Letters from our readers.
March 19 1999 3:30 AM

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Early Developers


I always enjoy Jacob Weisberg but wanted to correct the impression from "High School Confidential" that teen movies began in the '50s. While it is true that films such as Blackboard Jungle, The Wild One, East of Eden, and Rebel Without a Cause tapped into the baby boom audience, the teen demographic was identified at Warner Bros. in the 1930s with the popular films starring the Dead End Kids. At MGM, Louis B. Mayer produced the bourgeois counterpart, the obscenely successful Andy Hardy series starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, later teamed in the archetypal teen pix Babes in Arms and Babes on Broadway. Universal made a likewise profitable series with Deanna Durbin, and over at RKO in the '40s, the teen-age Shirley Temple starred in movies like The BachelorandThe Bobby-Soxer. It is in 1949 that the echt misunderstood teen film Knock on Any Door was made, starring John Derek as the misfit who wanted to "live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse."

--Carrie Rickey


Leak House


William Saletan missed a clear third spin in his "The Week/The Spin" item on Charles Bakaly's investigation and resignation: Starr is throwing Bakaly to the wolves for leaking to deflect attention from Starr's own leaks in late January and early February of 1998. Bakaly's disclosure would not violate the Rule 6(e), as it is more a legal conclusion than evidence. Thus Bakaly suffers little and can be the whipping boy for all leaks.

--Bill Rudman

Castro Valley, Calif.



Jeffrey Goldberg's "middle ground" on gun control (see his "Diary") seems to be that only untrained people kill people. That would be like the "untrained" 6-year-old who gets daddy's Glock down from the closet shelf, or the drunk boyfriend who gets out his old service revolver and goes over to ex-girlfriend's house, or your convicted-felon neighborhood drug dealer who bought his streetsweeper from a guy who, it turns out, bought three dozen of them at a gun show. See, it wasn't the guns' fault--it was the goshdarned untrained people! If everybody just took NRA gun safety courses none of this would've happened!

Come on, Jeffrey. It's really cool to be postmodern and hip; but you have to pick your targets a bit more judiciously.

--Michael J. Berla

Columbia, Md.


Beating Around the Bush

William Saletan's "The Muteness of Prince George" takes George W. Bush to task for coyly sidestepping stands on significant issues. But the first primary is a year away, and the general election a year and a half away. It's already crazy that candidates have to run shadow campaigns for years and then form exploratory committees before formally announcing their candidacies. I suppose in the election cycle for 2004 (which, by my calendar, starts in about three weeks) potential candidates will first announce plans to pick a committee to determine if the potential candidates should form an exploratory committee to determine if they should run for president.

The absurdity here for potential voters is that we don't want to hear a potential candidates' positions repeated ad nauseum for 12 or 18 months. Take the spotlight off of them until the Christmas tree lights come down in January 2000. If TV lights aren't there, the candidates will be forced to do something practical to bide their time. And potential voters won't have to be concerned about establishing committees to determine if they should throw out their televisions and delete their bookmarks to e-zines until a more reasonable time next year.

--Paul Clark


Oak Park, Ill.

A Wife's Defense

There is a curious symmetry between David Plotz and those government officials who would like to see my husband, Jonathan Pollard, remain in prison forever. In "Strange Bedfellow," Plotz presents his own damning opinions on the Pollard case as if they were fact, in much the same way that these government officials accuse my husband in the media of crimes for which he was never indicted.

Jonathan Pollard did not commit, was not charged with, and was not convicted of the outrageous charges now being hurled at him in the media. There is no substance to the latest pack of lies proffered by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker, nor to the charges invented by David Plotz in Slate. Moreover, no evidence to support any of these false charges was presented 14 years ago when my husband entered into a plea agreement with the American government. In other words, these charges are very recent fabrications that have suddenly surfaced in the press to serve political ends. Based on the evidence that the government presented 14 years ago, Jonathan was indicted on one count only--passing classified information to an ally, Israel. He was not charged with intending to harm the United States. He was not charged with treason.

The one count of passing classified information to an ally that Jonathan was charged with usually carries a sentence of 2 to 4 years. No one in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for this offense--no one but Jonathan Pollard. As a result of a last minute secret submission to the sentencing judge by then Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger--which Jonathan and his attorneys have never in 14 years been given the opportunity to challenge--the judge ignored the plea agreement and meted out a life sentence without parole. Who plea bargains for a life sentence?

