Graydon Carter

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During the odious Presidential election season, I quipped that Trump’s campaign might land him in the Oval Office or a prison cell or perhaps both. Everything is still on the table.

Terrible things are happening in the country, but they’re nothing compared to what’s coming. Francis Fukuyama may be cheered that our checks and balances are neutralizing the autocratic aims of a Commander-in-Chief who wants to run NATO the way Gotti ran Queens–a debatable point–but that doesn’t mean the orange supremacist and his Rasputin of Seinfeld residuals, Steve Bannon, won’t leave in their wake a shocking death toll. Utter incompetence, incomparable ignorance, disastrous diplomacy, putrid policy and rampant kleptocracy will leave us vulnerable on many fronts. The results will be felt across decades though sometimes they’ll just suddenly go boom. 

We’re a joke now, but it’s no laughing matter.

In a wonderfully worded Vanity Fair “Hive” piece, Graydon Carter dissects this Madoff-magnitude Presidency, while Roger Cohen of the New York Times analyzes how the dysfunction and dishonesty are playing out on the world stage.

From Carter:

It can reasonably be said that our dear leader is now the most ridiculed man on the planet. In fact, he may well be the most ridiculed man in history. For a preening narcissist who takes himself terribly seriously, being the butt of the joke heard round the world has got to hurt. The handpicked assortment of craven nitwits and supplicants that he has surrounded himself with have valiantly tried to insulate him from the derision. But they’re only human. Your heart has to go out to the ones doing the heavy lifting: banty Sean Spicer, the M. C. Escher of the English language, and Kellyanne Conway, the president’s temperament fluffer. (Look away from CNN, Mr. President. There’s something shiny and bright over there!) Engaging as it is to watch these overworked mouthpieces, I fear their days must be numbered. Comments about microwaves that turn into spy cameras and what should be understood when the president puts words in quotation marks are having minimal effect in reducing the scorn heaped upon their boss. Hats off to them for their tenacity, but no amount of spin is going to change the fact that the Trump White House, like the company its inhabitant has run for the past four decades, continues to be a shambolic mess.

Trump’s one brief moment of acting presidential—when he read off a teleprompter for 60 minutes and 10 seconds during his address to Congress—served only to show just how low the bar for presidential behavior has plummeted since January. Watching TV commentators applaud him for containing himself for a little over an hour was like hearing a parent praise a difficult child for not pooping in his pants during a pre-school interview. Besides, vintage Trump is not going anywhere anytime soon. A couple of weeks earlier, during a visit by the Japanese prime minister, Shinzō Abe, the president told an acquaintance that he was obsessed with the translator’s breasts—although he expressed this in his own, fragrant fashion.

Trump may be a joke, but the chaos and destructive forces around him are not.•

From Cohen:

When Donald Trump met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He wanted money — piles of it — for Germany’s defense, raged about the financial killing China was making from last year’s Paris climate accord and kept “frequently and brutally changing the subject when not interested, which was the case with the European Union.”

This was the summation provided to me by a senior European diplomat briefed on the meeting. Trump’s preparedness was roughly that of a fourth grader. He began the conversation by telling Merkel that Germany owes the United States hundreds of billions of dollars for defending it through NATO, and concluded by saying, “You are terrific” but still owe all that dough. Little else concerned him.

Trump knew nothing of the proposed European-American deal known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, little about Russian aggression in Ukraine or the Minsk agreements, and was so scatterbrained that German officials concluded that the president’s daughter Ivanka, who had no formal reason to be there, was the more prepared and helpful. (Invited by Merkel, Ivanka will attend a summit on women’s empowerment in Berlin next month.)

Merkel is not one to fuss. But Trump’s behavior appalled her entourage and reinforced a conclusion already reached about this presidency in several European capitals: It is possible to do business with Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but these officials are flying blind because above them at the White House rages a whirlwind of incompetence and ignorance. 

