The Buzz, 3-14: All the news that's fit to spit∗
Sheriff Spitzer, friend of Dance, hounded out of town by the Gray Lady
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2008 Paul Ben-Itzak
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In the Spring of 2002, when the Martha Graham Dance Company was taken to federal court by Martha Graham heir Ron Protas in what became a battle for control of the greatest legacy in modern dance, the MGDC didn't have a lot of resources but it had one powerful and credible friend: Eliot Spitzer. Seeing clearly that the state of New York and the public it represented had an interest in the future of the work of Martha Graham, the then attorney general signed the state on as intervener on the side of the defendant Martha Graham company. As Marla Simpson, the assistant AG representing Spitzer in court, told me at the time: "This is a tremendous New York City-based institution that we believe is the true owner of the rights." Spitzer's support was critical in convincing the court not just of the right of one party over another to the work, but of the right of the public and specifically the New York public to this heritage. (Today, thanks to the court's decision, ten of the works are in the public domain and can thus be performed anywhere for free.) Notable among those working against the Graham company was the New York Times, whose embarrassingly biased coverage in favor of Protas created an additional hurdle for the rightful inheritors of Martha as they sought to garner public support. The Times more or less successfully spun the case in the court of public opinion as a battle over choreographers' rights to control their own work. The implied counter-argument that the attorney general's presence on the side of the Graham company presented was that as Graham had received tax benefits when she established the Graham company as a non-profit entity, the state effectively had an investment in her work.
That's the dance angle which, I believe, merits my weighing in on Spitzer's being drummed out of office as New York's governor this week for hiring high-priced call girls, with the NY Times banging the drum the most loudly. (There are also my unique credentials as a commentator on the career of Eliot Spitzer, having covered the beginning of its trajectory, when Spitzer was president of the Princeton student government and I an editor of the independent campus paper, the Nassau Weekly.)
Spitzer's support for the underdog against the self-interested Protas was in character, because in fact, his central contribution to public life in New York and indeed the U.S. over the past decade has been to fight for the little guy against corporate greed. And now, largely because of America's hypocritical obsession with sex, he has been hounded out of office for hiring a prostitute. (And other, more important stories, hounded off the Times's front page; why was this former paragon of journalism devoting more space to the call girl's MySpace than, say, the White House's attempts to downplay a Pentagon report confirming that the alleged ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda used to justify an illegal invasion that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives did not exist?)
Some may say well no, it's not the call girl, it's the hypocrisy. Point taken, but who, who exactly is the NY Times to throw stones, after enabling the Bush-Cheney lies that got us into Iraq? And why was the NY Times calling for the resignation of an official for hiring a prostitute and not that of an official who last week vetoed a bill that would have prohibited us from torturing people?
∗With apologies to Bill Sokol.