Gents of the Old UVA; Israel's Powerful Friends; What Would Papa Do?; Theorizing Liz Hurley

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:55

    Virginia Gentlemen Last week I went to Washington, DC, to give a speech to the City Tavern Club, situated in Georgetown and housed in an historic house of the early 18th century. Talk about pleasant surprises. The president, Robert Gabriel, turned out to be young enough to be my son, and his wife was pretty and charming enough to make me forget Betty Grable for a while. When I was first contacted by Bob Gabriel, I thought I would be speaking in some Irish tavern full of rowdy types like yours truly. So I chose as a subject the horrors of the press. (Show me a drinker and I'll show you someone who loathes the blowdry types who report the news.) Not for the first time, I got it all wrong. The last time I was among so many gents and ladies I was back at the University of Virginia, my alma mater, in my old fraternity, St. Elmo's, to be exact. Even the then-president of the frat, Thomas B. Evans, was there to lend support. Tommy Evans is a great man, an ex-congressman, now a lobbyist, and scion of a great Delaware family. Needless to say, I had such a wonderful time reminiscing about UVA and the days when men never lied and ladies never told that I had a little bit too much firewater for coherent speechmaking. But the great room was full, the atmosphere perfect, so I sort of threw my rather boring speech away and told stand-up jokes about being in journalism these last 33 years.

    What stuck with me on my way to Paris immediately following the dinner was how like the America I first knew the City Tavern Club members were: polite, friendly, full of good cheer and humor, well-mannered but easy to joke with about risque subjects. I shall not soon forget this most pleasant, if much too short, visit.

    Back in those good old days, Virginia students adhered to the honor system. One didn't lie, never cheated and didn't swear. Mind you, we were not goody-goodies. Anything but. We drank and played very hard, chased girls nonstop and at times even tried to excel in the classroom as well as the athletic field. But the most important thing was to be a gentleman, and everything that that encompassed. In fact, I can't remember a single instance of anyone?at least at St. Elmo's?who ever got close to breaking the honor system code. Which brings me to?yes, you guessed it?Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Janet Reno, or Pretty Boy Floyd, Al Capone and Ma Barker, if you prefer.

    The Arkansas State Supreme Court said in 1998 that "There is no place in the law for a man or a woman who will not tell the truth even when his interest is involved." Two years later, as The Washington Times put it, "a court committee decided that even the nation's highest elected official must abide by that standard and commenced disbarment proceedings" against the Draft Dodger. U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright went a step further. She wrote in her opinion that Clinton gave "intentionally false" testimony. Now I ask you, dear readers, would Clinton have lasted in Virginia circa 1955? Would we have been wrong to, say, while playing high-stakes poker with Clinton in St. Elmo's, leave the room with our cards on the table? Would a faculty member have been correct to allow him to take an exam paper home with him?as many allowed us?relying on his honor not to cheat?

    The answers to all three questions are, it nearly goes without saying, a resounding no. Now there's something very wrong when a young Greek can be made extremely honorable by the example of his peers, whereas the president of the United States cannot be made truthful and honorable by his great office. The press, the media, the Washington insiders and scum like Sidney Blumenthal have a lot to answer for for this one. I may not exactly be a role model for anyone, but I cannot tell a lie?especially under oath?because of people like Tommy Evans. (Well, that's not exactly true. I have been known to lie to girls, but only to tell them how much I love them, and love, after all, is relative.) Actually, when I was busted, the newspapers wrote that I gave myself away; I did nothing of the sort. The man asked me specifically what was in an envelope sticking out of my pocket, and, kneejerk-like, I told him.

    This week, in Paris, Athens and London, I had the opportunity to sound people out about Clinton and Gore. The images you see of various European leaders smooching Clinton are misleading. The average European is appalled by Clinton's mendacity and Uncle Sam's bullying. Madeleine Albright is considered a joke, and a bad one at that. Janet Reno, who is now threatening to indict Gen. Pinochet for Orlando Letelier's unfortunate encounter with a car bomb in 1976, is seen as an egregious hypocrite and phony because it was she who "murdered" countless of defenseless men, women and children at Waco. (Letelier was demanding the violent overthrow of Pinochet, and a rogue spook turned the tables on him. Now the left is screaming foul, as it always does.) Albright's State Dept. initially called the Peruvian elections illegitimate, as if Uncle Sam has the inalienable right to decide who wins. Again, this did not go unnoticed over on this side of the lake. (She who bombed and bombed innocents in Serbia is suddenly worried about how Peruvians voted?) Al Gore cheated in 1996 and now wants election finance reform. Bob Gabriel, blow your horn and ask me back to old Virginia.


    Toby Young The London Desk Hurley Burley George Rush's May 23 story in the Daily News revealing that Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley had split up ("No Longer Divine: Hugh and Liz Split,") was an embarrassment for the British press. Usually, it's the other way about, with the British tabloids scooping their American rivals. This time round they were beaten to the buzzer on their own game show. They spent the rest of the week playing catch-up. Shortly after the Daily News hit the streets, I was contacted by The Daily Telegraph, which wanted 1600 words on the real story behind Liz and Hugh's bust-up by 4:30 p.m. the next afternoon. I called Hurley's old friend William Cash for a heads-up, but he couldn't help because he was doing it for The Daily Mail. I tried Sean Macaulay, my closest friend in Los Angeles. No good either: he was covering it for the Times. For a brief period last month, it seemed, all my friends were frantically engaged in covering what, for the Brits, was one of the biggest news stories of the year.

    To my relief, the Telegraph called me back the next day to tell me they didn't want anything after all. The breakup had received so much coverage in that morning's papers the editor had decided enough was enough. Still, most of Fleet Street stayed with the story and, when I last spoke to Cash, he was planning a follow-up piece for The Sunday Times. At the time he was wrestling with the dilemma faced by professional journalists whenever their friends hit the headlines: should he reveal the inside dope, or keep schtum? His solution was to write about this dilemma.

    The upshot is I've given Liz and Hugh's split a fair amount of thought, but the only outlet I've got is New York Press. So remember: You read it here first.

    There are several theories doing the rounds, including Neal Travis' in the New York Post. Travis thinks the couple may still be together, that they're just "tugging the media chain." Another theory is that they've simply fallen out of love. This is the theory that Cash came up with in The Daily Mail and, since he almost certainly cleared it with Hurley first, it's the closest thing we have to an official version. I don't buy it, for it assumes they were a normal couple to begin with. Any fool knows, they were a celebrity couple. They haven't been in love for years?duh!?but they remained a "couple" because it increased their media wattage. So why the split? Still another theory is that she's decided to trade up. She appeared at the Costume Institute party at the Metropolitan Museum last year on the elbow of Teddy Forstmann and, according to most of my New York fashion industry friends, she's got her heart set on becoming the next Mrs. Teddy Forstmann. If not Teddy, they say, then some other publicity-hungry billionaire. Subscribers to this theory point out that Hurley's modeling contract with Estee Lauder is unlikely to be renewed this year and she needs to find something to keep her in the jet-set style to which she's become accustomed.

    I think this underestimates her. Back in the early 90s, I knew Hurley slightly (we've fallen out since, but that's another story) and the impression I formed was of a woman who wants to achieve something in her own right, not as an appendage to someone else. I'm sure that "trophy wife" is on her list of options, but I don't think it's near the top. Indeed, I think she's frustrated at having been seen as Grant's girlfriend for all these years. My theory is that the reason for the split is that Hurley finally, after 13 years of dating a movie star, feels confident enough to strike out on her own. Key here is the good advance buzz about her next film. Bedazzled, due to be released on Aug. 11, is Harold Ramis' remake of the 1967 Peter Cook and Dudley Moore comedy in which an upright young man is submitted to a series of temptations by the devil. In this version, Hurley is playing the devil and she's been given above-the-title billing alongside Brendan Fraser. It's the first time Hurley's had a leading role in a big-budget movie and the word-of-mouth, so far, is good. The 34-year-old pinup probably has convinced herself that, after struggling to establish herself as an actress since 1987, she's about to become an A-list star.

