Cecile du Bois Speaks About The Importance Of Jewish Education
On 12/31/02, I spoke to Cathy Seipp's ex-husband Jerry about Judaism. Now I get their daughter's reaction.
Cecile du Bois writes: When I was a giddy seven year old girl, so innocent and naive, I asked Daddy to take me to Hebrew School. I thought of speaking a language was simply to purse your lips in an odd manner and make funny noises. I just wanted to go to Hebrew school to learn techniques of how to annoy the adults.
"Daddy," I begged in my then usual voice of whining, "Can I go to Heeeebwew School?"
After much begging, and like he said in the interview earlier with Luke Ford about my Mom, he feared that instead of a progressive education that gradually came to annoy me, he feared a rigid atmosphere where they would march like Nazi commandos, rapping our knuckles for nonsensical reasons.
Well, as he said, he was dead wrong. Dancing (which I hated), singing Jewish songs, and studying Hebrew letters, (which I was slow to learn) was our weekly routine. After my Bat Mitzvah, I wanted to dive into a more rigid Jewish study, not what my temple offered. I wanted to study Talmud, memorize the Gemarrah, and recite the Mishna just like my ancestors did and what the heroes and heroines did in Chaim Potok's Davita's Harp and The Chosen. But of course, being raised a Reform Jew and not living on the west side, I could not do that.
So, here I am, raised a grade in my Sunday School class at [XXX] temple studying comparative religions, debating on Jewish philosphy, and tutoting a lot of Jewish princes and princesses in Hebrew for their upcoming Bat/Bar Mitzvahs. When they whine, in their usual tone, I try to cheer them up by reminding them of their big post ceremonial bashes, where they hire a DJ and basically celebrate the end of their Jewish education, kissing goodbye to their Jewishness forever.
Well, it is not as bad as being stuck with a shrink in a room of peers talking, instead of Judaism, about the secular world-sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. Why do they talk about those things? Ask them. According to the vice principal, these programs are the only chance of them coming back, and therefore, the only way to save the future of Reform Judaism. When I talked to the ninth graders in my class and what they thought about this, they unanimously agreed that the eighth grade program of "sex, drugs and rock'n'roll" was a bore and that studying Judaism is more interesting.
Agreeing with them, I went to the front office and asked if they could organize another program of studying Talmud if I could get some interested people. I asked around, and as expected, no one was interested. I now stick to the ninth grade program since next year, in the tenth grade, is graduation. Possibly, I could attend a weekly program at a yeshiva, or just study by myself. But now I read the Bible on the Sabbath, and put post-it notes on passages that prove that the Jewish people will survive. Recently, my teacher said that as long there are Hannukah lights burning and the wailing wall in Israel still stands, we will survive. Somehow, as I look at my books which I got for Hannukah, and I think of the rabbis davening before the wall, I believe him, even if my peers are studying sex....drugs...and rock'n'roll.
Cathy Seipp: "We were raised unobservant [of Jewish Law]. If my sister and I had been boys, we would've been Bar Mitvahed but in the old days, girls didn't do that. My mother's parents were grandchildren of rabbis. Like a lot of Jews leaving Europe, they left that [religious] stuff behind.
"My daughter had a Bat Mitvah [coming of adult age ceremony in the Jewish religion around age 13]. She wanted to go to Sunday school. She's theologically interested. She always asked me questions. She's always wanted to go to Shalhevet [Modern Orthodox coed Jewish day school]."
Luke: "Is she?"
Cathy exclaims: "NO! A. It's $20,000 a year. B. I don't live over there. I'm not going to drive an hour-and-a-half each way. C. The girls have to wear skirts below the knee. I don't even know where you get dorky looking skirts like that. No! She goes to a nice private school that's half the price though very Gentile. Down that [Orthodox Jewish] path, it's too nerdy."
Who Will Hire Investigative Reporter Susan Goldsmith?
I talk to investigative reporter Susan Goldsmith (six years with New Times LA) by phone 1/5/03. She's out of breath from playing with her baby and sneezing from allergies (unexpected 80-degree days in the middle of winter). Susan's computer broke down and she's been off-line for weeks.
Goldsmith has won numerous national awards for investigative reporting. She speaks Spanish fluently. She's worked as a reporter in Los Angeles for twelve years, most recently at the now-defunct New Times LA.
Susan says: "Jill Stewart's a great one to profile."
Luke: "She's spunky."
Susan: "She's totally spunky. I consider her one of my best friends in the whole world. I think Jill is the most interesting, fearless journalist in all of Los Angeles. She's unafraid to take on anybody, liberal Democrat, black, white, latino, environmentalist, conservative. You name it - Jill will take them on and do it well and smartly.
"Jill brought me to New Times. The one thing I was happy about when New Times LA closed was that people would stop talking to me about Jill Stewart. Everywhere I go, people want to bitch about her. They want to praise her. Hello? Does anybody read what I do? She just knows how to work it. People picked that paper up and threw that paper down because of her. Everywhere I went, people would say, 'I hate Jill Stewart.' Or, 'Jill Stewart is my idol. She's the best journalist.'
"Even after the paper closed, I went to a party with my husband, and people were talking about Jill. I said, 'When does it stop?'
"Jill has a tremendous instinct for what's interesting, for what isn't being said that should be said."
Luke: "So many people hate Jill Stewart but I'm having a hard time finding any to go on the record, particularly at the LA Times."
Susan: "They call her 'Shrill Jill' over there."
Luke: "None of them will go on the record. They will snipe to me through anonymous email addresses about Jill and Cathy Seipp, but they won't put their names behind their comments."
Susan: "The cowardly LA Times people they always are... Look at the paper and go figure. What do they have to say about Jill? They think she's shrill and hysterical?"
Luke: "They think she's gotten where she's gotten through her good looks."
Susan: "Jill will love to hear that. That is wonderful. The thing I also love about Jill is that she is so thick-skinned. She doesn't let it ruffle her. Some journalists, they're so touchy about sh--. Jill loves it. She doesn't care. One day she came into an editorial meeting and said, 'I got the best hate mail today. They called me an attack dog with pretty hair.'"
Luke: "Did you ever see the hate get her down?"
Susan: "Never. I don't think it energized her. I don't think she was out to make enemies. She had people who loved her, who were sending her fan mail. You would go to the fax machine. I did investigative reporting for New Times, some expose on some horrific something. There'd be two letters. Jill would've done some column calling Grey Davis a scuzzball and there would be a hundred letters. 'Jill sucks. She's stupid. She doesn't know what she's talking about.' And, 'Jill's the only journalist in California saying the real stuff that needs to be said.' People would say mean stuff but she was thick-skinned about it. She felt like she was doing her job. Columnists who don't ruffle feathers should get out of the business.
"I love Cathy Seipp's columns. I think she's the best TV writer in America. I met Cathy through Jill. We're not really friends but I admire her and I email her regularly because I think she's the best. I loved what she did at Buzz Magazine."
Luke: "Jill told me that nobody chews her out to her face."
Susan: "Because they're afraid of her because she's smart. Jill has a lot of fans in high places, like Dick Riordan [former mayor of Los Angeles]. She was a fan of Dick Riordan even though she took him to task at times. He would call her from Serba-Croatia to ask her for her advice on stuff."
Luke: "Jill complains that the LA Times sanitizes news. Why do you think the LA news media is so lame?"
