A reader writes:
Years ago, I took great pleasure in reading your takedown of Ben Sherwood in Spy. I had a special reason for doing so. He and I were among the dozen or so candidates at the California state Rhodes Scholarship semi-finalist competition hosted at Cal Tech in late 85.
I can’t say that you get to know people particularly well in what was then a two-day event, but I and others knew him well enough to realize he was an ass - not just in his choice of words but in the way he delivered them, as though making a great pronouncement. (As the event concluded and we were the last ones out the door: “We arrive together and we leave together!”) When the chair, announcing the winners, read out “Harvard did very well indeed this year with Bonnie St. John and Ben Sherwood,” our mood was less one of jealousy than annoyance. If I was going to lose my one shot at Oxford (no, my family could not just pay for me to go on my own), I would have preferred to lose to someone interesting.
At the same time, your post bothered me, particularly your regret that you "failed to stop his relentless career." Isn’t there a statute of limitations on the glee we feel over how annoying or calculating other people can be?
I haven’t seen any accusations that the guy cheated, so he at least took the time to go to Harvard, get As, work his way through Oxford, and hold a series of demanding jobs in media at which, to all appearances, he’s been reliable. Does it really matter whether he had it all handed to him or not before the age of 18? He is not a self-made man in any way, but he at least made solid use of the advantages he had. How many equally pampered children have done so? Part of me believes that, had I possessed even 1/10 of his advantages, I would have made more of them than he did. But that’s non-falsifiable. What’s verifiable is that he wrote a book that someone liked enough to publish and make into a movie. Isn’t that something of value in its own right? At this point, does it really matter who his family was?
I fear that, in the attempt to make sure that those who drip with privilege aren’t rewarded for their privilege alone, we go too far and choose on principle to refuse to acknowledge them at all.
I was being facetious. The man is and was unstoppable - and his many achievements speak for themselves. I was just throwing a few spitballs into the wind. A few came back and hit me in the eye.