Comments: Week of February 7, 2011

1. John Heilemann’s cover story on President Obama’s reboot (The West Wing, Season II,” January 31) was widely praised for its insider’s acumen. “A piece that seems to convey Obama’s own view of what’s going on around him,” wrote Ben Smith in his blog at Politico. Many, like blogger Ezra Klein, declared it a “must-read.” There was, however, disagreement on whether in fact the moves detailed in the piece are going to be effective. Jonathan Capehart, on the Washington Post’s PostPartisan blog, declared it a “fascinating” piece and found in the story some hope for the rest of Obama’s presidency. “The string of accomplishments in the lame-duck session are testament to a more focused, hands-on, and assertive chief executive.” But the American Prospect’s Tapped blog was unconvinced. “It’s still just a well-honed version of the old ‘Obama needs to reconnect with the country’ narrative we’ve been seeing for the past year. I’m perfectly willing to concede that Obama’s personal popularity has had some effect on his approval rating, but he can’t rely on ‘sounding presidential’ to guarantee reelection.” Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, meanwhile, had another reaction, but just to the article’s opening-page text, which read: “Almost overnight, Barack Obama overhauled his White House and rewrote much of the script. Now all he needs is a happy ending.” She felt this had “sexual undertones,” and said so to guest Heilemann. Host Joe Scarborough, who explained that “ ‘happy ending’ has several different meanings,” then changed the subject, calling it a “great story.”

2. Dan P. Lee’s telling of Sandy Herold’s ultimately tragic life with her pet chimpanzee, Travis, who went on a violent rampage in 2009 resulting in his death (Travis the Menace,” January 31), deeply moved many readers, for its storytelling and sad weirdness. But many were quick to fault Herold for her category confusion. “Incredible article that is absolutely heartbreaking. Travis is as much a victim as anyone in this story is. He should not have been snatched from his mother to fulfill a human need for a surrogate child,” said one commenter on “We can’t just take highly intelligent, complicated animals like chimps into our homes and treat them as children. No matter how well they adapt to our lives, they have their way of being which is not human,” scolded another. Others went further: “When I read that Travis’s mother had to be tranquilized so these people could have a pretend son, I thought, Selfish, cruel, Hell-bound bastards. And that’s putting it nicely,” wrote one incensed commenter. “Absolutely tragic for the chimps involved,” agreed another. But one person, at least, had sympathy for Herold and her late daughter, Suzan, who’d grown up with Travis: “They were two of the funniest women you could ever have the pleasure of knowing. They are greatly missed!”

3. Jessica Pressler’s story about Donald Trump’s Amway-style vitamin-selling network (If I Can’t Trust Donald Trump, Who Can I Trust?,” January 31) garnered testimonials galore to its efficacy as a path to health and wealth in this time of economic frustration. “Celebrating my third year in the business next week. I am a now-retired personal trainer and nutritionist and run one of the most successful lines in the business with my husband, a now-retired aerospace engineer. This business has allowed us to change our entire lifestyle and nicely provide for a family of five. All predictions say this will be the most successful network-marketing company in history,” trumpeted Jackie Christiansen in a comment on Irene Siegel, who described herself as a “diamond director with the Trump Network,” was “very disappointed in the glaringly biased view of the article,” which she found too skeptical. Trump “is being instrumental in changing people’s lives and brings great value to our business.” There were, of course, skeptics among the non-diamond-director readers. “As with most schemes like this, the most vocal people will be the few people happy with the results,” wrote one. “While I commend anyone trying to improve their life, the article and some of the comments about it remind me of cults. I may not end up wealthy like Donald Trump at my corporate nine-to-five job, but at least I know that. The majority of these people will not end up loaded like Donald Trump either,” wrote another. Some didn’t try to hide their glaring bias, however. One commenter dismissed Trump as “a failed real-estate developer building pyramids.”

4. Many of our readers were left cross-eyed by the Crossword in the January 31 issue, and not because the clues were unusually puzzling. In a production error, the typeface was switched to an illegibly compressed one, straining the eyes instead of the mind, as is usually intended. We instituted new procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

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Comments: Week of February 7, 2011