The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

We open on an expensive company Christmas party at a swank Manhattan restaurant. From wall to wall: booze, food, and boisterous people. The president of the company strolls up, surveys the crowd, and says with a smile: “You can smell the sex!”

This wasn’t said by Roger Sterling of Sterling Cooper in 1962. It was said by my boss, the president of a well-known media company, in 2000. I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond — what did sex smell like to him, anyway? — and I don’t recall what comeback I settled on. His remark was typical of an era and a mindset that has lasted in the ad and media businesses longer than you might think — extending even to today.

It’s the Mad Men era, the Mad Men mindset, that is captured with obsessive accuracy in the TV series concluding on Sunday night.

I never worked at an ad agency, and I’ll be 59 years old next month, so during the time in which the show is set I was only smoking chocolate cigarettes and my drink of choice was soda. But I have sold advertising for media companies — including a major ad industry trade magazine, one of the biggest popular magazine publishers, and currently at The National Memo — since 1983. Especially during my early years I knew the Dons and Rogers and Petes and Peggys, and their next-generation heirs. They drank, they smoked, they screwed. It was Scott Fitzgerald’s (and Mad Men showrunner Matt Weiner’s) “great gaudy spree.”

Next scene: an advertising trade magazine company meeting at Lake George, circa 1993. The company’s only top female executive has announced she is leaving after a surprisingly short stint. One of the magazine’s founders, an éminence grise of great WASP vintage, says in his plummy basso: “You know, back at Time and Life in the 50s, we didn’t have so many gals around [emphasis his].” Those of us under 40 cringe.

A few years later, when I was leading a sales team, the same magazine founder said of one of my Jewish employees, “You know, Rob is very Bronx!” I knew what that meant, of course. I’m Jewish and from the Bronx, but I had gone to Harvard, so I was sort of all right. In fact, the éminence grise even gave me a neck massage once.

In the 80s and 90s, the three-martini lunch was still the norm, and the martini count could escalate so much that the lunch lasted through dinner. One of my employers put on an all-day 100th-anniversary bacchanal that took over the Park Avenue Armory and included a vice president riding in on an elephant. A real elephant. I began drinking at 9:30 that morning and stopped… who knows when?

Another time, I was in our L.A. office. A top editor from New York saw me, yelled “What the f*ck are you doin’ here?” and then for the next eight hours he and a Hollywood trade paper reporter gave me the drinking sybarite’s tour of Hollywood. (Movie fans: That editor was the guy who served as the basis for the credit card expense account story in American Beauty. Screenwriter Alan Ball worked for us.)

As late as the early 80s women at work were still called “toots,” “dear,” and “sweetie.” (I soon stopped doing that, except among close female friends who are in on the irony.) Extramarital affairs were common and generally, if quietly, known about. Yes, men were a**holes then. They still can be. Back then I knew a few McCann-Erickson men who were. I’m sure everyone there is lovely now.

I liked the drinking and camaraderie, and was complicit in the attitude that ad and media guys (I still slip and say “guys”) were the most fun people in the world, and that nothing could ever stop the spree. Well, a couple of recessions did, and so did the digital revolution.

Like Don Draper, some of us got divorced, were humbled in employment, and even stopped drinking (for a time). And as the business got younger thanks to digital, we got older, and places in it were harder to find. Eventually, even most of the mad men became sane.

But I know that out there in American media and advertising, women still have it tough, booze still flows in mighty rivers, cigarettes are once again fashionable, and for the young the new spree, their spree, seems as if it will never end. The madness, like the landmark series that captured it, will always be out there.

The final episode of Mad Men airs May 17 at 10 p.m. Eastern Time on AMC. Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Harold Itzkowitz is VP of advertising for The National Memo.


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Keep reading... Show less

Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

{{ }}