Reporting: Writings from the " New Yorker "

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9780330443999: Reporting: Writings from the

From one of the most gifted and widely read journalists at work today, a volume that collects the best of his pieces from The New Yorker over the last fifteen years. David Remnick is fascinated by the men and women obsessed with creating the history of our era as well as those intent on chronicling it. Public figures rarely step away from their public selves. But Remnick has the ability to see the private self beneath the public façade and give readers startling glimpses of familiar figures: Al Gore attacking George Bush as he tries to make sense of his incomprehensible loss in the 2000 election, Tony Blair struggling for votes in the midst of the Iraq crisis.

In Reporting, Remnick returns to two countries he knows well, Russia and Israel. His account of Vladimir Putin contending with Gorbachev’s legacy affords a fresh view of postcommunist Russia; his appraisals of Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, and Sari Nusseibeh of the P.L.O. shed unexpected light on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Often, Remnick’s intent is to see someone up close, if only for a moment in time: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as he packs his bags to return to Russia, Václav Havel as he prepares to end his career as President of the Czech Republic.

Whether David Remnick is writing about Katharine Graham and the state of American newspapers, the literary visions of Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, or the decline and fall of Mike Tyson and the sport of boxing, his powers of observation, analysis, compassion, and wit are always present. Reporting is confirmation of Remnick’s skill at writing insightful and influential political and cultural narratives, and of his unique gift for bringing his subjects to life on the page with extraordinary clarity and depth.

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About the Author:

David Remnick was a reporter for The Washington Post from 1982 to 1991 and joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1992. He has been the editor of the magazine since 1998.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Wilderness Campaign:

Al Gore

Hey, Dwayne? . . . Dwayne?”

“Yes, Mr. Vice-President?”

“Could I have some more coffee?”

“Yes, Mr. Vice-President. Coming . . .”

“Thanks, Dwayne.”

It was ten in the morning in Nashville, a quiet weekday, with most of the neighbors off to work, and Albert Gore, Jr., sat at the head of his dining-room table eating breakfast. His plate was crowded with scrambled eggs, bacon, toast. His pond-size mug had, in a flash, been refilled by Dwayne Kemp, his cook, a skilled and graceful man who had been employed by the Gores when, as his boss often puts it, “we were still working in the White House.” Freshly showered and shaved, Gore was wearing a midnight-blue shirt and gray wool trousers. In the months after losing the battle for Florida’s electoral votes and conceding the Presidency to George W. Bush, on December 13, 2000, Gore seemed to let himself go, dropping out of sight, traveling around Spain, Italy, and Greece for six weeks with his wife, Tipper. He wore dark glasses and a baseball cap tugged down low. He grew a mountain-man beard and gained weight. When he began appearing in public again, mainly in classrooms, he took to introducing himself by saying, “Hi, I’m Al Gore. I used to be the next President of the United States.” People looked at this rather bulky and hirsute man—a politician who had only recently won 50,999,897 votes for the Presidency, more than any Democrat in history, more than any candidate in history except Ronald Reagan in 1984, and more than half a million more votes than the man who assumed the office—and did not know quite what to feel or how to behave, and so they cooperated in his elaborate self-deprecations. They laughed at his jokes, as if to help him erase what everyone understood to be a disappointment of historic proportions—“the heartbreak of a lifetime,” as Karenna, the eldest of his four children, put it. “You know the old saying,” Gore told one audience after another. “You win some, you lose some—and then there’s that little-known third category.”

Gore has since dispensed with the beard but not the weight. He is still thick around the middle. He eats quickly and thoroughly, and with a determined relish, precisely like a man who no longer has to care that he might look heavy on Larry King Live. “You want some eggs?” he asked. “Dwayne’s the best.”

This has been the first election season in a generation in which Al Gore has not pursued national office. He ran for President in 1988, when he was thirty-nine; for Vice-President, on Bill Clinton’s ticket, in 1992 and 1996; and then again for President in 2000. Having decided that a rematch against Bush would be too divisive (or, perhaps, too difficult), Gore has made an effort not to brood on the sidelines. Instead, he used words like “liberated” and “free” with a determined conviction to describe his inner condition. He was free of the burden, free of the pressure, free of the camera’s eye. At home in Nashville, the phone barely rang. There were no advance people at the door, no aides at his shoulder. He could say what he wanted and it hardly made a ripple in the media. If he felt like calling George Bush a “moral coward,” if he felt like comparing Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib to islands in an “American gulag” or the President’s media operatives to “digital Brown Shirts,” well, he just went ahead and did it. No worries, no hesitation. True, at noon at the Belcourt Theatre, he was to deliver a speech to a group called the Music Row Democrats, but the only cameras were likely to be local. He jokingly outlined the speech on a small notepad with just two words: “war” and “economy.”

