Hitchens Put on Trial Before an Angry Nation

Christopher Hitchens is mad again. This time he’s chosen another old friend to pick on: The Nation , the left-wing

Christopher Hitchens is mad again. This time he’s chosen another old friend to pick on: The Nation , the left-wing magazine of opinion and commentary for which he has penned the biweekly Minority Report column since 1982. Mr. Hitchens’ beef is that his feelings were hurt by the magazine’s distinct and derisive nonsupport of his battle-of-the-affidavits with Clinton White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal. Not being one to sit and stew, Mr. Hitchens is going to air his grievances on March 4 to the whole staff in the magazine’s conference room at 33 Irving Place, at 10:30 A.M. sharp. “I’m going to draw attention to a couple of things they may have missed,” promised Mr. Hitchens. “More than a couple of things.”

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This is probably not what Nation publisher Victor Navasky and editor Katrina vanden Heuvel had in mind when they invited Mr. Hitchens to explain himself after the story broke. Ms. vanden Heuvel termed it “a staff conversation with Christopher … a chance to just have a frank and constructive exchange of ideas.” When asked if it was a show trial, Mr. Navasky said, “Oh, no.”

Still, Mr. Hitchens feels he’s entering enemy territory. Perhaps for good reason. The March 1 issue of The Nation featured an unsigned editorial stating that Mr. Hitchens “inexplicably” filed the affidavit contradicting Mr. Blumenthal’s testimony to Kenneth Starr’s investigation of the President. It went on: “The moral issues involved in Hitchens’ actions are clear: We believe there is a journalistic (and ethical) presumption against using private conversations with friends for a public purpose without first obtaining permission; and against a reporter cooperating with, and thus helping legitimize, a reckless Congressional prosecutor.”

Mr. Hitchens was allowed to defend himself in his usual column space, in a piece titled “What Really Happened,” which said The Nation had been “suckered” by the Clintons and expressed sympathy for Monica Lewinsky. That was followed by a sarcastic rejoinder by associate editor Katha Pollitt in her Subject to Debate column. Ms. Pollitt, who was allowed to read his column before writing hers, compared him to a McCarthyite and accused him of being a borderline misogynist. She said he called women “douchebags”–an accusation she then took back in the March 15 issue, saying, “His longtime editor must have disremembered.” Ms. Pollitt planned to attend the March 4 meeting. “I’d be very interested [in] what he has to say,” she said.

To get all his perceived enemies under one roof, Mr. Hitchens said that he’d “made it a condition” of his meeting “that Edward Jay Epstein be invited to come.” After the Blumenthal affidavit brouhaha broke out, Mr. Epstein accused Mr. Hitchens of denying the Holocaust to him in a private conversation years before. “He’s a personal friend of the editor’s,” Mr. Hitchens said. Mr. Epstein isn’t going to be there, though. “He’s going to be in California,” explained Mr. Navasky. Mr. Hitchens said he offered to reschedule for a better date, but that Mr. Epstein said “no date” was good for him.

Pity. He’ll miss out on all that wonderful left-wing wailing and gnashing. Mr. Hitchens is looking forward to the confab, of course. “All the questions that they have may now, for what it’s worth, be answered. And then I have to decide if I want to continue” to write for them, he said. “Which I don’t really want to do.”

Mr. Navasky said their disagreement was political, and that the editorial, which came out before the impeachment trial was over, expressed their view fully. He expressed “personal fondness” for Mr. Hitchens and is fully prepared, now that the ugly times are over, to end the ugly tactics, too. But that doesn’t make Mr. Hitchens happy. “They crossed the line of decency or fairness for the most cowardly reasons,” he said, contrasting their actions to Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s, who had dinner with him at Elaine’s (“a public place,” he said) after the news broke. As for The Nation , “There’s no pride in being associated with them anymore,” he said.

Ms. vanden Heuvel said that the editors had considered staging a more open forum, outside the magazine, where Mr. Hitchens could talk, but that that hadn’t been scheduled yet. “There’s never been a question” of his leaving, Ms. vanden Heuvel said. “He is a valued columnist and we have every intention of working together for the long term.”

The Condé Nast corporate booklet “Countdown to a Move,” detailing the company’s upcoming relocation to its accident-prone new building at 4 Times Square, landed on the desks of anxious employees during the last week of February. It is designed to “introduce” Condé Nast workers to the new building, “as well as enhance your comfort level with the relocation process.” That process is set to begin in June and proceed “in stages by magazine and corporate department over the course of two to three months.” In addition to answering the question “Where are we moving?” the booklet reassures editors that they’ll still be in the 212 area code, although the companywide prefix will change from 880 to 246.

In soothing tones reminiscent of the HAL computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey , other worries, including the status of the much ballyhooed titanium cafeteria, are addressed. “Will there be special handling for my locked files?” Answer: “Move Coordinators will relay all special instructions regarding the relocation of materials to the Move Consultants. All employees will be furnished with locked file cabinetry.” “What is the food service going to be like? Will there be ‘morning coffee’? What about in-house catering services?” Answer: “Because of the intricacies of Frank Gehry’s design, our new cafeteria and private dining rooms will not be completed until early 2000. However, interim food service will be provided until the cafeteria is available. In addition, there will be morning coffee and tea, as well as snack and beverage vending machines, in the pantries located on each floor.” “Will there be coat closets?” Answer: “Sufficient coat closets will exist on each floor, as well as individual closets in all enclosed offices.”

