In a startling and unexpected turn of events, I was
granted the opportunity to interview over lunch the two top journalists of the
New York Times, Steven Wackenhut and Jody Faelton, with Barbara Goodish and
Rashid Owst of the Washington Post standing by for moral support of its sister
publication and who will write their own accounts of the interview. A somewhat
incestuous zeitgeist, I thought, but there it is. The subject was the terrorist
attack on the French newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, and the murder of twelve of its
staff, together with three other terrorist incidents in Paris, including the gratuitous
 murder of a French policewoman and two
hostage-takings by Islamic terrorists.
What I focused on was the Times’ report of January
7th, “’Dangerous
Moment’ For Europe, as Fear and Resentment Grow
,” which nattered on about
the rising anti-Islam and anti-Muslim immigration feelings among non-Muslims in
Europe. While Mr. Wackenhut and Miss Faelton did not write the story, they did
not seem in the least uncomfortable with the idea of discussing another
reporter’s story,  after we had
established our talking points over the phone.
I had wanted to interview the actual authors,
Steven Erlanger and Katrin Bennhold, but was told by Mr.  Wackenhut that they were unavailable for an
interview, having been sent to Buffalo to report on the lake effect on that snow-bound
city. I had been told by Mr. Wackenhut over the phone that being assigned a
story in Buffalo was tantamount to being sent to Beirut, Lebanon, or some other
strife-ridden foreign capital. “They were very excited about the assignment,”
remarked Wackenhut over the line.
We were seated around an indoor café table in Le
Occupé Bagatelle, quiet, a tony, secluded bistro just a block away from the
garishly anonymous headquarters of the New York Times on Times Square. The
place was once a tawdry pornography and sex toy arcade, one of many such
enterprises which once populated Times Square and 42nd Street before the Square
was Disneyfied. Here a glass of Evian mineral water goes for $7.50, and a
minuscule chunk of Angus prime, about the size of my palm, topped with a
handful of off-color Brussels sprouts or some other hapless vegetable, will
sock you at $35.00, not including side dishes (or tax, or gratuity). We
loosened up with some pungent house wine (“from our deepest cellar,” the wine
list read), at $11.00 a shot glass. I gather that meant the basement. God knows
whatever else was still aging down there.
Mr. Wackenhut is head of the overseas desk, having
been the Times’ deputy bureau chief in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for several years,
and then senior correspondent in Berlin and Buenos Aires. Miss Faelton has
written about political and social women’s issues her entire career, first for
the Bismarck, North Dakota Bugle, then as foreign editor for the Arkansas Yahoo,
before moving to the Times as women’s issues editor.
I did not enquire into the journalistic antecedents
of the Post’s Goodish and Owst.
I let the Times and the Post engage in their tech
talk and journalistic camaraderie before the waiter took our drink and lunch
orders. I didn’t want to frighten them yet with my extraordinary and soul-scouring
questions. They were a jolly group and I was reluctant to spoil the mood. I
sipped my mineral water. I’d already finished the colored vinegar.
At one point, Mr. Wackenhut said with a chuckle and
in an execrable French accent, “My nickname for Ulaanbaatar was ‘Oulan-Bator,’ or ‘Ooh-la-la! That’s better!’”
The Post pair giggled. I guess they thought it was a
sexual innuendo. Or something equally lascivious. But it was lost on me.
Jody Faelton scowled and replied, “You told me once
it was ‘Oh, my ulcerous bladder!’”
Mr. Wackenhut sighed and shook his head. “Oh, it
was that, at times, Jo. That Mongolian rotgut they call a native port there
really kept me jumping up to excuse myself. It was a lot like seasickness.”
“You must’ve drunk the water, too!” ventured Rashid
Owst with a snicker. Barbara Goodish slapped her colleague on the back with a
peal of laughter. Owst, I noted, wore a Keffiyah with an American flag pin
affixed to one of its folds.
The humor was over my head. There was more of that
kind of banter until our orders came. In a show of gourmandish  unity, the four journalists each had the
shepherd’s pie lamb ragout.
I had the mesquite-roasted chicken breast, which
was really quite good, all three forkfuls. It must have been a very small
chicken. I didn’t touch the limp-looking rabbit food on the side. I finished
first, and sat twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my guests to look up from their
ragouts.
The four scribes finally finished them with a
chorus of smacking lips. I took out my tape recorder and planted it on the
table. I pressed the button. “Let’s get down to business,” I said.
