Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Christian Convictions of the Iron Lady

By Eliza Filby — October 31, 2015

"Economics is the method; the object is to change the soul.” So said Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady always believed that democratic capitalism involved the transformation of values as much as it did the improvement of Britain’s ailing GDP. Yet few people are aware that Thatcher was a woman of profound faith. She had been a lay Methodist preacher while a student at Oxford University. Later, she would transfer this missionary energy from the pulpit to the political podium.

The solid Christian base for Margaret Thatcher’s politics goes back to her strict Methodist upbringing and, more specifically, to her father — greengrocer, councilor, and Wesleyan lay-preacher, Alf Roberts. As a child, Margaret Roberts would sit in the pews of Finkin Street Methodist Church in Grantham, listening to her father hammer home sermons on the individualized nature of faith, God-given free will, moral and fiscal restraint, and the Protestant work ethic. If one were sourcing the origins of Thatcher’s free-market ideology, one should not look to the pages of Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom or Milton Friedman’s monetarist theory, but in the sermons of her father. In short, Thatcherism — a belief in freedom, individual free will, and social responsibility — always owed more to Methodism than to monetarism.
Luckily for historians, Thatcher kept her father’s sermons, which are now housed in her personal archive at Cambridge University. In keeping with the Methodist tradition, the notes reveal an emphasis on the individual call to faith (“The Kingdom of God is within you!”) and the Protestant work ethic (“a lazy man” was one who had “lost his soul already”). Alf Roberts believed that just as “God refuses to put grace on a tariff,” so should there not be any tariffs imposed on the free market. This was a doctrinal legitimation of the “invisible hand,” which his daughter would enunciate with equal passion 40 years later. In Roberts’s view, the real danger in the modern world was not poverty but affluence. “No man’s soul can be satisfied with a materialistic philosophy,” he warned, but only with “the stern discipline and satisfaction of a spiritual life.” The struggle of how to morally square the free market with the materialist culture it created was something Thatcher would wrestle with throughout her premiership.

In the mid 1970s, Thatcher found that the principles of the New Right chimed with the lessons she had heard her father preach from the pulpit. The economic arguments for a smaller state suited her Methodist inclination towards thrift; a stress on individual liberty complemented her Non-conformist grounding in God-given free will; while the idea that employment should be a matter of individual responsibility rather than the state’s mirrored her belief in the Protestant work ethic.

As one of her chief aides Alfred Sherman correctly noted, Margaret Thatcher “was a woman of beliefs, not ideas.” In this, Sherman above all recognized that Christian values and convictions were central to Mrs. Thatcher’s DNA.

Assured of the Christian underpinning of her political philosophy, Thatcher therefore considered it her duty to challenge the perceived association (then being promoted in many Christian churches) between liberal politics and Christian principles. “It was to individuals that the Ten Commandments were addressed,” Margaret Thatcher would retort. She believed that as Christianity called men individually, it followed that political choices should reside with the citizen rather than the state. “The Good Samaritan could only have helped because he had money” was Margaret Thatcher’s response to the idea that redistributive taxation could generate compassion and virtue. For Thatcher, Christian fellowship could only be practiced at an individual level.

Thatcher’s faith also profoundly shaped her outlook on the great cause of the age: the Cold War. Alongside Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, Thatcher played a crucial role in the propaganda offensive against the Eastern Bloc, asserting the moral superiority of Christian Western values against those of atheistic Communism.

During his days as governor of California, Ronald Reagan had mastered the language of conservative Evangelicals and their message of revival and salvation from the pernicious forces of hedonism — which stood him in good stead as president. Regarding his personal faith, Reagan was known to pray regularly, but was not an active churchgoer. It also appears he did not object to his wife’s insistence that they consult an astrologer over his actions and appointments. It was his mother, though — the other great female figure in his life – who had inspired his Christian faith. Nelle Reagan was a committed member of the Disciples of Christ Church in Illinois and would conduct church readings, run Bible study classes, and (it was said) even perform healings. The Bible-based tutelage that Reagan received at the Disciples of Christ Church in Illinois was not a world away from the teaching Margaret Thatcher received at Finkin Street Methodist Church in Grantham.

Speaking in London in 1975, not long before his first bid for the White House, Reagan set out the choice facing the world: “Either we continue the concept that man is a unique being capable of determining his own destiny with dignity and God-given inalienable rights . . . or we admit we are faceless ciphers in a godless collectivist ant heap.” His critics may have dismissed his understanding as simplistic while admirers praised his assured principles. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that Reagan’s worldview was shaped by and articulated in Christian terms.

Margaret Thatcher too was willing to elevate the Cold War into one of values from the moment she became leader of the Conservative party in 1975. “I’m perfectly prepared to fight that battle,” Thatcher enthused to her foreign-policy adviser George Urban. “We’ve got all the truth on our side and all the right arguments.” In 1983, soon after her triumph in the Falklands, Thatcher asserted in her acceptance speech for the Winston Churchill Foundation Award in Washington, D.C., that the Cold War was one chiefly of ideas not weapons:

“If we do not keep alive the flame of freedom that flame will go out, and every noble ideal will die with it. It is not by force of weapons but by force of ideas that we seek to spread liberty to the world’s oppressed.”

For Thatcher, the fight against socialism at home and Communism abroad was a fight for liberty and individual free will. From her earliest childhood, she had always understood these tenets to be central to the Christian faith. Indeed, Thatcher’s father never doubted that totalitarianism amounted to the suppression of God-given free will, which, he said, “can end in the systematic dehumanization of man.” Thatcher gave a similar homily on liberty when in 1989 she delivered an address just as the Communist experiment was being reduced to rubble: “Remove man’s freedom and you dwarf the individual, you devalue his conscience, and you demoralize him.”

It was that moral fervor, rooted in her Christian faith and her father’s principles, which was the source of iron will in the Iron Lady.

— Eliza Filby is a lecturer in contemporary values at King’s College, London. This piece is adapted from her new book, God and Mrs. Thatcher: The Battle for Britain’s Soul. Follow her on Twitter @ElizaFilby.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Book Review: 'Church of Spies' by Mark Riebling

A Black Legend Refuted

Mark Riebling's "Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler" is a beautifully written book which not only defends Pius XII but utterly demolishes the Black Legend in intricate and meticulously documented detail
October 26, 2015

Of the eight Popes who shepherded the Church from 1903 to century’s end, none is so hotly disputed as Pius XII, who reigned from March 2nd, 1939 until his death on October 9th, 1958. At issue is the Pope’s alleged “silence” in the face of the Holocaust. His defenders point out that in reality he was not silent. At the start of World War II Pius authorized Vatican radio to broadcast reports of Nazi atrocities in Poland. These ceased only at the urgent plea of victims reporting that the broadcasts intensified their sufferings.

In 1942 the Pope’s Christmas message spoke of “the hundreds of thousands who, through no fault of their own, and solely because of their nationality and race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction.” Dismissed by his latter day critics as too vague to be understood, the Pope’s words were well understood by the Nazis, who called them “one long attack on everything we stand for. Here he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews ... and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminal.”  The New York Times also understood, commenting: “This Christmas more than ever [Pope Pius XII] is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent.”

At the war’s end Golda Meier (later Israel’s Prime Minister), Albert Einstein, the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and many other Jewish voices applauded Pius for doing what he could to rescue Jews: by providing life saving travel documents, religious disguises, and safekeeping in cloistered monasteries and convents, including the Pope’s own summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, where Jewish babies were born in the Pope’s own bedroom. The Israeli diplomat and scholar Pinchas Lapide commented: “No Pope in history has been thanked more heartily by Jews.” At the Pope’s death in October 1958 the New York Times took three days to print tributes to Pius from New York City rabbis alone.

The chorus of praise fell silent overnight in 1963 with the publication of a pseudo-historical stage play, The Deputy, by a former junior member of the Hitler Youth, Rolf Hochhuth. The play’s scathing indictment portrayed Pius XII as a cold-hearted cynic, more interested in the Vatican’s investment portfolio than in Hitler’s slaughter of European Jews, including those rounded up in Rome under the Pope’s own windows. The play’s message is well conveyed by its final line, in which the German ambassador to the Holy See, Ernst von Weisäcker, telegraphs his superiors in Berlin: "Since further action on the Jewish problem is probably not to be expected here in Rome, it may be assumed that this question, so troublesome to German-Vatican relations, has been disposed of.”

Seldom can a work of fiction have appeared at a time more favorable to its message. The 1960s saw publications by liberal theologians proclaiming “the death of God.” It was also the age of the Youth Revolution, with the slogan, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” A play which purported to unmask one of the world’s leading moral authorities was a godsend to the propagators of these new and exciting ideas.

The bureaucratically organized slaughter of six million Jews was an event so horrible that many people found it difficult to believe that ultimate responsibility belonged to a single individual, Adolf Hitler. Hochhuth helped them come to terms with the inconceivable by assigning co-responsibility to the one man who (Hochhuth’s Black Legend alleged) could have stopped the machinery of death, had he wished to do so: the Pope of Rome. Millions who had never experienced the reign of terror imposed on Europe by the Nazis during World War II, with a totally controlled press and media, and people sent to concentration camps (which often meant death) simply for listening to news reports on British radio, welcomed Hochhuth’s indictment as an aid to understanding an event beyond the limits of what was previously considered possible.

From 1963 onward Hochhuth’s Black Legend has reigned supreme. Accepted by all but a minority of historical scholars, and propagated without reserve by the media, it is still alive and well today. A book published in May of this year, The Pope’s Dilemma by the retired Toronto professor, Jacques Kornberg, accuses Pius XII of “moral failure” for concentrating exclusively during World War II on Church interests, without regard for extra-ecclesial events and concerns.  

Comes now Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling, a blockbuster of a book which not only defends Pius XII (which others have undertaken with varying success) but utterly demolishes the Black Legend by showing in intricate and meticulously documented detail (107 pages of end notes and sources) that from the very start of the war the Pope cooperated secretly with anti-Nazi forces in Hitler’s thousand year Reich who sought, first, to remove the Führer from power; and when that failed, to kill him.  

Appalled by reports of Nazi atrocities in Poland during the first month of occupation – hundreds of priests shot, systematic extermination of Jews forced to dig their own burial trenches, then stripped naked and machine-gunned like sardines in a can; “and in one photo, a police officer shooting a child clamped between his knees” – Pius made up his mind. “He would engage the German military resistance and encourage a military counterrevolution. He would serve as secret foreign agent for the resistance – presenting and guaranteeing its plans to the British. He would partner with the [German] generals not just to stop the war, but to eliminate Nazism by removing Hitler.”

The Pope’s aides were stunned. The highly respected British historian, Owen Chadwick wrote later: “Never before had a Pope engaged so delicately in a conspiracy to overthrow a tyrant by force.” The Pope, his co-workers thought, was going too far. Were Hitler to learn of the pontiff’s role, Hitler would take terrible revenge on Catholics, invade the Vatican, and kidnap the Pope. Later in the war Hitler actually ordered both the invasion and kidnapping, only to be frustrated by his generals’ foot-dragging. 

Central in this complicated and ever shifting story is the devout and heroically courageous German Catholic layman, Josef Müller, described by Riebling as “a big-eared Bavarian book publisher, who puffed a pipe and collected stamps.” We first encounter him on page 2 of the book, standing on April 8th, 1945, beneath a Nazi gallows, just minutes from execution. Only on the book’s final page do we learn how he was saved from this gruesome fate (he died in 1979): through an eleventh-hour phone call from the SS officer Walter Huppenkothen, commander of Hitler’s security guard, yet another secret anti-Nazi, whom Müller had befriended years previously. Müller worked throughout the war with Admiral Canaris, Chief of Hitler’s counter-intelligence network, and his cavalry officer assistant, Colonel Hans Oster. Like a number of those who served Hitler, both men were secret but determined anti-Nazis. All but Müller were executed by the Nazis just before the war’s end.    

Müller was also an airplane pilot. He is estimated to have flown a tiny light plane over the Alps to Merano in northern Italy some 150 times during war with permission of the government he was trying to destroy, carrying communications for the Pope from Hitler’s clandestine enemies. Müller also accompanied the well known German Protestant Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Rome, where the latter met with papal aides in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica.   

