Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Your Man In Saigon II

e got to have a lot of respect for Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair Magazine to begin with. After all, he was one of the cofounders of Spy Magazine in 86 and one of our heroes as fans of Art Buchwald, H. L. Mencken, Hunter S. Thompson and MAD Magazine from the 60s through today – and if you didn't get Spy, not in the subscription sense but the intellectual one, it's a good bet that you just didn't get it totally, and probably still don't.

........................Carter's notes to the April issue include the following:

Brian McNally, Graydon Carter, new york, News, Opinion, our man in saigon, restaurants, Saigon, Vanity Fair, Vietnam "With the fragile economy of the U.S. in a state of collapse, oil hitting $100 a barrel (it was $25 in early 2001), our judicial system in crisis, our environment in the hands of polluters, our military stressed beyond stress, our image in tatters abroad, and our influence on the wane, George W. Bush, the man responsible for so much of this misfortune, took a page from Brian McNally’s book and hit the road, searching the planet for Third Worlders who do not read the newspapers."

– Bush was here in Vietnam just over a year ago in late 2006.

As Editor of Vanity Fair since 1992, Carter has blazed more than a few trails and continues to do so this month
featuring a solid piece of investigative work in writer David Rose’s exposé on our State Department's recent bungle in Palestine. Imagine Charlie Wilson's War but without the hot tub, champagne, coke, awesome babes, Hollywood A-listers or winning conclusion.

I hear a lot of rumbles both inside and outside the US that our mainstream media are not doing the job of free speech our constitution tells us they should be doing, and so in that case, it seems painfully clear what needs to be done – stop looking toward the the mainstream for guidance. None of the writers or publications listed above were ever particularly mainstream but they each etched out a market based on the idea that we could believe them, even if we didn't agree with them. And God knows, we all wanted to believe Hunter S. and flat out knew little of it was true – but the ideas were just so totally from the heart – and what warmed us to him.

........................And Thomas Jefferson said:

Brian McNally, Graydon Carter, new york, News, Opinion, our man in saigon, restaurants, Saigon, Vanity Fair, Vietnam

re it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

I sus
pect Mr. Carter would agree as much with this at least as much as he seems to agree with Mr. Jefferson's choice in hairstyles.

My reintroduction to Graydon Carter in a place as far away as Vietnam started out innocently enough. I posted a blog with the first few chapters of Wild Wild East to get feedback from readers and help promote the book to agents and publishers. Then my friend Hugh MacLeod got ahold of it and posted a link on his Gapingvoid blog using an excerpt with the title "Microsoft and Leo Burnett". Then some shit hit the fan. Or a whole bunch of itty-bitty shits. Inside of a day my click-o-meter flies off the charts like I'm a coin-searching beachcomber at Chernobyl – and the ball begins to roll. The snowball, that is. I quickly decide that a 75 page single post is not what most blog readers are interested in and hastily put up the WWE "Dailies" page – with just three quickie posts. It gets more hits than the original page and a nice batch of subscribers and regular readers. Old friends find me. Old enemies find me but most happily, new friends find me. Enter: Fan mail.

Two weeks ago I received an email from a woman in New York named Rhona that went like this:

"Fell on your WWE page by accident very recently and of course, got hooked. Then, in the same week, up pops the Brian McNally piece in Vanity Fair. Much more predictable than yours, but still fun. And Graydon Carter says 'I am hoping this is the first of man such reports from Our Man in Saigon.'

But to your readers, David, you are Our Man in Saigon! So of course I wondered if you had read it and what you thought of it."

At the time VF had not posted the Brian McNally story on their site so I asked Rhona to send it to me. It arrived yesterday. Thanks Rhona. One day I'm writing into space and
the next I understand both the concept that I have regular readers and the idea that at least one of them has seen that I was on the beat well before a rather respected magazine. Oh sure, I did it without fact checkers, a legal staff, typesetters, designers, photographers and god-forbid, an editor – the number of journalistic ethics violated could easily beat the number of American missteps in recent world affairs – but then again, I'm working on the spirit of the law and not the letter. If I were getting paid for this, I'd be a lot less fun to read.

McNally's story is well done and interesting from the standpoint of one who seems relatively new to life in Asia. Many parts of his travails remind me of my first days in Korea.

From Wild Wild East:

"Driving down the small city block is how one’s selection is made. No one walks. This was a drive through sex mart with all its wares on display behind plate glass windows, presented on tall stools, and decorated with all the charm of a vintage video game. We circled the block twice assessing the shops that were non-foreigner friendly and marveling at the seemingly endless selection of attractive ladies. For a man with his wife napping back at a five-star hotel, this might seem to have been kid-in-a-candy-shop stuff but I don’t recall feeling that way at all. More like fish-in-a barrel stuff – much too easy. To me the surreality of it all was the reality of it all – the kind of thing that throws one’s moral compass into a tailspin. Drive-by fucking – marshaled by police and brightly lit for all to see, yet still technically illegal. This was the Korea I had come to see – my little handful of dirt under the rock my ship had been cast upon."

Brian McNally's story and mine will not turn out to be similar. Just two different guys at two different places in time who happen to be in the same city at the same time – writing letters back to a place we used to call home – and thanks to whatever higher power you believe in that we still can. With our government at it's own citizen's heels for lack of a credible enemy, it's a damn good time to look back to Jefferson and be happy we can write anything at all.

"I am mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, the sale of a book can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too." – Thomas Jefferson

For the entire "You man in Saigon Experience" check below:

IV: The search for Brian McNally ends
III: The second Vanity Fair Story
II: The first Vanity Fair story
I: Your Man In Saigon"

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