes, yes. Well, we’ve been following this casino thing up there. When do you think this thing is going to be built?

Masiello:   Well, there’s several issues that have to be resolved first. While it did pass the reservation vote, it has to go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs first for approval. Then there has to be negotiations with local developers and operators, along with the local municipalities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. So you’ve got two facilities in both cities that we’re looking to renovate as temporary casinos. And I think that’s 6-8 months away.

BEAST:   Oh, really. Because we’d love to shoot in there. But I don’t think it’s going to be done…

Masiello:   No, I don’t think it’s going to be in time…

BEAST:   Right.

Masiello:   What do you expect of me?

BEAST:   Well, we’d like to make it sort of as fast as possible. It would probably be one or two days in all.

Masiello:   Oh, that’s fine, I look forward to it.

BEAST:   And once we have a script… We’ve got a couple of other candidates we’re looking at, but we’re pretty excited about Buffalo, so…

Masiello:   Oh, that’s great. Have you made a decision to do it in Buffalo?

BEAST:   No, we haven’t made the final decision to do it yet. We’re looking at a couple of other candidates.

As expected, the Mayor at this point quickly let us know that he was willing to go the extra mile for the show:

Masiello:   Is there anything I can do to help in that process?

BEAST:   Um, not really. Really it’s out of my hands. I’m just a producer. It’s in the hands of the creative folks to really make the final decision about this stuff…

Masiello:   When do you anticipate this being done?

BEAST:   We want to make the decision sometime this week.

Masiello:   No, when do you think that the shooting should take place?

BEAST:   Um, the shooting we think would be later in the summer. So, probably August, something like that.

At this point, the Mayor went off on a poetic digression. In the middle of this section, he is clearly reading from the letter we had originally written to him:

Masiello:   You know, it’s interesting, in the letter you wrote me about the segment, you mentioned taking the “bewildered Tony” to Albright Knox. I live right next door to the Albright Knox gallery.

BEAST:   (totally unimpressed) Oh. Really.

Masiello:   Yeah, so….Um.

BEAST:   Yeah. I haven’t been to Buffalo for a long time, myself, but I’ve seen the pictures. It looks like a lovely place.

Masiello:   Yeah, it is a great place. But you know, Buffalo being right next to Niagara falls, there’s a lot of great older neighborhoods, a lot of great Italian neighborhoods. I think it will augment whatever you’re doing.

BEAST:   Right. Right. (an unbelievably long and painful silence follows)

Masiello:   Okay.

BEAST:   So, like I said, we’ll be making a decision later this week. Because we need to get rolling on the specifics of it. So we’ll get back to someone in your office at that time. We’ll let you know.

Masiello:   (ominously, perhaps just now catching on that the thing is a farce) I’m looking forward to working with you–and meeting you.

BEAST:   Great.

Masiello:   Thank you.

BEAST:   Thank you.

As the BEAST went to press, we were calling the Mayor’s office to inform him that he’d been passed over for the part in favor of Graham Richard, Mayor of the great city of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Richard, we said, had agreed to appear shirtless for the show, and that was the deciding factor.

We were glad we weren’t there to hear how Tony M. took the news. But somehow we have a feeling we’ll find out soon enough. At least we know now how the Mayor spends his time…


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MAYOR TO STAR IN GANGSTER DRAMA!

May

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Tony
Masiello Rolls Out the Red Carpet for the BEAST

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