Graeme Wood’s Atlantic puff piece Inside The Garden Of Evil begins with Harlan Crow proclaiming he’s a Lenin snob. I’m more of a Lennon snob myself. I’ll also take Lemmon over Lenin any day. I’m not a dictator fan boy.
The Garden Of Evil is what Crow calls his dictator garden. As you can see from the featured image, it’s also a 1954 Gary Cooper movie. Presumably, Crow knows about the film title. He may even identify with Gary Cooper. Tony Soprano did. He thought Coop epitomized the strong and silent Americans of the Old West. Harlan Crow strikes me as rich and gabby. His great wealth is inherited, so he needs to surround himself with weird historical artifacts to reassure himself of his power and position. If that sounds like the Roy siblings on Succession, Crow would fit right in. I see him as a Connor; beats the hell outta being a Roman.
The most interesting thing about Wood’s Crow apologia is the writer himself. He seems to have a bad case of rich guy worship. It’s not uncommon in America. It explains why so many rough types like Trump: they hope to be rich someday and think of him as a role model. Oy just oy.
Wood wrote an earlier piece for the Atlantic defending the dictator garden and the Hitler artifacts. Wood thinks Crow is another eccentric rich guy who should be defended, not deplored. That’s why he was granted this interview by Crow’s people.
Wood’s approach is similar to that of our old pal Peter Baker who practices access journalism at the NYT. Baker was recently dazzled by another powerful Texan, Ben Barnes, into buying an October Surprise story. There are no surprises in Wood’s Crow piece: he seems to have been a good boy and followed the rules laid down by Crow’s PR people. He wants to be invited back to the Garden Of Evil. Is there a yacht interview in Wood’s future?
Like all access journalists, Wood thinks his job is to let Harlan Crow tell his side of the story with minimal pushback or analysis. For example, the name Ginni Thomas is never mentioned in Crow’s discussion of how much he detests Donald Trump. A better reporter would have asked him what he thought of Ginni’s support of the Dipshit Insurrection.
Graeme Wood is from Dallas, so he thinks that gives him unique insight into Crow’s psyche:
Crow’s sensibility is bound in the local culture of Dallas. I grew up there and recognized it instantly. It is not familiar to most Americans. Austin is proud of its bumper sticker keep Austin weird. But Dallas’s weirdness is so deep that it perpetuates itself unintentionally, without noticing it. An auto-insurance agent specifies on his sign that he is named Ross but prefers to be addressed as “Pistol.” At the most famous historic site, you can have a picnic and watch tourists drive by and mimic the way John F. Kennedy’s head jerked “back and to the left” as it exploded. Crow has statues of fallen dictators in his yard, and those baffle outsiders. But I remember that Goff’s, the burger joint down the street from my house, had a statue of Lenin out front, salvaged in the 1990s from an Odesa, Ukraine, crane factory and outfitted with a plaque that said America won. It was all very Dallas, and even without the plaque everyone would have known that its owner planted it there to mock rather than revere the Soviet Union, much as a high-school student might.
There are weirdos everywhere. How does that excuse or even explain Crow’s collecting Hitler’s bad artwork? In fact, Wood spends entirely too much time on Crow’s weirdo collection and not enough time on his “generous friendship” with Clarence Thomas. What time is spent on that involves Crow offering unconvincing explanations to a reporter who chides him mildly but never probes. That’s the essence of access journalism. Peter Baker and Maggie Habeman get it. I don’t.
It’s a pity that Graeme Wood disabled his bullshit detector for the Crow interview. That’s why he’s a naif in the garden of evil.
Since I first wrote about Harlan Crow’s dictator garden, I sing a variation on a famous song with garden in the title: I beg your pardon, I never promised you a dictator garden.
The last word goes to Southern Culture On The Skids: