Monday, October 31, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Women on the beat

Winslow Homer, Civil War Christmas, 1861.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Would You Spend $500,000 for a Night With Justin Bieber? In Miami Beach? On New Year's Eve?  Also — The Amazing Daredevil Women of Early Journalism. And Cher, Still All In For Hillary.

“MY Dear Brother: I wish I was there.

“I wish I could see you all.

“I would willingly make you a dozen sleighs.”

That was the last page of a letter written by a 21-year-old soldier, Nelson Shephard, fighting for the North during the Civil War. He was spending his second Christmas away from home.  It was his final missive to his family, and his younger brother.
Civil War soldiers writing letters.
This comes from Franz Lidz’s potent and heartbreaking article “Special Delivery” in the current issue of The Smithsonian magazine.

The issue, with a cover illustration of a perplexed-looking George Washington (peering over sunglasses) concerns itself with “Secrets of American History.”

There are articles about fake Russian FBI agents ... what became of U.S. military interpreters ... Ulysses S. Grant’s brutal broken promises to the Lakota Indians of South Dakota ... how John Adams “outed” the scandal of Thomas Jefferson and his slave-mistress Sally Hemings.

Fascinating stuff, cover to cover. But the tale of the young soldier, and his wish to go home for Christmas and make presents for his brother, just stopped me cold.  Call me a rank sentimentalist — go ahead.  It took me a few minutes to collect myself and read on.  Although there was no happy ending.

I was reminded heavily of Winston Churchill’s famous remark: “Old men make war, young men fight and die.”

I suppose such things are on my mind as we speed toward a new president in an increasingly unstable world.
In the field, the crate often became a makeshift table, perfect for letter writing. (Claire Rosen)
(Illustration by Johanna Goodman. Source Material: Library of Congress; Public Domain - NYPL)
HOWEVER, there is a story in the new Smithsonian magazine that is far cheerier and more than that, empowering — Kim Todd’s “Those Magnificent Women and Their Typing Machines.”

This tells the pretty-much-forgotten saga of daredevil “stunt” reporters around the turn of the 20th century — women who went undercover as mentally unstable to reveal the conditions in hospitals, who passed themselves off as sweatshop workers to report on abuses. One in particular, known only under her Chicago Times byline “Girl Reporter” is the primary focus of Ms. Todd’s article. 

“Girl Reporter” went out claiming to be pregnant and desperate, looking to get an abortion. The result was a sensational series of revelations — naming the doctors who would, those who wouldn’t. Although the editorial slant of the paper was anti-abortion — this was 1888 — the series highlighted just how many women found themselves in this predicament (a lot!) Where were the men responsible?  What about rape? Long before radio, TV and the Internet this was what we’d now call “a teachable moment.” 

Annie Laurie was Winifred Sweet.
Elizabeth Cochrane went by Nellie Bly.
Girl Reporter herself, though never identified by name — wrote sensitively of a change in attitude as she went about in her deception; toward the benighted women, the doctors (mercenary, sympathetic or moralizing) and her own sense of self. She became unsure as she proceeded; pretending to be someone she wasn’t, in a predicament she wasn’t experiencing. 

The article encapsulates the phenomenon of female “stunt” reporters — Nellie Bly and Annie Laurie were two of the most well-known. In time, the sensational phase wore out, and the women’s efforts dismissed and made to seem absurd.   But, these independent pioneers in petticoats were not only the forbears of “real” journalists (from Janet Flanner to Lillian Hellman to Christiane Amanapour) but their work, often dangerous, was “the precursor to full-scale investigative reporting.” 

Hollywood has, from time to time, paid homage (usually comic) to the first women “on the beat.”  But after reading this story, I think it’s time for “Girl Reporter” and her sisters to have their serious moment onscreen.
WE ARE pretty much down to the wire as far as the election goes, but Cher, for one, is still out there stumping for Hillary Clinton.

On November 3rd somewhere in Manhattan, Cher will appear at a “Hillary Victory Fund” event.  It’s called “Love Trumps Hate” and you just know that was the ever-outspoken Cher’s idea. (If Cher has one thing in common with Mr. Trump it’s a dislike of too much political correctness.  She always says what she means and means what she says. Candid and forthright.  However, if she thinks she’s gone too far or made a mistake, she’ll apologize, with sincerity, because she is a really nice, compassionate person.)
You can participate in this event as a Friend, Fighter, Co-Host or Host.  Access to Cher and the reception depends on how much you can donate to the cause. (Co-Host and Host get you closer to the pop icon, and hopefully a few drinks and snacks!)

For info on this event, wherever it is in New York City, contact or call 646-647-2740. 
HOWEVER, if you want to spend your money in a different manner, how about this?

On New Year’s Eve, the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach is offering the “ultimate” VIP experience with Justin Bieber, Skrillex and Marshmello. (Please, of course I don’t know who the other two are!)
You will have the “best table” at Justin’s poolside performance, an “exclusive” table for whatever Skrillex does, enjoy time on a private yacht with Marshmello. This VIP package includes penthouse accommodations for ten, deluxe dinners, the use of “supercars” such as a Lamborghini Aventador Roadster.  As for the day after, you’ll be offered a “specially curated” breakfast, a Bloody Mary bar and a two-hour spa treatment.  There are other delights but I think you get the message. 
You decide —is this worth half a million bucks for one night and a few songs?
Anyway, for the pleasure of being in the presence of Mr. Bieber and friends, driving a car, sailing on a boat, getting a massage and mixing vodka and tomato juice you pay a mere $500,000. 

Justin is a very cute little exhibitionist, but unless he is offering much, much more than vocalizing, I think I’ll pass; just watch the Times Square ball drop, and check in to see what Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin are up to.
ENDQUOTES: From Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi: “Trump can’t win. Our national experiment can’t end because one aging narcissist got bored of sex and food. Not even America deserves that. But that doesn’t mean we come out ahead. We’re more divided than ever, sicker than ever, dumber than ever. And there’s no reason to think it won’t be worse the next time.”

William Falk, Editor-in-chief of The Week: “Still, after just a few more weeks of misery, the survivor of this Shakespearean tragedy will be elected president. Will the victor think it was all worth it — especially since the inquisitions and hatred will have just begun?”
And from The Editors of The New Yorker: “On November 8th, barring some astonishment, the people of the United States will, after two-hundred and forty years, send a woman to the White House.”

“Barring some astonishment ...”  Yes, indeed. The New Yorker piece, and even Matt Taibbi’s article which was titled “The Fury and Failure of Trump” do not seem to recognize the danger of too much optimism, which leads to complacency among the choir to whom they are preaching. 

I say, vote and gird your loins. It would be an unhappy day (in my opinion) if Hillary Clinton doesn’t win. But, I am also not “barring astonishment.” 

That is foolish in a world where anything can happen. Look what has already happened!

Contact Liz here.