Policy made plain.
Nov. 15 1998 3:30 AM

The Speaker Speaks


Eight years ago House speaker presumptive Bob Livingston, then an obscure junior congressman, and Slate's Jacob Weisberg, then an obscure writer for the New Republic, were both on an official U.S. delegation to certify the legitimacy of an election in Guatemala. It was Bush administration policy that democracy was spreading in Latin America and that the election was going to be fair. Weisberg wrote in TNR about his adventures:

When we arrived back at the Supreme Electoral Headquarters at the Hotel El Dorado two hours before the polls closed, our delegation was already working on its statement. Bob Livingston, a bluff Republican representative from Louisiana, had somehow become our chairman and was summing up the prevailing consensus that the election was free and fair. I pointed out that at least two of us had heard charges of vote buying. "Vote buying isn't fraud," Livingston bellowed. "I could show you vote buying all over Louisiana."

The logic here is that of Tallulah Bankhead's famous remark about cocaine: "Of course it's not addictive, darling. I use it all the time." But Livingston's exquisite ethical sensitivity should serve the new speaker well as he presides over congressional investigations of presidential perjury, campaign finance abuse, and so on.

Where in the World Is Michael Lewis?


Many readers find it suspicious that Michael Lewis has stopped filing dispatches from the Microsoft antitrust trial, and they do not accept our explanation that he got bored, found the hard wooden seats nightmarishly uncomfortable (especially combined with the judge's power-mad restrictions on leaving to go to the bathroom), felt he had said most of what he wanted to say, has a pressing book deadline, and so on. They think he was canned because his reports were critical of Microsoft.

It's not true. It simply isn't true. There is no evidence for it because it's not ... not--well, it's all nonsense, is what it is. In short, it's not true. And if we're stammering a bit, that may reflect the strain of not making any jokes. Because we wrote a jokey little item in this space two weeks ago about having Lewis killed and whatnot, and some people have taken it seriously. We hope that Slate hasn't attracted the kind of readership that needs the word "PARODY" or "SATIRE" or "HUMOR" stamped on every bit of good-hearted raillery (and we hope that what we publish in these genres is funny enough not to require labeling).

Lewis is alive and well and willing to testify that Slate expressed nothing but disappointment at his entirely voluntary decision that he'd had enough. One part of the problem here may be a misunderstanding of how journalism, especially magazine journalism, works. How mysterious is it, really, that a writer should drop out of a project before it is completed? Answer: Not very. Does such an occurrence justify paranoid speculation about corrupt motives and conflicts of interest? Answer: No, not at all. Many people might suppose that it is highly unusual for a writer to agree to produce some piece of writing and then fail to produce it, perhaps offering a variety of whiny and often hypochondriac excuses about hard wooden benches and so on. That is because many people do not know writers. In fact, such behavior is extremely common. In fulfilling perhaps half of a medium-term oral agreement to cover a trial of uncertain duration and with long periods of boredom and discomfort, Michael Lewis is actually above average! So we thank him for his dispatches and invite readers to check out his replacements: Herbert Stein, Jodie T. Allen, and others still to come.

Warning: The previous paragraph contained jokes.

--Michael Kinsley