Trump’s United States of America has become an unserious country, the offender of the free world.•

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It was dismaying that so soon after the New Yorker EIC David Remnick rightly implored Americans, especially those in the media, to not normalize the newly elected demagogic President, that Condé Nast’s top editors assembled for an off-the-record meeting with the then-PEOTUS. No, they didn’t make the perp walk to Trump Tower, allowing themselves to be papped like Dapper Dons being ushered into a precinct house, but they still were used to create a business-as-usual climate for a mudslide of a man.

In his latest smart missive about his longtime nemesis for the Vanity Fair “Hive” vertical, Graydon Carter makes clear he wasn’t on board with the gathering with the Juggalo, writing: “The get-together was off the record. (Not my wish. Nor was the meeting itself.).” Have to assume his fellow top-of-the-masthead colleagues concur with that sentiment, though I wish they’d pushed back more forcefully at the powers-that-be. A for-publication summit would have likely only elicited lies, but at least it would have been journalism done correctly.

Carter is a realist in knowing the freshly minted Administration may hurt Americans who can least withstand more body blows (Farewell, Obamacare), but he remains optimistic that the truth will be the inveterate liar’s undoing. 

Perhaps. While Donald Trump may be a sociopath, it takes a village to create a tyrant. He didn’t build it alone. He may have been put over the top by struggling folks in the Rust Belt who think he’s something he’s not, but most of his voters were not conned. Plenty of wealthy peopleChristian conservatives and intellectual frauds supported him knowing exactly what they were getting. They approve.

From Carter:

Trump’s messy birdcage of a mind careens from one random thought to the next. He likes to strut and talk big-league. One of his ongoing observations—in tweets and elsewhere—is that “many people” have been calling him “the Ernest Hemingway of Twitter!” These are presumably people who have never read one of Hemingway’s books. In manner and execution, and in his almost touching desire to be liked, Trump comes across not as larger than life but as one of the smaller people on the world stage. He always had a sort of oafish charisma: as we used to say at Spy, a hustler on his best behavior. In small groups, as many can attest, he has mastered the salesman’s trick of creating faux sincerity and intimacy when answering a question by including the first name of the person who asked it. But no amount of grifter charm can conceal his alarming disregard for facts and truth. It’s this combination of utter ignorance and complete certitude that his detractors find most terrifying. Trump not only doesn’t know the unknowns but appears to have no interest in even knowing the knowns. Fact-checkers can’t keep up. How often does Obama play golf? Who cares—let’s inflate the number by 50 percent. What’s the murder rate in a major American city? What the hell—let’s multiply it by 10. The writer Michael O’Donoghue used to say that the definition of insanity is the length of time it takes for a lie to be uncovered. The shorter the period, the crazier you are. By this standard, our president will be setting a new threshold for that definition.•

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Somewhere prominent in the annals of great insults is “short-fingered vulgarian,” an enduring epithet repeatedly spit in the face of the hideous hotelier Donald Trump from the wonderfully poisonous pages of Spy. The aggrieved party wiped the saliva from his cheek with his wee baby hands, but he couldn’t forgive or forget this taunt for all times.

The description may not possess the extreme brevity of the Beckett curse “critic” or the Reagan Era diminution of “liberal,” but it’s a gift that keeps on giving, long after the end of the Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen publication or the heyday of the Magazine Age itself. The lacerating line reemerged in major way earlier this year when a variant of it was employed by Presidential aspirant Marco Rubio, a rare moment of momentum for the Little Marco that couldn’t.

The slight had its genesis in a 1983 GQ feature about the orange supremacist penned by Carter. It was then a simple observation which surprisingly began a war of words between the men, and though the editor was pretty much forced occasionally to accept the status of bemused frenemy, most of the time Trump wanted to wrap his hands around the journalist’s neck, if only it were anatomically possible.

In an excellent Vanity Fair “Hive” piece, Carter analyzes this Baba Booey of a campaign season, while revealing that an unintended consequence of the profile he penned 33 years ago may have been that it abetted the political ascent of Bull Connor as a condo salesman. The opening:

In 1987, Michael Kelly, later a celebrated editor but at the time a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, took Fawn Hall, a secretary to Oliver North, as his guest to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Hall had been caught up in the whole Iran-contra scandal, and her arrival shocked the swells of Washington, who were used to seeing business, political, sports, and movie grandees on the arms of major news organizations. Thus began a tradition of media companies prowling the nether regions of their coverage to come up with the tabloid oddity of the moment for their novelty guest.

Novelty guests don’t know they’re novelty guests. They just think they’re guests. That evening in May 1993, Vanity Fair had two tables and we filled them with the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Bob Shrum, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, Peggy Noonan, Tipper Gore, and Vendela Kirsebom, a Swedish model who professionally went by her first name and who was then at or near the top of the catwalk heap. I sat Trump beside Vendela, thinking that she would get a kick out of him. This was not the case. After 45 minutes she came over to my table, almost in tears, and pleaded with me to move her. It seems that Trump had spent his entire time with her assaying the “tits” and legs of the other female guests and asking how they measured up to those of other women, including his wife. “He is,” she told me, in words that seemed familiar, “the most vulgar man I have ever met.”

The next time I saw Trump in that giant ballroom of the Washington Hilton was in 2011. This time he had come as the guest of Washington Post heiress Lally Weymouth. It was at the beginning of Trump’s lunatic “birther” rampage, and he was probably quite pleased with himself at being in the midst of all this sequined ersatz Washington glamour. Much as Trump loves to be the center of attention, the attention he got that night didn’t go according to plan. First, President Obama ridiculed him mercilessly from the dais. The fact that the president’s birther tormentor was in the room appeared to give him a lift—he was seriously funny and his timing was flawless. Then the evening’s headliner, Seth Meyers, stood up and really went to town on Trump. Weymouth’s table was right beside us, so I got a ringside view of the poor fellow as he just sat there, stony-faced and steaming—and of course unaware, like everyone else, that while Obama was launching his jokes he was also launching the attack that would kill Osama bin Laden. To think that next spring Trump could be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner as the commander in chief renders one almost speechless.

My relationship with Trump, if you could call it a relationship, goes back more than three decades. I first met him in 1983, when I was reporting a story I was doing on him for GQ magazine. Trump was eager for the national attention that a big article in a national magazine could bring, and so we spent a good deal of time together. There were a number of aspects of the resulting story that he hated, including, but not limited to, an observation that he had remarkably small (if neatly groomed) hands.

This summer, The New Yorker published a story by Jane Mayer about Tony Schwartz, the co-author of Trump’s book Trump: The Art of the Deal. Mayer wrote that that issue of GQ, with Trump on the cover, was a huge best-seller. She reported that this sale encouraged S. I. Newhouse Jr., the proprietor of this magazine (as well as of The New Yorker), to urge the editors of Random House (which he also owned) to sign Trump up for a book. Which they did. The trouble with this narrative is that the Trump issue of GQ sold hardly at all. At least in the traditional way. Word was, the copies had been bought by him—Trump had sent a contingent out to buy up as many as they could get their hands on. The apparent intention, in those pre-Internet days, was to keep the story away from prying eyes.•

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So glad Vanity Fair is a vital, lively thing again, no mean feat to accomplish during the media’s winter of discontent. The magazine has always published some great articles in the Graydon Carter years, but for awhile it began to feel like the house organ of the Kennedy Administration, an odd choice for this millennium. With what appears to be the same people atop the masthead, the title reinvented itself for the Digital Age. Good work by all involved.

