Then and Now
Jacob Weisberg's "Strange Bedfellow" column this week comes to the defense of Seymour Hersh's new book on JFK, which is surfing a tidal wave of derision to the best-seller list. We hope Weisberg's revelation that the book is not as awful as people say it is won't hurt its sales too much. Meanwhile, the reminder of how much fun Kennedy had in the White House raises once again the question: Could a president get away with it today? And the even more intriguing question: OK, how? Fortunately, those vital questions were answered by Slate's David Plotz last year in his definitive study "Could Clinton Cheat? The logistics of presidential adultery." As far as we know, the president has not taken advantage of Plotz's advice during the past year.
For the past couple of weeks we have been posting quietly, in primitive form, a new Slate feature that emerges fully this week. Called "Pundit Central," it is, to start, a summary and analysis--posted Monday morning--of who said what on the weekend political talk shows and how the ball was moved as a result on various issues. It will also treat the print pundits, though less comprehensively. Like our other Briefing features, Pundit Central can be used either as a guide for what to read and watch or as an efficient (and, we hope, entertaining) substitute for reading and watching.
In case Pundit Central whets your appetite instead of sating it, the page includes an extensive set of links to Web sites where the pundits and panjandrums can be found in their full glory. Come to Pundit Central, and you'll never want for an opinion again. You'll be able to mix 'n' match, say, David Broder from the Washington Post on the new Paris fashions, Maureen Dowd from the New York Times on local traffic conditions, and Liz Smith of Newsday on the Thai currency crisis to create your own op-ed dream team. The page also includes links to talk-show transcripts and newspaper editorial pages.
But what is the best collective noun for people who make their living spouting opinions in one medium or another (or, as is increasingly the case, in all of them)? "Punditocracy," the term most often used, is clumsy. The "commentariat," a word coined in a Washington Post editorial a few years back, is much wittier. Pundit Central uses both. It attempts to avoid the stale dismissive cliché "talking heads," but sometimes, in a hurry, does refer to the breed, with simple dignity, as "the heads."
Last week's "Readme," touting Slate's "Hackathlon"--a contest among four journalists for the title (to be awarded by Slate readers' vote) of world's biggest hack--credited Gloria Steinem with the remark "I don't like writing. I like having written." A reader wrote in to say the remark actually belongs to Gertrude Stein, which we were prepared to believe until another reader sent indignant e-mail on behalf of Dorothy Parker, which seems even more plausible. No one so far has nominated Lillian Hellman or Anita Loos or Catherine the Great, but if anyone can supply actual evidence of the woman (or man) who made this remark, we'd be grateful, and we'll let the rest of you know. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do You Still Beat Your Husband?
As of Thursday, Nov. 13, six days after it was posted, more than 5,000 Slate readers had responded to our online reader survey. Last year we were pretty thrilled to get 3,000-plus responses in a month. Thanks to all who've spent a few minutes telling us about themselves. If you haven't filled it out yet, click here for the survey. We'd appreciate it.