Longreads of the Year 2012: July-December
“Marie Colvin’s Private War”, by Marie Brenner, Vanity Fair, August 2012
For years in England, with its high tolerance of alcoholism and its reluctance to force confrontation, Colvin’s friends and editors often resorted to evasion—Marie is feeling fragile. Marie does not sound like herself. When they tried to intervene, she would tell them, “I have no intention of not drinking. I never drink when I am covering a war.” Her attempts to find help were always short-lived.
She would wake up drenched in sweat. The desperate reel of horrors that played over and over in her mind kept returning to the refugee camp in Beirut, where she saw the 22-year-old Palestinian woman lying in a heap with half her head blown off. As recently as last year, Colvin was staying with her nieces and nephews in East Norwich when the doorbell suddenly awakened her. The next morning Rosemarie discovered that Marie had gotten up and put a knife in her sleeping bag. When Rosemarie mentioned it, Marie said, “Oh, that,” and changed the subject.
“Scientology Is Not a Religion”, by James Kirchick, Tablet, July 24, 2012
Around the world, a handful of politicians have urged their governments to prosecute Scientology as a criminal conspiracy. Three years ago, a Paris court found the Church guilty of fraud and fined it $900,000. That same year, a member of the Australian Senate, Nick Xenophon, delivered a speech in which he described Scientology as “criminal organization that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs.” After calling for an investigation into the Church’s tax-exempt status during a television interview, he began to receive letters from ex-Scientologists across Australia detailing what he described as “a worldwide pattern of abuse and criminality,” including torture, forced confinement, and coerced abortions. (Xenophon’s call for a parliamentary inquiry into the Church was ultimately rejected by the Australian government.) In 2007, following a 10-year investigation, a Belgian prosecutor called for the Church to be labeled a criminal organization and recommended that up to 12 Church officials face charges for the illegal practice of medicine, violation of privacy, and use of illegal contracts. The State Department criticized the move, stating that the United States would “oppose any effort to stigmatize an entire group based solely upon religious beliefs and would be concerned over infringement of any individual’s rights because of religious affiliation.”
“Obama’s Way”, by Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair, October 2012
As I was still a little groggy and put my question poorly, he answered a question it hadn’t occurred to me to ask: Why doesn’t he show more emotion? He does this on occasion, even when I’ve put the question clearly—see in what I’ve asked some implicit criticism, usually one he’s heard many times before. As he’s not naturally defensive, it’s pretty clearly an acquired trait. “There are some things about being president that I still have difficulty doing,” he said. “For example, faking emotion. Because I feel it is an insult to the people I’m dealing with. For me to feign outrage, for example, feels to me like I’m not taking the American people seriously. I’m absolutely positive that I’m serving the American people better if I’m maintaining my authenticity. And that’s an overused word. And these days people practice being authentic. But I’m at my best when I believe what I am saying.”
That was not what I had been after. What I had wanted to know was: Where do you put what you actually feel, when there is no place in your job to feel it? When you are president you are not allowed to go numb to protect yourself from whatever news might happen. But it was too late; my time was up; I returned to my seat in the cabin.
“The Disappeared”, by Salman Rushdie, The New Yorker, September 17, 2012
The ironic truth was that, after two novels that engaged directly with the public history of the Indian subcontinent, he saw this new book as a more personal exploration, a first attempt to create a work out of his own experience of migration and metamorphosis. To him, it was the least political of the three books. And the material derived from the origin story of Islam was, he thought, essentially respectful toward the Prophet of Islam, even admiring of him. It treated him as he always said he wanted to be treated, not as a divine figure (like the Christians’ “Son of God”) but as a man (“the Messenger”). It showed him as a man of his time, shaped by that time, and, as a leader, both subject to temptation and capable of overcoming it. “What kind of idea are you?” the novel asked the new religion, and suggested that an idea that refused to bend or compromise would, in all likelihood, be destroyed, but conceded that, in very rare instances, such ideas became the ones that changed the world. His Prophet flirted with compromise, then rejected it, and his unbending idea grew strong enough to bend history to its will.
When he was first accused of being offensive, he was truly perplexed. He thought he had made an artistic engagement with the phenomenon of revelation—an engagement from the point of view of an unbeliever, certainly, but a genuine one nonetheless. How could that be thought offensive? The thin-skinned years of rage-defined identity politics that followed taught him, and everyone else, the answer to that question.
“The Trouble with Valerie Trierweiler”, by Tracy McNicoll, Newsweek, September 17, 2012
But some of the first lady’s old material documented in the new books plainly cheerleads for her champ. Some articles dissect Hollande and Royal as a couple in disturbing detail with hindsight. Cabana and Rosencher excerpt an old four-page Paris Match piece on the pair. “During the campaign, [Hollande] arrived home more than once from a rally on the other end of France after 2 a.m. only to leave again before 7 a.m. To have at least the sentiment of not neglecting the four children,” Trierweiler wrote in 2004. “Their mother sometimes stayed away 10 days without going home.”
