Friday, June 10, 2011

Newt, the alien & me

I’m rooting for Newt Gingrich to overcome his myriad stumbles and do well in his run for the GOP nomination.
Gingrich and I share a natural affinity.
We both grew up in Pennsylvania. We both enjoy history. He loves zoos and I’m a party animal.
The Gingrich campaign is in the news today because a whole bunch of people I don’t know and certainly wouldn’t like have abandoned Newt.
Gingrich has vowed to press on. I hope he does.
The race for the GOP nomination promises to be one of the most odd, shrill and self-defeating political events any of us has ever witnessed and a bombastic gasbag like Gingrich only adds to the folly.
Really, in this race with no clear favorite, absolutely anything could happen.
An unknown might emerge. Strange alliances may be fostered. An alien endorsement could vault an underdog straight to the nomination.
And when I say alien, I’m not talking Sarah Palin.
Many people have forgotten the pivotal role a politically motivated extra-terrestrial named P’lod used to play in American politics.
That was back in the 1990s when the Weekly World News was still a supermarket staple setting brilliant new standards in news gathering.
“When a woman calls and tells me her toaster is talking to her, I don’t diagnose a mental health disorder. I tell her to put the toaster on the phone.”
To me, that may be the most succinct statement of journalistic purity ever uttered.
I heard it from an actual Weekly World News reporter in a tavern in Lantana, Florida, where both the Enquirer and the Weekly World News shared a building (it was the building that was poisoned in the surreal first anthrax attack in 2001).
I was an Enquirer correspondent from 1992-2000. It couldn’t have been more fun and every six months or so they’d fly me to Florida for two weeks. There may have been some practical reason for the junkets, but it wound up being purely social.
Each and every day reporters from all the various tabloids would gather at the same divey bar and try and outdo each other with stories from the world’s most raucous outlaw publications.
Hands down, the winners were always guys from the Weekly World News (sample headline: “Baby Born With Wooden Leg!”).
There was BatBoy, Bigfoot, and the alien P’lod and his uncanny ashtray-sized eye for picking presidential winners. For years, I had a WWN t-shirt featuring the 1992 cover of the one where P’lod correctly picked Bill Clinton who exalted, “I’m glad he saw through Bush and Perot!”
I always think of that wise alien anytime Gingrich’s name pops up.
It was 1995, just after Gingrich’s late mother Kathleen made headlines for whispering to Connie Chung that Newt thought Hillary Clinton was -- shhh! -- a “bitch.”
It ignited a huge controversy.
It was into this hornet’s nest I was thrust. The Enquirer had a tip that a family housekeeper was seducing Momma Gingrich with a wacky religion as a way to steal thousands of dollars.
It was one of the most hostile interview situations I’ve ever endured.
Not because of Kathleen, who was perfectly pleasant. No, it was because of Gingrich’s step-father, Robert, who’d become an impromptu media critic.
He kept glaring at me and asking insinuating questions about my background, my politics and who the utterly apolitical Enquirer’d endorsed the previous election.
I began to believe he’d never read a single newspaper when he asked if The Enquirer was the paper that had run the picture of Newt with an alien.
“No, sir,” I said. “That was The New York Times.”
The tip we had turned out to be untrue. We never wrote anything about the rumor.
Kathleen Gingrich died in 2007. I don’t know what happened to Robert, but Newt everyday does something to, well, alienate conservatives who for more than 25 years have been assuring us that Gingrich is a genius exemplar of the whole movement.
As for P’lod, who knows?
I hope he still has something to say. I hope he has guidance to offer. I hope there’s at least one journalist out there who’s not so cynical as to disregard the insights of a savvy old alien.
And I hope the talking toaster lets him get a word in edgewise.

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