BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. The sneakiest, really sleaziest way to do a sensational story without appearing to be indulging in sensationalism yourself is to do it as a media story. Here at On the Media we decry that kind of behavior. But can you believe what's going on with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani? Giuliani's prostate cancer, his short-lived run for the Senate against Hillary Clinton and especially his marital woes have placed him front and center in tabloid headlines, on the cover of People Magazine and on network shows like Good Morning, America.
MAN: The cast of characters in this operatic saga include the ailing mayor with the extra-marital appetite and the infamous temper--
MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI: Get lost.
MAN: -- the spurned wife with Hollywood ambition, the girlfriend with no fear of the spotlight and the celebrity divorce lawyer with a habit of saying nasty things about his client's wife.
LAWYER RAOUL FELDER: Apparently they're going to have to pull her kicking and screaming from Gracie Mansion, but somewhere somebody has to say to her get a life.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Stories like Giuliani's draw reporters and their audiences the way the moon pulls the tide. Of course the mayor maintains it's all the media's fault and turns his anger on the reporters.
MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI: Most of the thrust of this is coming from you; not the people that are involved in it. They really would rather not talk about it. But you're relentless. People jump out of cars--virtually people can't go to the bathroom without, you know, being covered. So if you would just back off, then nobody would comment on it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Both the media and the political establishments here say the mayor had it coming. During his 7 year tenure he had systematically shut down smaller city public information offices leaving City Hall the only news source. Then in his daily briefings he would routinely ridicule the press corps for asking inconvenient questions as when this week one reporter asked if he would tell his close associates not to talk about his personal life.
MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI: There's a hypocrisy in your asking me that, and I'm - I don't mean that personally - I mean it as an institution. You are relentless in your quest for information about this. Relentless. So sometimes you get it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Given the mayor's penchant for total control, it's unlikely that any of his associates would have spoken up without his consent, yet all the comments have come from the mayor's side -- most notably from a source, probably his lawyer Raoul Felder, who told the press that cancer treatments had rendered the mayor impotent. Felder also attacked Giuliani's estranged wife as a bad mother who, he said, was quote "screaming like a stuck pig."
PETE HAMILL: The lawyer went into this as if he were invading Normandy instead of trying to settle a dispute between alleged grownups.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Pete Hamill is a novelist, a columnist and a lifelong newspaperman.
PETE HAMILL: So I think the media had to report that -- not so much what was revealed in that field of combat but the fact that it was seen as combat itself!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The battle was joined a year ago when the mayor announced that he was separating from his wife in an impromptu press conference which is how she found out about it. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch.
ED KOCH: It's not the media that created this story or enlarged it; it is Rudy who created and enlarged the story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Koch doesn't deny the media may be taking unusual satisfaction in its job this week, because after nearly two terms in office, the prosecutor-turned-mayor still treats the media as hostile witnesses under cross-examination.
ED KOCH: The press doesn't like him because he doesn't like them! And-- he treats them shabbily and--he intimidates them and goes over their heads to complain when he doesn't agree with them, and there's no question that everybody knew that on the first occasion where they could kick him down the steps, they would!
ELLIS HENNIKEN: It was like a gift, a glorious gift.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ellis Henniken is a columnist for Newsday.
ELLIS HENNIKEN: We knew this. Folks, we've been trying to tell you this stuff for a long time. You didn't want to listen. Now look. Here's the Rudy you thought you loved.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Throughout his tenure when matters such as police shootings and racial tension have called for exquisite sensitivity, Rudy defends the police first and asks questions later. Finally, now that the mayor is a lame duck, a wounded duck in fact and incapable of exacting his usual retribution, the local press has license to report on the Rudy they know. That explains the enthusiasm of people like Henniken. It doesn't explain why the national media have picked it up and run with it --like CNN's Burden of Proof.
ROGER COSSACK: If she feels, as the mother, there's a - that it could be in some ways damaging to the children to suddenly find another woman in their, in their father's life, I mean isn't that something the courts should be concerned with?
MITCHELL MOSS: You bet, and that happens generally with younger children, not with children of this age; and that would also be a more accurate statement, Roger, if we didn't have all this media coverage. There is no question in my mind and I don't think anyone on the show or anyone in the country who's been watching this -- I don't think anyone would question that the children know precisely what's going on in their parents' lives--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mitchell Moss is the head of New York University's Taub Urban Research Center.
MITCHELL MOSS:It's not a surprise that a mayor of New York can attract interest. There's no one in Washington who's so interesting any more; and Rudy fills the vacuum for the nation right now.
ELLIS HENNIKEN: He's not your traditional blow-dry pleasing politician. He's really the opposite of that!
ELLIS HENNIKEN: There is stuff in him, in his character, to admire! But I guess it's the same reason that people are drawn to The Sopranos -- right? -it's the complexity of the character, the sh--now I'm not accusing him of, of, of killing people, but, but the fact that there is all of that good and evil and-- and bullyism and angst all twisted into one is what makes him tremendously fun to cover in New York and I guess to read about other places.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So this story was just too good for us in the media to leave alone. The question is was it as good for you as it was for us?
PETE HAMILL: Somewhere around the beginning of last year Giuliani stopped being a politician and became the subject of a novel.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Journalist and novelist Pete hamill.
PETE HAMILL:The revelations about his father being a gangster; the cancer; the campaign with Hillary that didn't happen and the withdrawal; the love affair; the nastiness of the divorce -- all happened in one year! It was like a Job year. If he turns it into opera [LAUGHS] - Rudy, the Musical - then we're in a lot of trouble.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Nobody can say the sage of Rudy Giuliani is important news. After all the media took plenty of hits for singing the Ballad of Clinton and Monica too much, and that at least had the threat of impeachment to justify the coverage. No, Giuliani's story is simply drama, or more precisely, melodrama. [SOPRANO SINGING OPERA] If there are 8 million stories in the Naked City, the Mayor is supplying roughly half of them.