Susan: "I really don't know. We have the most fascinating news town in America. I thought New Times was fantastic. We called ourselves 'The gnat that roared'. Some of it was juvenile and retarded but a lot of it was well-written and fascinating and controversial. People had to pick it up. That never happens with the LA Times or the LA Weekly. No one feels like, 'Ohmigod, what's in today?' That's how it was with New Times. I think it is tragic that the LA Times and especially the LA Weekly wrote our obits. That they should be the ones that survive. That worthless pompous piece of sh-- newspaper [LA Weekly]. I don't know how the city has gotten to this.
"I thought Buzz Magazine was interesting."
Luke: "Far better than Los Angeles Magazine."
Susan: "Far better. LA Magazine. Amy Wallace writes a cover story about what it's like to have fake-boobs for two weeks."
Luke: "And I thought that was better than most of them."
Susan: "Yeah, like the Christmas gift guide. It's so dull. I had so many people call me after New Times closed. 'What are we going to do without your paper?' Were you a fan of New Times?"
Luke: "Some of it. I could've done without the 15th cover story on pederast priests. I liked many of the Mark Ebner cover stories. Peter Gilstrap was great. He did the best article ever on me. The stories on the Kaballah Center and that Long Beach professor with the kooky views on Jews."
Susan: "Jill is an amazingly generous person. She brings out the best in her friends. She's not jealous. She wants everyone to do their best."
Luke: "I've noticed her supporting other writers at the Cathy Seipp - Amy Alkon parties. Jill buys the books of our fellow writers."
Susan: "One year I won a bunch of awards at New Times. You might think other colleagues might be bummed that they did not win as much but Jill threw a party for me to celebrate."
Lukeford.net - Watching A Car Wreck
A Times Writer writes: Dear Mr. Ford:
As a reader of your site - albeit one who finds it to be the equivalent of watching an ugly car wreck - I find the recent postings by XXX and Cecile Du Bois hilarious. I don't know what XXX is doing posting on your site. This person actually knows something about the business of publishing. I find the crudity absolutely offensive and disgusting, and have a suspicion that the writer is a woman who is trying to hide her idenity by writing in a style that she thinks will make her appear to be a man. The information supplied was extremely inside about Buzz and New Times LA, and the only people mentioned in the diatribe who worked for both of those publications were Jill Stewart and Cathy Seipp.
In regard to Cecile du Bois, her allegation that your site is well written and the posting of XXX was beneath the quality of lukeford.net is an absurd statement made by someone who wants to stay on your good side. Your site is very poorly written. It is a disgrace not only to journalism, but also to the English language. You make Matt Drudge look like Herman Melville.
The only people in the world who would want to kiss up to you are Jill Stewart and Cathy Seipp, minor talents who have been slavishly praised on your site. I'm guessing that XXX, who overly praised Jill Stewart's physical charms, is either Jill Stewart herself or a husband/boyfriend/lover. Cecile du Bois is just the kind of pompous nom de plume that would come from Ms. Seipp, who, if I recall correctly, had a brief career writing wildly inaccurate gossip about the L.A. Times under the ridiculous alias of Margo Magee.
Mr. Ford, I think you are the victim of a cross-promotion hoax. Your site is disgusting enough without Hollywood hype artists who are desperate for attention promoting their fading images.
Luke says: If Cathy's Buzz column was so wildly inaccurate, how come she never had to publish a retraction on it? I've asked the Times writer to provide specific examples of Seipp's inaccuraces but I've yet to hear back on any. Like all of Cathy and Jill Stewart's critics at the LA Times, this Times writer insists on anonymity.
I know the people behind the monkers "XXX" and "Cecile du Bois". XXX is a male journalist. Cecile du Bois is not Cathy Seipp nor Jill Stewart.
Cathy Seipp writes Luke: Thanks for removing the pic of me, and the 10-yr-old pic of my ex-husband, to the "more profiles" page. I think I've been on your main page enough. But I would like to state that for the record, I, like the anonymous Times writer who wrote you, also find the crudity of "XXX"'s postings absolutely offensive and disgusting. That this Times writer thinks it could possibly have come from either Jill Stewart or me -- or indeed from any woman -- shows that this person has a tin ear bigger than Master Cylinder. Ditto for the notion that I (or in fact any adult) is "Cecile du Bois," who may have a big vocabulary and be a lot more observant than this Times writer but is nevertheless just 13 years old.
I realize that no one ever claimed Spring Street was exactly running a brain trust. Still, such ideas make me wonder. I guess the only answer is the one Elaine famously said at the end of "Seinfeld" to one of George's opinions: "Well, that's because you're an idiot."
Cecile du Bois writes: Dear Mr. Ford, Responding to the woman who called me pompous: Dear Miss/Mrs. Doe, or whatever your surname is, I don't think myself of "pompous". I got my first name from the writer Cecil Adams. My surname is adopted of the writer Henri Pene Du Bois. I merely thought it would help the readers of Mr. Ford's website picture Stewart, Loh, and Seipp more vividly.
I wrote the paragraphs you called "pompous" for fun. I am sorry you did not like it. Mr. Ford's weblog may not be the best written pieces in the world, but you must admit, (I assume you are a journalist of some sort obviously since you are interested in Ford's website), that you are also not the best writer in the world.
Also, keep in mind, that most of the content on Ford's front pages that you probably read are interviews, quotes, and email responses from readers like you. All of the other content, under his links, are articles or essays from his friends, family, and occasionally himself. Therefore, your groundless indication that Ford is a lousy writer can be true to you and to others, but have you read any of his articles? His essays? No, or not enough. Most of the stuff you read are posted on his site and occasionally edited or recited from his perspective. If you ever want to look at his writing and then say that he is a bad writer - with some ground, I encourage you to click under Luke Ford.
Anyway, since I am only 13, as Miss. Seipp said, I must go lollygagging off to bed. Happy New Year, for the sake of it.
Why Must Amy Alkon, Cathy Seipp Act Like 14-Year Old Girls?
After much prompting, I finally got Cathy Seipp to spill on her battle with Alex Ben Block, former editor of the Hollywood Reporter and director of the Los Angeles Press Club.
Cathy replies to my inquiries: "Oh...nothing really worth mentioning. As you may have noticed, Amy and I have a collective maturity level of about 14 yrs old when we get together. Alex Ben Block was giving Amy a hard time about sending our party invites to the LA Press club list -- apparently there was some glitch in their email system and he couldn't be bothered to fix it or figure out what was wrong -- so I just sent it out to everyone @lapressclub.com. It worked. But since I didn't wanted to be personally bothered with all the Press Club RSVPs, I did it under a new screen name I created called Alexbenblockhead@aol.com. Apparently this made Alex stomp around a while and threaten to sue "whoever did it" -- as if he didn't know it was me. Anyway, that's all there is to that story. Except that I guess Alex isn't going to be Press Club director anymore as he just got hired as an editor at Electronic Media and good for him!"
Alex Ben Block writes: "Dear Luke, I am not going to suggest that there was not a flap, as a result of a misunderstanding to which I contributed, but I have already agreed to put it behind me after receiving apologies. I don't think there is value at this time in digging it all up again. Thanks ABB"
This is a great book by former Philadelphia Magazine editor Stephen Fried. Terrific dish on how one synagogue really operates. Fills a gaping hole in Jewish Journalism, which tends to be lackluster. Just pick up the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, for example.
An Orthodox friend says: "The book is a good read but shocking and depressing for its insights into the whole Conservative movement. The egotism, pettiness. How antiseptic and without passion the movement is, lacking in serious religiosity. I sensed the sterility of the Conservative movement. The book left me with such an empty feeling. Conservative Judaism is a business operation that attracts some machers, some big shots, but it lacks transcendence."
