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October 03, 2002

Magazine Culture


2Blowhards has scored another triumph of investigative reporting. Owing to a wrongly directed fax, we’ve got the behind-the-scenes scoop on Lewis Lapham’s latest screed:

Lewis H. Lapham
Editor, Harper’s Magazine

Darling Lewis,

I just read your fabulous essay, “The Road to Babylon—Searching for targets in Iraq.” Loved it, simply loved it! As usual, you’re just too good for the American public!

However, a few words of advice if you want to get it published someplace other than, well, you know, Harper’s. Not that there is anything wrong with Harper’s, darling, you know I read it cover to cover each month, but remember how the magazine world snickers when you write the lead article in a magazine that you edit. I mean, even Tina Brown never did that! And, as long as I’m being terribly frank, you need to do something about the circulation of Harper’s—more people would read your work if you published it in the Piscataway Penny Saver! So, while I would never dare to edit you from the purely artistic point of view, I jotted a few notes of some eensy-weensy things you might want to do if you’re serious about getting published in a magazine with a real subscriber base for a change:

1)Try getting to the point a tad quicker. You’re saying the invasion of Iraq is a bad idea, but you’re 900 words into your piece before you mention the first actual reason it’s bad.

2)Lose the extended comparison with the Athenian invasion of Sicily. I mean, people might get confused and remember Patton’s invasion of Sicily—which went rather well, you recall, during World War II. And it pushes your word total to over 3,500 words—in other magazines, darling, they have advertising and have to watch how long their articles are! Really!

3) You don’t provide much substance on many of your main points. You describe Bush’s invasion plan as being

“[a]gainst every precedent in international law, in violation of the United Nations Charter, and without consent of the American Congress.”

I mean, we’ve all read lots of op-ed pieces that don’t agree with you, darling, and I think you’re going to have argue these points a bit, don’t you?

4) Some of your arguments, are, well—I don’t know how else to put this, darling—a bit shrill. I think you might want to rethink the sentences starting:

Even if one discounts the devastation of Baghdad as a minor and scarcely noticeable loss, what is to prevent the conflagration likely to erupt in the nearby countries of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran once the U.S. Air Force has lit up the entire Muslim world with the putrifying fires of civil and religious war? Who prevents Ariel Sharon from upgrading with nuclear weapons the Israeli program of ‘preemptive assassination,’ and, in the relatively sizable footprint of an oil price marked up to $50 or $70 a barrel, what happens to the economies of London, Paris and New York?

5) You might be a bit less personal about Bush, dear. Your first paragraph contains the line:

“…who was I to deny him his demagogue’s right to issue harebrained threats?”

Your second paragraph includes the sentence:

When asked by worried friends and acquaintances whether the President was borrowing his geopolitical theory from the diaries of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, I assured them that the President didn’t have the patience to read more than two or three pages of a Tom Clancy novel.

The third paragraph goes on with

The spectacle of the American government making preparations for an invasion of Iraq suggested that maybe the Bush Administration was, in fact, stupid enough to call down air strikes on the last four paragraphs of one of the Pentagon’s apocalyptic briefing papers.

It seems like you still might be a bit, well, peeved about the Florida situation. Maybe it’s time you moved on, dear.

6) There are a few points where you might be accused of, well, inconsistency, darling. For example, your sentence:

Count through the list of foreign adventures since our hurried departure from Vietnam in April 1975, and we proceed, in random and unseemly sequence, to the exit from Iran and the flight from Lebanon, the pointless assault on Panama, the shutting down of the Gulf War without decisive victory, the abandonment of the Kurds in northern Iraq, the escape from Somalia, the refusal to intrude upon the killings in Rwanda or the Balkans.”

I mean, weren’t you glad we got out of Vietnam? I seem to remember you were at the time. And we got very involved with the killings in the Balkans, didn’t we? Don’t we still have troops there? And, er, if it was a bad thing to fail to pursue decisive victory in the Gulf War and to abandon the Kurds in northern Iraq, wouldn’t invading Iraq now be, well a good thing? Maybe you should just leave it all out, the article is too long anyway.

Well, just a few little changes and I’m sure we can place it somewhere fabulous, darling.

Your loving agent,

[Suppressed on advice from legal counsel]

Apparently Lapham refused to make any changes, and ended up running the piece--you guessed it--in the October issue of Harper's Magazine, where you can read all 3500+ words of it on newsstands now.



posted by Friedrich at October 3, 2002


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