It was the kind of moment that could give a network executive a heart attack: Tim Russert and Brian Williams were unintentionally live on mic as music welled and the director readied to cut to commercial.
“Did you see this?” Russert gleefully asked Williams. “It’s unbelievable.”
That was about 9:40, shortly after The New York Times posted an eye-popping un-endorsement of the city’s ex-mayor. And as the debate wrapped up, Williams read Giuliani some choice quotes from the editorial: “They say, quote, ‘The real Mr. Giuliani, who many New Yorkers came to know and mistrust, is a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man His arrogance and bad judgment are breathtaking.’”
Giuliani, as he often does in tough spots, tried to laugh it off. Then he switched to good ol’ routine Times’ bashing.
“I probably never did anything The New York Times suggested I do in eight years as mayor of New York City. And if I did, I wouldn’t be considered a conservative Republican So the reality is that I think there is serious ideological differences.”
Taking on the Times is never a bad idea, if you are a formerly drag-dressing, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-immigration candidate showing off new-and-improved conservative cojones. It separates you from all those latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, and, yes, New York Times-reading freak show types.
And it’s nothing new for Rudy. In an August debate, Giuliani recommended Kenneth Pollack and Micheal O’Hanlon’s infamous “the surge is working” op-ed, but not before getting laughs from the Iowa audience for a mock-disbelieving swipe at the paper. (“Frankly,” he said, “when I read it in the morning, I read it twice, and I checked—New York Times? But it was The New York Times!”)
But what of Giuliani’s suggestion that he and the Times never agreed on anything? Well, in a 1997 editorial, the Times praised the mayor for cleaning up the parks, revamping the police department, cracking mob-shakedowns, improving the tourism and business climate, and lowering taxes, crime, and welfare rolls. (Funny how that sounds an awful lot like his 2008 pitch.)
When could they have possibly found the time to say all those nice things? Well, when The New York Times—wait for it—“enthusiastically” endorsed Rudy Giuliani’s 1997 re-election campaign.
And, no, Giuliani didn’t beg off the Times then. He said he was “very happy” and “very proud” to have gotten the paper’s nod.
Alas, after his 1997 re-election, the paper writes today, Giuliani left the city in financial dire straits, promoted a mob-linked lackey to the top of his administration, and built his fortune and presidential run from the ashes of September 11.
Yes, times have changed.Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.