    The clock is ticking on Hurley's career. She was groovy in the first Austin Powers (1997) but a ratings disaster in EdTV (1999) and galactically awful in My Favorite Martian (1999). She tried her hand as a producer with Extreme Measures (1996) and Mickey Blue Eyes (1999): the former was a 600-pound turkey and the latter had glaucoma. Bedazzled is her last opportunity to shine. It boasts a roster of top-of-the-line talent?Larry Gelbart is coscreenwriter along with Harold Ramis?so if it fails, she'll get the blame, even if it isn't her fault.

    I don't think Hurley wants Grant around while she's playing this hand. The stakes are too high. Apart from everything else, he's not 100 percent reliable. Remember the incident with Divine Brown? While she's steeling herself for the most crucial moment of her career, she doesn't want to have to worry about her boyfriend's exploding cigar.

    So I think "trial separation" is probably right. If Bedazzled lights up the firmament, she'll emerge as a powerful star?at least until her next dud. If it fails to sparkle?and she's such a hopeless actress, my guess is it will?she'll get back together with Grant. Only if he won't have her will she start thinking about the Teddy Forstmanns of this world. Far from making a beeline for the billionaire, Elizabeth Hurley has stepped up to the big table. Let the chips fall where they may.


    George Szamuely The Bunker Israel's Powerful Friends George W. Bush and Al Gore made the predictable pit stops at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). With characteristic daring, Bush vowed to waste no time moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He also denounced the Clinton administration for putting too much pressure on Israel. "In recent times Washington has tried to make Israel conform to its own plans and timetables...but this is not the path to peace." The next day it was Gore's turn and he seized the opportunity to denounce...Bush's father. In 1991 the elder Bush blocked loan guarantees to Israel, protesting the continued building of settlements. "I vividly remember standing up against a group of administration foreign policy advisers who promoted the insulting concept of linkage," Gore boasted. "We defeated them..." So there we have it: the next administration's attitude will be that Israel should be able to do whatever it wants with the vast fortune that the U.S. annually bestows on it, and we should have no say at all in the matter.

    Every other country gets hit with sanctions the moment it fails to follow Washington's orders, but not Israel. No country in the world is the object of so much hysterical veneration, so much anguished cheerleading and so many outrageous double standards as Israel. Case in point: a recent Weekly Standard cover story written by Charles Krauthammer. "Israel's enemies see the future," he writes, "a future Israelis themselves may now be creating: a world without Zionism, a world without Israel." Krauthammer bases his conclusion on Yoram Hazony's new book The Jewish State. Hazony, invariably described as Israel's leading "neoconservative," claims that the "idea of the Jewish state is under systematic attack from [Israel's] own cultural and intellectual establishment." Israel's elite is in the grips of something called "post-Zionism," a way of thinking that sees no point to the continued existence of a specifically Jewish state. According to Hazony, fashionable people believe that Israel should become a state like any other?a so-called "state of its citizens." They want to divorce Jewish nationality from the state of Israel.

    Hazony finds this horrifying. But why? Everyone else is giving up on nationalism. Fifteen European nations have surrendered much of their sovereignty. No one even talks about the American nation. We are simply the "indispensable nation." Why should Israel be immune? Krauthammer provided an answer a couple of years ago in a New Republic symposium marking the centenary of the Zionist movement. He wrote: "Large nations may suffer defeats, even occupation. They may even, for a time, lose their independence. But they cannot disappear. Small nations can. Israel is a small nation. That is the reason post-Zionism is so dangerous. It is dedicated to dismantling the Zionist fortress state... To do so when the danger is at the gate is suicide." What he says about small nations is true. But he fails to mention that, unlike other small nations, Israel can call on the services of the greatest power in the world. Israel's enemies, on the other hand, have no one to call on.

