For readers whose life under Code Orange wasn’t nerve-jangling enough, this week the New York Post unveiled a whole new level of pre–Republican National Convention terror: Code Gray. On Aug. 23, under the Post ‘s ever-more-must-read “Exclusive” badge, the paper warned that “[a] number of extremists with ties to the 1970’s radical Weather Underground … are in New York preparing to wreak havoc” on the convention.
Sure, the Vietnam War is being refought in the press, with Senator John Kerry returning fire on his tormentors from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Long-dormant battles are opening up in the culture wars. Norman Mailer is in New York magazine, talking to his son John Buffalo Mailer about the Movement.
But the Weathermen? In 2004?
Reporter Stefan C. Friedman, citing a single nameless source, wrote that the danger stems from “the release ‘over the last two years’ of anarchists tied to the Underground-and their apparent willingness to return to their old ways.” As the veteran radicals prepare for “orchestrating operations,” Mr. Friedman wrote, the NYPD is “tracking their every move.”
If the cops are back on the anti-radical beat, it’s a covert operation-a very, very covert operation. “Well, it was news to me,” said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. ” … I wasn’t aware of any of the information in that article.”
There could be a few old radicals holding court with the younger generation, Mr. Browne said, but the NYPD isn’t tailing them. What about the Post ‘s “top-level source with extensive knowledge of police plans”?
“There you go-an oxymoron right there,” Mr. Browne said.
In a sidebar, the Post listed the Weather Underground’s various misdeeds-most recently, a trio of bombings in, um, 1971. The Post also named “Some known leaders*” of the group.
“*The NYPD has not identified any of these former members as ‘people of interest,'” a footnote added in small type.
“Find out who the source is,” said ex-Weatherman Brian Flanagan, reached on the phone at his Upper West Side bar, the Night Cafe. Mr. Flanagan, one of the figures named-but not accused!-in the Post , was not in a mood to discuss the alleged Weather Underground revival any further. “It’s ridiculous,” Mr. Flanagan added, ringing abruptly off.
A Post spokesperson said that the paper’s informant was “a great source,” but declined to name or characterize the source in any way.
“We stand by the story,” the spokesperson said. “It’s a legitimate story.”
It’s “strange and made-up,” said writer and activist Laura Whitehorn, a Weather Underground member convicted of bombing the U.S. Capitol. “And perhaps libelous,” she added. Of the five people named in the Post , Ms. Whitehorn said, “the only one who was in prison at all to be released is me.”
The number of Weather Underground members who fit the Post ‘s description-freed from prison in the last two years-is “less than a handful,” said Sam Green, director of the 2002 documentary The Weather Underground . There are three or four of them at most, Mr. Green estimates, and these days they’re inclined to quietly follow the terms of their parole.
“They’re all women, and they’re all very law-abiding,” Mr. Green said.
Ms. Whitehorn was released in 1999, so she doesn’t quite qualify as one of the Post ‘s “very bad people” who have been “trained in kidnapping techniques, bombmaking, and building improvised munitions.” Still, is she planning to blow anything up next week?
“No, no,” she said. “I think George Bush is doing a pretty good job of that himself. He doesn’t need any help.”
The NYPD’s Mr. Browne shared the estimation that the present-day Weathermen are roughly as much of a menace to New York City as Al Roker. When the department talks about people with a history of disruption, he said, it means “history” in the sense of maybe 1999. “The individuals … that we’d be concerned about tend to be younger than that,” Mr. Browne said.
That would mean the NYPD is ignoring the likes of the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Black Panthers, too. That’s not a problem, right? The Black Panthers aren’t coming to town?
“Why do I need to show up?” asked Panther co-founder Bobby Seale from his home in Oakland, Calif. “I might write an editorial.”
The veterans of the Black Panthers have moved on to other things, Mr. Seale said: teaching, writing and sympathizing with the much younger generation of protesters. And so have the Weathermen. “The Weather Underground doesn’t even exist,” Mr. Seale said. “I would know. They would call me.”