Another Protestant who worked with Hitler’s secret enemies was Count Helmut Moltke, called by the American diplomat George Kennan, “the greatest person, morally, and the largest and most enlightened in his concepts that I met on either side of the battle-lines in the Second World War.” Like Canaris and Oster, Moltke held a strategic governmental position in Hitler’s Third Reich, blocking the worst when he could, and paying with his life at the end of the war for his efforts. On the Pentecost weekend of May 22-25, 1942 Moltke hosted a meeting of some twenty people at his east German estate “Kreisau” (the “Kreisau Circle”) to discuss the building of a new “Decent Germany” after the war. Pius XII had helped plan the agenda, and was told about the discussion afterwards.  

Riebling’s book is beautifully written, and reads like a novel. It makes severe demands on the reader nonetheless – due to the large cast of characters, and the fact that almost all of them are engaged in secret deception. Most had code names. Pius XII was “the Chief.”    

Especially moving is Riebling’s account of Josef Müller’s private meeting with Pius XII, at the Pope’s request, on June 1st, 1945, just three weeks after the war’s end in Europe.  “I had hardly crossed the threshold of his study,” Müller wrote, “when the Holy Father approached me, and embraced me.” He could hardly grasp how Müller had escaped. He felt as if his own son had returned from terrible danger.

The Pope put his arm around Müller’s shoulder and seated his guest next to him at a long table, but close, so that they could hold hands. “Pius XII has often been accused of being a proud and detached Roman” Müller wrote afterward, “I saw nothing of that during my audience. … I told Pius of my plans to fashion a new bloc [in Germany] from strong Christians, regardless of denomination, in order to confront collectivism [i.e. Communism]. That he agreed with this idea brought me great joy.”

It remains to pay tribute to Riebling’s publisher. The book’s dust jacket, and the volume itself, are both completely black, save for a silvery partial sketch on the jacket of a sinister looking figure in an over-sized miter, his right hand raised in blessing. It is impossible to overlook this visual reminder of the long flourishing Black Legend which Riebling so successfully demolishes in these riveting pages.

Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler
by Mark Riebling
Basic Books, New York, 2015
375 pages, $29.99.
About the Author
Fr. John Jay Hughes

Fr. John Jay Hughes is a St. Louis priest and Church historian with a special interest in the Church’s confrontation with Hitler. His most recent book is the memoir: No Ordinary Fool: a Testimony to Grace.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Review: 'Dynasty' by Tom Holland

All in the Family

October 16, 2015
Consider the public-relations challenges of the Julio-Claudians, the family that dominated a century of Roman politics beginning in 31 B.C. Their power was nearly unlimited, yet its extent could not be acknowledged, for Rome was officially still a republic without a crowned head. The populace, enthralled by the new celebrity-based style of politics, demanded that the members of the family live in the spotlight, yet their management of the state required subterfuge or outright deception. The palace—a place that could not be so termed, for monarchy was officially deemed a barbarous relic—had to be at once the most open and most tightly sealed of Roman dwellings.
Even while the clan tended its image of authority and probity, dark rumors swirled in the streets. Augustus, the founder of the line, largely escaped the gossip mill, but his wife, Livia, was made out to be a scheming murderess and his daughter Julia a nymphomaniac. Tiberius, his stepson and successor, retired to an island retreat on Capri that was reported to be a den of debauchery. Thereafter Roman scandal-mongers feasted on the sadism of Caligula, the weakness of Claudius, and the pathologies of Nero, ranging from stage-struck artistic delusions to homicidal paranoia. The latter trait impelled Nero to destroy all members of the Julio-Claudian line, such that, after Nero’s own downfall, the dynasty came to a crashing end in A.D. 68 and the Flavians came to power.
Nothing could ever seem innocent or natural in a family such as this. Any deaths in its ranks were assumed to have resulted from foul play (and some perhaps did); close bonds between siblings, or between mothers and sons, were seen as incestuous love affairs (and some perhaps were). The “lurid glamour” of the clan, as Tom Holland terms it in “Dynasty,” became enshrined for posterity in the writings of Tacitus and Suetonius,whose tales were spun into the “I, Claudius” novels of Robert Graves and thence into the BBC miniseries. The Julio-Claudians have thereby become, in Mr. Holland’s words, “the very archetypes of feuding and murderous dynasts”—with cringe-inducing sexual depravities to boot.
This scandal-laden legacy is a boon to modern storytellers but a vexation to historians. Did Nero really set fire to Rome, then strum his lyre as the city burned? His contemporaries believed he did, and the legend still haunts the modern imagination, but the truth will never be clear. Did Caligula really take his sister Drusilla to bed? If so, only two people knew it, and neither was likely to tell. Histories of the period must navigate such dilemmas, “steering a path between the Scylla of flaccid gullibility and the Charybdis of overly muscle-bound scepticism,” as Mr. Holland writes, invoking a metaphor from the classical world he understands so well.
Mr. Holland has a great talent for giving enough forward drive to his story that readers are swept past such difficulties. In his preface he discusses a notorious question mark: the report that Caligula massed his soldiers on Normandy beaches as though for a crossing of the English Channel, then ordered them merely to collect seashells. “Is it true? Did the soldiers really pick up shells?” he asks, without venturing an answer. By the time he comes to the same episode in the body of the book, the question no longer seems to matter. So much else about Caligula—his casual cruelty, his contempt for the flatteries that his own bullying had elicited—has been so convincingly established that the matter of the seashells, still unresolved, passes by unnoticed.
Ultimately it is not the Caesars’ lusts and manias but their relationship to power and violence that interests Mr. Holland, as it did in his first work of nonfiction, “Rubicon” (2003). His section titles here (“Padrone,” “Cosa Nostra”), and his use of words like “consigliere,” configure the Julio-Claudians as Mob bosses, and more disturbing comparisons (“warlord,” “terrorist”) are suggested. In a more charitable mood he calls them the August Family, a term derived from the title Augustus (“Revered One”), which was taken by the founder of the line. The point of such coinages and analogues is that conventional labels—king, general, dictator—cannot be applied to this bunch. They lived outside the constitution and the law; their struggle for legitimacy and control makes them endlessly compelling and surprisingly sympathetic.
Mr. Holland, a classical scholar turned full-time author, has written highly regarded accounts of Roman, Greek, medieval European and early Islamic history and has also translated (less successfully, in my view) the sweeping narrative of Herodotus out of ancient Greek. The canvas of “Dynasty” is his broadest yet, both in terms of time (he begins well before the Julio-Claudians, to show how they arose) and territory. He keeps his eyes trained on the men and women of the August Family even while following events as widely dispersed as Britain, Germany and North Africa. His ability to operate at small and large scale simultaneously—both domi and fores, in Rome and abroad, as Tacitus put it—is one of his great talents.
“Dynasty” offers neither praise nor condemnation of the political system it describes. Like the philosopher Seneca, who wrote in nightmarish tones about Caligula yet exalted Augustus, Mr. Holland draws no general principles about the Roman autocracy but finds a compelling contrast in its “mingling of tyranny and achievement, sadism and glamour, power-lust and celebrity.” Like Seneca, too, Mr. Holland is a consummate wordsmith who delights in verbal chiaroscuro. He writes in one place of the “aureate and superhuman” charisma of Augustus and the “effulgence that haloed” his family; in another, he describes the imperial palace as a place “where monsters of the deep fed on those weaker than themselves and yet were always hungry.”
Mr. Holland in fact takes a strong interest in Seneca, but, surprisingly, holds him to blame for touching off Boudicca’s revolt in Britain (in A.D. 60)—a charge made by only one ancient writer and considered suspect by modern scholars. Mr. Holland very occasionally plays fast and loose with his evidence, but he gets the big things, including the Caesars themselves, very right. “Dynasty” surely secures his place among the foremost writers of popular history practicing today.

