New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi wrote a devastating article on her interview with Donald Trump’s lawyer and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, including writing about his fly being unzipped. Is writing negatively about a political figure’s appearance appropriate? I’m not sure.
Go read Nuzzi’s article, “A Conversation With Rudy Giuliani Over Bloody Marys at the Mark Hotel.” It’s fascinating and revealing. On top of quoting Giuliani on his own work in Ukraine defending President Trump and digging up dirt on Hunter Biden, it also includes a bunch of details about Giuliani’s personal and sartorial failings. Here are some samples of that:
Over a sweater, he wore a navy-blue suit, the fly of the pants unzipped. He accessorized with an American-flag lapel pin, American-flag woven wallet, a diamond-encrusted pinky ring, and a diamond-encrusted Yankees World Series ring . . .
In one hand, he clutched three phones of varying sizes. Two of the devices were unlocked, their screens revealing open tabs and a barrage of banner notifications as they knocked into each other and reacted to Giuliani’s grip. He accidentally activated Siri, who said she didn’t understand his command. “She never understands me,” he said. He sighed and poked at the device, attempting to quiet her. . . .
As he spoke, he fixed his gaze straight ahead, rarely turning to make eye contact. When his mouth closed, saliva leaked from the corner and crawled down his face through the valley of a wrinkle. He didn’t notice, and it fell onto his sweater.
His ex-wife had implied, in an interview with New York, that he was an alcoholic. [Then, later in the article:] “I’d like some sparkling water. And I know you have wonderful Bloody Marys,” Giuliani told the waiter. “Yes, sir,” the waiter said, “and I know you love them.” Giuliani laughed . . .
“They’re all — they’re all knee-jerk, now logically impaired anti-Trump people, including James Comey’s daughter, who works there. You don’t think she’s bitter? Do you know the things that I’ve called her husband? I hired her husband.”
He meant her father.
“Her father,” he said. “I consider her father a disgrace. I’m embarrassed that I hired him. Never seen anyone run the FBI like that.” . . .
The hostess led us through a hallway to the dining room. As Giuliani walked down the carpeted ramp, he fell over to his right and hit the wall. He kept on walking as if it hadn’t happened. . . .
“Do you have all three phones?,” his bodyguard said as Giuliani stepped out of the car. “Yeah, I got all three phones,” he said. . . . A few minutes later, as we made our way downtown, I saw from the corner of my eye the sun reflecting off of something. It was the screen of one of the phones, which he had left on the seat next to me.
Are personal qualities fair game?
Giuliani contacted Nuzzi after the article was published, and, as she described on Twitter, he was angry. But he was angry that she wrote that he contradicted himself: he said he had no business interests in Ukraine, then told her he had done business deals in Ukraine. As far as I’m concerned, that’s excellent reporting and the most substantive part of the article — it’s legit news.
But what about the unzipped fly and the drooling and the forgotten mobile phone?
Imagine for a moment that this was an article about Barack Obama. Do we really need to know that his fly was unzipped? Each of us has these moments of personal weakness. I’ve probably talked to reporters with my shirt untucked or a stain on my pants. I’m glad they didn’t notice or talk about it.
In an article on analyst forecasts, a reporter for The New York Times Magazine once described me in successive sentences as “heavy-set” and “whip smart.” I was pleased with the whip smart but no so much with the heavy-set — because why is that even relevant to my views on the future of television?
There is a counterargument, of course. Giuliani is supposed to be an expert on cybersecurity — his forgetting his phone or being unable to tame Siri are relevant in that context. If you watch him on television, he appears crazed and demented. It’s pretty easy to wonder if he’s senile. Nuzzi is cleverly feeding that question with data, from the unzipped fly to the drooling. The guy’s a mess.
I have no reason to believe any of Nuzzi’s details are inaccurate. I’m sure what she observed was real. And every reporter’s job is to determine what observations are relevant and worth including. These are the details she chose to include.
I am of two minds about this — I feel like I’m voting “present.” I really do want to know if Giuliani is as out to lunch as he appears. But I don’t want the politics of personal attacks to extend to personal lapses that anybody might have.
So I’m asking you what you think. Is this sort of reporting fair or unfair, appropriate and revealing or inappropriate and partisan?
If you have a comment, don’t just tell us what you think. Tell us as well whether you’re for or against the president, and whether that has affected your judgment. And would you support a similarly written article about Hillary Clinton?