Conservative and Reform rabbis typically earn two-to-four times as much money as Orthodox rabbis and typically have fewer kids and less demanding jobs.
Fried writes in his Prologue: "While Jewish bookshelves now teem with a new genre, spiritual self-help and how-to books, there is still very little journalism on the lives of American Jews as Jews. The scarcity is such that a recent book on American rabbis actually resorted to using many example drawn from fiction - including quotes from fictitious rabbis - to illustrate poitns that everyone knows to be true, but almost no one dares to write down in narrative non-fiction."
A couple of quibbles - Fried injects his own secular viewpoint into his description of Judaism. From page 93: "In Judaism, belief in God is optional..."
If there is no God, then who commands anything? Who commands that we respect the Torah? No God, no commander. If a Jew does not believe in God, he is still a Jew, as Jews are a people, not just a religion, but you will find no option in the sacred texts of Judaism for a good Jew to deny the existence of a transcendent, eternal, non-corporeal, personal God.
From page 127, Fried writes: "...Chancellor [Ismar] Schorsch [of the Conservative seminary in New York, JTS] still leads what is arguably the single most powerful religious force in American Judaism. There may technically be more Reform Jews than Conservative in the United States. And there is obviously a rebirth of both Modern and ulta-Orthodoxy going on, with Orthodox rabbis holding enormous power over their American congregants and controlling religious politics in Israel. But ral power in America is about national institutions, money, politics, coalitions. In those areas, the centrist Conservative movement is still the most formidably organized denomination."
And there's a fascinating description of Conservative Rabbi Leonid Feldman, who, before he was married, tore through the girls at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS).
The only reason there isn't more sexual immorality at JTS and the University of Judaism is that both places severely lack hot-looking women. It seems like they've been overrun by dykes (not that there's anything wrong with that) who want to wear things that pertain to a man - like tefillin, yarmulkes, tallitot - and do things that pertain to a man - like lead, teach Torah, read from the Torah and say Barchu. If God had wanted women to connect to him spiritually through women's prayer groups, he wouldn't have created kugel.
Manly men like myself are fleeing Reform and Conservative Judaism as the movements are taken over by homosexuals and women.
Chaim Amalek writes: "Torah transvestism is a growing problem amongst our kind. Where vagina asserts itself, the penis shrinks, and our numbers shrivel. I have no idea what goes on at either of these institutions though, as they have nothing to do with my growing communion with Christ. Increasingly faced with the very unpalatable choices that judaism presents these days - the suffocating living death of orthodoxy, the consumerism of conservatism, and the meaninglessness of reform - mainstream Christianity increasingly is revealed to be the better choice. And if you were intellectually honest with yourself, and not animated by hatred, you would agree."
Fried writes: Leonid Feldman was a rabbi other rabbis gossiped about even before he decked his synagogue president. A tall, striking emigre often referred to as a "rock star rabbi," he was the first Soviet Jew to be ordained by the Conservative movement. He worked the national lecture circuit during the eighties, and then accepted the pulpit at Emanu-El, a sleepy little congregation in [Palm Beach]. He reportedly told the synagogue's board during negotiations, "I want to be a role model for yours ons and daughters, granddaughters and grandsons. Therefore, I'm going to drive a nice car; I'm going to wear nice clothes; I'm going to ask for a very nice salary. When some of your brilliant children and grandchildren are sitting in the sanctuary looking up at me, I want them to think, 'I could be a doctor, I could be a broker, I could be a lawyer, but I want to be a rabbi, just like Rabbi Feldman.'"
He was not afraid of being bombastic and confrontational. He told The Palm Beach Post that "if you don't give 10 percent of your earnings to charity, you're a bastard." Many of his rabbinic colleagues regarded him with suspicion, believing some of his best refusenik sagas to be possibly apocryphal. But while some chided him for providing nothing more than what one congregant called "religious entertainment," they had to admit that he could fill seats and raise money.
[Feldman] also put down roots in the community, marrying the daughter of the synagogue's treasurer. But as the synagogue grew, along with Feldman's cult of personality, splits emerged. ...Others complained that Feldman had too many outside interests that took him away from his primary obligations to the synagogue: lectures, TV appearances.
Last November , just before snowbird season bega, [synagogue president Stephen] Levin called a meeting of the ten-member executive committee of Emanu-El with the rabbi. The meeting went on for an hour, with members openly criticizing Feldman's commitment to the synagogue and the time he spent away from the congregation. Then Levin demanded a detailed schedule of where Feldman planned to be. When Feldman noted he had already provided them a schedule of his upcoming travel, a copy of which was sitting on the glass coffee table, Levin looked at it, crumpled it into a ball and threw it toward the rabbi.
Whereupon Feldman stood up and clocked Levin, who was sitting on an ottoman next to the table. Levin crumpled onto the unforgiving granite floor. The rabbi apologized...
Check out Stephen Fried's websites at www.thenewrabbi.com and www.stephenfried.com. Fried is coming to Temple Sinai in Westwood to talk with Rabbi David Wolpe in late January. I believe Fried is looking to pick up other speaking appointments for those days he's in LA. Book him at his sites.
JEFFREY BARG(firstname.lastname@example.org) asks: What was it like taking a tradition that is so oral and putting it down on paper?
SF: It's hard. There is a lot of Jewish writing about the hardcore law stuff. But the stuff having to do with customs is not that easily codified. The hardest thing is explaining this to people so that they understand and know what the characters in the book know. For example, I attempt to describe that belief in God in Conservative Judaism is optional, but belief in being part of the community and studying the Torah is not optional. You're allowed to sit there and talk about not believing and have that be part of the conversation. That is, to many American Christians, a surprising idea. But it is not surprising to Jews. And to write that paragraph and have it be right, have it be conversational, have it be interesting, have it be provocative--that is the kind of stuff that I really enjoy doing.
(AP) Conservative Judaism may be about to reopen discussion of the denomination's ban on blessing same-sex unions and ordaining homosexuals -- a move that could be controversial within the centrist branch of American Judaism.
Conservative Judaism bars people who are openly gay from rabbinical schools, but doesn't investigate the sexual orientation of students -- a compromise policy adopted in 1992 after an intense debate.
A key figure in any future debate over policy toward gays is likely to be Rabbi Elliot Dorff, the rector of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and vice chairman of the Committee on Law and Standards. Dorff, an advocate of same-sex unions and ordaining gays, said the existing ban has been applied unevenly, with some gay rabbis allowed to serve and others essentially forced out.
"Over the last 10 years, we agreed to disagree in the movement," Dorff said. "But more people now know people and love people who are members of their families and good friends who are gay and lesbian. It's much harder to hate or disdain people you know and love."
Dorff's daughter is a lesbian, but he said he decided to support ordination of gays before she told him of her sexual orientation.
Rabbi Ismar Schorsch -- chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative rabbinical school in New York -- has warned that ordaining gays would be a major break from Jewish law and would split the movement.
Cecile du Bois writes: Dear Mr. Ford, I remember Jill Stewart floating on a raft in the Pasadena Ritz Carlton pool with Cathy and I, as we pulled her around the pool. Since she was very fair and had flaming red hair, we had to keep her in the sun. Cathy and I probably felt like ladies in waiting and Jill, our lady queen. She is smart and clever. She would tell us hysterical and nonsensical instances she heard of like when a principal nearly stepped on a child's head. I would pick up New Times weekly as I would tread out of shops in LA. With her fiery red hair and pale pallor over her humorous wit, I am fond of Jill Stewart.