The booklet does deliver the bad news that “for the first few months of occupancy, all employees will be required to enter the building through the main entrance on 42nd Street,” while the publisher attempts to “secure a pickup/dropoff area designated on 43rd Street for limited car service.” But not to worry: “All construction personnel and deliveries will be accommodated through a dedicated entrance separate from employee use.” That way, Vogue editors can avoid getting their Manolo Blahniks covered in Sakrete.

Now that Tina Brown’s toiling away for Miramax Films and the Hearst Corporation, trying to start her new magazine, Talk , on an actual budget–and her husband, Harold Evans, has traded his job running Random House to hold headline-writing classes for Daily News chairman Mortimer Zuckerman and his top lieutenants–it seems as if it’s finally safe for them to be picked apart by a magazine journalist who wants to make it big. Enter Vanity Fair contributing editor Judy Bachrach. Simon & Schuster has signed her up to write a book on Ms. Brown and Mr. Evans, hoping to fill in the blanks since Mr. Evans’ 1983 memoir, Good Times, Bad Times . It’s Ms. Bachrach’s first serious book (not counting a book she wrote many years ago about being a tall woman), and promises to be the first book-length appraisal of the Evans-Brown tag team. Working title: The Golden Couple .

“I’ve always wanted to do a book about the media, and in many ways it’s the perfect media story,” said Ms. Bachrach. She just started working on it in February and expects to deliver the manuscript in 18 months or so. She’s not sure, however, if Mr. Evans and Ms. Brown will cooperate. “I’m almost positive they will,” she said. “I talked to Harry about it and we’ll see.” Either way, “it’s going to be done,” she added. “I think he knows that.” What was Mr. Evans’ reaction to the idea? “Just, ‘Why are people writing about us?'” she said.

Mr. Evans isn’t known for being particularly easygoing on that front. In early 1998, he threatened the London Spectator with a libel suit over a piece journalist Toby Young had written on Mr. Evans’ departure from Random House. This after Cindy Adams had already printed that Mr. Young had written a play satirizing the couple. In his legal action, Mr. Evans sought to enjoin Mr. Young from ever writing mean things about him again. His legal maneuver didn’t work and Mr. Young said he is still looking for a producer. “They behaved like a couple of Scientologists,” he said.

But Ms. Bachrach is pushing boldly ahead. She’s taking a year’s leave of absence from Allure and intends to cut down the number of pieces she’s contracted to do at Vanity Fair , which gave her permission to do the book. Is she afraid her subjects might use their immense power within the New York media to stymie her? “Of course, people are not going to cooperate,” she said. “This is inevitable. Harry and Tina know thousands of people. So what? So do I.”

Neither Ms. Brown nor Mr. Evans returned calls for comment.

Sudden about-faces are nothing new for the New York Post . Sometimes it feels like the price one has to pay for the hard-charging, lurid and highly entertaining raison d’être of the tabloid. That happened again Feb. 24 and 25, when the Post first pandered to Amadou Diallo sensationalism with a story about a black man in Queens shot by a New York police officer and then, heeding its friend-to-the-cops traditions, skewered its own take on the story the next day.

Despite its knee-jerk tendencies, the paper had done a conscientious, occasionally lyrical job covering the death of Amadou Diallo thanks to police reporter Frankie Edozien. “It was a big step for the paper to send him to Africa,” said columnist Jack Newfield. The front page of Feb. 24 seemed to be continuing along those lines, with a white-on-black headline blaring: “Cops Shoot Unarmed Man.” A police shield was reproduced next to it. Inside, the headline read: “White cop shoots unarmed black suspect.” The second paragraph termed the incident “starkly similar to the shooting of Amadou Diallo” and was paired on the page with a crusading column by Mr. Newfield about the political repercussions of the Diallo case and a reprint of Police Commissioner Howard Safir’s statements to Dateline NBC that there was “no reason” to expect four officers to squeeze off 41 shots at an unarmed man.

The Daily News handled the story quietly that day, on page 26, with no Diallo references. By Feb. 25, both The New York Times and the News had Mr. Safir up top in their stories, explaining how the case was not at all like Diallo’s. The Post had that quote in their follow-up, buttressed by a Steve Dunleavy column titled “Brutal? Nonsense! They Saved a Life.” Reason: The unarmed man the police shot had been beating his wife. This time, the Post editorial page weighed in with a piece titled “What Cops Do for a Living,” which began: “It’s hard to imagine a more clear-cut example of the justifiable use of deadly force than the shooting of a distraught, perhaps suicidal, Queens man by police late Tuesday evening.” Nowhere was there any mention of the paper’s own coverage from the day before. In addition, there were two letters, quickly received and printed, under the headline: “Pitching Black Against White Makes for Yellow Journalism.”

Neither editor Ken Chandler nor editorial page editor John Podhoretz returned calls for comment. Mr. Newfield noted that his columns are often rebutted on the editorial page but couldn’t explain the paper’s short-term memory loss. “I’m a columnist, not an editor,” he said.

Hitchens Put on Trial Before an Angry Nation