Defaming FDR

The silver linings in any scandal, or so THE SCRAPBOOK has learned, are the more-in-sorrow-than-anger essays by friends and admirers of the person who's been caught with his hand in the till or sneaking out of the bedroom. Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer's affinity for prostitutes, and spectacular exit from office, has been no exception.

Here's Martin Peretz, editor in chief of the New Republic: "Eliot Spitzer is a friend of mine," he writes. "Not a close friend but a friend, nonetheless. He has written for TNR and TNR has written about him. I knew relatively little about his personal life until .  .  . " Can't wait to see where that one's going! By contrast, Harvard Law School's ubiquitous Professor Alan Dershowitz, writing at, offers a more-in-anger-than-sorrow perspective: "When Eliot Spitzer was my research assistant in the 1980s," he says, "he was a young man of great brilliance, high integrity, conservative demeanor and enormous promise. It pains me deeply to see him brought down so far, and so quickly, by private sexual misconduct."

According to Dershowitz, Spitzer was publicly humiliated not by his appetite for $5,000-an-hour whores while prosecuting prostitution rings but by the fact that "our nation, unique among Western democracies, is obsessed with the private lives of public figures." This is followed by various Dershowitzian assertions that "we are a nation of hypocrites" that has never learned "how to distinguish between sin and crime, between activities that endanger the public and harm only the actor and his family."

Of course, reasonable people will differ as to whether the loss of a man of "great brilliance, high integrity, conservative demeanor and enormous promise" like Spitzer is a tragedy or comedy; but there's no doubt where Dershowitz stands on public and private morality in hypocritical America.

THE SCRAPBOOK's main beef with Dershowitz, though, is that he clinches his case with the following two sentences: "Throughout our history, men in high places have engaged in low sexual activities. From Thomas Jefferson to Franklin Roosevelt to John Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton, great political figures have behaved like adolescent boys in private, while at the same time brilliantly and effectively leading our nation in public."

We'll leave the defense of Bill Clinton, LBJ, JFK, and Thomas Jefferson to their respective admirers. But the notion that FDR behaved like an adolescent boy in the White House-"engaged in low sexual activities"-is an appalling urban myth which, like J. Edgar Hoover's cross-dressing, has achieved the status of historical fact.

It is true that Franklin Roosevelt had an affair-possibly sexual, although no one really knows-with his wife's social secretary, Lucy Mercer; but it took place in 1918, more than a dozen years before FDR was elected president. And far from behaving like lovesick adolescents, Roosevelt and Mercer (who married someone else shortly thereafter) quickly went their separate ways when Eleanor Roosevelt offered FDR a divorce and Roosevelt's mother threatened to disinherit him. Roosevelt chose his responsibilities to his wife and five children over the pursuit of happiness with Lucy Mercer.

It is true that, as president, the paraplegic FDR invited Lucy Mercer to the White House on several occasions during World War II (always when Eleanor was out of town) but such visits were entirely chaste, in the presence of his daughter Anna and innumerable friends over cocktails and dinner-and, in spirit and practice, could not have been more different from Bill Clinton's furtive encounters with Monica Lewinsky, or Eliot Spitzer's transactions with Ashley Alexandra Dupré, alias "Kristen."

McCain's Non-Gaffe

Last week in Amman, Jordan, John McCain said he was concerned that Iranian agents were "taking al Qaeda into Iran, training them, and sending them back." McCain went on to say that "al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and .  .  . coming back into Iraq from Iran. That's well known, and it's unfortunate." Whereupon Joe Lieberman, traveling with McCain, leaned over and whispered something into the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's ear. After which McCain said, "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al Qaeda."

The press seized on the moment, treating it as a gaffe that cut to the heart of McCain's candidacy. "The mistake threatened to undermine McCain's argument that his decades of foreign policy experience make him the natural choice to lead a country at war with terrorists," two Washington Post reporters huffed on one of the paper's blogs. The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth -Holmes called it a "stumble." "Iran and al Qaeda are associated with different branches of Islam," she wrote. "Iran is a mostly Shiite country and al Qaeda is primarily a Sunni militant group; Iran has been reported to help Shiite extremists in Iraq, but not their Sunni counterparts."

Not exactly. McCain was right and shouldn't have taken Lieberman's cue; there is a long trail of evidence pointing to Iranian cooperation with al Qaeda. And this evidence has been documented by the very same media that have indicted McCain for pointing out the connection. On April 11, 2007, for example, the Washington Post reported on a briefing delivered by General William Caldwell in which the general said, "We have, in fact, found some cases recently where Iranian intelligence services have provided to some Sunni insurgent groups some support."

Hmm. Maybe reporters should read their own papers before saying McCain had made a "gaffe."

Oops, Wrong Hillary

The reporter for the Mahoning Valley Tribune Chronicle in Ohio must have thought he had the scoop of a lifetime: an exclusive interview with Hillary Clinton. Oops. The paper issued a correction on March 19:

It was incorrectly reported in Tuesday's Tribune Chronicle that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton answered questions from voters in a local congressman's office. Reporter John Goodall, who was assigned to the story, spoke by telephone with Hillary Wicai Viers, who is a communications director in U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson's staff. According to the reporter, when Viers answered the phone with ''This is Hillary,'' he believed he was speaking with the Democratic presidential candidate, who had made several previous visits to the Mahoning Valley. The quotes from Viers were incorrectly attributed to Clinton. .  .  . Clinton on Monday was in Washington, according to her Web site.

Annals of Neoconservatism

Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Policy Tyler Duvall, 35, is a "little pointy-headed neocon with grand ideas about the future of transportation, and they all involve tolling. .  .  . He's bright, young, energetic-just totally wrong, and has a bizarre, neocon view of transportation." (Democratic congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon in the March 17, 2008, Washington Post.)

Reuters Truthers

In the course of a report on the latest audiotape from Osama bin Laden, datelined Dubai, Reuters explains to readers that "the Saudi-born militant leader" is the man "blamed for the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities." What a curious formulation: Why not simply "responsible for the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities"? Does the Brit wire service think there is some unsolved mystery here.? Or is this simply a stylistic crotchet favored for some reason by Reuters's Dubai bureau?

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