When Al and Tipper Gore had recovered from the initial shock of the 2000 election, they spent $2.3 million on the house they live in now: a hundred-year-old colonial on Lynwood Boulevard, in the Belle Meade section of Nashville. They still own a place in Arlington, Virginia—a house that was built by Tipper’s grandfather—and a ninety-acre cattle farm in the Gore family seat of Carthage, Tennessee; but Arlington was perilously close to Washington, and Carthage was too remote for a full-time residence, especially for Tipper. Belle Meade, which resembles Buckhead, in Atlanta, or Mountain Brook, near Birmingham, is a prosperous redoubt for businessmen and country-music stars; it encompasses a neighborhood of broad, sloping lawns, and houses with magnolia trees and “estate” driveways up front and glassy modern additions and swimming pools out back. Chet Atkins used to be a neighbor; Leon Russell still is. Some of the features of the house, which the couple expanded with the help of an architect, are distinctly Gore-ish: Tipper’s full drum set, in the living room (complete with congas); Al’s grip-and-grin photographs with the Clintons and world leaders, along the walls. There are fewer books and more televisions than you might expect. When the architect was designing the rear addition to the house, Gore asked him to curve the walls inward in two places in order to save several trees. “The trees weren’t anything special, nothing rare or anything,” he said. “I just couldn’t bear to bring ’em down.” In the backyard, around the patio and the extra-long pool, where Al and Tipper do laps, Gore also installed an anti-bug system that sprays a fine mist of ground chrysanthemums from various discreet sources: a tree trunk, a patio wall. “The mosquitoes just hate it,” he said. Other features of the house are less environmentally correct. A 2004 black Cadillac, which Gore drives, was parked in the driveway. A ’65 Mustang—a Valentine’s Day gift from Al to Tipper—was parked in the garage.

Gore finished his eggs. He walked to a covered patio on the side of the house and settled into a soft chair. Dwayne brought his coffee cup and refilled it.

Gore has hardly been a recluse since deciding, in late 2002, not to run again. In the past year, he has delivered a series of speeches in New York and Washington sharply criticizing the Bush Administration, but he has answered few questions. “It’s better that way for a while,” he said. He has given speeches for money all around the world. And he is teaching courses, mainly about the intersection of community and the American family, at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, and Fisk University, in Nashville.

“We’ve got about forty hours of lectures and classes on tape,” Gore said, deadpan. “Now’s your chance to watch them.”

Gore is beginning to make serious money. He is a board member for Apple and a senior adviser to Google, which just went through its IPO. He has also been working on creating a cable-television station and developing a financial enterprise.

“I’m having a blast,” he said.

In a parliamentary system, a candidate for Prime Minister, after losing an election, often returns to the party leadership or at least to a prominent seat in parliament. It doesn’t work that way in the United States. Here, you make your own way: you give speeches, write memoirs, accumulate a fortune, find a righteous cause. Sometimes a reporter might come calling, but not often. In any case, Donna Brazile, Gore’s campaign manager in 2000, said, “When it was over, the Democratic Party kicked him to the curb,” preferring to forget not only the Florida catastrophe but also Gore’s own misplays: his mutating personality in the three debates with Bush; his reliance on political consultants; his inability to exploit Bill Clinton’s enduring popularity and his failure to win Clinton’s Arkansas, much less Tennessee; his decision not to press immediately for a statewide recount in Florida. Now, everywhere he goes, Gore is faced with crowds who despair of the Bush Administration and see in him all that might have been, all the what-ifs. The heartbreak of a lifetime. Sometimes people approach him and address him as “Mr. President.” Some try to cheer him up and tell him, “We know you really won.” Some tilt their heads, affecting a look of grave sympathy, as if he had just lost a family member. He has to face not only his own regrets; he is forever the mirror of others’. A lesser man would have done far worse than grow a beard and put on a few pounds.

Consider the expectations: more than Franklin Roosevelt, or even John F. Kennedy, Gore was raised to be President. His father, Albert Gore, Sr., a senator who was known to look as noble as a Roman statesman, expected it of him. When Gore’s mother was pregnant with Al, Gore Senior told the editors of the Nashville Tennessean that if his wife gave birth to a boy he didn’t want to see the story tucked deep in the paper. After Al was born, the headline read, well, mr. gore, here he is, on page 1. Six years later, the Senator planted a story in the Knoxville News Sentinel about how young Al had coaxed his father into buying him a more expensive bow-and-arrow set than they had planned to get. “There may be another Gore on the way toward the political pinnacle,” the story said. “He’s just six years old now. But with his experiences to date, who knows what may happen.” By the time Gore made it to Harvard (the only school he applied to), he was informing his class of his ultimate ambition. His first run, in 1988, after he had spent just a few years in the Senate, was less an act of youthful presumption than a hurried attempt to win t...

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