The Editor's Desk

Brother Peter Bonventre was an assistant principal at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn in the years its most notable alumnus, Rudy Giuliani, studied there. Nearly 50 years on, Brother Peter is a guidance counselor at the school, and was happy to see our Suzanne Smalley in the course of reporting this week's cover. "He remembered Rudy fondly, taking care to mention Rudy played Santa Claus in a school assembly—it was a big honor to be chosen to play Santa as a senior," Suzanne says. "In 1960, the school paper's Personalities section ran an item noting that Giuliani was known for 'many things, like holding the presidency of 126 [homeroom], founding Loughlin's Opera Society, bothering Long Island Rail Road passengers, being the highest batter in 1960 softball intramurals … and telling everyone how wonderful JFK is'."

A young man interested in power, politics, opera, sports and surrounded with at least a whiff of controversy: as it was in the beginning, so it has been since. As Evan Thomas and Suzanne write, the roots of Giuliani's outsize, complex adult personality can be traced back to his childhood and youth in New York City, to a family of cops and hoods and to a Roman Catholic culture with a strict moral code but always holding out the possibility of redemption and grace.

Arian Campo-Flores did a good deal of reporting for the piece, and had this to say about what he learned: "Virtually no one I spoke to who knew Rudy in his formative years thought he was destined for a successful political career. Though he certainly struck them as smart and ambitious, he seemed utterly lacking in the deft, diplomatic touch necessary to succeed in public life. Most of the people I spoke to had some comic anecdote about Rudy's aggressiveness, stubbornness or quest for control. His old frat brother Sal Scarpato, for instance, told me how Rudy imposed Robert's Rules of Order in the frat and wielded them to silence Scarpato and keep him from getting issues on the agenda. Things grew so heated between the two on one occasion that they took their dispute outside, where Rudy quickly overpowered Scarpato and got him to cry uncle. So it comes as a shock to many of these old peers that Rudy is now the front runner for the GOP nomination. The smiling, occasionally charming candidate they see on TV is unrecognizable. It just leaves me wondering if and when that old Rudy will make an appearance—and how the public will respond to him."

Elsewhere, Larry Kaplow, Rod Nordland and Silvia Spring report on an encouraging trend: the return of refugees to Iraq. The flow of better news out of the war zone since the summer has put much of the press in something of a bind. On the one hand, however temporary the improvements are, the improvements, as Rod wrote last week, are nonetheless real. On the other, many journalists regret not pressing hard enough in the run-up to the war and are thus very reluctant to appear to be passing along the Bush administration's version of events. Fair enough, but the dilemma, while understandable, raises a question: at what point does healthy skepticism become willful cynicism? It is a question many of us grapple with on a variety of topics, and there is no single, absolutely clear answer. The best we can do, probably, is judge the facts of the moment in the fullest context possible, avoid cheerleading and resist the temptation to mistake reflexive negativity for journalistic rigor. An essay from Charles Peters, an old friend and mentor to many of us, explores some of these issues this week. Charlie has long urged the country to judge things empirically rather than ideologically, a point we can never hear too often.