Back in the days when I was a publicist, one of the people whose work I promoted was a filmmaker who frequently appeared on television talk shows. From time to time, the host or another guest would challenge his facts and figures, at which point he would spout some important sounding, supporting data from, he said, "a study by Rombauer and Becker."
There was no such study. Rombauer and Becker wrote "The Joy of Cooking." Still, it usually shut the other person up.
I'm reminded of this by Rudy Giuliani's penchant for throwing around spurious statistics to attack other candidates -- Mitt Romney and his one term as governor of Massachusetts, for example -- and to defend his own record as mayor of New York City.
As the New York Times reported Friday, while bragging about his success reducing crime, "Mr. Giuliani told a television interviewer that New York was 'the only city in America that has reduced crime every single year since 1994.' In New Hampshire this week, he told a public forum that when he became mayor in 1994, New York''had been averaging like 1,800, 1,900 murders for almost 30 years.' When a recent Republican debate turned to the question of fiscal responsibility, he boasted that 'under me, spending went down by 7 percent.'"
The problem is, the Times continued, "All of these statements are incomplete, exaggerated or just plain wrong." Chicago also has seen crime drop every year since '94, New York's homicide record averaged 1514 murders per year in the three decades before Giuliani became mayor, and for most of his tenure, spending increased an average of 3.7 percent.
Facts, as Ronald Reagan said, are stupid things, and certainly, every candidate while stumping dawn to midnight is tripped up from time to time with an inaccuracy or two or 3.7. The difference is that Giuliani is obsessed with statistics and uses them as a centerpiece of his campaign -- when not busily invoking the specter of the twin towers (or, as Jon Stewart famously dubbed it back in October, Giuliani's 9/11 Tourette's).
Still, if this was Rudy's only problem, we New York City voters might take him a little more seriously as a candidate. But those of us who knew him on the day before 9/11, and the years prior and since, keep watching his success on the campaign trail and asking Republican America a simple, rhetorical question:
Have you lost your ever-loving minds?
Just a couple of news reports over the last few weeks serve as the latest reminders of just how corrupt his City Hall was and how he has exploited the 9/11 tragedy for financial gain. First, there was the Federal indictment of his crony, former corrections and police commissioner Bernie Kerik, on 14 charges ranging from criminal conspiracy and tax evasion to making false statements to the White House when Giuliani pushed Kerik's failed nomination as Homeland Security secretary.
This was followed by last week's report that Giuliani had hidden the expense of police protection, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, during trysts in the Hamptons with his then-extramarital girlfriend and now wife Judith Nathan. No one seriously is denying the legitimacy of 24-hour security for the mayor of New York -- what's fishy is that the costs were billed through such obscure city agencies as the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities and the NYC Loft Board.
Add to this allegations that Nathan, friends and family used police drivers and city cars for personal business before she was married to Giuliani. At the same time, Rudy's estranged wife, Donna Hanover, was rolling up $110,000 in security costs as police accompanied her and her kids on repeated trips to her parents in California.
Doesn't have the ring of fiscal responsibility, does it? But wait, there's more!
According to the November 21 Chicago Tribune, as part of his work with Giuliani Partners, the consulting firm created by his 9/11-kindled Midas touch, "Nine days after registering his presidential exploratory committee last November, Rudolph Giuliani appeared in Singapore to help a Las Vegas developer make a pitch for a $3.5 billion casino resort.
"Though the bid ultimately failed, and there was nothing illegal about the involvement, it drew Giuliani into a complex partnership with the family of a controversial Hong Kong billionaire who has ties to the regime of North Korea's Kim Jong Il and has been linked to international organized crime by the U.S. government."
This from Mr. Crimestopper, the former prosecutor who pursued miscreants of any stripe with the relentless zeal of Les Miserables' Inspector Javert. Giuliani's participation in the casino proposal, the Tribune noted, "illustrates the challenge he faces while attempting to win the Republican presidential nomination with a law-and-order message while maintaining a far-flung, international business portfolio, an unknown portion of which remains in the shadows."
Mayor Giuliani will be Tim Russert's special guest on this Sunday's edition of "Meet the Press." Don't be surprised if he suddenly resorts to quoting Rombauer and Becker. With luck, it will be a "Joy of Cooking" recipe for cooked goose.
Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes this weekly column for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York.
copyright 2007 Michael Winship