Buckley and Vidal: Best of Enemies

October 29, 2015
William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal

In the summer of 1968, ABC ranked so far behind NBC and CBS in the ratings that it was joked that the network came in fourth out of the three. It needed a gimmick to boost it out of the cellar. As the Democratic and Republican national conventions got underway, ABC hired two rapier-witted public intellectuals – William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal – to debate each other on live television. Their explosive sparring propelled ABC News past the competition and transformed public discourse in the process.
Magnolia Pictures has captured this historic showdown in a very entertaining 89-minute documentary called Best of Enemies, which is now available for digital download and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD November 3rd. Featuring some fascinating footage of Buckley and Vidal and interviews with Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens, Dick Cavett, James Wolcott, and others, the movie is highly recommended.
Buckley, of course, was the preeminent conservative commentator, founder of National Review, host of Firing Line, and author of over fifty books including God and Man at Yale. The openly gay leftist polemicist Vidal was a celebrated novelist (Myra BreckenridgeBurrLincoln), playwright, essayist, and harsh critic of American foreign policy. Each of the two pugilistic pundits with their patrician accents and acid tongues saw the other as a threat to American values, and their seething enmity toward each other eventually boiled over shockingly in the course of the ABC debates.
“Buckley was the first modern conservative intellectual to see that ideological debates were cultural debates,” says his biographer Sam Tanenhaus. Vidal too acknowledged that “a cultural war has now joined the race war in the United States… This was the beginning of a war between an old order and what I hoped would be a new order.” In a way, the two men manifested the opposing cultural forces in 1960s American society, and the ABC debates shaped up as a way to determine in microcosm which way the country would turn.
Buckley came prepared to have fun debating the issues, but Vidal came prepared to demonize Buckley in the time-honored manner of leftists even today: as a heartless, greedy, racist, elitist bigot who despised the poor. Buckley was very familiar with this sort of attack, but Vidal knew how to get under his skin, and in the ABC debates he was relentless in creating for viewers a caricature of Buckley as a figure of moneyed white privilege (though Vidal certainly had no less privileged an upbringing himself). He lectured Buckley on the country’s income inequality, to which Buckley replied forcefully that “freedom breeds inequality.” Vidal, as if prescient about the Occupy Wall Street movement, warned his opponent that “you’re going to have a revolution if you don’t give people the things they want… They’re going to come and take it away from you.”
This prospect did unsettle Buckley some, because like all Americans in 1968, he saw cultural standards and traditions breaking down. He reviled what he called a mutinous element of society, and correctly predicted that the issue that would win the 1968 election was law and order.
That point could not have been made more starkly than at the Democratic convention in Chicago, where riot police and protesters clashed infamously. During the continuation of their ABC debates there, Vidal proclaimed the death knell of American empire, as evidenced by Vietnam and this unrest at home. “It’s like living under a Soviet regime here,” he said of the police brutality outside the convention theater. Buckley countered that “despicable” individual acts of police violence did not make a case for institutionalized fascism in America.
The argument escalated quickly into personal insults. Moderator Howard K. Smith tried to intervene and plead for civility, but it was too late. Vidal called his opponent a crypto-Nazi and Buckley lost it. “Now listen, you queer,” he shot back, “stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the Goddamned face and you’ll stay plastered.” A noticeably distressed Smith declared the segment out of time for the evening, and grumbled that “more heat had been shed than light” in the evening’s confrontation. “The network nearly shat” over it, recalled Dick Cavett.
Buckley agonized for months about losing control, asking himself if he could have handled the moment better. He wrote a lengthy self-defense for Esquire, and Vidal responded in kind, suggesting in the course of his piece that Buckley was a latent homosexual. The result was three years of litigation between the two, at the end of which Buckley simply declared victory in a press conference just before the pair actually went to court.
Vidal was wounded by it as well. A confidante comments in the film that Vidal’s obsession with his antagonist ultimately bordered on “Norma Desmond territory” (referring to the insane Sunset Boulevard character), particularly as the novelist’s career lost steam and relevance.
Best of Enemies winds down on a surprisingly poignant note: two brilliant men consumed to the very end with claiming final victory over each other. But the documentary then strays from its charismatic protagonists and tacks on a conclusion about the lamentable current state of televised political commentary. We’re not listening to each other, the movie asserts; each side of the country’s political divide is trapped in its own noisy echo chamber rather than debating and sharing ideas in a common forum like the Buckley-Vidal debates. This is true to some extent but a facile and uninteresting point, and the clip of Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart pleading for more debate and less theater is laugh-out-loud hypocritical – Stewart, the man more responsible than any other for draining intellectual balance from television news and turning it into entertainment.
In any case, both Buckley and Vidal understood, as other intellectuals of the time did not, the value of using television to advance political ideas and philosophies, not to mention their own public personae. And yet both men complained about the medium’s inherent antipathy to intellectualism. Buckley said that there is a conflict of interest between “that which is highly viewable, and that which is highly illuminating.” Vidal wondered aloud whether viewers ever really “heard” the nuances of what was said and if all they did was focus instead on image and impression.
Nonetheless, for better or worse the debates virtually created the familiar TV news model of pundits challenging each other acrimoniously on the hot topics of the day in segments such as 60 Minutes’ “Point/Counterpoint” (Saturday Night Live parodied this trend in a well-known ‘70s skit in which Dan Aykroyd addresses his political opponent Jane Curtin as “Jane, you ignorant slut.”). But hotheaded though they may be, the Geraldo Riveras and Eric Bollings of today are no match for yesterday’s best of enemies, William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal.
Mark Tapson is the editor of and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Film Review: 'Bridge of Spies'


