Paybacks are a bitch:
An open letter to Dave Winer and the blogging community at large.
I imagine I may make you a little peeved with me today, Dave, but I've got some stuff vis-a-vis the Dean campaign that I'd like to share. file this under "P" for "Paybacks are a Bitch"
Paybacks are a Bitch is phrase I first heard from my Dad, back when I was a teenager. See, I didn't meet my father until I was about 15, and I'd been raised as a nice secular jewish boy in a female headed single parent household in east Brooklyn. Growing up I was taught never to fight, and anytime I hit back at any of the bullies when I was a kid (and in the part of brooklyn where I grew up, there were nothing BUT bullies. I'm about 7 years younger than you and lived through the very worst of the urban blight years), I was pretty seriously punished for it. Jewish boys fight with their brains, sez mom and grandma, not with their fists, and the truth is, that this is mostly good advice, but not always. You have to stay alive long enough to use your brain, after all.
Well, I won't torture you with the details of my family life or upbringing, but suffice it to say that circumstances conspired to force me to leave home at the age of fifteen (my formal education ended at approximately 12), and I was living rather roughly, so I tracked down the father who had abandoned me when I was a baby and, while I couldn't prevail on him for any kind of financial support, he at least let me work in his shop part time, and taught me some of his secrets. Paybacks are a Bitch was one of the first important lessons.
My Dad is a sandle maker and leathersmith. He has a shop on Bleeker street in Greenwich Village where he makes and sells what are arguably the best handmade leather goods you can buy in this country in this day and age. No exaggeration. For all his other faults, my dad is the very best at what he does.
Well, in the mid-nineteen seventies, Bleeker Street was owned outright by the Genoveses, you know, the mafia, and everyone on Bleeker street payed a percentage of their shop's earnings to the Genoveses and Vinnie the Chin Gigante for protection. Everyone, that is, except my Dad. This is because (and honestly, Dave, this really is a true story. I know this sounds wild, but it really is true) my Dad was the demolitions and sharp-shooting instructor to what is now the US Army Special Forces back when he was 17 years old, in the 1950's in Japan. A staring contest had gone on for a long time between the Genoveses and my Dad for many years, and one day, they blinked. We came in one morning to open up the shop, and the windows had been broken, the workshop in the basement had been wrecked, and the place was just a mess. No real damage to our equipment, but a real mess and some ruined inventory.
Well, my dad muttered something under his breath. He told me and my cousin, phil, who worked with us, that if he wasn't back in 45 minutes, close the shop, go home, and call the FBI.
Half an hour later, he was back. "C'mon, we're taking the day off."
Well, we locked up, and went home, and the next day he told me to come in half an hour late. I found out later it's because he wanted to check for booby traps before me and phil showed up.
It was almost a month before I found out what he did.
I sat down at the Cafe Borgia, which used to be on Bleeker and MacDougal. It's gone now, but I was friends with the guy who made the Latte's.
I sat down and ordered my usual, and he says, "Do you know what your crazy old man did?"
No, I said.
Here's what he did:
He walked into Vinnie's club house with a live hand grenade with the pin pulled. In front of Vinnie's top lieutenants, he sat down across the table, pulled out the grenade, grabbed Vinnie's wrist with his free hand so he couldn't get up and walk away, and said "Let's talk."
We never had a problem with them again. Not to this day. Whenever my dad walked past one of Vinnie's soldiers after that, they would bow ever so slightly. One of them once said to me "Your dad's a fuckin nut job, but I really respect him." That was the point. He'd looked death in the eye, and made Vinnie do the same, right in front of Vinnie's troops. Once he'd walked out of the room alive, he'd won. He'd made it clear it was fight to the death, and he was ready to die rather than give an inch. Vinnie wasn't willing to die, and that was that.
What had he muttered in the basement? The title of this story: Paybacks are a Bitch.
Another shop my dad ran at one time was a biker-themed boutique on St. Mark's place in the east village.
One day the Hell's Angels stole some things from the shop. My dad backed his truck over all their motorcycles on 3rd St., put a gun to the president of the club's head, and demanded the return of the stolen property by the time we opened the next day or he would quote "put a crater where your club house is by sundown" end quote. The stuff was returned the next day, the Angels never gave us anymore grief.
