Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Bonfire of the vanities

with one comment

A while back, Michael Wolff, the journalist and controversial author of Fire and Fury, observed of a certain presidential candidate in an article for Vanity Fair:

Bill Clinton’s sexual life…is about shame and need, whereas his seems to be about an entirely different conception of marriage and family. It’s a resistance to modern marriage—to the man-woman parity thing. He’s unreconstructed, and proudly so. He’s shameless. There’s no apology about him doing what he wants to do…[He arguably] is the most anti-family-values candidate in the race (this or any other). And yet, in some sense—which could be playing well with the right wing—what he may be doing is going to the deeper meaning of family values, which is about male prerogative, an older, stubborn, my-way-or-the-highway, when-men-were-men, don’t-tread-on-me kind of thing…He has always been surrounded by concentric and sometimes intersecting circles of reasonable and professional people and greater and lesser inappropriate types…It is, however…the inappropriate ones that dominate his mind share, staffers who have tended him so long and enabled him so well…that they are, in their fashion, crazy, too.

It was the summer of 2007, and Wolff was writing about Rudy Giuliani. (I’ve slightly edited the text above to replace personal names with pronouns.) At the time, Giuliani seemed to have a genuine shot at becoming the Republican candidate for president, which only points to how much time as passed—and also, sadly, to the ways in which we’ve come full circle.

In the early days of the Trump administration, one of the few silver linings was that we seemed to be seeing less of Giuliani than I had once feared. For reasons of my own, though, I decided last year to read a very interesting book titled The Campaign, by Evan J. Mandery, which recounts his experiences as the research director for Ruth Messinger’s doomed campaign for mayor of New York in 1997. As a result, I ended up thinking more about Giuliani than I might have liked, and I was particularly struck by a story that I either had forgotten or had never heard. Mandery’s book is structured as a diary, and in an entry from early August, he writes:

On an otherwise sleepy Sunday, we’re awakened by the news that Vanity Fair will publish an article this Wednesday (we have an advance copy) verifying that Giuliani has been having an extramarital affair with his communications director, Cristyne Lategano, and that he has bullied the press into suppressing the story…According to the article’s author, [Jennet] Conant, Lategano “openly idolizes Giuliani,” which generally helps one survive at City Hall.

I haven’t read the original article, which doesn’t seem to be available online, and it’s worth noting that both Giuliani and Lategano have steadfastly denied the allegations. In 2000, however, Giuliani’s wife, Donna Hanover, alluded to the rumors at a news conference in which she announced their separation: “For several years, it was difficult to participate in Rudy’s public life because of his relationship with one staff member.” And her spokeswoman later confirmed that Hanover was referring to Lategano.

But the alleged affair itself was less interesting than the responses that it inspired, both from Giulani’s team and from the media. According to Mandery, the Messinger campaign prudently declined to get involved, but a war of words broke out in New York. Local reporters pushed back against the article’s insinuation that they had neglected to pursue the story, with the Daily News writing in an editorial: “Adultery is a serious charge, and to move it from rumor to print requires real proof, which Vanity Fair apparently doesn’t have.” As for the mayor’s people, Mandery recalls:

Rather than attack the truth of the charges directly, the Giuliani team is attacking them indirectly by questioning Vanity Fair’s journalistic methods. Deputy Mayor Randy Levine faults the story for replying exclusively on unnamed sources. “It’s the worst kind of scurrilous journalism,” he said, “based on anonymous sources and hearsay.” “Where are the sources?” he asks…Lategano says, “Allegations by unnamed sources are not true, and there is no need to comment on malicious works of fiction.”

As Trump put it last year: “Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names…it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers.” And when a reporter pressed him about his response to the rumors, Giuliani responded in a fashion that Trump might have admired: “That’s a really cheap question.”

And then, remarkably, it all sort of went away. Lategano remained on the payroll, Giuliani handily won the election, and everyone forgot about it—particularly after Giuliani left Hanover for another woman, Judith Nathan, with whom he had evidently had an affair. Last month, after fifteen years of marriage, Nathan filed for divorce. Two weeks later, Giuliani announced that he was joining Trump’s legal team. I have less insight into his inner life than I do for just about anyone else on the planet, but it’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t feel the parallels between the president and himself, and that those resonances don’t shed some light on some of his actions in recent days. (Speaking of the Stormy Daniels case, Giuliani said earlier this week: “Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton?” It was widely seen as an inexplicable statement that only made matters worse, but deep down, he might have just been thinking of the Lategano story, which broke in the middle of his own reelection campaign.) If Trump and Giuliani seem to be operating by their own playbook, it might be because they both know from experience how quickly such stories can fade in the fire and fury of a tumultuous public life. But things can change. Back in 1997, the journalist Michael Tomasky criticized the Vanity Fair article in New York Magazine, and he wondered aloud about what might be said in its defense:

First, that if the mayor’s marriage is on the rocks, it’s news. Sure, of a sort: he’s a public figure. Plug in George Steinbrenner or Donald Trump or Brad Pitt for Giuliani, and the papers run with it. Yes. But nobody’s going to wag a sanctimonious finger at Steinbrenner, [and] no editorialist is going to argue that the public may suffer from Trump’s infidelity.

Written by nevalalee

May 4, 2018 at 8:58 am

One Response

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  1. This is a short but insightful analysis that shows how Trump really isn’t anything new for the GOP. He is following a well established pattern.

    For all the rhetoric about traditional family values, Trump represents what family values has always meant for the reactionary authoritarianism of the conservative movement. This is surely a major reason that evangelicals have supported Trump more than most other Americans.

    Deep down, conservative family values equates to patriarchy. The family, as with the rest of society, is supposed to submit to alpha male authority.


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