Maybe some­day a spe­cial beef dish will also be named af­ter Jeff Be­zos

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - NEIL STEIN­BERG nstein­[email protected]­times.com | @NeilStein­berg

Arthur Welles­ley is no longer fa­mous. Though his ti­tle, “The Duke of Welling­ton” raises a glim­mer of recog­ni­tion, not due to the man him­self, alas, but for the beef-in-pas­try dish ap­par­ently named af­ter him. His­tory can be cruel that way.

Welles­ley was the bril­liant, Dublin-born Bri­tish mil­i­tary leader who de­feated Napoleon at Water­loo. Big in his day. “The last great English­man,” Ten­nyson dubbed him.

He also vis­ited pros­ti­tutes. Women who, then as now, had a habit of cash­ing in twice on their fa­mous cus­tomers; once for their ser­vices, again in print. Nor were their friends more scrupu­lous. When London pornog­ra­pher John Stock­dale wrote to the Duke, de­mand­ing money to ex­cise pas­sages in­volv­ing him from London tart Har­ri­ette Wil­son’s pend­ing rem­i­nis­cences, Welling­ton scrawled “Pub­lish and be damned” across the let­ter and re­turned it.

Sup­pos­edly. The ac­tual let­ter does not ex­ist. “The Mem­oirs of Har­ri­ette Wil­son” were pub­lished in 1824, with the Duke of Welling­ton fore­most among the pa­rade of fa­mous men march­ing through her bed.

Only the full­ness of time will de­ter­mine whether Jeff Be­zos’ per­for­mance last week rises to a Welling­to­nian high stan­dard for panache. Though Be­zos did the Duke one bet­ter, dis­sem­i­nat­ing him­self the en­tire cor­re­spon­dence from Amer­i­can Me­dia Inc., par­ent com­pany of the Na­tional En­quirer, which Be­zos claims was black­mail­ing him. The En­quirer, it has been es­tab­lished, serves as a pro­tec­tive shield around Don­ald Trump, buy­ing up rights to sala­cious sto­ries from women he se­duced, for ex­am­ple, then bury­ing in­stead of pub­lish­ing them.

Or, in the case of the owner of Ama­zon and the rich­est man on earth, of­fer­ing not to print ob­scene pho­tos that Be­zos took of him­self if he made a state­ment in sup­port of AMI, and if the Washington Post, which he also owns, backed off its re­port­ing on AMI’s ties to the Saudis.

By re­veal­ing the dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion him­self, Be­zos turned shame into tri­umph. Then again, this is usu­ally the case with can­dor in the face of scan­dal, and I’m sur­prised that more pub­lic fig­ures aren’t proac­tive about it.

As black­face year­book pic­tures of Vir­ginia Democrats be­gan pop­ping up, what sur­prised me is that those aspir­ing to po­lit­i­cal ca­reers never seemed to imag­ine some­one might un­earth those, even­tu­ally, and did not re­veal them vol­un­tar­ily, years ago, un­der cir­cum­stances of their choos­ing.

Black­mail is much in the pub­lic mind lately, though Welling­ton and Be­zos are un­usual in that their black­mail is real. Most black­mail is no­tional — see­ing some­one like Sen. Lind­say Gra­ham en­thu­si­as­ti­cally be­tray ev­ery long-held value he once pas­sion­ately pro­fessed, gen­er­ous souls as­sume some dirt is be­ing held over his head. He’s be­ing forced to be the pres­i­dent’s lap­dog. I be­lieve that gives him too much credit; he’s just slav­ishly gen­u­flect­ing to power. The Russkies can’t have in­crim­i­nat­ing pho­tos of the en­tire GOP sen­ate, rolling like pup­pies at Don­ald Trump’s feet.

And Trump (he’s the pres­i­dent, and thus an ever-rel­e­vant sub­ject for con­sid­er­a­tion; if you can’t grasp that, no need to share your baf­fle­ment with me) — what is shame to him? On tape talk­ing about grop­ing women, pay­ing off porn ac­tresses, and yet comes through fresh as a daisy. Trump isn’t be­ing co­erced to be­tray our coun­try out of fear of ex­po­sure, but from his own fi­nan­cial self-in­ter­est and a grotesque af­fec­tion for the strong­man tyrants he would love to be if he weren’t so, you know, pa­thet­i­cally weak. To sus­pect Trump is per­haps be­ing black­mailed is to con­jure up a nonex­is­tent dig­nity in the man.

Wil­son’s mem­oir was wildly suc­cess­ful, by the way, though what passes for sala­cious de­tails in 1824 are mild to­day. Welling­ton greets her — “How do you do?” — and of­fers a few en­dear­ments — “Beau­ti­ful crea­ture!” . . . “Beau­ti­ful eyes, yours!” Then, she draws the veil: “But love scenes, or even love quar­rels, sel­dom tend to amuse the reader . . .” She does stick the dag­ger in, ac­cus­ing Welling­ton of be­ing dull and look­ing “very like a rat-catcher.”

None of it kept Welling­ton from be­com­ing prime min­is­ter of Great Bri­tain, twice, nor be­ing eu­lo­gized by that na­tion’s poet lau­re­ate, pil­ing on praise. “With honor, honor, honor, honor to him,” Ten­nyson wrote. “Eter­nal honor to his name.”

Noth­ing is eter­nal, though be­ing re­mem­bered al­most ex­actly 250 years af­ter your birth — that’ll be May 1 — comes close, and I sup­pose hav­ing a pas­try-wrapped beef­steak named af­ter you is honor of a sort, and more than most of us can hope for.

BLACK­MAIL IS MUCH IN THE PUB­LIC MIND LATELY, THOUGH WELLING­TON AND BE­ZOS ARE UN­USUAL IN THAT THEIR BLACK­MAIL IS REAL. MOST BLACK­MAIL IS NO­TIONAL.

MAN­DEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Ama­zon CEO Jeff Be­zos

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