The point of all this is that no matter how gentle and intellectual the two of us may be Dave, and no matter how lofty or well intentioned our goals, and no matter how committed we are to non-violence and non-conflict, sometimes you really have to carry the battle back to the enemy to remind them that you can fight. That's why paybacks are a bitch: you hate having to make them, but you have to make them. Otherwise you get eaten; the predators in the jungle decide you're easy prey, and everyone is biting pieces off of you all the time after that, and once the slide begins, stopping it quickly becomes impossible. My tadjikstani Jewish Grandpa put it a different way as regarded his union organizing efforts in the teen's and twenties: "if you give them an inch, they'll take a foot, so you make 'em pay by the yard or part thereof."
So, what paybacks am I talking about? well, last month the media people decided to publicly humiliate the people's choice for a candidate, and instead substitute their choice. I'll vote for him because I have no choice, really. A vote for Bush is a vote against my interest, and so I'll go Kerry, I won't shoot myself in the foot by boycotting him. But there is no question that the press engineered Dean's destruction. Dean may have made it easier, but there wasn't even lip service to the concept of equal time.
So what we have to do is pick one of theirs, someone conspicuous, well connected (so that all of the right people take notice), and destroy them. This is utterly disgusting, but it is how politics is played. It's diplomacy. It happens. Anyone here ever see a Star Trek TOS episode called "Balance of Terror"? If the Romulan ship makes it home alive, we have a war on our hands. So it must not get home alive.
So, I hereby nominate Diane Sawyer and her senior staff for sacrifice. We're going to make an example of them. Let's find out who their sponsors are, and let's every last one of us write to them, via snail mail, and tell them we will not buy there products as long as they continue to sponsor any show on ABC until Diane Sawyer is discharged. We have to then follow through on this for several years. We have to keep the heat and pressure on. It's like the on-going crusade against Representative Howard Coble. And for the same reason, to teach them RESPECT. You destroyed one of ours, now we're going to destroy one of yours.
This is, in fact, one of the tactics employed by the Christian Right back in the '70's and '80's to silence their enemies. It worked, and in fact it still works. I'll tell you one more story:
Back in the early '80's, there weren't a lot of women in TV news. In those days, news was serious journalism, and women were perceived in the industry as not being tough enough to stand up to presidents and kings and talk down to them as a journalist must in order to ask hard questions, get the interviewee off balance, and get at the truth. The only woman who got real respect in the industry was Barbara Walters, and even she didn't get anchor jobs on the evening news, but Linda Ellerbee did. As anchor of News Center 4 on NBC, at 6 and 11 each evening, Linda was the first woman anchor of a major network's national evening news program, starting (I think) in either '79 or '80. She had the highest Nielsens of any TV anchor of the time throughout her career.
Then Ronald Reagan got elected.
It just so happened that there was an unused block of air time from 1 am to 2:30 weeknights on NBC that year (I think it was 81), and NBC's exec's were looking for something to put on. Linda asked if she could do a "not ready for prime-time" news program from her desk. Really low-budget, she'd do it really cheap. Just her, one reporter, one writer, one cameraman, one lighting guy. She'd do her own make-up, even. No set, no fuss. They said yes, and NBC Overnight was born. In the early '80's, my lefty bohemian friends and I called it "Video Free USA", all the news their scared to death of.
So in 1983, Ronald Reagan publicly challenged the news media to report nothing but good news for a week. A week later Linda sealed her doom by responding that the only places where the media reports nothing but good news are places like El Salvador, Poland, Chile, Russia, and China.
Linda was easily making mid-six figures at the time. A year later her contract came up for renewal. That was the end of Linda. Except for a brief stint on PBS in the late '80's, the Reagan people ended her. Diane Sawyer was one of the clones brought in to replace her, that happily followed orders and did what she was told and never bucked the system. That's not what journalists are supposed to do. A journalist is supposed to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. Diane Sawyer consistently does the opposite.
Let's make an example of her.
P.S. How do I know all this stuff about Linda and Diane? well, my mom's husband was associate producer and chief writer for NBC's News 4 New York, the local news show in NYC, throughout the '80's and most of the '90's, and Linda's daughter, Vanessa, was a close personal friend throughout the late '80's. I know lots of TV journalism people, or at least, I used to. I've known them since I was a kid. That's how I know the boycott approach really will work, if enough of us do it, and if we keep it up for a couple of years. Thanks for listening!
P.P.S. Inevitably, at some point, someone in the Diane Sawyer camp will ask if there's anything they can do to make this up. The answer is, "retire." Once you begin to make a payback, you can't let them cop a plea. It just doesn't work, they think they can buy you off, and they never fear you again, even if they should.