Monday, July 6, 2009

The girls of summer

By Don Klein

"The Boys of Summer" was a chronicle of the victorious Brooklyn Dodgers of 1955. That was the year the perennial losers, known as "Dem Bums," finally won their first World Series after a hopeless 65 year history. Sad to note, the victory was a bit hollow in that a mere two years later the team abandoned their New York roots and moved to Los Angeles transporting their heartsick fans from Brooklyn to berserkland.

The book, written by Roger Kahn, in 1972 reflected on the exploits of many diamond heroes and is a symbol of eternal fan patience and athletic fortitude.
Now, in the era of equal gender rights, we seem to be living through a period which could be dubbed, "The Girls of Summer," although there does not seem to be a victory in sight. Neither of "the girls" who make this summer memorable (Sarah Palin and Katharine Weymouth) are winners. Despite that, they have drawn much public attention and professional scrutiny in their respective fields – politics and journalism.

The first "girl" in trouble this summer is the former vice presidential candidate on the losing McCain ticket and soon to be former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. Here we have a popular Republican, dear to the hearts of the dwindling hardcore of party faithful, deciding to quit in mid-term from a job she says she loves in a state she loves.

There seems to be no adequate explanation for her move since no clear motive was mentioned by Palin in her rambling and, thankfully, short announcement on July Fourth Eve. That should not be a concern since people a lot more skilled at this business than most of us have been unable to understand Palin since she was picked by Sen. John McCain as his running mate almost a year ago.

We heard her say she wanted to quit to better serve Alaska. Wow, what a confession that was. Could she have meant that Alaska would be better served with her not at the helm?

She associated herself with the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who she said would not quit, then promptly she quit. She talked about basketball point guards like herself passing the ball off to others on the team, but failed to mention that they do not leave after making the transfer as she plans to do.

Did we hear her say she didn’t want to serve as a lame duck and "milk" the public? That makes no sense since the option to milk the public or not was hers. Besides she knew she was elected to a four year term, meaning if she did not run for re-election she would be a lame duck in a couple of years. How long did it take her to realize this simple fact?

Her malaprop-laden rhetoric leaves many shaking their heads in wonderment. Listening to Sarah Palin is like watching a moose on roller skates "it’s never graceful but always riveting," said Mark McKinnon, a former GOP advisor.

Everyone is speculating why she quit just two and a half years into her first term and there are a number of possibilities. Was there a personal scandal about to break that she could avoid by resigning? The FBI says no. Does she want to be free to roam the lower 48 in pursuit of support for a presidential run in 2012? Who knows? Does she intend to make lots of money by taking advantage of her celebrity on the lecture circuit? Probably. Would she write a book to cash in on her sudden short-lived, but still volatile, fame? Very likely.

And finally, maybe she just lost her taste for national politics and wants to avoid the spotlight. Hopefully.

I doubt it is the latter because in her resignation announcement she said she thought she could provide more effective service out of office than in. I can give her credit for one very important attainment. Her sudden and unexpected announcement on quitting the governorship bumped the up-til-then endless coverage of Michael Jackson’s death on the all-news cable networks for at least a few hours. For that she deserves thanks.

If we can accept the political demise of Palin with hardly a blink of the eye, the second "girl" of summer to misstep is a much sadder story of anguish. Katharine Weymouth, the granddaughter of The Washington Post’s great late publisher, Katharine Graham, was caught in the midst of putting together a dismaying case of influence peddling for a price that any newspaper has been known to try.

The highly influential and much respected newspaper which broke the Watergate scandal, was about to arrange for a series of dinners at Weymouth’s mansion where invited guests would have the opportunity to meet and discuss the day’s issues with high government representatives and a chosen number of The Post’s top reporters. Private firms would be invited to underwrite these meetings to the tune of $25,000 a shot.

The idea was to help improve the financial status of The Post, which like all newspapers, is facing tough economic times. This question arose: Is this the way to raise money for an ailing industry -- by selling influence? Weymouth blames the whole idea on the newspaper’s marketing staff, but if you believe underlings would have the steel to promote this event without clearance of top company and editorial brass, you are more gullible than Forrest Gump.

When the first flier announcing this numb-brained program appeared, the news staff broke out into apoplexy. Once revealed to the outside world, Weymouth scrapped the idea and tried to restore normal comportment. The idea was faulty from the beginning. A newspaper’s most important timber is its integrity. Weymouth was willing to risk that but more seasoned heads at The Post saved the day.

Weymouth has inherited wealth, was a magna cum laude at Harvard and a Stanford law graduate, has everything going for her except she is running a newspaper without real experience in journalism. That’s a prescription for calamity. There are things that should never be for sale. Hopefully Weymouth has learned an ethical, albeit painful, lesson.

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