Lenni Brenner

Richard Goldstein replies: Brenner's adventurism overwhelms any productive analysis of the current situation. It isn't Clinton, stupid; it's the precedent this wholesale violation of privacy sets--one that could rebound against even righteous Clinton haters who happen to harbor a dirty secret.

Cold, Cold Heart

Re Sarah Vowell's review of the Hank Williams box set ["Ain't No Light," September 29]: Did I get her meaning? Does she call into question Hank's sincerity because, in her estimation, he acts incongruously with his songs? She cited too-chipper-for-her-taste repartee between Hank and Minnie Pearl in which Hank says, "For two cents I'd just haul off and kiss ya," to which Pearl replies, "Anybody got change for a nickel?" Apparently, Vowell would've preferred something like, "That sure is a goddamn ugly hat yuh got there, Minnie. Yuh know, I've lost my will to live. This next song..."

Then there was the odd implication that Hank had somehow duped all the folks in "crummy little backwater churches" who sang his song, "I Saw the Light" (cuz Hank was too much of a drunk to see the light). You're right, Sarah. Hank sucks. He ain't keepin' it real. And this whole time I thought the music was the thing. Thanks for setting me straight. Can I borrow your Hanson records? They seem like happy people, just like their songs.

Clay Sparks

Engendering Oppression

Amy Taubin's review of The Brandon Teena Story ["Splitting Image," September 29] was interesting and informative, giving a clear picture of Teena's situation and its cinematic representation.

I was surprised, however, that Taubin used the feminine pronoun "her" to refer to Teena, who was born with a female body but identified as a man. Taubin says, "They raped her because they were enraged and threatened by her sexuality ('Brandon's gender was a real problem,' one of them opines) and they murdered her to keep her from fingering them as rapists." While Teena's gender-queerness certainly worked against him, he was raped and killed because he was transgendered--because his outward gender expression did not match his genitals. To represent the situation as misogyny and homophobia is to ignore the reality of trans-oppression and to perpetuate it again.

Jessica Stein

Barns Ennobled

As someone who grew up on a farm in Iowa, I believe that documentarian David Sutherland captures the essence of life in rural America better than any movie or documentary I have seen by doing exactly the things that Tom Carson criticizes in his review of The Farmer's Wife ["Soap of the Earth," September 22].

Sutherland does not "swell their story to the stature of myth," as Carson suggests; rather, he evokes the stark reality of rural life. Shots of Darrel Buschkoetter driving a tractor against a beautiful sunset don't diminish the difficulties facing him and his family; they emphasize the sights and sounds that tie Darrel to the land. It is this reality that keeps farmers going long after economic common sense tells them to quit.

Christopher Nath
Riceville, Iowa


Anybody who tries to write press criticism for Don Forst [currently Voice editor in chief] has my sympathy (he stopped my New York Newsday column after a year), but James Ledbetter's farewell column, while long on Gramsci's "pessimism of the intellect," seems lacking in "optimism of the will" ["Everyone's a Critic," September 15].

Certainly, there is more competition today. But to blame the segmentation of the media, or the "suburbanization of the mind," for the column's declining fortunes begs a few important questions.

At its best (in my view under both Cockburn and Stokes) Press Clips has always been based on strong, original media reporting. Perhaps New York was less atomized then. Certainly anyone who watched Stokes work the Lion's Head saw an amazingly diverse collection of sources in one room. But as his editor, I can tell you that Stokes also worked the phones, the public records, and got out of the office. He wrote about the tabs because they covered the city. The New York Times was much more suburban in the '70s and '80s than it is today. Ledbetter's admission that "most of [his] closest friends" no longer follow city politics is perhaps reason enough to turn the column over to new blood.

At its best, Press Clips can make the news not only intelligible but interesting. Partly this means going against the mainstream. Cockburn had the luxury of a monochrome media landscape, at a time when the left hadn't yet discovered "media studies." But he also had (and continues to have) a powerful political analysis, and a hard-nosed empiricism, which all the "attitude" of his imitators can't replace. And if shoe-leather reporting wasn't his strong suit, his unique perspective led him to stories whose importance only became clear after they ran in Press Clips.

Perhaps in response to Cockburn's penchant for vitriol, Stokes turned the column into a kind of media referee. In retrospect, this was a mistake, though Geoff's strenuous fairness was refreshing. Anybody can decide who's covered a given story better. The trick is to show the factors that shape coverage and report how these forces work in the newsroom and on the page/screen/VDT.

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