Sandra Tsing Loh is also a nice witty woman. Mother and wife, she juggles changing diapers, entertaining her friends and touring on her hilarious one woman plays nationally. Her little cheery parties take place beside her backyard pool. Her loyal husband, Mitch*, a musician in his small band, along with her sister, Tonya* help her out. Cracking sarcastic jokes and anecdotes along with Cathy and some other friends, Sandra leads the party.
In response to Mr. X, no, she does not have horrendous table manners. She eats better than the queen of England of herself, and even better than you! Her language is so eloquent and stylized that if she heard of Mr. X, she would be astonished. Her aim is to entertain people and lead a healthy life, not to corrupt reader's minds with garbage. If it were the fifties, Sandra would qualify.
Amy Alkon, with her red curly hair, is your typical fresh in fashion Jew from Detroit. Her mid-west wit and and spunk make her unique and her language, sarcastic with sensitivity. Being around her is better than being well travelled. If you want to go to Paris, but just want the adventure, stay home and hang around Amy. She will tell you stories that will make you cry from laughter. She once had a boyfriend, Gaston* from France. He had a defiant look in his eye that seemed to challenge people with the message "Don't talk to me, I am haughty." But under that veneer, he seemed quite friendly. But, on the other hand, all he would offer was handshake, and a "How do you do?" Amy was quite a character.
AMALEK Attempts to Put Luke on the Derech Nachon shel Stalking
Chaim Amalek writes: You Journo-Jews are all a bunch of weirdos. And speaking of stalking, the Jewess you SHOULD be stalking is that Sara Silverman chick who does comedy. And a nice face, too. For her age group (she is 32, which would be perfect for you were you not a gerantophile), she is hotter than 99.9% of her fellow jewesses, and a good 99.37% of white shiksas, too.
Now here is the rub. ONE, she lives in LA, which means you can get busy writing about her; and TWO - according to the Forward, which has a slavish profile on her in the current issue, her boyfriend is a, a, a SHVARTZE! If that is not a dis against Jewish men, be they accountants or internet journalists or dentists or lawyers, I don't know what is. A Shvartze! Luke, I have only two words for you: GET BUSY.
Jack writes: Now we know why Jill Stewart kept her interview a phoner... ha ha ha!!!
Luke replies: Because she was afraid I'd try to gone her? Is that what you are insinuating? Listen pal, I'm an Orthodox Jew. And I believe Jill Stewart has succeeded completely on the basis of her own professionalism, not because of her physical assets, which are, thank God, considerable.
Jack replies: ERRATA In Luke Ford's e-mail response to his lascivious nature, he "goned" Ms. Stewart instead of "boning" her. We regret the error and apologize for not including a photo of Ms. Stewart in our original story. -The editors
Luke replies: I regard female journalists as coequal partners in the process of exercising our democratic and First Amendment rights. I see them as holy and made in image of God. They are not sexual objects for my own amusement and voyeuristic tendencies.
Peter Samuelson Interview
Blake writes: Dear Luke - I just finished reading your interview with Peter Samuelson and discovered your website in the process. What a terrific undertaking! I liked how you took a direct approach with some questions which led I feel to some quite revealing answers.
The filming of Arlington Road took place just blocks from my home - so I was able to meet and talk with Tim Robbins, Mark Pellington, Jeff Bridges, and one of the producers whose name I cant recall- actually my conversation with the producer was limited to an exchange of Good Mornings! But I did speak at length to director Mark Pellington who I found to be a very friendly, likeable guy.
Having just come back from spending seven years abroad and having just lost a friend to a killer who targeted foreigners I found the films focus on rightwing terrorism terribly far-fetched and depressingly fatalistic especially coming at a time when Americans, Japanese, (Japanese translator of Satanic Verses) and Israelis (suicide attack after attack) were becoming increasingly targeted by cult groups like Aum or Al Qaeda or any of the wide array of Islamic terrorist groups.
If Samuelson truly thinks that Islamic terrorism will be stopped by not depicting Arabs as terrorists, then why doesnt he employ this same logic and desist from making movies about rightwing terrorists? The truth is his movie and movies depicting Arab terrorists don't cause terrorism; art doesnt cause terrorism, terrorists cause terrorism, their training camps and manuals, and financers like Saddam Hussein do.
I understand that Americans should understand the world around them, but because you live in Los Angeles, I dont need to explain why it is overly simplistic to suggest as Samuelson does that because only one of ten us of holds a passport that we arent just as informed as the average Finlander! The low percentage of passport holders probably reflects the fact we dont live in country the size of Lithuania or even Japan which is roughly only the size of California. We are a huge, vast collection of States and in very few other countries do as many other countries businesses and enterprises exist inside our borders.
I have lived abroad. I've seen the racket. Americans who spend lots of time abroad typically learn how to bash their own country in order to make themselves more palateable for their foreign friends. In come cases it takes on an unseemly arrogance of sophistication. Unfortunately what they don't realize is that if they continue if this vein they may eventually find themselves metaphorically in a pot of boiling water and on the dinner menu of some savages.
King of the Wild writes on Yahoo message board: Tim Robbins once farted in my neighborhood during the filming of a movie about fictional domestic terrorism called "Arlington Road." The police came and roped off a few blocks for a few months until the air cleared and filming finished. Next Robbins farted at the remains of the World Trade Center very soon after 9-11, making sure his Hollywood face and name were bored once again into the American psyche. Questions: Will all you Hollywood heavies that make a living out of hating and defiling yourselves and your country please stop flexing your publicity muscles to the detriment of freedom? Does it not make sense to you that your outspokenness against America's 9-11 policy makes it easier for Saddam and his radical muslim friends -- from Israel to Chechniya to Bali to New York City -- to justify their Koranic-based hatred for Christians, Jews and, yes, ultimately even Hollywood Liberals like yourself? Doesn't it enter your mind that you are only safe for so long by placating terrorists, that you will finally be targeted by the terrorists after you've been used by them like the journalist in Natural-Born Killers? Isn't it time Mr. Robbins, to stop being a coward and take a stand for children and against terrorism, against the terror machines of Saddam Hussein and against the nuclear plants of North Korean communist dictators?
Why Were Media Skittish About Reporting Herb Ritts' HIV Status?
A week ago, I wondered why the media were so reluctant to report that homosexual photographer Herb Ritts died of AIDS?
Because the media bends over backwards to accommodate gay activists and their sensibilities.
Now we get this confirmation from the homosexual magazine The Advocate:
"In an exclusive interview with The Advocate, a close friend of Herb Ritts confirms that the superstar photographer, who died Thursday of complications from pneumonia, was HIV-positive. "He had been very productive for many years living with HIV," says friend Stephen Huvane, a publicist with PMK/HBH. "He had only been in the hospital for a few days before he passed away." Huvane specified, however, that Ritts's death was not directly HIV-related. "Herb was HIV[-positive], but this particular pneumonia was not PCP [pneumocystis pneumonia]. But at the end of the day, his immune system was compromised. He died from complications from pneumonia, but he had been living with HIV for many years.""
Andrew Sullivan wrote earlier this week: "I'm intrigued by the weird locution used by every single newspaper obit to describe the cause of photographer Herb Ritts' death. The phrase is "complications of pneumonia." Now I have no way of knowing for sure what killed Herb Ritts at 50, but it seems highly unlikely that it was pneumonia alone. Very, very few people with access to decent healthcare die of pneumonia alone any more. But the phrase is very reminiscent of the euphemisms first used a decade or two ago with regard to AIDS. With AIDS, the precipitant cause of death is often some kind of opportunistic infection, and in the beginning of the plague, pneumonia was a leading infection. Hence people could get around saying they had AIDS by stating some subsequent illness as the cause of death. So the question is: was the openly gay Ritt's pneumonia a freak and dangerous strain that is newsworthy in its own right (like Jim Henson's) or was it HIV-related? And do newspapers have some responsibility to tell us which? It seems to me that when an openly gay guy dies at 50 of pneumonia, any decent editor would ask a simple follow-up. Or are they still colluding in the shame that some still attach to an HIV diagnosis?"
