the hearsties

The prizes for journalism are not, perhaps, as well known outside of journalism circles as within. There is, for instance, the Pulitzer “cockroach” award, given for the columnist who has done the most to promote exterminationism and war crimes – and though most people thought Christopher Hitchens had the lock on it again this year, that award went to the ever egregious Fred Hiatt. And there is the Hearst award for Bootlicking, which goes to the journalist who has displayed the most valiant brownnosing in the areas of celebrity interview, sports, business, and political reporting. The Hearstie is prized by the writers of Teen People and the business journalists from Forbes, two pools that have traditionally dominated, but this year, I see a strong showing by the New York Times. Harriet Rubin, for instance, turned in a stunning performance yesterday in the business section.

An article entitled “C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success” had a certain magnificent abasement, a certain saucy extra lick to the ever delicious brown pucker of many of our wisest titans of industry, that it sent a responsive shudder through through the media world. It was said that Louis XIV’s tutor would agree with the prince’s anwswers even before Louis spoke them – prudent man. Today’s journalist takes the same route, which is the safest with the obviously great, world class figures they have the honor and the privilege to actually address. Wasn't it the NYT's political correspondent who spoke, in 2003, of how scary it was to ask the President - a man, and yet really, so much more than a mere man! - questions in press conferences. One had to come up with questions in a trembling voice, like, do you rate yourself, as a leader, as slightly better or much better than FDR and Churchill? Could you give us the secret of your brilliant decision-making? etc. Things like that. Things that our fourth branch can be proud of.

The subject of Rubin’s piece is of that our CEOs are not only Einsteins, are not only the genetically perfected group of mortals that sit atop the most perfect meritocracy in this most perfect of meritocratic worlds, but that they are also readers. Reading has apparently just been discovered – the woman who writes the Harry Potter books invented it – and it has been discovered, moreover, to be good. It is good to read! And so we get stories like this:

Serious leaders who are serious readers build personal libraries dedicated to how to think, not how to compete. Ken Lopez, a bookseller in Hadley, Mass., says it is impossible to put together a serious library on almost any subject for less than several hundred thousand dollars.

Perhaps that is why — more than their sex lives or bank accounts — chief executives keep their libraries private. Few Nike colleagues, for example, ever saw the personal library of the founder, Phil Knight, a room behind his formal office. To enter, one had to remove one’s shoes and bow: the ceilings were low, the space intimate, the degree of reverence demanded for these volumes on Asian history, art and poetry greater than any the self-effacing Mr. Knight, who is no longer chief executive, demanded for himself.

The Knight collection remains in the Nike headquarters. “Of course the library still exists,” Mr. Knight said in an interview. “I’m always learning.”

Or like this:

“If there is a C.E.O. canon, its rule is this: “Don’t follow your mentors, follow your mentors’ mentors,” suggests David Leach, chief executive of the American Medical Association’s accreditation division. Mr. Leach has stocked his cabin in the woods of North Carolina with the collected works of Aristotle.”

And then, of course, that vignette that helps us, outside the golden circle, sympathize with these titans, these brains, these possessors of the biggest cocks ever to rape the planet Earth. This one is touching on every dimension:

Personal libraries have always been a biopsy of power. The empire-loving Elizabeth I surrounded herself with the Roman historians, many of whom she translated, and kept one book under lock and key in her bedroom, in a French translation she alone of her court could read: Machiavelli’s treatise on how to overthrow republics, “The Prince.” Churchill retreated to his library to heal his wounds after being voted out of power in 1945 — and after reading for six years came back to power.
“Over the years, the philanthropist and junk-bond king Michael R. Milken has collected biographies, plays, novels and papers on Galileo, the renegade who was jailed in his time but redeemed by history.”

Ruben might have bowed to that silly journalistic rule about including all the highlights of a career in her description of the philanthropist and junk-bond king by adding ‘jailbird’ to that list of glittering titles – but the comparison of Milken and Galileo is, well, almost a masterpiece. The probing tongue has discovered, here, a piece of hardened excrement beyond price, and swallows it down with an insouciance that would make Louis XIV’s tutor shiver all over. One is reminded of that great scene in Gravity’s Rainbow of the encounter between Brigadier Pudding and Katje:

‘Now her intestines whine softly, and she fells shit begin to slide down and out. He kneels with his arms up holding the rich cape. A dark turd appears out of the crevice, out of the absolute darkness between her white buttocks. He spreads his knees, awkwardly, until he can feel the leather of her boots. He leans forward to surround the hot turd with his lips, sucking on it tenderly, licking along its lower side..”

One does hope that Ms. Rubin got the proper antibiotic shots after her own performance with Milkin, et al. This is truly an article to cherish.


Brian said…
Your just jealous, roger. You KNOW that you would leap at the chance to touch gretaness, to transate the musings of Mr. Milken or perhaps even Mr. Cheney into classical Latin (or even modern French). :)
Brian said…
I meant "you're" of course :(
roger said…
Actually, I'd leap at the chance to get the run of their private bar. After that, I'm ready to brownnose with the best of them!