Harlot’s Web

The software soon arrived in the mail. But it didn’t work. And the dealer that had sold it no longer existed. No Web page, no address, no recourse for Ms. Fischer and certainly no money back. She called the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) but no one knew where the company had gone, where it had… Read more »

Guinea Pigs

As the Nazi doctors knew well, there’s a seductive inverse relationship in human experiments: the less you protect the particular humans you study, the more you can learn about humans in general. Systematic near-freezing of Jews in concentration camps taught the German Luftwaffe a lot about staving off hypothermia, which was crucial for their pilots… Read more »

Asleep on the Beat

When Newt Gingrich and his fellow Republicans forced a temporary government shutdown in late 1995, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner scored points for the president by warning that “the environmental cop is not on the beat.” Her warning worked. The image of government standing idly by while corporate polluters fouled the air and water… Read more »

What Was Really Great About The Great Society

If there is a prize for the political scam of the 20th century, it should go to the conservatives for propagating as conventional wisdom that the Great Society programs of the 1960s were a misguided and failed social experiment that wasted taxpayers’ money. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, from 1963 when… Read more »

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Harry McPherson has a copy of The Nation lying on his expansive desk in his corner office at Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand in downtown Washington. The magazine subscription is a gift from his daughter, an amulet meant to ward off the evils lurking in her dad’s chosen profession. The subscription, McPherson says, smiling,… Read more »

You’ve Got a Long Way to Go

Overshadowing that insight is a curious irony: On Self Respect first appeared in the pages of Vogue. While Didion’s essay explained that a sense of self-worth had nothing to do with the perceptions of others, the magazine insinuated that external image was everything. For the young women who picked up that 1961 edition of the… Read more »

The Stiff Man Has A Spine

There seems to be an unwritten rule in newsrooms today: A mention of Al Gore is incomplete without a reference to his wooden presence. “[M]ost of the press about Gore on the stump could run under the headline ‘Stiff man still stiff,’” Melinda Henneberger observed in The New York Times. Gail Collins remarked on Gore’s… Read more »

The Washington Monthly

In 1986, Robert Berman, then a senior economist at the Interior Department, got a memo from the office of Gray Davis, then the Controller for the state of California. California was concerned it was getting underpaid by oil companies who were drilling for oil on public land. Berman looked into the issue, and, as he… Read more »

The Washington Monthly

If Stephen King were to write a novel about the federal government, he could scarcely do any better than the tome that landed on President Clinton’s desk on June 15. The Report of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board was destined to be grim reading: Its authors were asked to look into security lapses at… Read more »

The Washington Monthly

Recently at one of those chin-stroking sessions about how the press can do a better job of covering government, I piped up and said, “Well, it might help a bit if the government did a better job of telling its story in the first place.” In the days since, I have been thinking more seriously… Read more »