Ahoy, mates

Warring contributors to the Nation magazine bravely set sail together on a Caribbean cruise.


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Susan Lehman
December 5, 1998 1:00AM (UTC)

Who will be the first man or woman overboard when the Nation magazine's
First Annual Seminar Cruise sets sail this Sunday?

The magazine's publisher, editor and many of its contributors join 400
fellow sailors for an eight-day voyage around the Caribbean. Robert Bly is
a passenger, as are an assortment of psychiatrists, retired teachers, mall
builders and other Nation readers willing to pony up $1,800 to $2,900 for a
berth. The trip, says a proud Nation spokesperson, sold faster than
all group cruises except the New Kids on the Block trip.

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Cruisers will get a chance to jawbone about liberalism, labor,
environmentalism, impeachment, identity politics and the future of the left --
plus, says Nation editor Victor Navasky, "shuffleboard, dancing to Guy
Lombardo, whatever else people do on cruise ships." If all goes well,
Nation contributors, several of whom have been publicly feuding over the
years, will avoid tearing one another's throats out.

Just last month, Nation columnists Alexander Cockburn and Christopher
Hitchens (a frequent Salon contributor) used their columns to lash one another for their respective views
on the question of whether George Orwell was a snitch who gave British
leftists' names to the British Secret Service.

Meanwhile, Eric Alterman and Katha Pollitt exchanged some heavy vitriol
in Slate wherein -- in an e-mail exchange with Andrew Sullivan -- Pollitt
slammed Alterman's diary as "self-satisfied and vain and vainglorious."
Declaring Slate an unfit place to air intra-Nation feuds, Alterman
proceeded with exquisite cruelty to "find it sad .... to read the same
tired tripe over and over from the pen of a writer who once appeared on her
way to being a great poet and gave it all up to write a single column, over
and over, for the past 15 years."

Later in her Slate exchange with Sullivan, Pollitt rips a
Hitchens column about Viagra: "Rape humor, nasty darts at feminists,
reflections on alcohol and potency, all decorated with literary references
and tied up in syntactical knots. Talk about the attraction of the moth to
the flame!"

Cockburn and Alterman have, of course, also exchanged a few venomous
rounds in the Nation's letters page. Though Cockburn is determinedly
amiable about his shipmates today, there are those who remember that he
tempestuously derided Katrina vanden Heuvel and her husband, Stephen Cohen,
for what he deemed their foolish fantasies about Mikhail Gorbachev;
declared Navasky an awful journalist who would have been good
running a nightclub or circus; mocked Pollitt for knee-jerkery; and
once -- in addition to having had a probable hand in the vicious hatchet
job on Cockburn's Counterpunch co-editor, Ken Silverstein, in
the Village Voice some years back -- referred to Alterman as "3/4 brown
noser, 1/4 cheeky chappy."

Needless to say, the Nation cruise was itself the subject of some
contentiousness among the magazine's contributors. Navasky says he
is flying Barbara Ehrenreich to St. Thomas, where she'll moderate a
seminar on "labor, environmentalism and the global corporation," but won't
confirm that Ehrenreich isn't sailing with the group because of political
problems she has with cruise ships. (Ehrenreich did not respond to an e-mail
inquiry about this subject.) Cockburn says his only problem with the cruise
is that it will take place in the Caribbean, "which is full of black people
who quite rightfully hate whites and would cheerfully kill us all if it
didn't disturb the flow of money into their own hands." Next time, Cockburn
says, he hopes the Nation Cruise, will be on the Aegean, but, he says, "then
we'd have to worry about Turkish human rights."

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All of the Nation contributors Media Circus spoke to, many of whom
declined to speak on the record, agreed that the animosity between the
magazine's columnists would be tempered by the sea air and camaraderie of the
floating hotel. "We never see each other in person so we're a little
abstract. It's easy to take pot shots at people who are just words on a
page," offered Pollitt. "After spending time together everyone may be
surprised by how much nicer we all are in real life."

