It was recently reported that Jack B. Grubman, once a great star of the great bubble in his role as chief telecommunications analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, had, in an attempt to get his twins into Manhattan's insanely exclusive 92nd Street Y nursery school, vigorously pulled strings connected to his boss, Sanford I. Weill, the chairman of Salomon's parent company, Citigroup. After Grubman asked Weill for help, four things happened: Weill asked Grubman to take a "fresh look" at his longtime "hold" rating for AT&T, of which Weill was a director; Grubman changed his AT&T rating to "buy"; Citigroup pledged to give the 92nd Street Y $1 million; and the junior Grubmans got into the 92nd Street Y. Summing it all up, The New York Times reported, accurately, that the whole thing was "a normal if somewhat distasteful part of life in New York."
Public relations-wise, it was a distasteful (although perfectly normal) few months for Islam, Religion of Peace™. Islamic terrorists in Indonesia blew up a nightclub frequented by warmongering-through-pleasure-tripping Australians, apparently thinking it was frequented by warmongering-through-pleasure-tripping Americans, and murdered 180 mostly young and wholly innocent people. In Nigeria, which was hosting the Miss World contest, Islamic people of peace rioted after a (Christian) newspaper columnist suggested that the prophet Muhammad himself would have been happy to choose a bride from among the Miss World contestants. Some 200 people were murdered.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that many thousands of dollars in "charitable contributions" had passed from the bank accounts of Princess Haifa al-Faisal—daughter of the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and wife of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States—to the wife of a Saudi man in San Diego, and from her husband and his friend to, it appeared, two of the hijackers of September 11, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.
This was particularly embarrassing in light of the previous embarrassing revelations that fifteen of the nineteen al Qaeda hijackers were Saudi citizens; that, as the Council on Foreign Relations reported in October, Saudi Arabians are the largest source of money in the world for al Qaeda; and that, as Matthew Levitt, a former terrorism expert for the FBI and a fellow at the Institute for Near East Policy, told The New York Times, "more than a year into the war against terrorism, Saudi officials continue to actively support organizations that finance international terrorism," as they have despite repeated American entreaties for many years. This was reported in a story headlined in the increasingly prevalent, inadvertently self-parodying Times way: "SAUDI ARABIA IS CALLED SLOW IN HELPING STEM THE FLOW OF CASH TO MILITANTS."
And yet, in a normal if somewhat distasteful part of modern life, the Saudis were not embarrassed. Rather the contrary. Prince Bandar and Princess Haifa gave an exclusive interview to a New York Times reporter who was an old and friendly acquaintance (inadvertently self-parodying headline: "EXPLAINING GIFT, SAUDI ENVOY VOICES DISMAY OVER STRAINS"), in which the princess pronounced herself "outraged when people think I can be connected to terrorists when all I wanted to do was to give some help to someone in need." Adel al-Jubeir, a senior foreign-policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto Saudi ruler, and a man so smartly put together that one suspects his boxers are bespoke, held a press conference in which he complained that Saudi Arabia "has been unfairly maligned" and lectured reporters on what he called a "severe and outrageous criticism, which borders on hate."
A previous attempt at public relations by Jubeir—a personally guided tour of the desert kingdom for the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd—produced mixed results when, as Jubeir and Dowd were walking in Riyadh, members of the Islamic religious police came upon them and ordered Dowd to more fully cover herself. Also, matters were not helped when the Saudi Interior Minister, who is in charge of the kingdom's investigation into the Saudi role in the events of September 11, told reporters that "the Jews" (in Arabic) or "the Zionists" (in the English translation) were "the protagonists of such attacks."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launched an advertising campaign on television using terrorism as a theme. The commercial shows a supermarket manager bound and gagged while an unseen terrorist threatens cowering shoppers with beating, scalding, and dismemberment. The "terrorist" is ultimately revealed to be a puppet turkey. "You'd really have to be a big grump not to see the humor in all of it," said Lisa Lange, a PETA spokeswoman.
Al Gore finally retired himself, declaring that he was not going to run for President in 2004. The event was very Gore-ean, and in its way, rather sad. There had been weeks of wandering from camera to camera and microphone to microphone, on a book tour that sold fewer books the longer it went on. There was the appearance on Saturday Night Live to join in the mocking of himself and of his putative rivals for the next Democratic presidential nomination. There had been the national poll putting his "favorable rating" at 19 percent, a depth genuinely difficult for a major party leader to achieve. There had been weeks' worth of publicly offered advice from fellow Democrats and liberal commentators, all to the effect of Don't do it, Al. Finally there had been the trial balloon leadenly floated—the article in the newspaper reporting that friends were suddenly, surprisingly, of the opinion that Gore would not run.
After all this, there was Gore on 60 Minutes, explaining to Lesley Stahl, who tried nobly to appear incredulous at the "stunningly surprising decision" that, at last, he had "come to closure": he would not run; he would "explore a lot of other options." It was a short interview—just eight minutes—and a remarkably gentle one. Stahl led Gore softly, swiftly, as painlessly as possible—more in the way of a grief therapist than of a major media interrogator—through the script. The closest she came to touching on the unkind reality of Gore's actual political condition was a prompt that approached the surreal in its degree of tact: "I'm still trying to understand why you're not going to run." Gore did not say to her, "Well, that makes one of us, ma'am." You wish he had, though.
On November 25 George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Bill, passed by the newly cooperative Republican Congress and authorizing the largest bureaucratic reorganization in American history. It turns out that someone had tucked into a nook or cranny of the great beast a little parasite of a provision that will allow the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly to perhaps get dismissed—or at least to hamper—lawsuits by parents who claim that the preservative thimerosal, used in Lilly vaccines, caused autism in their children. It could not be discovered who had stuck the thing in. "It's a mystery to us how it got in there," said the pleasantly amused and not at all grumpy Eli Lilly spokesman Rob Smith.
Finally, an unprecedented international public-opinion survey for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, involving 38,000 respondents in forty-four countries, found, as The New York Times reported in a passing sentence in the eighth paragraph of a story on page A22, that "throughout Europe, at least two-thirds of the public" support the Bush-led U.S. campaign against terrorism. In Britain (where, as has been heavily reported, the intellectual elite is solidly opposed to the American war) 75 percent of the public, and in Germany (where, as has also been heavily reported, both the elite and the government are solidly opposed) 61 percent of the public, had "favorable views of the United States." The inadvertently self-parodying Times headline: "WORLD SURVEY SAYS NEGATIVE VIEWS OF U.S. ARE RISING."
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