Mark Danner

McNamara’s in Charge

Author: Leah Garchick

McNamara’s in charge: The atmosphere was crackling at UC Berkeley on Wednesday, where the UC Graduate School of Journalism’s Goldman Forum presented journalism Professor Mark Danner — unabashedly anti-war — presiding over a talk between Robert McNamara and Errol Morris, subject and filmmaker of “The Fog of War.”

Before the main event, UC Chancellor Robert Berdahl hosted a reception packed with an array of veteran protesters trading war and no-more-war stories and surreptitiously casting glances at cultural superstars including Tom Waits and Michael Ondaatje. McNamara said the last time he’d been in the house was 1934, when he was a student dating the chancellor’s daughter, Marian Sproul. Word whispered around the room was that anti-war icon Daniel Ellsberg had decided to stay away from the receptionto avoid confrontation.

Among the academic stars was Paul Ekman, whose field is the study of human expression, who’d just seen the film and who told me he’d been struck by clear but inadvertent demonstration of McNamara’s emotions three times: His continuing mourning of the death of JFK, a loss from which the seemingly tough- minded former secretary of defense never recovered; his “absolute astonishment” that the North Vietnamese had misunderstood our intentions; and in the epilogue of the movie, his “pain and irritation” at being asked why he didn’t speak out, a question he refused to answer.

Morris was happily greeting old friends, but I interrupted for a moment to ask whether McNamara’s view of the film had been changed by the response to it in the course of several appearances they’ve made together. Ekman was right. “He never liked the epilogue,” said the filmmaker, “and enjoined me to tell journalists that the lessons in the movie were my lessons and not his lessons. ” McNamara, who has seen very few movies in his life, was “really fascinated by the idea of DVDs. I told him if I can’t put material in the movie,” about his contributions as head of the World Bank, for example, “I’d put it in the DVD.”

Onstage, McNamara unpacked a pile of books at the start of the conversation, took feverish notes when Danner and Morris talked, and then packed up abruptly in public when it was time for the discussion to end. He’s obviously a man who’s used to being in charge.

But his message to the audience, as though he were a longhaired ’60s rabble-rouser, was a call to action: Demand that taxes be raised! Lower tuition at Cal! Fix what’s wrong with education!

Afterward, there was a mellow dinner at Chez Panisse, where the 88-year- old McNamara, a widower, was accompanied by Diana Masieri, Venetian-born, 50ish and said to be a vineyard owner. Also on hand was Marian Sproul Goodin, the woman he’d courted as a student. At my table, Peter Tarnoff, undersecretary of state for political affairs during the Clinton administration, recalled meeting McNamara in Vietnam, where Tarnoff was serving in the mid-’60s as a foreign service officer. “He asked a lot of questions,” said Tarnoff.

After dinner, on the way out of the restaurant, I asked McNamara whether his remarks about taxes and California meant he would be game for a debate with Gov. Schwarzenegger. His seize-the-day response was worthy of Abby Hoffman: “You do it,” he laughed.

Cheaper by the dozen?: There’s a major local angle in the sale of that entire Forbes Faberge collection to Russian billionaire Victor Vekselberg: The deal, estimated to be worth more than $100 million, was brokered by Andre Ruzhnikov of Hillsborough. At the suggestion of collector John Traina, I talked with Ruzhnikov shortly after the Sotheby’s auction — now canceled –of the collection was announced. Ruzhnikov, who’s a dealer, collector and agent for other collectors, told me he was undecided about bidding — “we’ll see” — but would love to have an egg. Perhaps he’ll get one as a commission.

As to Vekselberg, whose fortune comes from Russian oil and gas, Traina says he’s one of the top five billionaires in Russia. “I think the top one is in jail.” (He’s right.)


Finally: Angela Alioto was upset, as Laurel Wellman reported, that hardhearted Matt Gonzalez had auctioned a book she’d given him to help pay off his campaign debt. There were other sentimental souvenirs sold.


Singer Connie Champagne, co-emcee of the event, told me she was the winning bidder ($200 plus various donations to charity) on a letter dated Dec. 30 from Mayor-elect Newsom to Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, inviting him to the inauguration. “You have played a fundamental role in my career and life — and I would love if you would celebrate with me on this important day in my life. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your continuing support and encouragement. I literally could not have done this without you.”