Though Cockburn noted that "a lifeboat stuffed with Nation contributors
would pose interesting questions of triage if I were in charge," he
too said he is certain no one will bother with any old enmity. "We'll be
too busy wondering what to wear to the cruise's formal event," he said.

"I think it's going to be known as the love boat in the end," says
Navasky. "The Nation contributors are all such nice people -- in print, they're
fearsome; in person, they are all just lovely people."

Nice. But don't forget to pack those personal, portable life preservers.

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We don't just report the news, we make it

Days after he told the Judiciary Committee that he did not appear on TV talk
shows, Kenneth Starr appeared on a magazine show, "20/20," whereupon he gave Diane Sawyer
unsurprising answers to questions about his views on infidelity, his office
and his investigation of President Clinton. Nor was it surprising that Starr
gave his first prime-time interview to "20/20" -- which reportedly beat out
competition from other shows at ABC and other network shows like "60
Minutes."

The "20/20" interview with Sawyer was produced by Chris Vlasto, a
name familiar to readers of Jim McDougal's "Arkansas Mischief." In his
book, which was written with Curtis Wilkie, McDougal credits Vlasto with
convincing him to cooperate with Starr's investigation.

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Wilkie remembers that Vlasto spent a lot of time in Arkansas in his
capacity as producer in charge of ABC's Whitewater coverage and that Vlasto
was probably the one news guy McDougal felt most comfortable with. Wilkie
remembers that shortly after his conviction, McDougal confided to Vlasto that he (rightly, it turned out) feared he
would die in prison. In the book, McDougal writes
that Vlasto responded by saying, "'Listen Jim, you don't have to go out
this way. Walk in to see Kenneth Starr, he'll greet you with open arms.' He
recommended that I at least talk with the independent counsel." McDougal's
subsequent cooperation set the Whitewater investigation and all that was
to follow in motion.

Any conflict involved in Vlasto's playing a role in the story of the
Starr investigation and producing a piece on it? Vlasto wouldn't
comment. ABC's Washington bureau chief did not return a call seeking
information as to whether the network has rules governing whether producers
may produce segments on stories in which they play a part.

Where's the Tickle Me Stoic doll?

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Movie tie-ins are old hat, but here's a new one: book tie-ins. Tom
Wolfe's "A Man in Full" apparently makes mention of Epictetus, the venerable
first century Stoic philosopher who was born a Roman slave. Enter HarperCollins, trumpeting Epictetus' "A Manual for Living: A New Interpretation" and
"The Art of Living: The Classic Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and
Effectiveness," in modern translation, published -- since 1994 and 1995 --
by HarperCollins.

"If Wolfe sparks an explosion of interest in Epictetus, we want people
to know we're the ones who have these volumes," says an amused HarperCollins spokesperson who voiced the hope that, as the ancient text "The Art
of War" became a bible for the business-minded in the go-go '80s, perhaps
Epictetus might guide the multitudes during the remainder of the more
austere '90s.

Epictetus' formula for a happy, meaningful and flourishing life comes in
the form of clean, aphoristic instruction, viz., "Know What You Can Control
and What You Can't," "Seeking to
Please Is a Perilous Trap," "Stay Away From
Most Popular Entertainment" and, a special one for those attending the
First Annual Nation Seminar Cruise, "Speak Only With Good Purpose."

The HarperCollins spokesperson concedes that Epictetus sales weren't
exactly zooming along before "A Man in Full," but says it's too soon to
tell whether the Wolfe book will cause a bump in sales.

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Jonathan Kwitny dies

Jonathan Kwitny, 57, died of cancer last week in New York. Kwitny, an
excellent investigative journalist and a gentleman, was the author of eight
books, including one on the CIA and one on drug smuggling for people with AIDS.
His latest book was "Man of the Century: The Life and Times of Pope John
Paul II." There will be a memorial service in New York on Dec. 17 at
6 p.m. at the Friends Meeting House on Rutherford and East 15th streets.


Susan Lehman

Susan Lehman is a staff writer for Salon Media.

MORE FROM Susan Lehman

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