Monday, December 22, 2003

The overweening arrogance of George Will. George Will's buckraking ways have landed him in some trouble today. And what's not to love about that?

In this morning's New York Times, Jacques Steinberg and Geraldine Fabrikant report that Will was one of several conservative deep thinkers - along with National Review founder William Buckley, geriatric war criminal Henry Kissinger, Carter-era hawk Zbigniew Brzezinski, Margaret Thatcher, and others - who were paid to lend intellectual legitimacy to Conrad Black, a newspaper baron who is himself in quite a bit of hot water over his alleged corrupt business practices.

It seems that not only did Will provide a fawning blurb for Black's new biography of Franklin Roosevelt - the recipient of an unusually harsh assessment in the current New York Times Book Review by former Boston Globe editor Michael Janeway - but he has also sucked up to his secret benefactor in his column as well.

Here are the (literal) money paragraphs:

In a column syndicated by The Washington Post Writers Group in March, Mr. Will recounted observations Mr. Black had made in a London speech defending the Bush administration's stance on Iraq.

In a rebuttal to Mr. Bush's critics, Mr. Will wrote, "Into this welter of foolishness has waded Conrad Black, a British citizen and member of the House of Lords who is a proprietor of many newspapers."

Asked in the interview if he should have told his readers of the payments he had received from Hollinger, Mr. Will said he saw no reason to do so.

"My business is my business," he said. "Got it?"

Alan Shearer, editorial director and general manager of The Washington Post Writers Group, said he was unaware of Mr. Will's affiliation with Hollinger or the money he received. "I think I would have liked to have known," Mr. Shearer said.

Buckley comes in for some criticism, too, but in the main his response is that of an old-fashioned gentleman: he has often disclosed his friendship with Black, but not his financial arrangement. Will, by contrast, looks like a money-grubbing worm.

Of course, Will has made a career out of using his column to advance his own interests, political, financial, and otherwise. Most memorably, in 1980 Will secretly prepped Ronald Reagan for his debate against Jimmy Carter - a coaching session made all the easier because the Reagan campaign had improperly obtained a copy of Carter's briefing book. Will later went on television and pronounced Reagan's performance to be that of a "thoroughbred." Norman Solomon has a good synopsis here, on the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting website.

FAIR's Steve Rendall recounts a bit of unpleasantness that descended on Will in 1996, when he continually tore into Bill Clinton at a time when Will's wife, Mari Maseng, was working for Clinton's opponent, Bob Dole. Will, naturally, didn't disclose.

George Will is an elegant writer, and he sure knows how to wear a bowtie. But he has always subordinated the interests of his readers to his own, narrower causes.

I'm glad to see that his editor is pissed off. Editorial-page editors across the country might consider whether Will has now proven himself to be a repeat offender with no possibility of rehabilitation.

Convention-al wisdom. The contracts, as they say, have already been signed. But are Mayor Tom Menino and planners for the Democratic National Convention really going to walk into a full-blown catastrophe now that a viable alternative has been identified?

Last Friday, the Boston Herald's Cosmo Macero wrote (sub. req.) that the new convention center in South Boston would be ready by next July if the go-ahead to move the DNC were given.

It is a brilliant idea. The FleetCenter is a disaster waiting to happen. There is no place to put the media (and the modern convention is, above all else, a media show). And security in such a crowded neighborhood is bound to be so odious that it will leave a bad taste for years to come.

Check this out from Macero's column:

"If we got the call from the mayor or the committee ... I believe we could do it," says Jim Rooney, chief executive of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and Menino's one-time chief of staff. "It would look different. But it could and would be made to look like a good media event, which is by and large what conventions are."

The analogous situation is Philadelphia, which hosted the Republican National Convention in 2000. Most of the events took place in the downtown, all within a few blocks. But the convention itself was held far from the downtown, in a facility surrounded by acres of unused land - plenty of room for tents to house the media, security, and the like.

It was an ideal set-up, and one Boston would do well to emulate. Now that it appears this could really be done, the only intelligent response is to make it happen.

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