The "new" crimes that Jonathan Pollard is now being accused of in the media were, in fact, committed by a host of Soviet spies including Aldrich Ames, David Boone, and Ronald Pelton. But that has not stopped U.S. officials from continuing to publicly blame Jonathan Pollard--and by extension, Israel--for the damage done by these enemy agents, nor has it stopped irresponsible journalists from parroting these unsubstantiated lies. What Jonathan Pollard did do is warn Israel that Saddam Hussein had amassed American-approved and American-financed weapons of mass destruction, which he intended to use to scorch the Jewish state. Jonathan deeply regrets that he broke the law in order to warn Israel about this threat to her existence. He had tried everything in his power to get the information released to Israel through legal channels but was thwarted every step of the way, right up to the top of the Pentagon. It would appear that certain U.S. officials--Casper Weinberger, Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, and others--were more concerned with the world finding out that America was arming Iraq at that time, than they were about covertly violating their information-sharing agreement with Israel. It was in desperation that my husband acted on his fear for the Jewish state and finally sought out the Israelis to warn them about this betrayal.

Contrary to Plotz's contention, Jonathan has expressed his remorse repeatedly--privately and publicly--and in various mediums. He deeply regrets not finding a legal means to act on his concerns for Israel in the face of the Iraqi threat.

There is still enormous embarrassment in Washington today over America's arming of Iraq and the ongoing threat from the "Madman of Baghdad." The release of Jonathan Pollard would bring this shameful episode to the forefront. For that reason fearful officials hurl false charges at him in the media--never in court--to try to keep him in prison forever and to make people forget about how he blew the whistle on a secret American pro-Iraqi tilt, long before it became public knowledge.

Today the Clinton administration is doing with China just what the Reagan-Bush administration did with Iraq. For political and economic reasons, a blind eye has been turned to Chinese espionage in the United States for years. As a result, China is now armed with nuclear munitions that could pose a major threat to the United States. This administration, just like its predecessors, wants people to look the other way, so it can downplay the story in the media and give implausible explanations for why a top level spy who provided nuclear munitions information to a hostile country should be fired from his job instead of being brought to trial!

Interestingly enough, journalists like Plotz don't see fit to utter a peep of protest about the mishandling of the Chinese spy case. Mindlessly they swallow whole what they read in the press and continue to focus their hostility and anger on the wrong target. Wen Ho Lee stole American information on nuclear warheads for China and was fired. Jonathan Pollard gave information to an ally, Israel, about a threat to that country's survival and he got life. Proportional justice or political vengeance? Why is it that the same officials who are so relentless and vociferous in their condemnation of Jonathan Pollard and Israel are so utterly silent about all the other recent spy cases where the charges were far more serious and the damage was measurable?

By mangling the truth and presenting uninformed opinion as if it were fact, Plotz and Slate have done a great disservice not only to the case of Jonathan Pollard but to the ongoing battle he is waging to restore the principle of equal justice for all Americans.

--Esther Pollard


David Plotz replies: I agree with Esther Pollard on one crucial point: The fact that the most damning allegations against her husband were never made publicly--though Pollard himself did see them--has muddied his case. No matter how credible the allegations in the Seymour Hersh piece are--and they are extremely credible--they are unverifiable and irrefutable as long as the United States' damage assessment remains secret. This secrecy allows Esther Pollard to make bold claims about her husband's innocence and to dismiss these damning allegations as the malevolent fabrications of Pollard-haters.

But observers who aren't married to Pollard are left with a choice: Do we trust Jonathan Pollard, an admitted, unapologetic spy, who told lie after lie after lie in the course of stealing U.S. secrets, when he says he didn't take anything serious? Or do we trust the judgment of the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the director of the CIA, the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, all of whom know exactly what Pollard did, and all of whom are adamant he should be kept locked up?

To Whine Own Self

In "When Is It OK To Betray a Friend?" Michael Sandel makes the lovely point that Monica Lewsinky might be guilty of a betrayal of herself. He notes that being merely honest or truthful may not be the end-all of integrity, that integrity is based on an identity, not primarily moral but ethical, the identity of and with one's life-narrative. For Monica to be guilty of such a betrayal, though, she would need to have a life-narrative, an explicit or implicit understanding of the person she would like to be. She clearly doesn't.

The given complexity of desires and adaptations that make up the ego suffice. "Be true to yourself" has been reinterpreted to mean either "Getting what you want" or, more aggressively, "Express yourself (don't repress yourself)."

--Matthew Feeney