Parterrebox writes on alt.showbiz.gossip: No, actually, people don't die of AIDS; they die of opportunistic infections associated with a weakened immune system (or, sometimes, from the side effects of medication intended to combat HIV).
A news report on a celebrity's death is supposed to follow the death certificate in listing the cause of death; in Ritts' case it looks like what the doctor wrote down was "pneumonia." It's not up to an obituary writer to speculate on complicating factors.
It's different of course if the subject of the story (i.e., the person who died) made clear his wishes that he wanted his HIV status mentioned in his obituary; some people do want to do that for political reasons, e.g. keeping the message in the public eye that HIV still does kill.
Dame writes on alt.gossip.celebrities: One of the worst-kept secrets in Hollywood is how openly gay photographer-of-the-famous Herb Ritts, who died today of AIDS-related pneumonia, and famously closeted gay actor Richard Gere [were close friends].
So here's a curious little item in today's LA Times obit of Ritts, just after talking about how he was openly gay:
"While in college, he told his parents he was gay. His sister, Christy, told the Los Angeles Times about her brother's announcement in a 1999 interview: "When I found out, it was, 'Is he happy? Is he OK?' Other than that, who cares?"
"The story goes that Ritts and his close friend, a young actor named Richard Gere, were driving through the desert on their way to a weekend in Palm Springs when the Buick Le Sabre they were driving had a flat. Sweaty from changing the tire, Gere agreed to an impromptu photo session, posing in front of the car, his hands behind his head and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. 'It was fun,' Ritts was quoted about that time in 1979 when he used a Miranda camera with a 105-millimeter portrait lens. His friend Gere was an unknown then. But a year later he was a star, and Ritts' photos showed up in magazines in the United States and Italy.
"Ritts also published several books, among them 1989's "Men/Women" about the beauty and sensuous aura of both sexes; 1991's "Duo," a nude study of gay couples..."
Sweet writes: I couldn't help laughing when I read the "arms over his head" part....reminded me of how Howard Stern always says gay men dance with their arms over their head.
When Will Luke Get His Balls Back?
Chaim Amalek writes: You should hire that guy who wrote urging you to grow some balls to ghost write lf.net. Lay off the Jill and Cathy stuff already - it goes way past your usual gay slant and now seems stalkerish.
I offered this to Marc W, but he didn't seem interested in doing a follow-up. As we all know, crypto-Jew "Sumner Redstone" is the Man behind MTV and its morally corrosive show "Real World". Scores of young people have been on it, but not even Marc (who is a maven on such matters) could name even one who clearly was Jewish.
What goes on here? Has the Jew Murry - er, Sumner Redstone - been blackballing the Juden from this show? Why? Luke, drop the Cathy-Jill suck up and investigate this matter further. (I would love to see them include up a meek jewish law student from Yeshiva University and a vocal Palestinian Muslim woman studying medicine, but THAT'S not going to happen, is it?)
Re LA Journalism, please leave some droppings for your East Coast readers, who neither know nor care to know what the LA Times does or does not print. It is a commonly held belief out here that Hollywood controls LA publishing, and nobody here ever quotes the LA Times for anything. (But I'll bet lots of Hollywood Jews begin a sentence every now and then with "I read in the New York Times this morning that . . .")
So if you are going to post slanderous dirt, how about dishing some on the New York Times or Morton Zuckerman's Daily News or Murdoch's Post? If you really want to win the People's Pulizer, do a story about the importance of advertising dollars in our so-called "free" press. To what degree can the lowly supermarket chain with a big ad budget influence what gets printed? Luke, can you be bought, and for how much?
XXX writes: Luke, you want to know my feelings on Jill Stewart? First, you can't use my name, just go by my "XXX" handle, because the real guys behind the Anita Busch fish caper know now I was the one who was feeding you the info on Pellicano. My shotgun is loaded, and the next time they dry fire their chrome-handled .45 on me, I'm coming out blasting. I got a 350k life insurance policy on my head and I'm crazier than Mel Gibson in his lifts in "Lethal Weapon." I just don't want my family hurt.
Before I get into Stewart, let me say this: All this Queen for a Day crap with Cathy Seipp and now Jill is getting a little boring. What are you now, Art F--king Linkletter? I liked you better when you were the psycho cyber-stalking Anita Busch, a good egg who doesn't deserve the sh-- you give her.
Re the c--t licking that's now going on per Cathy and Jill, who cares what the guys from the LA Examiner think about journalists in L.A.? Let them jack off with Dick Riordan on their prototype "New York Observer." You think Riordan has the stones that Carter does, the Carter who bankrolls the N.Y. Observer? Carter loses $5 million a year and will never make a dime with that paper. The first time an advertiser bitchslaps Riordan over a story, Riordan will punk out every journo within a five-mile radius to keep the money happy. If Riordan really wanted to run a paper, it would be up and running by now or at least he'd have an advertising guy laying the ground work for humping ads. And if Ken and Matt of the LA Examiner want to be Riordan's butt boys, fine. But don't waste server space hyping something that will be a joke if it doesn't get aborted in the first place.
I met Jill when I walked into Buzz, a magazine that survived for seven years when it had everything going against it. I watched her mature at New Times LA, a weekly that died after six years when it had everything going for it. Be that as it may, Jill delivers the goods. She's a hell of a columnist because she writes well, has an opinion, and ain't afraid to pick up the phone and call anybody anytime.
Before I get into more dry humping of Jill, one kernel of unreported truth. One thing no one ever says out loud about Jill is that powerful men dig pissing in her ear and getting slapped around by her because she's one hot babe. All that red hair, decent tits and great ass go a long way. You think Tom "I'll have another drink" Hayden spilled his guts to her because he liked her friggin mind? I'll bet ya my SUV that Hayden wanted tang from Jill. And if he got a little, hey, I never pay California state tax anyway.
True story: the first time I walked into a Buzz contributor's luncheon at Maple Drive, I said to Allan Mayer, "Not only are you one hell of an editor, dude, but you got fine taste in p---y."
Now Allan could get away with this sorta show because the men who wrote for him were either gay, chewed up like yours truly, or were Jerry Stahl, whose whole act was based on looking like he'd rather steal a woman's purse than f--- her.
Back when I was a stud, had hair, no wife and kids, and washboard abs, I saw Julia Roberts without makeup and buck naked. She's a great actress, but there's a good reason why she hated the real Erin Brockovich. You didn't want to run for the door when Erin got down to do the nasty. Meanwhile, Mayer's Buzz harem had natural beauties who were smart and could write and think.
Besides Jill, the top Buzz babes were Cathy Seipp, Sandra Loh and Holly Palance, who inherited daddy Jack's great bones. Now I love Loh, because at these Maple Drive Buzz lunches she made no qualms about pretending she was at some Algonquin Table. She was there for the great grub. She would wear a ratty black sweater that would highlight the food that fell out of her mouth. She ate fast and kept her head down while she cleaned her plate. A real man's woman. She was also great to the late Don Rawley, one of the late Buzz gay crew who was the bravest of us all.