The new Steven Spielberg film, “Bridge of Spies,” begins with a man in a mirror. The man is Colonel Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), and we see three versions of him in one frame: Abel himself, holding a brush; his reflected image; and a self-portrait that he is carefully painting, in oils. The whole thing is not just a dazzling composition with which to kick off a movie but a formal introduction to the world of espionage—a haven for multiple identities. The year is 1957, the winter solstice of the Cold War, and Abel is a Soviet spy. He lives in Brooklyn, and art is both his hobby and his cover story; he sets up an easel beside the Manhattan Bridge and, after a while, feels the underside of the bench on which he sits. There, stuck fast, is a nickel, which he takes home and slits open, like a chocolate penny, along the rim. Inside is a folded slip of paper, covered with code. We are only minutes into the movie, but anyone with a soft spot for tradecraft will already be melting with fascination. Abel, however, has been rumbled. The F.B.I., having observed him as fixedly as we have, bursts in and arrests him. The guy needs legal representation, but who will be man enough, or dumb enough, to defend a Red Menace at a time like this?

Enter James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks). He is an insurance lawyer, but he was on the prosecuting team at the Nuremberg trials, and his peers in the Brooklyn Bar Association have picked him for this thankless task. In the course of it, he will be hectored, repudiated, and gazed at with loathing on the subway; the house where he and his wife, Mary (Amy Ryan), live with their children will be shot at; and he will spend a night in a foreign jail. Nonetheless, by asserting the right of the accused to a fair trial he will uphold the Constitution—or, as he calls it, “the rule book.” In short, the role of Donovan verges on the saintly, and it is Hanks alone who stops it from tipping over. He unstiffens his lines, so that a statement like “The next mistake our countries make could be the last one,” which lesser performers would intone with thin lips and a set jaw, is made to sound as if it just occurred to him, with a rising tone on “last.” Hanks, often musing and always half-amused, hails from the grand rank of actors, like Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, and Joel McCrea, who have mastered the ungrand. They make us believe that oratory, done right, belongs at the dinner table, or behind the counter of a store.

Donovan is not surprised when his client is found guilty, but, rather than quit the field, he battles on: first, by convincing the judge (Dakin Matthews) that imprisonment is more fitting than the death penalty, and, second, by taking the case to the Supreme Court. Donovan’s argument is that Abel is not a traitor but a loyal servant of his country, even if that country is a sworn foe of the United States, and that America has a chance to show its moral colors by treating him as equitably as it would one of its own citizens. (Public opinion, the film implies, is against that basic privilege. Even some other lawyers reckon that it’s time to let the matter drop.) But Donovan makes a further point. Imagine, he says, if an American were to be captured by the Soviet Union. Might Abel not prove handy as a bargaining chip? And lo, it comes to pass. A U-2 spy plane is shot down in Soviet airspace, and the pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), bails out. He is tried, convicted, and interrogated. Each nation now has a man with a head full of sensitive information being held by the other side, and Allen Dulles (Peter McRobbie), the director of the C.I.A., asks Donovan to go to Berlin and arrange a swap. Game on.

All this is recorded history, one of the best recorders being Donovan, whose 1964 book “Strangers on a Bridge” guides us through the saga with a dry and courtly wisdom. (“When a judge compliments you, it usually means you have lost.”) It’s instructive to see how his account has been crunched and compacted into the screenplay for “Bridge of Spies,” which is by Joel and Ethan Coen, in consort with Matt Charman. This is the first occasion on which the Coen Bros. have worked with Spielberg, and it’s a happy merger. You feel a certain tautening of wit, plus a keen and very Coen-like awareness that clichés, which abound in the genre of the spy drama, are there to be flirted with.

Hence a fine scene of Donovan, complete with umbrella and hat, being trailed through the rainy darkness by a similar figure, and crouching down to hide beside a car—a maneuver that gets him precisely nowhere. Then, in Berlin, there is a gang of East German youths whom Donovan encounters in the snow. On the page, he marches through them, but the screenplay adds a mean little twist, by having them issue a threatening demand for his overcoat. He removes it, and spends the rest of the movie with a foul cold. My only regret is that “Bridge of Spies” could not find room for Abel’s cellmate, Vincent J. Squillante, the king of the garbage racket in New York. The spy taught French, apparently, to the Mafia hood. How do you persuade the Coens, connoisseurs of human mismatching, to leave that out?

There is a curious sense of well-being in settling down to “Bridge of Spies.” To place yourself in the hands of Spielberg and Hanks is to be assured of a tale solidly told, however bitter the anxieties of the historical setting. Is it possible, however, that the solid might congeal into the stolid and the dull? Well, the title is a drag, though I guess that “Bridge of the Extremely Capable Insurance Lawyer” would have been too much of a mouthful. And, while Spielberg has shifted in his choice of composer, from John Williams to Thomas Newman, the shift is not far enough. He should have taken his cue from Otto Preminger, who leavened “Anatomy of a Murder,” his courtroom masterwork of 1959, with the music of Duke Ellington. We even saw the Duke onscreen, playing piano with Jimmy Stewart. The lilt and the kick of the soundtrack didn’t compromise that movie. They gave it cool.

