|THE BORK TAPES SAGA|
This, along with sundry other of his pronouncements, drove Bork’s opponents wild, and, on a sultry September afternoon, propelled me (contrary to my fancifully dramatic rendering in the article) into Potomac Video, now quite the bustling multi-outlet concern but then a nascent enterprise occupying in a brick storefront on MacArthur Boulevard NW, the main drag of Palisades, the capital’s westernmost neighborhood, which also happened to be my neighborhood, and Judge Bork’s. From my frequent custom and City Paper byline, the staff at Potomac Video knew me. When I arrived that day I told the assistant manager I was thinking of writing about Judge Bork’s video tastes.
“Cool,” the assistant manager said. “I’ll look.”
While I stewed in a sudden outbreak of conscience – what if Robert Bork only rented homosexual porn…or slasher flicks…or (the…horror…) Disney? – she went upstairs to eyeball the records, returning a little glum.
“There sure are a lot of them,” she said. “Is it okay if I make a Xerox copy?”
New York Times
(I thought of the scene in Witness, when Harrison Ford, as a Philly detective hiding out among the Amish, tries to persuade a muscle head townie to stop tormenting his plain-living friends. When Ford intervenes, the townie daubs his face with ice cream. “You’re making a mistake,” Ford says, just before whaling on the fellow.)
“Sure,” I said. “Go ahead.”
But when the manager returned with the sheaf of legal-size pages containing the hand-written entries – I have them still – I jammed the sheets into my bag and made my escape.
When I got home and reviewed the material, I sighed with relief and anxiety – the only story I was going to have about Robert Bork’s video rentals was going to be whatever froth I could whip out of his relentlessly midcult movie viewing. In my writing, I try to hew to the principle that substance will get you through times of no style better than style will get you through times of no substance. But if ever circumstance demanded style, this was it.
Next day, while visiting Jack Shafer, I asked if an article on Judge Bork’s video rentals would interest him.
“You can’t do that, “ he said. “That’s illegal.”
“No, it isn’t,” I said. “Judge Bork said so.”
Okay, Shafer said. Write the story.
As it turned out, consonant with my fears, the story, and not its contents (as a fellow freelance put it, “Lotsa windup, not much pitch...”), became the story.
The rest, including R.J. Matson’s appropriately skeezy cover illustration, a rolling barrage of media coverage, angry bleats by politicians, stentorian editorials, predictable op-ed cartoons, and passage of municipal, state, and finally federal legislation safeguarding the privacy of video rental data, is history, and history will judge whether I was guilty of Borking (as the text reveals, I may have been the first to turn the judge’s surname into a verb) or of premature inquisition (you’re entirely welcome, Justice Thomas).
-- Michael Dolan
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