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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

Weekend Edition: “Norman Rockwell, American Monster”

The worst interview we ever saw—and that includes anything Jay Leno ever did—was a Deborah Solomon interview of Steve Martin for the New York Times’ television magazine a few years ago.

Solomon is—or was, until recently—the Sunday Times Magazine columnist who made a career of short, sharp, solipsistic interviews with subjects chosen mainly as a means of injecting Solomon’s own uber-liberal world-view into whatever topic on which she wanted to vent.

You had to cut through Solomon’s annoying technique of twisting each question-and-answer into a validation of her own personal demons (as opposed to the subject’s), but the interviews were lively and interesting, and worth reading—although this appears to have been due as much to good editing as they were to good questioning, a factor made clear by the aforementioned videotaped interview of Steve Martin (see our Weekend Edition column, “Wisdom of Solomon?” from February 2008.)

Shorn of the ability to manipulate words on paper, Solomon’s maniacal self-absorption came across, on camera, less clever than obnoxious. Of many low-points, the lowest came when Martin was explaining that he had stopped performing stand-up altogether because comedians need to be on the road constantly in order to stay sharp, and Solomon said in complete, clueless seriousness, “Can’t you practice at home?”

But that was when she was writing a column for the New York Times.

Today she is, as she says, working on a “long overdue, almost-finished biography of Norman Rockwell,” thanks, apparently, to one too many strident columns, including a recent interview with Goldman Sachs strategist Abby Joseph Cohen.

Now, we here at NotMakingThisUp harbor no particularly positive, or negative, view of Abby Joseph Cohen.

When reading the Barron’s Roundtable each year, we do skip Cohen’s blandishments on the economy or whatever big-cap stock she currently favors—it always seems to be either J&J or IBM, or both—and go straight for Marc Faber.

But such is the by-product of the job: being a “Strategist” for a high-profile firm on Wall Street means never having to say anything that may come back to haunt you. In other words, the blander the better—and if you don’t think that’s the way it works, you haven’t worked on Wall Street.

Still, Cohen missed a great chance to go toe-to-toe with Solomon in last weekend’s column, and that is a shame, because Solomon’s interview technique is like the playground bully—aggressive questions and lots of them—without much in the way of actual knowledge on the subject beyond her own narrow instincts.

Indeed, here’s how we here at NotMakingThisUp would have liked to see it go down.


Deborah Solomon: As a partner at Goldman Sachs and one of the best-known market analysts in this country, you’re surely aware that women continue to be thinly represented among the senior ranks on Wall Street. Why is that?

Not Making This Up: For the same reason that of the 11 senior executives at the New York Times, only 1 is a woman.

DS: I assume there’s no shortage of candidates.

NMTU: I assume there’s no shortage of female English majors for the New York Times, either.

DS: But if women make up 30 percent of M.B.A. programs, as has been reported, why do they represent only 12 percent of the current partners at Goldman Sachs?

NMTU: You do realize that women bear children, don’t you? I mean, you are aware of that? And you do realize that, as a result, in the real world—whatever you and the editors of the New York Times might wish for—many highly educated women at a certain age face a choice that men don’t face? And many do in fact reject the notion of sacrificing everything else in their lives for the brass ring of becoming a Goldman partner?

DS: Let’s change the subject… Do you have a Facebook page?

NMTU: Deborah, if you knew how to use Facebook you’d know whether I do or don’t—you can search for them, you know.

DS: Ah, well let’s change the subject to something I can score points on… Goldman Sachs just withdrew its offer to American clients to sell shares of Facebook, which could violate all kinds of rules.

NMTU: What, exactly, are these “all kinds of rules” you say the deal could have violated, specifically?

DS: Uhhhhhh….

NMTU: Name one.

DS: (Feverishly thumbing through her notes, which happens to be a single New York Times “DealBook” article)…uhhhh….Let’s change the subject to class warfare. Do you think it’s ethically justifiable that certain bankers earn $50 million or $60 million a year at a time when unemployment is nearly 10 percent and income inequality is widening in this country?

NMTU: No, so why does Obama keep hiring them for his Chief of Staff?

DS: I hate you. Let me try this another way… You could say that entertainers at least provide entertainment, as opposed to a C.E.O. What is a C.E.O. contributing to society?

NMTU: What about the C.E.O. of the New York Times Company, Janet Robinson? [Editor’s Note: This is the one response Abbey Joseph Cohen got right.]

DS: What about her? She’s contributing a newspaper to society, which presumably keeps the American public better informed. It has been widely observed that the financial-services industry is not creating a product in the tangible sense.

NMTU: Aside from the howler about “no tangible product”—Wall Street funds lots of companies that create tangible products, like, oh, the iPad—your well-paid CEO blew the digital revolution, for starters.

DS: Well, we have a successful web site.

NMTU: Why on earth is Huffington Post the go-to name in online news? How did you let Politico become the go-to name in online politics? What was going on over at the New York Times while the Wall Street Journal was making the online transition so successfully and you did not? Why do more people watch Yahoo! TV than New York Times TV on the web?

DS: Uh, well, we don’t have a “New York Times TV” on the web.

NMTU: Precisely. You guys blew it. And for that, your CEO received $6.2 million in compensation in 2009, according to my Bloomberg—which happens to be the go-to name in financial data, not the New York Times.

DS: (Fumbling for a cigarette, trying to get the wrapper off.) Son-of-a—

NMTU: You smoke?

DS: (Lighting up.) I quit thirteen years ago. Let’s move on… Do you feel any responsibility for the economic meltdown of 2008, which you failed to foresee?

NMTU: How, exactly, am I responsible for pushing Fannie Mae to make bad loans to people who couldn’t afford them?

DS: We’re talking about your life; there was a big meltdown in 2008. I’m wondering, how do you deal with that emotionally?

NMTU: Do you feel any responsibility for the collapse of the New York Times as a leading source of news?

DS: Please leave. We’ll miss Solomon’s columns but look forward to her almost-finished biography of Norman Rockwell, the artist who painted lovingly iconic scenes of an Americana that must set Solomon’s hair on fire: family gatherings at Thanksgiving; rosy-cheeked Boy Scouts; flag-waving parades.

Indeed, given her left-wing muscle-memory, it should be about as suffused with her own blinkered mindset—and therefore just as uninformed—as a biography of Pablo Picasso by Sarah Palin.

The working title, we understand, is “Norman Rockwell, American Monster.”

Jeff Matthews I Am Actually Making This One Up

© 2011 NotMakingThisUp, LLC

The content contained in this blog represents only the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice, and should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever. Also, this blog is not a solicitation of business by Mr. Matthews: all inquiries will be ignored. The content herein is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

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