ONE OF THE PROBLEMS with being the son of a president with a political future is the strange sort of friends you attract.
On Thursday, February l7, the New York Times ran a story about one Richard Bradley, author of a snarky book about Harvard president Lawrence Summers (who is in a bit of trouble you may have heard of). "Bradley," it turns out, is the same Richard Blow, unwisely hired by John Kennedy Jr., to mismanage his magazine George. When John Jr. died, Blow wrote a book that one review said had "oozed necrophilia," describing chats, meals, and editorial meetings with Tribeca's Adonis. It also oozed bad faith and hypocrisy, as Blow had signed a confidentiality agreement upon being hired, and had fired two writers at George shortly after Kennedy's death because they spoke kindly of their late boss to the media. "'Richard Blow' became a synonym for New York publishing ambition," explained the new story in the Times, "the very portrait of a man who saw his chance," and ran with it, all the way to the bank. But do not think for a moment this occasioned the alteration in the nom de plume. "Mr. Bradley said his decision to change his name at age 40 had less to do with controversy" than with unpleasant puns. Some people would say these were all too descriptive. But then, he said plaintively, people are "crude."
Blow changed his name, and Douglas Wead didn't, but soon he may want to, if current reactions keep up. To "weadle" may soon enter the lexicon as meaning betraying an unknowing party by recording words meant for a private discussion and unleashing them in the midst of complex public moments in the process of flogging one's book. Is it coincidence that these tapes came out just as Wead has a book out about the care and feeding of potential presidents, (George Bush among them),that has not taken off as one hoped? Most history is made of recalled conversations, words meant at the time for one or two people, which find their way into books and the perceptions of millions--which is one reason it was thought to be out of line when Jacqueline Kennedy tried to suppress or censure memoirs by friends of her husband she considered insufficiently dignified. But there are lines, and these two men have crossed them: Blow/Bradley lied, and then broke a promise; and Wead went into what everyone sees as an invasion of privacy, considered illegal in some jurisdictions, and immoral in all. As Blow told the Times, "he had signed the confidentiality agreement at George only after Mr. Kennedy told the staff directly that it was a deal breaker if they did not." (In English, he lied because George made him do it. Got that?)
Wead has said this was all about history, but if this were true, he would have held off until the Bush administration really was history and the president was back in Crawford doing whatever--or else off with Bill Clinton surveying disasters at the urging of President Hillary. Is it a coincidence too that these two stories broke within days of each other, and in the same paper? A conservative toad and a liberal twit united by greed and dishonesty. Who said bipartisan feeling is dead?
Oddly enough, Bush and JFK Jr. emerged pretty well from these 'outings;" their "dark sides" seem pretty close to their light sides, and both in the end appear . . . nice. The damage is done to collateral figures: of the 6,000 people now running for president--Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Bill Frist, Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, et al--it seems safe to assume that none will ever pick up a receiver with that old carefree feeling again. They will think twice before they express a moment of weakness, say what they think about possible rivals, or express a calculation in too calculating a way. They will measure their words as carefully as if speaking to a nationwide audience and say nothing to a "friend" they would not like to hear played back on Good Morning America. They are probably wondering, now, at this moment, which among the hundreds they count in their network sees him/her as his highway to fortune and history. They may never again make an unguarded comment, for fear of being dealt a low Blow.
It may not also work out in the long run for Wead and Blow/Bradley. As we read in the Times, B-B's life after American Son has not been all rosy: shunned by his peers, he was forced to leave Dodge, and then to rename himself. This is a pattern Wead may soon follow. If he feels the heat, he can head up to Harvard. And then he can name himself "Blow."
Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.