But the Weather Underground is an effective symbol, said Jeremy Varon, a professor of history at Drew University and author of Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies .
“They’re anything from cause célèbre to bête noire ,” Mr. Varon said. With the convention coming, Mr. Varon added, the invocation of the Weathermen looks like “an effort to put the specter of violence out there.” Naming the Weathermen means “plucking out in the conservative mind the worst of the worst of the worst.”
As a practical matter, Mr. Varon said, the Post ‘s vision of the Weathermen as masterminds of unrest doesn’t jibe with reality. Younger generations have managed to protest on their own.
“Nobody needs the knowledge of the Weathermen,” Mr. Varon said. “They’re not necessary as consultants.”
“It is time for President Hugo Chavez’s opponents to stop pretending that they speak for most Venezuelans,” the New York Times editorial page intoned Aug. 18, after Mr. Chavez’s victory in his nation’s recall balloting.
The Times wouldn’t be The Times if it didn’t issue diktats to various participants in international politics. But The Times is in a rare position of rate authority to tell the Venezuelan opposition what to do: It was a charter member itself.
When the Times editorial page writes of Mr. Chavez’s foes, “who backed a briefly successful military coup attempt in 2002,” it could have been referring to the Times editorial page. Back then, an editorial hailed Mr. Chavez’s temporary overthrow as news that “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.”
But soon after the coup petered out, The Times rediscovered the importance of what it now calls “broadly respect[ing] constitutional norms.”
In lieu of a retraction, the paper offered a single clause in a follow-up editorial when Mr. Chavez returned to power. The joy at Mr. Chavez’s overthrow, “which we shared,” the paper confessed, “overlooked the undemocratic manner in which he was removed.”
Editorial-page chief Gail Collins said that she publicly conceded at the time that “we dropped the ball.” Does that mean that no further disclosures are in order?
“The editorials speak for themselves, and that’s all I have to say, really,” Ms. Collins said.
Ms. Collins’ page has evidently decided to make its atonement by thumping the drum for Venezuelan democracy. Four editorials this year have addressed the Venezuelan recall movement-four more than The Times offered on this summer’s more nearby (and more closely contested) Canadian election.
“Of course, buttocks are the new breasts,” Mary Tannen declares in the debut issue of T magazine. Elsewhere, Mark Jacobs notes that Dakota Fanning is “the new Gwyneth Paltrow” and Grace Mugabe is “the new Imelda Marcos.”
And as of this Sunday, T will be the new Women’s Fashions of the Times . What’s the difference, besides 23 fewer letters?
The point of T is to consolidate the various separate Part 2’s that The New York Times had been publishing alongside its Sunday magazine ( Women’s Fashions of the Times , Men’s Fashions of the Times , Very Expensively Decorated Houses of the Times ) under a single title-albeit a single title comprising special theme issues on women’s fashion, men’s fashion, decorating et al.
“The ultimate goal is to create a monthly style magazine where even the individual themes of the magazine blur a little bit,” New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati said. Unlike the previous freestanding titles, the various editions of T magazine will share writers and designers with each other-and with the main Sunday magazine. Times Magazine mainstay Lynn Hirschberg, for instance, has contributed a piece on Hollywood fashion to this Sunday’s T .
Another difference is that the shorter title is attached to a longer magazine-290 pages, of which 167 are ads, according to a Times announcement this week. That’s 29 percent more ad pages than the previous Women’s Fashions issue, according to The Times , and the fattest Times fashion magazine since 1985.
Part of the charm of the old Part 2 magazines was that each fell out of the Sunday paper at infrequent intervals. With the new T brand, is The Times in danger of turning the former lagniappes into yet another regular Sunday obligation for the readers?
The readers will always pick and choose, Mr. Marzorati said. “We’re giving them another entry point into the Sunday Times , which I think is a good thing.”