Jill and I were the only ones who ever ordered hard liquor at these lunches - and the booze was free! That says a lot about Jill: if she wants something, she goes for it and she's not worried about being politically correct.
Now there's a lot of ugly women in daily journalism who are jealous of Jill, so don't hold your breath waiting for the L.A. Times to hire her. It's just a crying shame that New Times LA f--ked up and she lost her real estate.
New Times LA editor Rick Barrs had a murderers' row of alt journos: Jill, Tony Ortega, Susan Goldsmith, and one mean managing editor, Jack Cheevers, who was pissy and petty, but knew his sh-- and was perfect for an alt paper. But Rick ran the paper like it was an alt in Phoenix, not in L.A., and that's why Jill lost her job. Rick refused to suck Hollywood d--k, and if you want to survive in publishing in this town, ya gotta suck Hollywood d--k now and then. Look at the L.A. Weekly: they protect their political writers by giving the L.A. masses what they want: entertainment covers!
Somebody at New Times LA was so obsessed about not being the L.A. Weekly, they forgot that L.A. readers know entertainment stories are just the bullshit that brings them into the tent. Instead of having a kiss ass David Lynch story on the cover that would allow readers to enjoy Jill Stewart, Barrs would have to run a cover on some gang-banger band from East L.A. for his entertainment cover. Two problems with that sh--: nobody on the west side of L.A. gives a sh-- about that cover, and none of the Spanish speaking dudes on the East side who followed the gang-banger band on the cover knew what the f--k New Times LA was. I loved Rick Barrs, but is it any wonder that by the time he was running six covers in a row about sex scandals in the Catholic church, the only folks advertising in his paper were professional sex workers? (Note to Rick: I know Mike "Save the Whales" Lacey put you up to a lot of this s--t. Next time he reaches for a drink, sock him one for me.)
The point of all this, Luke? If you're going to lick these babes fine butts, there's gotta be a strategy that goes somewhere. If you're gonna cyberstalk Anita Busch, why not go after editor John Carroll at the L.A. Times or editor Laurie Ochoa at the L.A. Weekly and tell 'em you're going to go insane and take them with you unless they hire Jill and Cathy? I've got tons of dirt on Carroll and Ochoa that I'll gladly give you for free if it means that little redhead and flasher Cathy get their print real estate back.
Cecile du Bois writes: "Dear Mr. Ford, That guy who wrote you obviously wants to stir up attention. 99% of his statements are false, and he is not a good writer. Most of your stuff is better written, and that Mr. X is just wasting your time and space on your website. I am relieved that you finished Cathy's profile and are on to Jill's. I was getting a bit bored with the Cathy stuff, and now Jill is getting interestng. In the future, as advice, don't waste your space with jerks like Mr. X."
Fervent Chabadnik Booted From AOL For TOS Violations
Fervent Chasid Ariel Sokolovsky, who believes Rebbe Menahem Schneerson is the Messiah prophesied about in the Bible, has lost his AOL account for proselytizing in AOL chatrooms.
RabbiArielS770: Shalom Levi! Yehi HaMeleh HaMoshiah! want a fresh scandal?:-) My acct was shutdown by aol for suposedly violating TOS on "comericial advertising and soliciting" (for posting links to Jewish chatrooms from time to time to various Torah sites ).
I have session logs in which I'm speaking with someone who is attacking me for saying the Rebbe is Moshiach. At some point I post a link to some site with more details related to discussion he then says you have just been reported .... the entire rule in TOS is unfair equating posting links to Torah sites in the midle of on topic discussion with say posting links to adult sites or biz op scams and calling both of those activities forbiden commercial solicitation.
I'm planning to call aol again and tell them that unless they un-terminate that acct i'm going to create a site and otherwise create negative publicity for them asking people to call aol and say we are protesting "stifling freedom of religion on aol".
Jill Stewart Interview
I've read Jill Stewart for years in Buzz Magazine, the LA Weekly, New Times LA and other outlets. In March 2002, I went to a writer-party thrown by Cathy Seipp and Amy Alkon, where I met Jill for the first time. Nine months later I worked up the courage to take her to lunch. A few months later, I asked her for an interview.
I speak by phone with Jill 1/1/03.
Luke: "Laexaminer.com calls you the angriest woman in Los Angeles."
Luke: "I think it's meant as a compliment."
Jill: "That's funny. People when they first meet me, say [in a surprised tone], 'Oh, you're really nice.' I get all my angst out in my writing. I don't need a therapist."
Luke: "The other day my friend Fred called. He said, 'Hey, Jill Stewart just called here looking for you. Wow, if you talk to her again, tell her I am a big fan'."
Jill laughs: "I never know how people are going to react. I have a big gay following because they like how I dish, which is funny because I don't do any gay issues."
Luke: "Where did you grow up?"
Jill: "Kirkland, Washington, near Seattle. It was a town of 20,000 but now it's the Brentwood of Seattle and is packed with expensive condos. It's where all the Bill Gates millionaires decided to buy homes. It's a 25-minute drive across the bridge."
Luke: "What did your parents do for a living?"
Jill: "My Mom was a homemaker and my Dad was a pipefitter. I have three brothers and one sister. I'm the baby. My sister does customer care for Bank of America. My youngest brother runs an architectural supply store. My oldest brother is in construction and my middle brother passed away."
Luke: "What were you like in high school?"
Jill: "I was like an angry anti-education, anti-public school, this is stupid, ridiculous, we aren't learning anything. Why are we doing this? This doesn't work. I was the class treasurer and class secretary. I ran for various offices. I was in a mixed clique. One of my best friends was a hood, drug-person, so I mixed into that crowd even though I was the only person in the group who didn't take drugs. And I was in the cheerleader-class president crowd [even though Jill was neither].
"I went to an alternative college called Evergreen in Olympia, Washington. I majored in sociology and education."
Luke: "How did your interest in journalism develop?"
Jill: "In the fifth grade, we all had a favorite teacher named Trixie, Trixana Koch. She got us involved in this little class paper. Then we all had her for ninth grade. She was the best teacher any of us ever had. She was our friend. So later on in college, when I walked by the campus paper, I saw them all in there having a blast on deadline night, laying out the paper, editing each other's stories and having great conversations... It reminded me of ninth grade and all the great stuff we did. I popped in and I never got out of there again. I ended up being the editor of the college paper (The Cooper Point Journal) in my senior year.
"Then I went to Stanford for my Masters degree in journalism. They encouraged us to try to make money on a freelance piece to get into journalism in a real way. I got the idea of doing a straight business piece on the economics of the porn industry in San Francisco, with no morality in it and no discussion of the politics. The Mitchell Brothers were famous and they had these big theaters that were popular.
"I called them up. They thought it was charming that this young college student wanted to do a straight piece with no dumping on them. I met them. They gave me an interview. They hooked me up with all sorts of people to interview and I found some fascinating numbers on the money that was pouring in on all kinds of things, not just the big X-rated films they were making but these little loop movies that guys were going to see in these X-rated bookstores. I wrote a freelance piece that ran in the Sunday magazine of one of the Sunday newspapers and I got paid a lot of money for it. It was my first big journalism cash. I graduated from Stanford after nine months in 1979.
"One of the visiting lecturers in the program, Dick High, became the publisher of a paper in Casper, Wyoming, the Casper Star Tribune. He offered me a job. It was the biggest paper in the state with a circulation of about 90,000. I arrived in November. It snowed the first day I got there. It snowed every day I was there. It was the coldest winter since about 1880. It was nasty.