    Moreover, it would be nice if Israel's champions would occasionally acknowledge the existence of other "small nations" who may be fighting for survival. Instead, Israel's amen corner is notable for the virulence of the attacks it directs at the national aspirations of others. Few publications are as filled with visceral hatred as The New Republic. Russians are condemned for "reactionary nationalism"; the Kurds for "romantic nationalism"; the Chinese for "bellicose nationalism." Arab nationalism?a creation of Christians "fearful of Muslim dominance"?is all "Germanic ideas about volk and anti-Semitism." When Marty Peretz's boys are not denouncing "the age-old European bugaboo of nationalism," they are fretting about the "neo-nationalists" of Japan, who "are dangerously anti-American, or harbor loopy notions about reconstructing a stronger and more aggressive Japanese military." Then there was Daniel Goldhagen's anti-Serb screed last year?surely the most repulsive atrocity The New Republic ever perpetrated: "The vast majority of the Serbs are animated by a particularly virulent variant of the nationalism characteristic of Western civilization... The majority of the Serbian people...have rendered themselves both legally and morally incompetent to conduct their own affairs."

    You get the idea. Jewish nationalism is good and every other nationalism is bad. Yet endless repetition scarcely makes the claim any more plausible. "Israel was our sovereign land from which we were exiled and the claim to which we never renounced," writes Krauthammer, "unlike the colonizers of, say, Australia, South Africa and North America, we are returning to...our patrimony. And the argument from necessity?that a people savagely persecuted and denied refuge in every corner of the globe needs at least one place of its own?was made 50 years ago, tragically and definitively, in the wake of the Holocaust."

    This is the standard argument and just about every ingredient in it is unsustainable. First, the Jews who arrived in Palestine were colonists and the indigenous people did not want them there. The claim that your ancestors lived there 2000 years ago is not legally the soundest. Moreover, the Jews in Israel, surrounded as they are by Arab enemies, are hardly secure. Jews are much safer today in almost every country in the world than in Israel. And if Israel is the proper home for the Jews, why are so many Jews choosing to live elsewhere? America's Jews are staying put.

    In the end, Israel exists because it won its wars. It faces no mortal threat to its existence. And no more Jews are expected to arrive any time soon. The time has come for Israel to address some of the painful issues of the past and to become a normal state. The worst possible outcome would be if "neoconservatives"?Israeli or American?were to come to dominate this debate.


    Melik Kaylan The Spy What Would Papa Do? Not since Spy magazine's early years of hanging out with Taki and Graydon Carter at Nell's have my days and nights been so inspissated with activity. The sensation is back, that feeling of looking back in awe at the assaults on one's life expectancy, or at least on one's expectations from life. All the more memorable, this time around, for being sans alcohol. (The 80s ended for me precisely on cue in 1990 when I virtually lost my liver in a car accident in Turkey while chasing a story on antiquities smugglers. I've had no intoxicants since then.) So to begin on a clearheaded note, the last fortnight saw the launch of a grand new website URL'd The venture is particularly close to my heart as its two envisioners-in-chief are Kurt Andersen and Michael Hirschorn, both country-house neighbors upstate and old working buddies. I was preparing all kinds of equivocal responses to face them with during the long gear-up months before the launch. In truth, I had the same reservations as everyone else: Did the market need another media insider's commentary venue? How could they hope to compete with established print organs such as Variety or Billboard or the Times for that matter? And what about the revenue stream? Last week I saw the site for the first time and spent an age happily noodling around its architectural niches. It was a bit like going to the beach as a kid?full of colors and splendors and unexpected encounters.