Nick Bilton, a recent hire at VF, weighs in on the Peter Thiel-Gawker contretemps, applying lessons learned from the ugly gamesmanship more broadly, examining how wealth inequality plus Silicon Valley hubris is a danger of some degree to democracy. The Libertarian billionaire and freshly minted Trump delegate may be elated over forcing Gawker into bankruptcy, but he’s proven to be a very good argument for a return to the Eisenhower era’s draconian progressive tax rates. The arrogance isn’t limited to the politically dicey and thin-skinned, either. Even a seemingly progressive person like Elon Musk believes he should decide what type of government Mars should have. How nice for him.

The former NYT scribe came to realize Thiel’s lack of empathy when he visited the Paypal co-founder’s home for a dinner gathering of business and media types and was subjected to the host’s weird diet of the moment. A petty complaint perhaps but a telling one when applied to matters of greater importance. An excerpt:

I was struck by a profound epiphany about Silicon Valley: Thiel, in many ways, sums up the entire mentality of the tech industry. He doesn’t necessarily care what other people want; if Thiel is on a weird and special diet, then we should all be on a weird and special diet. If Thiel thinks that people shouldn’t go to college because it’s a waste of time, as he’s said innumerable times before—regardless of the way such a decision could affect people’s lives in the future—then we are all fools for not dropping out. (Thiel, for what it is worth, has a B.A. and law degree from Stanford.)

If Thiel thinks people who wear suits are “bad at sales and worse at tech,” then you better change your sartorial choices. Go buy a hoodie; look the part. And if Thiel wants to disrupt how Washington works, he will become a delegate for Donald Trump. If he thinks that a blog called Gawker shouldn’t exist, then he will try to eradicate it. (Thiel did not return my request to comment for this article.)

I’m not telling this story to defend Gawker. I personally feel that citing the First Amendment to justify outing someone as gay (as Gawker did to Thiel, in 2007), or publishing a sex tape as “news” (as the site billed its Hulk Hogan scoop), is heinous. But the First Amendment in our country says the press has certain rights. That’s the law. As citizens, we have to abide by it.

But reality doesn’t seem to be the case for some of the elite in Silicon Valley. They play by their own rules. There is, of course, a positive side to all of this. These so-called disruptors have given us the iPhone and Uber and PayPal. But there is also a darker side, too—and we’re really starting to see those forces at work now. For a long time, technology pundits have wondered what will happen to the relatively young, very rich, Silicon Valley elite after they leave the companies that they created, and that made them wildly and incomprehensibly rich. What does Mark Zuckerberg, who is just 32, do after Facebook? Where does Travis Kalanick, 39, go after he’s done at Uber? What about all the young V.C.s in their 30s and 40s worth hundreds of millions?

These aren’t the kind of people who simply retire on a beach and sip Soylent through a thin straw.•

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Donald Trump, who stinks, believes it’s okay to falsely accuse others of failing at things he himself has actually failed at. Magazine editor Graydon Carter has pointed out Trump’s boorish, bigoted behavior at Spy and Vanity Fair, so Trump thought he would take a couple of potshots at him.


Donald J. Trump ‏@realDonaldTrump
How is @VanityFair editor Graydon Carter allowed to run bad food restaurant Beatrice Inn? Fire Graydon!

Afflictor: If there’s one thing Donald knows about, it’s bad food.


Donald J. Trump ‏@realDonaldTrump
@VanityFair looks like a dying magazine! Really really boring, really really thin!
Afflictor: If there’s another thing Donald knows about, it’s dying magazines.

Of course, Donald Trump may just be stressed out these days because he’s so busy answering the many letters he receives from fans.


Donald J. Trump ‏@realDonaldTrump
Thousands of fans have been sending letters to Trump Tower in anticipation of @CelebApprentice. Really good show.



Dear Donald, Whenever I watch Celebrity Apprentice, my anal hair becomes irritated. Please advise. Sincerely, Mr. Cuddles.

Dear Cuddles,

Listen, Cuddles, I’m sure there’s an ointment for that. Or perhaps you could shave your ass. Most of my fans are ass-shavers.

