Compatibility in marriage is when he snores and she’s deaf.
There’s a similar kind of sting in journalism, when all your column’s readers want to run right out and vote against you and you’re not running for anything.
My first boss in broadcasting, Tex McCrary, was talking privately with Michigan Gov. G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams after their live interview in the Peacock Alley cocktail lounge of the Hotel Waldorf Astoria. Did I say “privately”? Well, yes, except for a few directors and studio producers from NBC, and some waiters and busboys and some thrill-seeking members of the public who realized the talk show had just ended and they might get a chance to meet the great Tex or the great Soapy.
Tex was widely credited with being the one who persuaded Gen. Dwight Eisenhower he should run for president. How did Tex do it? He organized the famous “I Like Ike” rally in Madison Square Garden, starring Mary Martin, star of Broadway’s then-reigning “South Pacific,” and a few galaxies of stars including the great Irving Berlin, who personally sang his new song, “I Like Ike.” The rally began at midnight with a full, enthusiastic house. The next day an Air Force cargo plane delivered a kinescope copy of the rally to Eisenhower’s Paris headquarters. His days of equivocation and denial were over; Ike got it!
Anyway, Tex and Soapy were dropping explosive megatons of potentially highly damaging Republican and Democrat secrets into the rather crowded Peacock Alley. As a twerpy young assistant, I approached the boss and reproachfully said, “Tex!” meaning, “Your chances of being overheard are hovering around 100 percent!” Tex frowned at me and carried his conversation with Soapy Williams to term.
Afterwards, Tex sat me down and said, “Look, young man, it’s time you got those old-fashioned notions of privacy out of your head. With the technology of today, your chances of being overheard are always around 100 percent. If you’re going to amount to anything, get used to it and go live your life.”
The “today” referred to in that conversation was late 1957!
The day before, the big headline out of Washington spotlighted a congressional hearing starring a “professional eavesdropper” who introduced the “bugged martini,” a martini with a microphone hidden in the olive. I was but a twig, and McCrary bent me to live life as though every phone is tapped, every letter published and every conversation overheard.
The American people’s problem with me became clear when I read the scathing mail after mentioning in a recent column that my job in the Army was translator for the NSA, and what a magnificent job they’d done in penetrating Soviet secrets during the Cold War. I hold no such antipathy for you, the great American public, as you showed for me. After all, you couldn’t all have had Tex McCrary as a twig-bender.
I ask now only that you re-examine your priorities. If they could bug your martini in 1957, what might their capabilities be today? You are living inside the technological inevitability of privacy-rupture. That’s where your energy and outrage are deployed. May I suggest you heed McCrary’s advice of 1957, and call your attention to, as one example in a jungle of many, Obamacare?
We all know “If you like your doctor …” etc. was a lie. But you’re treating it as if it were a just a naughty “face-mask” kind of penalty during which the game-winning touchdown was scored against your team and the play wasn’t even called back. The referee declared, “The penalty will be applied on the kickoff!” and you and your fellow fans didn’t even tear the stadium down.
A good move would be for you to take a fraction of your anger at the privacy-busting handiwork of the NSA and remember that if it hadn’t been for that lie (“You may keep your plan!”), Obamacare would never have passed in the first place!
What do you mean, “Don’t blame the victim”? Why not? It’s our fault. In a country with its head properly adjusted, that game-changing, economy-changing, life-changing lie would have triggered a bipartisan tsunami, raising hell and putting a chunk under it.
A few years before the “martini microphone” was developed, a new magazine, Confidential, came out, trashing the biggest celebrities with the worst accusations. Most of the defamatory articles dealt with sexual escapades devolving into “he-said-she-said” in which even the most innocent celebrities on earth would not want to “spread the word” that would have been the result of any lawsuit, regardless of the outcome. One of the hardest-hit victims of Confidential was Groucho Marx, who was portrayed as some kind of Grand Dragon of dirty old sex-demons.
Countless friends of Groucho’s warned him he had to take action in light of an article so vicious. No alternative. No backtalk. He just had to take action.
“I’ve already taken action,” Groucho assured them one and all. “What kind of action?” was always the next question.
“I let them know in no uncertain terms,” said Groucho, “that one more article like that and I’m canceling my subscription!”
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