Faculty Writing: James Comey’s Truth and Black and White New York

In the Baffler, Patrick Blanchfield reviews James Comey’s unctuous apologia Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. As Blanchfield observes, “Comey is a True Believer in Truth Itself” (according to Comey, “As a legal principle, if people don’t tell the truth, our justice system cannot function and a society based on the rule of law begins to dissolve”). Comey’s higher calling, Blanchfield writes, “leads him to some pretty twisted places” (in the George W. Bush Justice Department he wrote memos declaring the legality of torture). Fundamentally, Comey confuses truth with institutional and personal identity: to preserve the supposed good reputation of the FBI, he intervenes twice in the 2016 presidential campaign to make opaque public pronouncements on the Hillary Clinton email investigation. In other words, to demonstrate the FBI’s apparent impartiality–a political goal–Comey made “political decisions that had monumental political outcomes.” In a testament to the paramountcy of Truth, Comey succeeds only in burnishing his myth—that he’s above the fray.

In Gotham, Jeffrey Escoffier recalls the striking, black-and-white urban photography of Leonard Fink and Peter Hujar (whose works are currently on display at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art and the Morgan Library, respectively). Finks and Hujar’s photographs “were shot during a decade in which New York City was literally in ruins, hundreds of buildings destroyed by arson in the Bronx, piles of garbage everywhere uncollected, the Hudson River piers abandoned and crumbling, the Westside elevated highway collapsing from disrepair, thousands of city employees laid off, and dark gloomy subway cars covered in graffiti tags.  It was only after their deaths that each photographer came to be known as a significant observer of the period’s cultural milieu.”