"I had this assignment to go up Casper Mountain where a woman had gone over the edge of the road unbeknownst to anyone and had crawled slowly up the edge in 20 below weather, with a 20 below windchill factor added on to it, and had thrown her arm over the edge of the road and been seen by someone and had been saved, though of course she was going to lose fingers. I'm trying to write in 40 below and the ink freezes in my pen. I use my pen to scratch into the paper, ripping away, so I can at least keep track of a few things like her name. I'm wearing a city skirt from California and pumps. I was miserable.
"The best thing was I could do whatever I wanted. I spent about a month investigating this story I heard that you couldn't get an abortion anywhere in the state. It was a conservative place. It was legal to get an abortion but none of the doctors were willing to give abortions. None of the hospitals were willing to give abortions because the pressure from society was so strong that even if you agreed you should be able to have them, your hospital and practice would come under such pressure, you'd be spurned by the social mores of the area.
"Because it was such a small population, you could call every major obstetrician and every major hospital in the state and ask them. I found out that you couldn't get an abortion. All the women were going to Denver and telling their husbands they were going shopping. I wrote a big piece about it.
"That very week, the Associated Press called me from Los Angeles. I had taken the test there. It was about 20 below that day. The guy said, 'Hi Jill, it's Steve Loeper from the Associated Press. You did well on the test and we'd like to hire you to come to sunny California.' It was Friday. I said I would love to come. I could be there Monday.
"I left in a U-Haul and I was there on Monday. That Sunday, there was a huge layout in the paper on my abortion story with photographs and charts. They had a sit-in in the newsroom with women and children with signs from anti-abortion groups. I missed the whole thing. One of the big regrets of my whole career. I didn't get to see it. I didn't get to bask in the glory. Nothing.
"I worked for the AP for six months and then I moved to the Long Beach Press Telegram for almost six years, the first long stint of my career. I became good buddies with Dennis McDougal and Mark Gladstone. We all later went to the LA Times. I was at the Times from 1984-1991."
Luke: "And your experience at the Times was good, bad or indifferent?"
Jill: "It was good in the sense that I did well. They liked my work. I was destined for good things. It was bad in that I really hated my job and I was desperate to get out of there because they were sanitizing the news. They were over-managing reality. It wasn't honest and it wasn't right and I couldn't stand it."
Luke: "This was the Shelby Coffey era."
Jill: "I wrote about urban affairs, government, poverty, and affordable housing. I covered County Board of Supervisors and City Hall. There were common repetititive activities that happened on the City Desk and has only recently abated somewhat - the problem of taking out the best quotes. You come back from a major event where all sorts of controversial things have happened, accusations back and forth between government and people and between people and people in a poor neighborhood where they want to do redevelopment... Lots of hot-headedness and people grabbing microphones from one another. You'd come back with a good story about the drama of it all and the City Desk, as a matter of routine, would take out the best quotes. The most controversial, hot-headed stuff, stuff they don't think the public could handle. To me, this was the antithesis of what journalism was all about - their deciding that the general readership should not be exposed to the things that the journalists were exposed to. I found this to be outrageous, something that I've been assured by many people did not happen at the New York Times. That happened every single day.
"The other thing that happened every day was the managing of the news where you come back and tell them what happened and the City Desk would then tell you what they story was. The LA Times was an editor's paper, not a writer's paper. The City Desk would force you to slant the news. They didn't single me out, this was just an every day thing. The reporters were hammered down. The morale at the LA Times was as low as it could go. We would go across the street to the Redwood Bar and people would just talk in desperate terms about the condition of journalism in Los Angeles. But nobody ever quit. Some journalists didn't care. They didn't know that anything different was out there. They were followers rather than leaders. They figured the editors know what they're doing, which I found disgusting.
"Then one day, this reporter Keith Love quit and became a publisher of a small paper. He was the first person in that era, right in the middle of having a good career, to voluntarily leave the paper. I started thinking, 'Ohmigod, you can just quit the LA Times?' They called it the "velvet coffin." Keith Love's quitting got me thinking that I could make a new life and have a great career and it doesn't have to have anything to do with this awful place that is sanitizing and slanting the news and bending over backwards to special interest groups and sacred cows, and you can do real journalism somewhere. I fermented on it for many months and then finally walked in one day and quit and moved to Prague.
"One day, LA Times columnist Al Martinez had walked up to me and said, 'Prague. You've got to go to Prague. It's a romantic fantasy. It's a fabulous world from another era. It's the best.' I was thinking about moving overseas. He gave me some booklets. Eastern Europe seemed like a great idea because it was all changing rapidly. So when I quit, I walked over to Al and said, 'I'm going to Prague.' He said, 'Ohmigod, I had no idea I was influencing you like that.'
"So Norm [Jensen, Jill's live-in boyfriend since 1982, a screenwriter] and I moved to Prague. Norm said he was willing to go anywhere I wanted. He knew how unhappy I was at the LA Times. When I told him I was going to quit, he said, 'You should've quit a long time ago. That sucks.'
"I did some work in Prague for the English-language paper Prognosis. Mostly I goofed around, wrote a screenplay, and freelanced for LA Weekly and Editor & Publisher. When I realized it was only an 18-hour drive to Athens and you could see every country in between, I just traveled.
"After a year, I moved to North Carolina for a year and finished my screenplay and spent my 401K money. I don't have a title for my screenplay. I'm in the middle of redoing it. I moved back to LA in the middle of the riots and got a contract to write cover stories for the LA Weekly (edited by Kit Rachlis and then Sue Horton) and for the LA Times Sunday magazine."
Luke: "At a party a few months ago, you said you would never work for the LA Weekly. It's Stalinist."
Jill: "They used to let me write cover stories. I wrote a profile of Dick Riordan. I said this is an interesting guy who is going to be an interesting mayor. He's a weird liberal Republican. They would never publish that now. I don't even understand what they are doing now. It used to have more oomph."
Luke: "Do you think Kit Rachlis is doing a good job with Los Angeles Magazine?"
Jill: "I haven't read Los Angeles Magazine for a year or so.
"I freelanced for Buzz Magazine for five years. I did a column for them called Power Brokers. Editor Allan Mayer suggested that I take all the stuff I know about the city leaders and all the stuff I never got to say in the LA Times and just talked about over cocktails and put it in a column. I started writing my opinionated views in my Power Brokers column. My first piece was called "Ship of Fools," and it was a small thumbnail sketch of every single city council member. It was just vicious. It was poorly received in city hall. Nobody had ever written something like that. There was a discussion going on about bringing civility to political discourse in America and I had gone in the other direction."
Luke: "How did you learn to put on the armor and handle the backlash that your opinionated writing caused?"
Jill: "I've never really felt any serious backlash. I don't really care if I piss people off. I like that it makes people talk, discuss and argue. I get so much support. I get lots of phone calls and comments and it usually runs nine-to-one thank you. 'We need you. Have I ever told you that you make my day?' That sort of thing. The people who fume keep it to themselves."
Luke: "Did you hit your stride at Buzz?"
Jill: "No, that came later, because in the magazine world you have to be classy and you can't be calling people names. You can't be super-honest. Then New Times came along and you could be completely honest. If you could prove it, and if you could argue it, you could print it."
Luke: "Was that the most freedom you've had as a journalist?"
Jill: "Completely. New Times lasted just under six years."
Luke: "Do you already feel nostalgic for it?"
Jill: "I miss it horribly. Every day I think it's awful that I can't pick up a New Times and that it's awful that we're not going to have a Monday morning news meeting to figure out who are the biggest evildoers of the week."