    They've crafted the perfect way to communicate nuggety stories about showbiz, mediabiz, newsbiz and all, which is to coat it all with fun and mischief. Certainly they can beat the old horses on their own turf. Kurt did it originally at Spy and Michael at Spin. And they have done it now. They successfully hired away top talent from competitors, which is an Inside story in itself. The outcome is a kind of dim sum feast of chewables. I cite a tiny coring: a tour around Tom Cruise's ego and the unmaking of Mission: Impossible 2; Nancy Reagan's sale of letters titled "I Love You, Ronnie"; Murdoch buying out his partner in a fit of irritation; top college newspaper student-editors having a chat about nipples and equality at the Playboy penthouse in Manhattan, and the like. In short, all the stuff you're not supposed to know about the celebrity-making industry. In the era of media convergence, it's a one-stop-shopper of what's buzz. Plus, a friend at Disney asked me why he or anyone should eventually pay to subscribe to it. Answer: because you'll find out what your company plans to do with your project (whatever it is) before they want you to.

    So much for the saner side of things. My phantasmal bout de la nuit-life began at Randell's loft, a transplanted West Coast girl who's girding her loins for an heroic documentary on women under the Taliban. Her long and lovely loft was bedecked for her birthday by a feast of good folk, with a strong showing of my own friends. Gianluca Cicogna for one. The Cicognas are a storied Italian family from the Veneto area and Gianluca spent his early years in one of Palladio's grand villas. He then grew up mostly in England. His grandfather?probably Italy's richest man for many years?was Benito Mussolini's finance minister and a Jew, so he had to be quietly reassigned to Libya as governor. Gianluca is also the half-brother of Carlos Mavroleon, the great war cameraman and news producer, who died mysteriously on assignment for 60 Minutes a year and a half ago near Afghanistan. Also at Randell's party was Dominic Cunningham-Reid, a giant blond Kenyan veteran of African war news coverage. Dominic had just returned from a dogsledding trip near the North Pole with Lauren Hutton. Also present was Michael Lerner, son of Alan Jay Lerner, the great songwriter. Michael grew up partly in Paris and launched himself as a reporter for Newsweek in Beirut. Now he's a renowned Hollywood scriptwriter who's just moved east.

    So there we were, air-kissing each other for hours, when someone nudged me and pointed to the bedroom?which was engulfed in flames. I mean sheets of flame. A candle had touched off the drapes. Thick Vesuvian smoke coiled out toward us. The above-mentioned minutemen, instead of racing out the door sensibly, beat back the flames with blankets and water. It took a while but amazingly they put it out with minimal damage. Meantime, some of the well-veneered set had eased out to the stairwell and used their cellphones. So the firemen arrived. Seven firetrucks. They smashed a hole in the wall, soaked everything in the bedroom, lingered incessantly poking and wetting, and left very reluctantly. Then the party simply continued, in solidarity with Randell's delightful company.

    A couple of days later I found myself at a long table at Cipriani Downtown. I sat at one end of it and espied, way down the other end, a pixyish twentysomething Asian kid having a raucous time. He turned out to be the CEO of, the Web company that delivers anything to your door by messenger in no time. Next to him sat a saffron-robed emissary of the Dalai Lama. Then, down the line, various investors and model-ish girlfriends. The far end grew rowdier, the Web millionaires shouting with laughter into one another's cellphones, playing tunes on the Tibetan monk's handbells and misbehaving like rock stars. I began to gather my spleen for maximum disapproval. Cipriani employees made moves to eject us. Then I thought, no, actually I miss these shenanigans. In the journalism profession, we're all morphing into scheming salarymen, flatterers and robowriters with no lives and no conduct unbecoming to loosen our punctuation. Which end of the table would Papa Hemingway occupy? Which end would incite better writing? This, I decided, furnished a very precise yardstick of character. Indeed, which end would charge into the bedroom to put out a fire?