The Magazine

Public Nuisances

Some are dangerous, and some are just pains in the neck.

Oct 3, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 03 • By JOE QUEENAN
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100 People Who Are Screwing Up America

by Bernard Goldberg

HarperCollins, 305 pp., $25.95

ON PAGE 56 OF THIS scattershot attack on the legions of Satan, the veteran reporter Bernard Goldberg singles out the clear and present danger posed to the Republic by one Matthew Lesko. Lesko is the blathering ninny who turns up in late-night infomercials clownishly exhorting the public to access the Himalayas of "free money" sitting around in government coffers.

Is Lesko annoying? Very. Is he manipulative, willfully misleading, only too ready to bend the truth for his own purposes? Almost certainly. But does anyone seriously believe that a shilling goofball marooned in the bowels of late-night cable television is doing irreparable harm to our nation in the manner of Eminem or Kenneth Lay or Paris Hilton? The notion that Goldberg would include someone as innocuous as Matthew Lesko on his list of Public Enemies Number 1-100--a list that includes such gilt-edged anacondas as Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, and Barbra Streisand--creates the unsettling suspicion that the author could only come up with about 42 people that he really hated, and then had to pad out the list with ringers.

Happily, it is the eccentric, unscientific nature of Goldberg's enemies list that makes this volume readable, in the sense that slapdash books of this nature can ever be truly called "readable." Everyone knows Goldberg's shtick--liberal bias ruined America and my career, even though I do have eight Emmys--so no one is going to be terribly surprised that Dan Rather, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Bill Moyers, and a host of journalists far more famous than Goldberg rear their increasingly ugly heads on his list.

Nor will those conversant with Goldberg's pissed-off-old-white-millionaire-everyman persona be shocked when he refers to Walters as "the Queen of Crap," which she most assuredly is. Few will be stunned to see the names Teddy Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Julian Bond, Noam Chomsky, and Maxine Waters surface on Goldberg's roll call of the officially proscribed. Unsurprisingly, punching bags such as Paul Krugman, Al Franken, and Jonathan Kozol all report for their licks, as do cultural villains on the order of Michael Jackson, Ludacris, Courtney Love, Tim Robbins, and the hypnotically uninteresting Janeane Garofalo.

What separates the angry, inelegantly written, hugely derivative 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America from all the other angry, inelegantly written, hugely derivative books about people who are screwing up America is the author's endearing penchant for hauling his personal bêtes noires in from left field and giving them a shellacking just for the hell of it. For those of us who specialize in gratuitous cruelty, there is nothing more satisfying than a totally unoccasioned ad hominem attack on a hapless target triggered by, apparently, nothing. (An example: Molly Ivins is not even mentioned in Goldberg's book and has absolutely nothing to do with this review, but this seems like a nice time to point out that the talentless, gutless pinko, who gave a negative review to my first book and then canceled out of a television appearance on the same show as me, has been accused of filching material from other, far more talented, writers. On more than one occasion. For more details, consult Florence King, Clive James, et al.) Thus, in a book that mercilessly tees off on Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Katha Pollitt, and other certified dimwits, Goldberg goes out of his way to blast Anna Nicole Smith, a harmless fatso; Phil Donahue, a harmless has-been; and Kate Hudson, the feather-headed spawn of the equally innocuous Goldie Hawn and the supernaturally inoffensive Kurt Russell.

He also trashes Sheila Jackson Lee, the misguided but not especially pernicious Democratic congresswoman from Texas who wants more hurricanes named Jamal, DeShawn, and LaToya, as a point of racial pride, and accuses Paul Begala of being a "left-wing hatemonger," whereas most of us thought he was merely an idiot. He attacks Internet celebrities no one has ever heard of, academics who are not household names, artists who are not important, bureaucrats no one could pick out of a police lineup, and A-team novelists like Jane Smiley who, whatever her failings as a political theorist, can actually write original, moving prose, which Goldberg cannot.