Luke: "How did you develop your friendship with Richard Riordan, particularly considering that New Times knocked him around?"
Jill: "He liked getting criticized. He enjoys the give and take of politics. He has a good self-image of who he is. When he gets whacked, it doesn't really bother him. He doesn't like inaccuracies. That drove him crazy. But opinion that he disagrees with, he doesn't mind.
"At his cafe downtown, he got a C rating from the County on health issues. The Finger did a whole piece that the place was out of Bombay, India. The paper commissioned a good cartoon drawing of Riordan and a giant rat in a chef's hat serving up slop to a customer.
"Riordan called the morning after the paper came out and Rick Barrs, the editor, is wincing when he hears it's Riordan on line two. Riordan says, 'Listen, I want to get a hold of that artist. I want to buy that cartoon. Where is he? I want to find him. I love that cartoon. I need to reach him right away.' And he paid the guy good money and bought it.
"He's a real person. He's not running around trying to phony up his public persona. He screws up in public. I grew to really like him over the years even though I didn't agree with him on things like the environment. I went after him on several things like noise at the Van Nuys Airport, a big problem in the Valley. Riordan's policy was to ignore the problem.
"I lived 32 blocks south of the Van Nuys airport in Encino but my house, every morning, would shake from the aircraft leaving the airport. I thought it was an earthquake the first morning we lived in the house. And we're nowhere near the sound footprint. I called the realtors and asked, 'How come no one warns you when you move to Encino that the place has this huge airport noise problem?' And the realtor said, 'Encino doesn't have an airport and it doesn't have an airport noise problem.' And that's how Riordan operated too. So I just pissed all over him about that.
"He had a complete blind spot about the environment. I argued with him about that all the time. Playa Vista. What a disaster. He was blind on that and I used to whack him all the time. I think public officials should just be thrown against the wall for the some of the decisions they take on these things and so that's what I do to them.
"Riordan would be pissed off but it's not like he holds a grudge. He'd say, 'Jill, I totally disagree with you on this. You're wrong. I'd wish you'd wake up. So you want to get lunch next week and talk about XYZ issue?' Other public officials might hold a grudge forever if you attack them. There are a lot of people who can roll with the issue and understand that you are just a journalist holding their feet to the fire on major things that will affect thousands of people.
"Another public official who can handle it is Zev Yaroslavsky. He's a Democrat. You can go after him on an issue but in a month, he'll give you an interview on another topic because he knows it's your job to hold his feet to the fire."
Luke: "Have you noticed other journalists criticizing you, using words like angry or spiteful?"
Jill: "I've heard that a number of editors at the Los Angeles Times have said that about me but no one has ever said it to my face. Apparently, they felt that the reason I often attacked the LA Times as a weak newspaper, which has sold out and had too many sacred cows and special interest groups that it was protecting, was that I was bitter about my experience at the LA Times. But I've never felt bitter about it. I just felt sad. Bitterness would be if you got screwed in your job."
Luke: "You don't object to how they treated you. You object to how they treat everyone."
Jill: "I was treated well. I was doing well in my career there. There wasn't any bad treatment or a glass ceiling. I enjoyed my assignments. I felt I was paid well and I got my merit raises, blah, blah, blah. It was my disgust. I guess they are trying to find a reason that makes them feel good that they are still there."
Luke: "Is the LA Times significantly better under its new ownership?"
Jill: "That's what I'm trying to figure out. I keep hearing that they are really changing it and I have seen some stories that would never have seen the light of day under Shelby Coffey. My friend Dave Ferrell wrote a profile of Gray Davis about a month before the election in which he talked about his obsession with his hair. How it's been one of his lifelong obsessions since college. How he has no personal friends. He dumped all his college friends the moment he got into serious politics and he hasn't spoken to many of them since. They all find him to be a freak. One of them said, 'We think of him as a cypher.' The article just went on and on about what a freak he is, what a bizarre, friendless, hair-obsessed freak the governor is. It was a short stiletto-sharp profile. Devastating.
"Dave was even allowed to put some commentary in. In the third or fourth paragraph, he put in how odd it is that a person of his stature has no close friends. I called Dave immediately upon reading it. I was lying in the bathtub. I picked up the phone. I said, 'Dave, this is unbelievable. How did you get this in the paper?' Dave said, 'I swear I didn't do anything. I just wrote it and it showed up in the paper.' We just sat there in silence. He didn't have to fight for it. He didn't have to pull any strings for it. I said, 'Maybe the paper's changing?" He said, 'Maybe it is.'
"I've seen some other evidence [that the paper is changing]. I've seen some riskier writing. They're starting to let the writers say what they saw. Not so much locally yet, but an example of more investigative, hard-hitting was the Harrier series. That was a blasting series, a major investigative slam. I thought it was beautifully done and head and shoulders above their usual investigative approach. I assume it comes straight from the new management."
Luke: "Do you sense morale is picking up there?"
Jill: "I've heard it is although everyone is worried now. They are going to do something locally. They're going to begin identifying deadwood and sending people to places like the Inland Empire. That's going to hurt morale because nobody knows who's deadwood yet. But I'd say morale has been building over the past six months because of the new emphasis out of Washington (the investigative team). That's exciting. It makes people feel better.
"After the initial shock, a lot of people like the new look of the paper. I like most of it. Now, supposedly, they are going to get around to fixing Metro, the weakest link in the paper. They know it."
Luke: "How are you liking talk radio?"
Jill: "I've been doing commercial radio, filling-in over at KFI. That's weird. I spent four years as a guest on Larry Mantle's show on KPCC. That's like a normal conversation with complicated sentences about complicated issues. You can talk as much as you want. Commercial radio is more like what you would say to your friends at the bar after your third drink. It's fast, quick and fun, not too much depth because you've got to move on. 'Ohmigod, we need to talk about cloning for an hour. We've got 20-minutes to prepare.' At best, you're doing entertainment. Doing NPR for four years doesn't prepare you in any way for doing commercial radio."
Jill Stewart's new new twice-monthly column launches Thursday, Jan. 9, in five weeklies (Pasadena Weekly, San Diego City Beat, Sacramento News & Review, V.C. Reporter) around California, and the tentative title will be Capitol Punishment. "I didn't think that up but I love it. I will have about 350,000 circ. in my new setup."
Here are some folks I need to talk to round out my Jill Stewart profile.
Enemies list - Jackie Goldberg, Ruth Gelernter. Mark Cooper of LA Weekly. Mike Davis.
Friends - Patt Morrison. Dick Riordan. Susan Goldsmith. Bob Hertzberg. Larry Elder.
Unclear - Steve Soberoff, president of Playa Vista.
Editor of the now defunct Buzz Magazine, Allan Mayer, says: "Jill Stewart is one of those writers who makes it fun and easy to be an editor. You just tee her up and then get the hell out of her way. The fact that the L.A. Times let her escape all those years ago is one of the most devastating indictments of the old regime's mediocrity."
Ken Layne writes: "I barely know Jill, but I sure love her stuff. When I returned to L.A. in 1999, after many years abroad, her column and The Finger gave me a weekly crash course in L.A. politics. It's impossible to figure out what's going on from teevee news or the LAT. Yet I could read Jill's column and feel like I knew whatever was actually important. Not being able to work with Jill and the gang at New Times is one of my great regrets. (The paper was closed a few hours after I was talking to Rick Barrs about taking an editor job.)
"I hope I'll be able to work with her at a new paper. Meanwhile, she's doing one of the best radio shows in town on KFI-AM. Her writing is biting, smart, full of cheap insults and ultimately the best version of any local/state political story."