Friday, February 09, 2018

Six Degrees to the Steele Memo

Reading the Sunday paper is now one of the lost pleasures of American life.  As an only child, I didn't have to fight over who got to read the comics page first, but once finished, I would sometimes have to wait for my father to finish the sports and editorial pages.  While waiting, I often found myself reading Parade Magazine, a Sunday supplement that came with virtually every metropolitan daily's Sunday edition.  The articles in Parade were generally this weird mixture of Reader's Digest fare, celebrity puff profiles, and less than profound world events.  The heart of reading Parade was really the inner cover that had a bunch of photos and celebrity gossip, which was attributed to Water Scott.  The Walter Scott thing was a precursor to both People Magazine and TMZ, though far gentler than the latter.

Before my sophomore year of college, I took a cross country car trip with a good friend in my family's Mazda RX4 rotary engined station wagon. We stayed in campgrounds and more frequently at the homes of people who we barely knew or whom our parents barely knew. When we got to Washington D.C. , Richard Nixon was on the brink of resigning.  We stayed in Georgetown in the apartment of the son of a friend of my friend's father who lived in Pacific Palisades.  My friend told me that they sometimes played tennis at their house.  I mostly remember that the son of the friend of the friend's father knew a lot about what was happening with these last stages of Watergate that wasn't in the papers.  In addition, it turned out that his family ran Parade Magazine and, much to my delight, I discovered that while his father usually wrote under the pseudonym, the son of the friend of the friend's father sometimes was Walter Scott.  Mostly though, he was a very gracious host who patiently helped us figure out our route to Charleston, South Carolina. Our host was Cody Shearer.

I hadn't thought much about Cody Shearer for 40+ years until his name popped up in the news as the author of a second "dossier" that brought up some of the same concerns about Donald Trump as the far more prominent Steele dossier.  Since that time, Shearer's name has been showing up in the right wing press a lot, where he's being accused of being a hatchet man for the Clintons who both nearly re-ignited hostilities in Bosnia and  either dug  up dirt on various Bill Clinton alleged paramours or threatened them in ways you only see in bad spy movies.  It also struck me that Cody Shearer is now around 70 years old and this is the only time I've, personally, seen his name bubble up into news.

I think back about Walter Scott and Parade which both live on. The celebrity/news mix of the Walter Scott items were more or less the stem cells for what is today's blend of infotainment and fake news.  It's just that back then, most of us treated it as a guilty Sunday morning pleasure, rather than something that would inform our votes about matters of global importance.  We understood that they were meant to be "filler" for the Sunday paper hour, the alternative to church for non-religious households like mine. 

What I also remember about Cody Shearer was that he was clearly a very bright man who seemed preternaturally well informed.  He was a young guy  then -- though a few years older than two sophomores to be at the time -- who seemed to be looking forward to a more serious career in journalism than Parade and Walter Scott; none of us have any control over what our parent's business either public or private turns out to be.  Depending on one's political perspective, he may be one of the heroes who may yet save us from Donald Trump and the Russians, a kind of Paul Revere in secret memo form or some sort of Gringott's troll for the Clintons' nefarious scheme to control the world by getting people to donate to their foundation while personally enriching themselves. 

I don't know which of these two poles is closer to the truth.  I'm not a great judge of character, even when it comes to judging my own.  Still my memory of my host in Washington D.C. that summer of 1974 (strange how there's both a Watergate connection and a Trump-Russia tie running through this) was that this was a very earnest guy who was less into the gossip than he was into ensuring that our system ran right.  If I had to guess, Cody Shearer's memo, the one that even journalists don't seem to have seen, is based on real sources.  Oddly, I also think he might have been uniquely qualified to ferret some of these things out. 

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