The rat pack

I was raised in a different tradition. There were simply some things you never talked about. You never talked about loyalty. It was just assumed. Being loyal meant that no one ratted out. Omerta, the code of silence, was as much a part of Jewish Brooklyn as it was Italian Brooklyn. You never sang like a canary, and you simply didn’t rat on your friends. Strangers, well that might be a different story, but never your friends. It was a cultural value so strong that even to mention it meant you were thinking about it, which meant you were suspect.

If they threatened your life, it didn’t matter. You kept silent.

If they threatened your family, it didn’t matter. You kept silent.

If they threatened jail, it didn’t matter. You kept silent.

What nobody ever talked about or even thought about is what happens if they threatened you with a book contract, a spot on Oprah, a mini-series. What do you do then?

Apparently, the answer is that you talk, and talk and talk. Spill your guts. Never say “No.” Just clip on the lapel mike and go.


They’re all doing it.

Monica has managed to turn a transitory act of carnality into a ratting career choice. Talking about it apparently turned out to be a heck of lot more enjoyable and certainly more profitable than doing it.

George Stephanopolus, another a dime-a-dozen Rhodes scholar, is ratting on his old boss, friend and mentor — in print, TV, radio, in fact everything but smoke signals, without so much as a “by your leave.”

Dick Morris, another name from Clinton’s ancient history, has made a career of ratting on his friend and then going on all the talk shows to tell us just how he did it. He apparently is welcome at all the best parties and is considered a wonderful guest, on screen and off. All is forgiven as long as you come in and tell all.

Truth be told, I sort of preferred it the old way where they would have ended up trying to do the breaststroke in the East River wearing a pair of cement galoshes, leaving behind a general, if somewhat primitive, sense that justice had been served.

One could hypothesize it’s not that the morality has changed, it’s just the morality of the friends of “you know who.” Perhaps, to put it another way, he doesn’t seem to leave them laughing.

The proposition might be stated differently: “Is it OK to rat on a rat?” No matter how you may feel about Clinton, and personally I think he’s a pretty good president, the one thing I know for sure is I wouldn’t want to be one of his friends because they sure do seem to end up with the short side of the lollipop stick. He just keeps rolling along, like Teflon, and they’re dropping like flies.

The question — to rat or not to rat — keeps coming up in all walks of life. On Sunday, the Academy will give Elia Kazan, one of the all-time Ratters Hall of Fame Ratters, an honorary Oscar. There is no question that he’s enormously talented and also no question that he ratted on his friends and is still unrepentant or too gutless to own up to the fact that he did it to save his own skin. Of course, if he hadn’t, there would have been no “On the Waterfront.” I guess this will answer once and for all whether or not there is a statute of limitations on ratting.

No matter how the general morality has shifted, we all have, on some primitive level, difficulty with the Linda Tripps, the Elia Kazans and now the George Stephanopoluses. Least any of you smugly think this is some sort of Democratic lefty phenomenon, Kenneth Starr’s recently fired old press guy is about to sing, as the saying goes, “like a canary.” I must confess I’m looking forward to it.

So I guess how you feel about the ratting may very well depend on whose canary is doing it.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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