I'm the scalawag, the scoundrel, the slime-slurping sleazeball who shook the republic by shoving Judge Robert Bork's video rental record into public view.
At the height of the Bork confirmation brouhaha, a friend observed that the judge and I frequented the same video club. "Judge Bork's video tastes -- what a great story," he mused. "But how could someone get the information?"
"No problem," I said. A couple of days later, I walked in and said, "Hey, I wanna write an article about Judge Bork's taste in movies. Okay if I have a look at his records?" The clerk shrugged and nodded, pausing while I worried about the ease with which one starts down a slippery slope. Then a question: "Gee, there sure are a lot of them. Is it okay if I make copies?"
The article, which ran in the Sept. 25 City Paper, was a rococo embroidery demanded by the fact that the list proved merely that Judge Bork is a guy of a certain age and background. He likes Alfred Hitchcock. He likes James Bond. He watches a lot of Alec Guinness.
Oh, yeah -- he did rent a comedy about a conservative Supreme Court appointee and a thriller featuring vigilante judges -- but that was hardly a peg on which to hang a whole feature. So I tap danced around, lampooning my motives and cribbing film lore, then closed with the court-oriented titles. As a pal remarked, "Great wind-up, no pitch."
But the story got across the plate at United Press International, which seized on the obvious and sent it out across the land that weekend. By Monday morning I was fielding phone calls from reporters writing stories about the stories being written about the story that I wrote.
Why the sudden interest in the lint of Judge Bork's private life? I think because the Bork hearings had ground along to such a state of suffocating seriousness that America was ready for a chuckle.
Which my story provided -- if nothing else, in the shenanigans of the Senate Judiciary Committee: Sen. Alan Simpson sputtering across the CNN screen, waving a copy of the City Paper and calling me everything but late for supper; Judiciary Chairman Joseph "Copycat" Biden assailing my ethics; and later, asked about then-unknown court nominee Ginsburg, Orrin Hatch looking into the camera and solemnly intoning, "I don't know the man. I guess I'll have to take a look at his VHS rental list."
My story also illuminated aspects of Judge Bork not revealed in the official yakkety-yak. His enemies made him out to be Bork, The Beast From Beyond the Bill of Rights; his acolytes hailed him as Bork the Archangel. I gave him a human side. How can you not admit to the existence of some common, if not juridical, sense in a fellow who's rented "Local Hero" twice?
The other reason for the furor: nothing is so powerful as a scary idea -- in this case, the idea that video records lacked the shroud of the confessional that most Americans assumed they had. But as I noted in my story, the good judge has said we enjoy only those guarantees of privacy explicitly conveyed by law. Which -- then, anyway -- didn't extend to video rental data.
Yet despite all the attention, few, including my fellow newshawks, actually read the original piece. Story upon story, including one in the Feb. 10 Post Metro section, has claimed I "published a list of movies rented by Robert Bork." The notorious list never saw the light of reproduction, except at the vidstore. No matter. A horde of pols have had a field day introducing bills to make it a crime to release video rental records. In a single scoop I created a nonrecurring problem -- and a cottage legislative industry designed to solve it.
What really hurts is that they're calling the statutory offspring of my little prank the "Bork Bills," when they ought to be the Dolan Amendments. -- Michael Dolan