“Hold on,” said Wackenhut, pushing his plate away
with a burp. “Who’s paying for this party? I forgot to ask over the phone.”
I shook my head. “The New York Times. It’ll be getting
free publicity from this interview. The least it can do is pay for the lunch.
It’ll come at the price of a quarter-inch ad in the obituaries.”
Wackenhut signaled the waiter. He ordered a bottle
of Glenlivet. “Four glasses, and leave the bottle,” he said. “Put it on the
same Times tab.” The waiter rushed a way.
“All right,” said Wackenhut with reluctance and a
frown. “We’re talking about a tab of a grand tab here, you know, but…Shoot.” He
held up a hand. “Wait. You’re not going to be hostile, are you?”
“That depends on your answers.”
“I mean, you’re not going to pull a number on the Grey
Lady like that bald guy does on The
Revolting Truth
all the time?”
“Yeah, Cliff Clavin,” chimed Jody Faelton. “He’s
always calling us a ‘former newspaper.’ How insulting!” 
“No, the bald guy is Andrew Klaven.  Cliff Clavin was that jerk mailman barfly in
‘Cheers.’” said Goodish.
Wackenhut smirked. “Same intellectual class, as far
as I’m concerned. And those gaudy shirts of his give me Tylenol head storms. He
needs a fashion consultant.”
“And maybe a hair piece,” giggled Barbara Goodish.
Faelton leaned closer to me. “You know, we’re
thinking of filing a blasphemy suit against Klaven. You can’t go around
slandering the Grey Lady, just as you can’t go making fun of Mohammad. She’s an
icon. A goddess. You can’t disrespect her. Been around for over a century and a
half. Well, not as long as Mohammad, but, still….” She paused and shook her
head.  “We are privileged, you know, exempt
from such cruel mockery. There ought to be a law.”
“Let’s stay focused, people,” I interjected.
Wackenhut and Faelton looked slightly offended, but
sat back in their chairs and looked serious.
“Now,” I began, “that ‘Dangerous Moment’ piece your
people wrote, seemed more about the paper’s worry that Europeans are getting
fed up with their government’s immigration policies that seem to favor immigrants
than it was about twelve of your journalist colleagues being murdered in cold
blood – “
“Asylum seekers,” Wackenhut interrupted.
“Freedom lovers,” Faelton added.
“Refugees,” said Goodish.
“Displaced persons,” insisted Owst.
“ – and afford those immigrants favorable terms and
treatment,” I continued,  “over the
people who’re expected to ‘tolerate’ them with no evidence of reciprocation on
the part of the Muslims and to foot the bill – “
Wackenhut interrupted again. “Asylum seekers.”
I held up my own hand. “Allow me to quote from the
article in question,” I said, pulling out a marked-up clipping of the article.
“’The sophisticated, military-style strike Wednesday on a French newspaper known for
satirizing Islam staggered a continent already seething with anti-immigrant
sentiments in some quarters, feeding far-right nationalist parties like France’s National Front.’”
“Fascists!” barked Wackenhut. “I saw those 27,000
Dresden Pedidas practicing their goose-steps!”
“Right-wingers full of hate!” chimed Faelton. “Clinging
to their wallets and purses!”
“Far right fanatical bigots!” said Owst. “They’ve
planted burning crosses on Muslim lawns, and in front of mosques!”
“Racists!” said Goodish. “The videos of whites
fighting back against their refugee gangs were disgusting!”
Owst added, “We’re steeling ourselves for the first
massive anti-Muslim backlash. I’ve seen secret photos of those bigots fondling
their whips!”
I asked, “Why use the term ‘seething’? It connotes
an unreasoning emotional response to a threat, in this instance, of the
swamping of a civilized society, with the connivance of a government, with
adherents of an ideology that permits no tolerance or criticism of that
ideology – “
“Islam is a religion of peace,” said Wackenhut
calmly. “Any acts of violent extremism committed by Muslims in Germany or
France or Britain or Spain or Belgium have nothing to do with Islam. They’re
committed by renegade Muslims who’ve never read the Koran.”
I made a face. “Even when they quote verses from
the Koran, and post them on Facebook or in tweets?”
“Imposters!” said Owst.
“Phonies!” agreed Goodish.
“Mental patients!” echoed Faelton.
