I came home to my apartment on the late side the other night. There was a special event at the New York Public Library—a conversation between two of America’s premier investigative reporters, Jane Mayer, who writes for The New Yorker, and Jill Abramson, formerly executive editor of The New York Times, who now writes for the “Guardian,” the “Atlantic,” and “New York Magazine.”
The two collaborated on a book some years ago, on the injustice of Justice Clarence Thomas, and suppressed allegations of his serial sexual transgressions. They also went to middle-school together—55 years ago, in olde New York. Abramson has a new book coming out: "Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts,” and her appearance at the Library was just one stop on what I’m sure is her arduous book promotion tour.
I wonder, when I see two lions like Mayer and Abramson, what will happen in our country if the Trumpublicans—the anti-First-Amendment, anti-Democratic, anti-liberty, anti freedom forces continue their take-over of Lincoln’s “last best hope on Earth.”I wonder and I worry.When the crypto-fascists are fully in-charge, when thecorporatist surveillance state records your every movement (prelude to recording your every thought) what will happen to independent thinkers--contrarians like Mayer and Abramson? What will happen to me, who’s almost never acquiesced to any authority figure ever?
Abramson told a story early on in the conversation. It stuck with me and I’m going to try my best to repeat it accurately here.
When she was first Managing Editor, then Executive Editor at the Times, she was not a well-liked person. It happens to a lot of people—women especially who ascend to lofty traditionally “male” positions. Almost immediately they’re labeled harsh, hard to get along with, demanding.
What’s more, Abramson ascended what many people call “the glass cliff.” A leading position, but one where the odds are stacked against you. The Times—this is back around Great Depression 2.0 had been hemorrhaging money. They had borrowed $250 million from a Mexican billionaire and it looked like they would be unable to keep the paper alive.
Today, the Times has something like 10-million digital subscribers. Back then, they were relying on advertising revenue from the printed paper, and as we all know, print advertising had fallen off a cliff.
Abramson said, “the Times had just moved into their beautiful new headquarters designed by the acclaimed architect Renzo Piano. I found when I was stressed, as I was so often, I would take a short walk to the library.
“My mother was a reader, we were all readers, but she didn’t buy books. We went to the library. She would shiver with excitement when the library would phone her and say a book she had reserved was now available.
“When I was around ten and beginning to navigate the city on my own, I had been assigned to do a book report for school on ‘West German manufacturing.’ There was no internet in those days, and I went to the library’s card-catalog. There were thousands and thousands of cards on manufacturing. I finally wrote a paper on West German cuckoo clocks. It was a very good paper.
“Anyway, I would walk over to the library and just look up at the grand building, the marble steps. And then I would see the two lions named by Fiorella LaGuardia, ‘Patience” and “Fortitude.’
“Seeing them helped me.
“Patience and Fortitude.”
I wonder and I worry.
I worry about a mean world, filled with liars, cheats, grifters and thieves. I worry about the waning of democracy and the waxing of income inequality. I worry, even high above the East River where I live, of rising sea-levels displacing billions of people and even more, of greed and stupidity destroying our planet before my children, and billions of other children can make it a better place for more people.
I worry about small things too. About being the oldest copywriter in the 12-county-area around Manhattan and the world, and the industry’s mania for cheap and fast (and ineffective.) I worry about the money I’ve squirreled away like a Dickens’ character and if it’ll last. I worry that my memory—which has always been startlingly photographic—is beginning to show signs of wear.
And I wonder, what will become of you and me, the little people, in a world dominated by marzipan-skinned plutocrats in Range Rovers, today’s Barbarians at the Gates.
I left the library that night, it was cold for mid-April and the wind was blowing down Fifth Avenue. I had just two minutes to make it to the corner for my Via—my shared car home. But I stood there, on Fifth, between 42nd and 41st, and I looked up at the great building. I resented the names of Robber Barons, new and old, engraved in the marble.
But then I saw them.
Roar.Patience and Fortitude.
--* Don't let the bastards win.