Trouble in paradise for Michael Ovitz Power: To the delight of many, the former Hollywood super-agent is struggling as the president of the Walt Disney Co.


The sunstruck hordes staggering through Disney World might be surprised to learn of the ruthless corporate culture lurking behind Mickey and Goofy.

That culture is the setting of a piece in the December Vanity Fair about the slow-motion humiliation of erstwhile Hollywood super-agent Michael Ovitz, who has struggled to stay afloat as president of Walt Disney Co.

Plainly, the long knives are out for Ovitz. Just look at the number of Disney executives eager to tell co-authors Bryan Burrough and Kim Masters about Ovitz's misguided projects, petty power trips (employing half a dozen secretaries, keeping limo drivers on call even when he wasn't going anywhere) and difficulty with the business world's learning curve.

In the land of make-believe where Ovitz once reigned supreme (studio chiefs who crossed him heard this menacing purr: "Do you want to keep your job?"), Hollywood types are rooting for Ovitz's downfall with lip-smacking delight. "He's not Michael Ovitz anymore," says David Geffen. "He's a guy who has a job working for Michael Eisner. And if you think everyone's not aware of it, you're very wrong." It's a small world, after all.

Clinton's second term

Will Bill Clinton receive rougher treatment from the left in his second term than from the right? To anyone who's listened to Rush Limbaugh or dipped into the pages of the American Spectator in the past four years, it scarcely seems possible, but there is strong evidence for that proposition in both Ms. and the American Prospect.

First, Barbara Ehrenreich, who is capable of great wit and great scorn, heaps buckets of the latter on the president in a Ms. piece titled "Why I Didn't Vote for Clinton."

Though she knew at the outset that Clinton was an "ideological amoeba of a president," Ehrenreich had hoped his presidency would energize unions, feminists, environmentalists and civil rights activists. But she finds to her dismay that "instead of recharging the left, the Clinton presidency has had the unanticipated effect of gagging it. Everyone made the same tragic error of imagining that because we had a Democrat in the White House, we had access, and because we had access, we finally had influence."

The left found out differently, Ehrenreich bitterly notes, when Clinton signed the welfare-reform bill, forgot about "investing" in education and child care and abandoned the fight for gays in the military while signing the Defense of Marriage Act. (Oh, and in case you were wondering: Ehrenreich voted for write-in candidate Ralph Nader.)

Robert Kuttner opens his essay in the American Prospect by asking: "Has the Clinton presidency been a grave setback for liberalism?" Kuttner concludes that yes, it has, largely due to Clinton's focus on balancing the budget, which has set fiscal limits on liberal policy initiatives, and partly due to the Dick Morris-inspired stance of "triangulation," under which Clinton has moved right to maintain an equal distance from the Democratic and Republican parties. "Every time Clinton validated a conservative theme, it made his own party seem a fringe, and made it harder for Democrats to champion liberal positions," Kuttner notes. He offers some sound advice to liberals: Stop relying on the power of the White House and look to the grass roots for an infusion of energy.

Death-watch days

Before Bob Dole assumes his rightful place as a footnote to history (has there ever been such a mismatch between a candidate and the prevailing Zeitgeist?), it's worth reading Michael Lewis' account of his campaign's final, death-watch days in the New Republic for Nov. 25. Lewis describes the toxic relations between Dole supporters and his press contingent, and the hostile, sometimes vulgar, exchanges between the two groups.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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