By Sydney H. Schanberg
New York Newsday, March 27, 1987
Some weeks are so chock full of the loony-tunes variety of news that if you don’t write it all down in a hurry, by next week there’ll be so many new headlines from never-never land that you won’t likely get back to it. I’m not talking about the sex-and-television-preachers scandal or the more local sex-and-the-Bronx-surrogate-judge scandal or even the sad story of Bess Myerson, who gets the year’s masochism award for committing more damage to herself by giving interviews about her personal life than any of her unsavorily anonymous enemies ever could.
No, what I’m talking about are the non-sexy stories that could easily be forgotten by next week unless we make them well now.
For instance, this is the week when we suddenly discovered why Larry Tisch, the real estate person who is the new chief of CBS, has been firing people and trying to break the writers’ union at CBS News. He’s been saying it’s all got to do with a bloated news budget and the need to trim it down, but now we learn the truth is that Tisch and his brother Bob, who is the new postmaster general of the whole United States, have been having a personal cash flow problem.
You see, before they took their new jobs, when they were still just buying hotels and playing real-life Monopoly, they got involved in a big tax shelter scheme, based on fake stock losses. This is how the dodge worked: You invest some money in the enterprise and then, to make a profit, you deduct three or four times that amount as losses on your tax returns. Together, the Tisch Boys deducted more than $1.6 million. Well, along with a lot of other needy people, they’ve been caught by federal prosecutors and now they have to pay back not only the phony deductions but penalties and interest as well. So look for more job cuts at CBS; the money has to come from somewhere.
This was also the week when the homeless people of New York City became barter items in a new version of “Let’s Make a Deal.”
It seem that Mayor Edward Koch wants to build shelters for the homeless in all five boroughs, and Ralph Lamberti, the borough president of Staten Island, doesn’t want any in his backyard. So they struck a bargain. Lamberti said that rather than shelters for the homeless, he’d prefer a new jail with 3,000 to 4,000 criminals in it. The mayor said the swap was fine with him, he’d build the jail instead. Some unkind observers noted that Lamberti is under criminal investigation for allegedly using his public office to make money on land deals on Staten Island, and these cynics speculated that he might be trying to ensure that should things go bad for him, he’d at least have a place of confinement close to home.
Meanwhile, where will the homeless go? Don’t be surprised if the other borough presidents, observing Lamberti’s success, weigh in with their own barter deals. “Mr. Mayor, I’ll trade the homeless for a sewage treatment plant.” “Make mine a parking garage, Ed.” Come on down!!!
Taxis were big news this week, too. More yellow cabs are going to be allowed on the streets, and fares are going up, after remaining fixed for seven years. Some people think the drivers still don’t deserve a raise; they say that, in any case, most of the increase will go to the evil taxi “cartel” and not the drivers.
One of the major newspapers in this city has been making that argument editorially for a long time. The paper said this week that it wasn’t happy about the fare hike but would go along with it grudgingly if service was improved measurably for taxi users. “A good start,” said the paper, would be mandatory air-conditioning in all new cabs “to make life more comfortable for the rider.” There was no mention about the salutary effect it might have on the oven-baked driver who has to sit in the heat for a workday of 10 or 12 hours.
The paper had one final condition — cleanliness. The edict: “Drivers who allow trash to accumulate in the back of the cab should be brought up on charges” by taxi inspectors. What? No summonses as well for editorial writers and other kindred spirits who drop the trash there in the first place and expect taxi drivers to clean up after them?
The final story on my life actually broke last week, in The Wall Street Journal, but it qualifies because the plot remains open and there are so many unanswered questions. The story is that Barbara Walters, a star-of-stars for ABC News, had acted as a conduit for conveying to the White House certain information given to her by Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian middleman whom she had interviewed and who had been heavily involved in the U.S. arms sales to Iran. Being a go-between in government affairs is not something a professional journalist is supposed to do in the normal course of things. And Walters has always assured us with a straight face that she is a newsperson, not an entertainer.
She says that on Dec. 12, the day after the interview was broadcast, Ghorbanifar called her — while the two were still in Monaco, the hardship outpost where this journalistic event took place — and asked her to carry private information to the White House. She said later, to The Wall Street Journal, that she “felt terrible” for acting as an intermediary but had agree to do it because she thought the information was important for President Reagan to receive.
She has never told the rest of us what this information consisted of. More important, she received it at a time when the Tower commission, at the request of the president himself, was trying to get to the bottom of how this debacle occurred. And she never gave her “important” information to the Tower commission. The question is, who is Walters working for — the White House, ABC, herself as celebrity? We could use an explanation.
I’m glad I got all this off my chest today. By next week, there’s going to be a whole bunch of new things that’ll be just as hard to believe.