“Bridge of Spies” ain’t got that swing, so what’s it all about? It’s not about the U-2 missions, and certainly not about Powers, who comes across as a lunk. Nor, despite the set pieces in court, is it about the majesty of the law. No, the core of this movie is a standoff every bit as keyed up, and as gripping, as anything on the muffled streets of Berlin. What we thrill to is Rylance versus Hanks: the British actor, lauded for his stage appearances, but barely known to cinema audiences, up against the consummate Hollywood pro. You can see them prowling, probing, and wondering what the next move will be—or, in Hanks’s case, wondering whether Rylance will move at all. Admirers of “Wolf Hall,” on PBS, will have noted him as Thomas Cromwell, standing like a statue in the shadows, and realized, to their discomfort, that they could not look away. He does the same thing here, as Abel; we watch him watching everybody else, as if life were an infinity of spies. “You don’t seem alarmed,” Donovan says when they first meet, and Abel replies with a gentle question: “Would it help?” The Coens turn that into a refrain that beats through the movie, growing wryer and funnier each time—right up to the fidgety finale, where Abel is the calmest man in sight. You might suggest that “Bridge of Spies” plays everything a touch safe, and that its encomium to American decency need not be quite so persistent. But when a film is as enjoyable as this one, its timing so sweet, and its atmosphere conjured with such skill, do you really wish to register a complaint? Would it help?

Ted Cruz: A Fresh Approach to American Foreign Policy--and U.S.-Israel Relations

M.Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

US Senator Ted Cruz, the conservative Republican firebrand from Texas, is running for president. Up until a few weeks ago, his candidacy was met with indifference as the media and political operatives all dismissed the viability of his candidacy. But that is beginning to change. The voices arguing that Cruz, the favorite of Tea Party fiscal conservatives and Evangelical Christians may have what it takes to win the Republican nomination have multiplied.
Since arriving in Washington four years ago, Cruz has arguably been Israel’s most avid defender in the Senate. During Operation Protective Edge in July 2014, Cruz used his authority as a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to force the Obama administration to end the Federal Aviation Commission’s ban on US flights to Ben-Gurion Airport. Cruz announced at the time that he would put a hold on all State Department appointments until the administration justified the flight ban.
Rather than defend its position, the administration restored flights to Israel after 36 hours.
Last summer Cruz led the national opposition to US President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. He brought thousands of activists to the Capitol to participate in a rally he organized calling for Congress to vote down the deal. Rather than use the rally as a means to promote himself, Cruz invited Republican front-runner real estate developer Donald Trump to join him at the rally. Trump’s participation ensured that the event received wide coverage from the national media.
I interviewed Cruz by telephone from the campaign trail earlier this week about his views on the purpose of American foreign policy, US-Israel relations, the Iran nuclear deal and the Palestinian conflict with Israel.
The transcript of our conversation follows.
Sen. Cruz, you have managed to anger the two foreign policy wings of your party – the neoconservatives and the isolationists – with your foreign policy positions. How would you describe the rationale behind your foreign policy positions?
Cruz: I believe American foreign policy should be driven by the vital national security interests of our nation. The most central failing of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy is it fails to look to America’s national security interests. And as a result, we have undermined our friendships and alliances across the globe, and we have allowed our enemies to grow stronger in the face of weakness and appeasement.
How does the US alliance with Israel align with that view? A lot of Americans argue that by supporting Israel the US has diminished its capacity to form alliances with the Arab world.
Nobody who understands the reality of foreign policy believes that. That is the view of the Obama administration and the far Left. I think America’s alliance with Israel is overwhelmingly in our national security interest. Israel shares the same democratic values. It has been a tremendously important ally to America in a very troubled region of the world. The military assistance that America provides Israel yields enormous national security benefits to America.
There are some politicians who characterize the United States military aid to Israel as somehow a form of assistance rather than a mutually beneficial military alliance.
I think that stems from a misunderstanding of the fundamental dynamics.
[This week Obama instructed federal agencies to begin suspending economic sanctions on Iran, in conformance with the nuclear deal he concluded with the regime last summer. Cruz argues that the Republicans in Congress have the constitutional authority to prevent Obama from suspending sanctions. He expresses deep frustration with the Republican congressional leadership’s refusal to do so.]
Over a month ago I wrote a detailed letter to [Senate] Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and [House] Speaker John Boehner laying out a specific course of attack to stop this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal. The first step, I believe, is that the majority leader and the speaker of the House should jointly conclude that Obama has not submitted the entire deal to Congress as required by the Congressional Review Act, which explicitly defines the deal to include any and all side agreements.
The side agreements with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] governing the incredibly weak inspection of the regime were not handed over to Congress.
So under the terms of federal law, the deal has not yet been given to Congress, which means the clock for the congressional review has not started. The reason that is important is because under the terms of the Congressional Review Act, it is illegal for the administration to lift the Iran sanctions until the expiration of the congressional review clock. If the clock has not started, then the sanctions cannot be lifted consistent with law.
Now unfortunately we know what the next step will be to that. After six-and-ahalf years we have seen that with President Obama we have a president who has repeatedly ignored and defied federal law.
So we can anticipate that he would do the same here and say that it does not concern him; he intends to lift sanctions anyway.
At that point, what I recommended is that congressional leadership make abundantly clear to each of the banks that is in possession of the frozen billions of dollars that whether or not Obama chooses to disregard or ignore federal law does not exonerate those banks from the obligation to follow binding federal statutes.
And if those banks, contrary to federal law, release billions of dollars to Ayatollah Khamenei, then those banks will face potentially billions of dollars in civil liabilities and even possibly criminal prosecution.
But senator, they didn’t do any of those things.
Caroline, you’re exactly right that congressional leadership refused to do any of this. Likewise, we just had a battle over the continuing resolution [which funds the government without an approved budget]. I urged Congress to fund the entire federal government but deny any federal funds to implement this catastrophic deal. Again Republican leadership refused to do that. So long as Republican leadership is unwilling to use the constitutional authority given to Congress, the Obama administration will move forward with this catastrophic deal.
I will continue to fight on every front to stop this deal. I believe it is the single greatest national security threat facing America – the threat of a nuclear Iran.
