Bloomberg's power grab.

Scrutinizing culture.
Oct. 9 2008 12:28 PM

The Bloomberg Syndrome

The New York mayor's power grab is a symptom of a national problem.

(Continued from Page 2)

But Bloombergism isn't limited to national-security matters; it's an attitude that unfortunately seems to be spreading into other aspects of society: the cavalier dismissal of established legal and ethical restraints and considerations.

It extends, this sense of Bloombergian entitlement, to journalists as well. I have to say that, although I'm an Obama supporter, I'm amazed at the cavalier way Gwen Ifill dismissed her flagrant conflict of interest—the clear-cut appearance of impropriety—as potential debate host, failing to even mention to the Presidential Debate Commission when they first asked her to moderate the vice-presidential debate that she was writing a book whose success could well be dependent on an Obama victory.

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Even the Columbia Journalism Review called into question the appearance of impropriety it represented.

The point wasn't that she couldn't do the job fairly but that her stake in the outcome of the election of which the debate was a key decision point would be a distraction from the debate itself, with viewers trying to analyze how fair or unfair her questions were based on her conflict of interest. She'd made herself part of the story.

But instead of giving the debate commission the opportunity to decide the question, Ifill issued a statement that totally (and, for someone so intelligent, shockingly) missed the point: "I'm not particularly worried that one-day's blog chatter is going to destroy my reputation. The proof is in the pudding." (Queen Latifah captured the disdainful sense of entitlement on display in that quote on Saturday Night Live.)

With all due respect, Ms. Ifill, it's not your reputation (alone) that is at stake but that of all journalists who will look utterly insensitive to the appearance of impropriety that they are always hounding politicians about if one of their leading avatars doesn't understand such an obvious violation of the principle.

I think that, in fact, she came across as impartial, and more credit to her for that, but again, it was the Bloombergian attitude that was the problem. The attitude was basically, I am the law, I am the standard. How dare you question me? The condescending dismissal of any criticism as merely "blog chatter" just reinforces the public impression of journalists as holier-than-thou hypocrites.

Nor is literature exempt from the entitlement syndrome. Consider last week's New School panel on the The Original of Laura, the unfinished Vladimir Nabokov manuscript which he'd asked his family to destroy. His sole surviving son, Dmitri, has decided to contravene his father's wishes and hired literary agent Andrew Wylie to peddle the rights worldwide for what will surely be a pretty penny.

Dmitri's original rationale was that he could imagine a visitation from his dead father in which Dad said, basically, "Go ahead and cash in." At the panel on Laura, I suggested this was like imagining Hamlet's father's ghost coming to him and saying, "Forget about that whole revenge thing, son."

But Dmitri had another card to play. He now suggested, through an intermediary on the panel, that the visitation from Vladimir was a "joke" and somehow seemed to blame Dmitri's mother for not burning it or blame me for accusing his mother of bad faith in not burning it (I never have).

I don't know: I've always felt conflicted about the difficulty of the choice Dmitri faced, but the more I think about it, the more I think the father's unequivocal request should have precedence over the son's willingness to abrogate it. As I put it at the New School panel, even if it were a pearl of great genius, Nabokov himself, for good reason or bad, didn't think it was ready to be seen and his word should be law.

All Dmitri has left (minus the "visitation") to support his decision to violate his father's pleas is the fact that he can. I can therefore I shall. My father's "vote" doesn't count.

Literary Bloombergism.