“Anyone can read the Koran!” said Wackenhut. “That
doesn’t prove anything! I mean, if I quoted repeatedly from Catcher in the Rye, does that mean I’m a
Salingerite?”
“ – when it’s actually Muslims who are emotionally
motivated to attack non-Muslims, or non-Muslims who say something derogatory about
Mohammad or who mock Islam’s purported peaceful nature,” I continued, finishing
my observation. “There are so many buttons to push in the average Muslim mind I’m
surprised that so many Muslims just sit on the sidelines and quietly perform
cheerleading sets, because it would be difficult for their cheerleaders to perform
leg-splits and pyramids sheathed in burqas and chadors. Difficult, and comic.
Worthy of a Monty Python skit.”
Owst scowled. “That’s not funny!”
“It wasn’t meant to be.” I sat back in my chair. “As
for charges of racism, it’s Muslims who practice it, as when they consistently
and repeatedly attack Caucasian men and women and Jews and even Hindus.”
Faelton’s face grew ugly and she glared at me. “Eight times more
Muslims have been killed by so-called Islamic terrorists than non-Muslims! J.K.
Rowling said so!”
I shrugged. “If that statistic is true, it simply points to the
internal Hatfield-McCoy conflict within Islam, that’s all. The Sunshine Sunnis
hating the Shady Shi’ites and vice versa. Salacious Salafists at fisticuffs
with the Awesome Alawhites. In terms of fundamentals, it’s all one and the same
show. Between the sects, details of doctrinal differences are irrelevant. All Muslims
wear aluminum skullcaps.”
All four journalists pursed their bottom lips in a collective pout and
pummeled me with their baleful expressions. I  grinned and leaned forward. “I should add that
the Post ran its own ‘anti-immigration fears’ piece, yesterday, ‘Far
right in Europe sees opportunity after wave of terror in France
.’” I took
out another clipping and read from the first paragraph: “The wave of terror
that left 17 people dead in and around Paris has ushered in a new sense of
insecurity across Europe – but also what could be a defining moment for the anti-immigration,
anti-Islam forces of the far right.” I tucked the clipping away. “So, on one
hand there’s a ‘dangerous moment,’ and on the other a ‘defining moment.’  Copasetic to the extreme, even to the contents
of the two articles. An indecent instance of being on the same page.”
The two pairs of rival journalists glared at each other.
“Copycat!” sneered Wackenhut.
“Monkey see, monkey do!” Barbara Goodish shouted back.
I could see that my interview was going nowhere except to the realm of
the invective. The minds of these alleged journalists were so battened down in
their insulating narrative they were incapable of answering objectively any objectively
posed questions. These people were reason- and fact-proof. But, I gave them one
more chance. “Mr.  Wackenhut,” I began, “what
is the Times’ position on President Barack Obama not attending the massive Je suis Charlie  march in Paris last Sunday, and insulting the
French by watching football playoffs instead?” Not  that I put much faith into the march, but I didn’t
say that.
Wackenhut wagged a finger at me. “We’ve taken him to  task on many occasions for his poor optics,”
he said. “Time after time, he walks right into bad picture, on the golf course,
in the Rose Garden, at Wendy’s. And then he too often hams it up, like he was
playing a planned prank on everyone.”
“And he can’t sing, either,” said Faelton. “He really ought to stay
away from karaoke. It’s all taking a toll on his poll numbers and eating into
his popularity.”
Rashid Owst opined with a sigh, “If only the man didn’t seem to take
pleasure in flaunting his incompetence.” He paused and shook his head. “Even at
golf, never mind debt management and foreign policy.”
That was the first intelligent remark I heard from anyone during the
interview. I made it the last. I turned off the recorder, tossed down the last
drops of the Glenlivet, and rose, knowing it was pointless to go on.  I said, “Thank you for your time. I’ve had
enough.”
I turned and left the company.  I
was desperate for a smoke. But a few feet from the front door I encountered a
man in a French Foreign Legion uniform being escorted to a table by the maitre ‘d.
He looked a little stocky for a Legionnaire, having a barrel chest under a beribboned
and be-medaled tunic.  A fleeting memory
of Buster
Crabbe
and La
Boudin
(The Sausage) crossed my mind.
As I went out the door, I heard someone yell, “Mohammad is avenged!!
Allahu Akbar!!”
The blast propelled me clear down to Herald Square, and I landed in the
lap of Horace Greeley.  
Bronze hurts.
 The pain caused me to wake up in
a cold sweat.