And I also agree with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to the nation of Israel. The challenge right now is Republican congressional leadership has been unwilling to use the constitutional authority we have to stop this deal.
If that does not change, then Congress will acquiesce and this deal will go forward for the next 15 months.
This means nothing is more important to stopping a nuclear Iran than the next presidential election in America.
And indeed I believe this issue is becoming the single most important issue in the presidential election. I have pledged that if I am elected president, to rip to shreds this Iranian nuclear deal on my very first day in office and to make abundantly clear that under no circumstances will the nation of Iran, led by a theocratic ayatollah who chants Death to America, be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton is elected president, we know to a virtual metaphysical certainty that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons. And if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, the odds are unacceptable that it will use those weapons, either against Israel or against America.
Over the past 15 years, through its sponsorship of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and occasional support for Fatah, Iran has become a key factor in the Palestinian war against Israel. The nuclear deal, which guarantees Iran will receive hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming years, ensures that Tehran will massively increase its funding for Palestinian terrorism. What we’re now experiencing in Israel may in part be a consequence of the nuclear pact.
How would you characterize the Obama administration’s stewardship of US relations with the Palestinians?
This past this week I publicly called for John Kerry’s resignation as secretary of state. This is the second time I’ve done so. A number of months ago I called for Kerry’s resignation when he wrongfully suggested that Israel could become an apartheid state, which is slander. It is one often repeated by the terrorists, and it should not be coming out of the mouth of a United States secretary of state.
This past week John Kerry and the State Department accused the nation of Israel of terrorism. That is a blatant lie. There is a qualitative difference between antics of Palestinian terrorists murdering innocent women and children in response to the relentless incitement from Hamas, from the PA.
There’s a qualitative difference between that and the IDF defending the safety and security of the nation of Israel.
And John Kerry’s suggestion that they are morally equivalent is wrong, harmful and deeply offensive.
If you are elected president in 2016, what would your relationship be with the PA?
I believe that nobody wants to see peace more than the Israeli people. The barrier to peace is not the government of Israel. The barrier to peace is Palestinians who refuse to renounce terrorism and refuse to even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
As it regards to US policy, I think for far too long, American presidents have attempted to dictate the terms of a peace settlement. In my view, America has no appropriate role dictating the terms of a peace settlement.
If Israel chooses to negotiate and reach a settlement with the Palestinian Authority, that is Israel’s right as a sovereign state, and America can help provide a fair forum for negotiations.
But it is not the role of the American government to attempt to lecture the Israeli people or dictate terms of peace.
No one has a greater incentive to seek peace than the people of Israel, who have lived with the daily threat of rocket attacks or knifings or terrorist bombs.
Do you think a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River is a US interest?
I think that is a question to be decided by the nation of Israel and the Palestinian people.
You don’t think it’s a question for America?
I do not believe the United States should try to dictate the terms of peace. We have seen now for two decades American presidents trying to dictate the terms of peace. And it hasn’t worked.
The Palestinians have turned down every reasonable offer of peace. And I believe America should stand unshakably alongside the nation of Israel. If I am elected president, that is exactly what we will do.
Right now the PA is spending around $150 million a year to pay salaries to convicted terrorists sitting in Israeli prisons. The US gives the PA about $550m. annually. Do you think the US should reconsider its commitment to funding the PA?
Of course we should. The PA has formed a unity government with Hamas. The idea that American taxpayer dollars are going to a government that is in unity with terrorists makes no sense whatsoever. The idea that American taxpayer dollars are going to the PA, which routinely engages in incitement, which celebrates the terrorists who murder women and children, makes no sense whatsoever. We should not be funding people who want to kill us. We should not be funding terrorists.
This goes back to what I mentioned before about the central failing of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy – that it fails to focus on the vital national security interests of America. Funding terrorists is directly contrary to our national security interests and we should not be doing so.
The prevailing wisdom is that building in Israeli communities beyond the 1949 armistice lines causes Palestinian terrorism. Do you accept that?
That is yet one more area in which the Obama-Clinton-Kerry foreign policy is deeply misguided. The question of settlements is a question for Israel as a sovereign nation to decide. I don’t believe an American president should be dictating to the nation of Israel where Israelis can choose to live. And the fact that Israelis choose to live in Judea and Samaria is not justification for terrorism or murder. And it is yet another example of the Obama administration’s repeated false moral equivalency to suggest that it is.
That isn’t just Obama’s position. In the road map peace plan, the Bush administration also called for Israel to revoke Jewish property rights beyond the armistice lines, saying that doing so promotes peace. Do you think that makes sense?
I do not. As I said, my views are markedly different from the Obama administration but also from the Bush administration.
I do not believe the American government should be dictating terms of peace or settlement policy to the nation of Israel. Israel is a sovereign nation.
Israel is our ally. We should stand with Israel. We should not presume to dictate matters of internal governance for the nation of Israel. If I am elected president, we will not do so.
Under the Obama administration, American power in the region has been massively diminished. The power vacuum that followed is now being filled by Russia, Iran, Turkey, Islamic State and others. How would you reassert American leadership, if you become the next president?
I believe one of the most, if not the most important issue in the 2016 presidential elections will be restoring American leadership in the world. That consists of number one, standing by our friends and allies. And number two, standing up to our enemies. In both regards, the Obama-Clinton foreign policy has been deeply misguided. We have proven over and over again to be an unreliable friend to our allies under President Obama. Indeed, as I travel abroad and meet with heads of states, foreign ministers and defense ministers of allies across the world, the message is consistently the same, which is: “Where is America? We cannot do this without America leading in the world.”
And you are right, the consequence of America’s withdrawal from leadership is that it has created a vacuum, and into that vacuum have stepped bad actors like Russia and China and Iran and even ISIS [Islamic State]. That will change on January 20, 2017. As I mentioned, on the first day in office, I will abrogate this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal. Also on the first day of office, I will begin the process of moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the once and eternal capital of Israel.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run (Live Hammersmith Odeon 1975)