Any time I turn on Celebrity Apprentice rats commence to gnawing on my balls. William

My good man, Any time I turn on Celebrity Apprentice, rats commence to gnawing on my balls. Yours, William.

Dear Cuddles,

Willie, I would suggest you to pick up a bottle of Donald Trump Ball Spray for Men.

Available at Macy's and other

Available at Macy’s and other high-end dealers of ball spray.

Can I use it on my irritable ass hair?

Can I use it on my irritable ass hair?

Not unless you have balls in your ass.

Not unless you have balls in your ass.

Oh, I do!

Oh, I do!

My vagina gets sleepy whenever I watch

Dear Mr. Trump, My vagina gets sleepy whenever I watch Celebrity Apprentice. Can you help?

A lively snatch is important.

Perhaps you could visualize me waving money around to perk up your hoo haa. That seems to work with the women in my life. Or maybe it could be another business opportunity for me.

Available at Macy's and other

Donald Trump’s Snatch Spray for Women. Available at Macy’s and other fine dealers of ladypart squirts.

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Hillary Clinton gets the Marilyn Monroe treatment. (Image by "Spy.")

The entire run of satirical magazine Spy, which was to the ’80s and early ’90s as the Daily Show is to this dumb day, is now on Google Books. You can read any of its issues here. From the Google Books introduction of the magazine that Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen made and which made them:

“Smart. Funny. Fearless. ‘It’s pretty safe to say that Spy was the most influential magazine of the 1980s. It might have remade New York’s cultural landscape; it definitely changed the whole tone of magazine journalism. It was cruel, brilliant, beautifully written and perfectly designed, and feared by all. There’s no magazine I know of that’s so continually referenced, held up as a benchmark, and whose demise is so lamented.’ –Dave Eggers. ‘It’s a piece of garbage’ —Donald Trump.”



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Spy magazine existed during the ’80s mostly to ensure that Tama Janowitz didn’t get away with too much. You see, Tama Janowitz wrote novels that were more successful than their merit suggested they should be, so she needed to be put in her place. Thankfully, a bunch of jackasses with fancy educations who wished they were writing crappy books that sold a lot of copies were there to ridicule her. Take that, Tama Janowitz!

Seriously, Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter chose just the right moment to publish Spy. New York was in the midst of a decade of greed that rivaled the Roaring Twenties for excess but with none of the earlier era’s panache. The publication was there to take the piss out of the whole stupid thing–the Milkens, the Helmsleys, the Trumps. (I will always feel indebted to Spy for dubbing Donald Trump a “short-fingered vulgarian.”) I can’t say I ever read the magazine much at the time, but the only things that came out of that decade that ended up influencing comedy more were Letterman and the Simpsons.

I got my grimy, grubby fingers on a copy of the October 1989 issue that is built around the “Spy 100,” the snarky mag’s annual takedown of insider traders, political advisors and all manner of irksome cretins that made NYC break out in hives. It features a fairly famous cover that shows President Bush (the sleepy one, not his son who gave the entire planet a vigorous rogering from behind) with words carved into his hair, as was the idiotic custom of some kids of the time. (The idea was later borrowed for this Newsweek cover.) The list skewers the expected (political hit-man Lee Atwater was number one), the unexpected (people excessively grieving the late Lucille Ball) and, yes, Tama Janowitz. An excerpt from the passage about hotelier horror Leona Helmsley:

“Caught billing more than $4 million in personal expenses to the real estate empire she gold-dug out of her now-enfeebled husband. Convicted of tax evasion (conspiracy and mail fraud; acquitted on charges of extortion of kickbacks from cowering business vendors). Continued running self-reverential ads. Anticipating the horror stories about her routine terorization of employees, Leona’s lawyer admitted in opening remarks–boasted even–that she was a ‘tough bitch.’ Trump called her a ‘disgrace to humanity in general.'”

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