“Panic in Jerusalem”, by Menachem Kaiser, Tablet, November 29, 2012
A community in the grips of a moral panic will, as a rule, first target its misfits. All who have been arrested or questioned by police in Nahlaot are very clearly outsiders in the community. They were, a neighbor told me, “atypical, easy to accuse, misfit, single older men.” Many, like Satz and Primashelanu, are mentally handicapped. Noach Friedman, who was institutionalized after being released, would barge into homes and break plates and has had to be rescued from his studio apartment twice after setting his bed on fire. Naftali Zilberman and Yaakov Weissfish, who were both arrested and released, are also mentally handicapped. Zalman Cohen is a belligerent South African immigrant married to a convert who used to interrupt walking tours of the neighborhood. Skippy is a non-Haredi senior citizen with a ponytail who was repeatedly described to me with terms like “obnoxious” or “asshole,” and is an exercise fanatic. (He was originally identified, I was told by a parent, after the kids said they were forced to do calisthenics. “These retarded guys were forcing the kids, as part of the molestation, to do exercise,” the parent told me.) Missionary Christians, of course, are the ultimate “other” in a Haredi community.
For my Longreads picks from January through June — from Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, and The New Yorker — click here.
Longreads of the Year 2012: January-June
“National Public Rodeo”, by David Margolick, Vanity Fair, January 18, 2012
Williams was in Fox News’s green room, between appearances with Shepard Smith and Sean Hannity, when Weiss told him the news. He was dumbfounded. Had she read the entire interview? Couldn’t he at least come in to talk about this? There was no point, she replied. Hannity immediately called Fox News’s senior vice president, Bill Shine, awakening him at home. Sit tight until tomorrow, Shine told Williams. The next day, Ailes gave Williams a three-year deal worth a reported $2 million.
NPR officials weighed offering a full account of Williams’s tortured history at the place. But whether out of cowardice or guilt or loyalty or decorousness or just an inability to think tactically and defend themselves, they took the high road, saying simply that Williams had strayed beyond his proper role as NPR news analyst. This left Williams free to portray himself as a betrayed loyalist, victim of political correctness and martyr for free speech.
“One Town’s War on Gay Teens”, by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Rolling Stone, February 2, 2012
The silence of adults was deafening. At Blaine High School, says alum Justin Anderson, “I would hear people calling people ‘fags’ all the time without it being addressed. Teachers just didn’t respond.” In Andover High School, when 10th-grader Sam Pinilla was pushed to the ground by three kids calling him a “faggot,” he saw a teacher nearby who did nothing to stop the assault. At Anoka High School, a 10th-grade girl became so upset at being mocked as a “lesbo” and a “sinner” – in earshot of teachers – that she complained to an associate principal, who counseled her to “lay low”; the girl would later attempt suicide. At Anoka Middle School for the Arts, after Kyle Rooker was urinated upon from above in a boys’ bathroom stall, an associate principal told him, “It was probably water.” Jackson Middle School seventh-grader Dylon Frei was passed notes saying, “Get out of this town, fag”; when a teacher intercepted one such note, she simply threw it away.
“Obama’s Dangerous Game With Iran”, by Daniel Klaidman, Eli Lake, and Dan Ephron, Newsweek, February 13, 2012
On Jan. 12 of this year, Obama called Netanyahu to clarify again, in part, the national interest and policies of the United States in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. The message has been conveyed repeatedly, via many channels: the administration is asking for “the time and the space for the sanctions to work,” says a senior administration official. “Not only have we put in place the most robust economic sanctions ever, but we’ve just started to move on the energy sector.” Above all, the White House doesn’t want Israel to start a war—not yet, anyway.
“Ghosts in the Newsroom”, by Sarah Ellison, Vanity Fair, April 2012
One attempt to revive it, in 2003, was mounted by Steve Coll, who was then Len Downie’s managing editor and is now the president of the New America Foundation. In the wake of the paper’s ejection from the International Herald Tribune, Coll went to Graham with an idea. “I said, ‘This is an opportunity for us to rethink what our alternative futures are post-I.H.T., in terms of the global and online audience,’ ” Coll told me. “Don encouraged the exercise.”
…In May 2003, at an off-site meeting of top editors at the Inn at Perry Cabin, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Coll and others discussed the findings of the project. Then Graham rose to address the room. “He very emphatically emphasized that the Washington Post franchise was local, and that our emphasis on this opportunity represented a threat to the franchise because it might pull the journalism and energy away from serving the local audience,” Coll told me. “He unintentionally delivered the speech in a way that felt like he had just shot me in the head.”
“Life of the Party”, by Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker, March 12, 2012
Romney won twenty-four votes to Gingrich’s eight, Santorum’s three, and Ron Paul’s three. Phyllis, who backed Santorum, told me that Romney won because of his religion. “This is L.D.S. territory, and Romney is L.D.S.,” she said. “They’ll support their own no matter what.”
It was just the sort of caucus that critics of the system, including the late Polsby, feared. It had broken down into factions, based partly on religion. It had devolved into name-calling.
“The Devils in the Diva”, by Mark Seal, Vanity Fair, June 2012
By the late 90s, however, her voice would begin to betray her, and she would have to lower the keys in live performances. The reason wasn’t just cigarettes and her age. Whitney’s drug use escalated after the 1993 birth of her only child, Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown. She started lacing her joints with cocaine, as she later told Oprah Winfrey. She confessed that she would spend her days and nights getting high with Bobby, watching TV, not getting out of her pajamas for seven months, while Brown lost control—“he would smash things, break things … cutting my head off a picture.” In short, she began the degrading process of what Oprah would call “making herself smaller … so the man could be bigger.”
The pop diva was reverting to the New Jersey street kid. “People think I’m Miss Prissy Pooh-Pooh,” she told Time magazine. “But I’m not I can get down, really freakin’ dirty, with you.” She told Rolling Stone, “I can get raunchy I’ve learned to be freer from Bobby.” She said in a later interview, “I started in the hood.” And she admitted, “Yeah, man, I’m what you call a functioning junkie.”