A pivotal moment in pop culture: Bruce Springsteen on the covers of Time and Newsweek

By Jim Beckerman
October 25, 2015

Mr. and Mrs. America – meet Bruce Springsteen.

He's "small, tightly-muscled" (Time). "Scruffy" (Newsweek). "A glorified gutter rat from a dying New Jersey resort town who walks with an easy swagger that is part residual stage presence, part boardwalk braggadocio" (Time).

In the history of rock, there are a few legendary breakout moments. There's Elvis on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1956. There's the Beatles arriving at Kennedy Airport in 1964. And there's the amazing day, Oct. 27, 1975 — 40 years ago Tuesday – when Bruce Springsteen appeared simultaneously on the cover of both of the nation's top news magazines, Time and Newsweek.

Amazing, not least, for the members of Springsteen's E Street Band — who found themselves overnight in the world's hottest rock franchise.

"There aren't superlatives you can utilize to tell you what kind of feeling," recalls drummer Max Weinberg, who had joined the E Street Band only a year earlier. "We were young kids, we were in our 20s, it was no secret that [Springsteen's] first two records hadn't really sold. To see that coverage was very exciting."

It may also be the last time in rock history that a single performer galvanized an entire culture.

There would continue to be rock and pop superstars – Prince, Kurt Cobain, Lady Gaga – but their star shine would be diffused, broken up over an increasingly niche-oriented music landscape.

Lots of Americans didn't know who Kurt Cobain was until the day his death was announced: April 5, 1994. But after Oct. 27, 1975, everybody knew who Bruce Springsteen was.

"The Bruce covers were unique," says Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum and the author of "Greetings From E Street: The Story of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band" (2006).

"There had been other pop acts on the cover of Time and Newsweek, but simultaneously?" Santelli says.

There is an inside story here, he says — harking back to the days when journalism, like the music industry, was a more robust institution.

Cultural impact

Time and Newsweek were in neck-and-neck competition for readers, and neither one wanted to miss the Bruce bandwagon – moving at breakneck pace ever since "Born to Run," released Aug. 25, 1975, and hugely hyped by Columbia Records, began climbing the Billboard charts, reaching No. 3 by the weeks of Oct. 11 and 18.

But rock aficionados are one thing, middle America another.

"Neither news magazine wanted to be out-scooped by the other," Santelli says. "The buzz on 'Born to Run' was so powerful, the record had such cultural impact, that both news magazines went out on a limb, putting this relatively unknown pop person on the cover. It was risky. Who knew Bruce Springsteen at that time?"

Some people did, of course. For several years Springsteen had been the darling of a coterie of critics, especially in New York and Boston ("I saw rock-and-roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen" – Jon Landau), despite the lackluster sales of his first two albums, "Greetings From Asbury Park" and "The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle," both released in 1973.

And there had long been a fraternity of diehard Springsteen fans – in New Jersey especially – who had been seeing Bruce in small clubs since the late 1960s and insisting to anyone who would listen that Bruce was the second coming of Dylan, Elvis and Mahatma Gandhi.

For many true believers, the week when the rest of America suddenly learned of their hero was a sublime told-you-so moment. Added to which was a huge dollop of Jersey pride.

"There was a tremendous sense of ownership," recalls Eileen Chapman, who lived in Asbury Park at the time (she's now the manager of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection for Monmouth University).

"All of Bruce's fans and friends were running around showing each other the magazine covers," Chapman remembers. "Everybody was very proud of what Bruce had accomplished."

So who was this Bruce Springsteen that the folks in the dentist's office in Dubuque, and the magazine-browsers in the supermarket lines in Topeka, read about in 1975?

"Street smart but sentimental," proclaimed Time's article. "The wild onstage energy of a pinball rebounding off invisible flippers." "A dervish leaping on the tables, all arms and flailing dance steps, and a rock poet as well." A rocker who leaves audiences "exhausted and on fire at the end of a concert."

A rapturous article, as only Time could write them, "The Backstreet Phantom of Rock" (unsigned, but apparently written by Jay Cocks) captured the giddy excitement that Springsteen seemed to generate in his live appearances.

Newsweek's article, "The Making of a Rock Star" (by "Maureen Orth with Janet Huck in New York and Peter S. Greenberg in Los Angeles") was more cynical, using words like "hysteria" and "hype" and asking whether Springsteen wasn't, after all, a flash in the pan, another Gary Glitter or Barnaby Bye (who?) or Judi Pulver (who?).

Like Time, but more insistently, it talked about the massive publicity buildup around Springsteen's career and new album, propelled by "abrasive" manager Mike Appel (whom Springsteen was to break with shortly after) and the Columbia label.

"Some people are asking whether Bruce Springsteen will be the biggest superstar or the biggest hype of the '70s," Newsweek said.

Junk-food junkie

Hindsight is 20-20. But it has to be said that Springsteen's career over the last four decades has – ironically — been a lot healthier than Newsweek's. His next release, "The Ties That Bind: The River Collection," a four-CD set, is due out Dec. 4. Newsweek ceased print publication in 2012, and though it returned to the newsstands in 2014, it's hardly what it was 40 years ago.

Other fun facts we learned from the two national magazines? Springsteen was a junk-food junkie.

"Nicknamed 'the Gut Bomb King' because of his passion for junk food, he would show up at a Monopoly tourney with armfuls of Pepsi's and Drake's cakes" (Time). This was before the Gut Bomb King became The Boss — with a Gold's Gym body he's kept well into his 60s.

We learned that Springsteen's fans were "teeny boppers" (Newsweek) and "not teeny boppers" (Time). That the name "Springsteen" is "Dutch" (Time, correct) and "German" (Newsweek, incorrect). That he lives at the Jersey shore in "comfortable – but not lavish – quarters" (Time) and "it's likely he'll end up with a movie contract" (Newsweek).

Also, "a typical gig lasts over two hours" (Time). They of course couldn't have predicted the marathon Springsteen concerts to come – like the record-breaking four-hour-six-minute show Springsteen did, as part of his 2012 "Wrecking Ball" tour, in Helsinki.

"In summer [in Finland], darkness is, like, two hours," Weinberg recalls. "It was light when we started. It got dark, and then when we finished, it was light again."

There was one person who may not have been entirely happy about the Time and Newsweek coverage in 1975, Santelli says. That's Springsteen.

"He didn't think this was a beautiful thing that happened to him," Santelli says. "He thought wow, this is incredible pressure on me. Talk about the weight on his shoulders."

The Newsweek article, especially, had an emperor's-new-clothes undertone, for all the extravagant prose. In the months following "Born to Run" and the two magazine covers, there started to be a backlash to all of Columbia's promotional overkill. Some critics were throwing the term "new Dylan" in Springsteen's face.

Something to prove?

The beneficiaries of all this, Santelli says, were the fans. In his "Born to Run" era concerts, Springsteen went onstage like he had something to prove. The resulting performances, Santelli says, were some of his best ever.

"The greatest shows occurred immediately after that, in 1975, 1976," he says. "I walked out of there, it was like going to church."

The ultimate comment, however, came from the critic who was perhaps hardest to please. Douglas Frederick Springsteen would later become the subject of Springsteen's autobiographical song about fathers and sons, "Adam Raised a Cain." His response to the 1975 Time and Newsweek media blitz was laconic, Weinberg reports.

"His father had the best line of all," Weinberg says. "He said, 'Better you than another picture of the president.' Nixon was going through all his stuff at that point."