Comebacks via the Holiday Inn
An email conversation about the news of the day.
July 1 2002 11:07 AM

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Dearest,

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This you've got to love: When he read over his own remarks in not one but two leading newspapers here yesterday, Italy's interior minister, Claudio Scajola, did not much like the sound of them. Apparently, Scajola never meant to call one of his own government's consultants, an economist who was assassinated for his labor reform efforts a few months back, "a ball breaker who just wanted his consultancy contract renewed.''

So, he simply unsaid it. "I do not recognize myself in the quotes,'' he declared. Now, one could argue that this formulation is technically far more honest than mewling that you were taken out of context—because of course no one ever does recognize himself in his own comments, even on tape. And the strategy worked, as it so often does here. Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi —who has himself boldly denied ever disparaging Islamic culture—immediately announced he would not be accepting Scajola's resignation.

Scajola had been defending the government's decision to pull the bodyguards that had been assigned to the consultant, Marco Biagi, despite Biagi's panicked insistence that his life was in danger. But had Biagi's two former bodyguards been on the case, Scajola said coolly, "three people would have been killed instead of one.'' Does that mean Scajola doesn't think much of his own security guards? I think I feel another denial coming on. …

Otherwise, today's Italian papers offer a wide array of soccer news and more soccer news, though there is nothing quite as exciting as last week's headline: "Italy Gets Head Into World Cup.'' Auguri, guys! Of course, I haven't really focused on a sporting event since the Cubs were on a roll. (Remember when Steve Largent showed me his trophies, and I had to ask you later what they were for?) So I'll leave it to you to explain why Italy can't seem to get its head out of the World Cup, even now that it's over.

Really, don't they realize there are other things to worry about, what with the Bush girls behaving like a couple of college kids? Or how about the unseemly display of Ann vs. Abby, the Next Generation?

I did appreciate the appreciations for Rosemary Clooney, particularly the one in the Los Angeles Times, though I was sorry not to see any photos of her in that vampy black strapless number she wore to sing "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me'' in White Christmas—a dress that surely had skinny girls everywhere running out for a burger. But I'll remember her that way.

Speaking of comebacks via the Holiday Inn, there's Al Gore telling supporters at a hotel in Memphis that if he got a do-over, he'd lose the consultants and "pour his heart out.'' He always says that, but the consultants mostly wanted him to ... pour his heart out. He can certainly give a great speech when the race is over, or before it's begun. (Didn't we hear he had them begging for more in Shanghai recently?) But if it were so easy for him to "let it rip'' while a campaign was actually in progress, he would have done it a lot more often.

Now that he's become the new Dan Quayle, it's going to be tougher than ever. Still, he does best in those what-the-hell moments when all seems lost, so maybe he can use that. He should also write off the media and for God's sake run on the environment, the environment, and the environment. (See the New York Times story today about the Bush administration scaling back plans to clean up Superfund sites?) To really let it rip, he could even come out against the death penalty and admit he has complicated feelings about abortion. (Bill Keller's brave piece in the Saturday NYT was one of the best things I've ever read on that subject.) I'll bet you're going to say that no Democrat could possibly get the nomination that way, and maybe you're right. But I do know this much: Perfection is the enemy.

Yours,
Melinda

Melinda Henneberger, a former New York Times reporter, is writing a book about a lost da Vinci fresco. Bill Turque is a former correspondent for Newsweek magazine and author of Inventing Al Gore: A Biography. They live in Rome with their 6-year-old twins.

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