by Max Brantley
The New York Times carried a fairly lengthy obituary today on a relatively obscure "journalist and novelist" named L.J. Davis, who'd written for the Times among others. The Times failed to note one of Davis' most famous works — a tale headlined "The Name of the Rose". It was written for the New Republic. I believe this is a copy of his account of Rose Law Firm, Stephens family and related skulduggery in darkest Arkansas.
Davis, Whitewater buffs will recall, is the writer who claimed he was cold-cocked by an intruder at the Hotel Sam Peck while on the trail of Bill Clinton crimes during his investigations for the story in 1994. The episode gave rise, along with other Wall Street Journal editorial page inventions, to the Journal's branding of Arkansas as a "congenitally violent place."
A more serious reporter working for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette discovered that Davis might well have been cold-cocked, but it was more likely from martinis he had downed in the Sam Peck cocktail lounge at the time the supposed attack took place.
The New York Times, with plenty of Whitewater blood on its own hands, perhaps didn't want to dredge up this memorable L.J. Davis anecdote for his obit. It stayed with a warmer, but perhaps appropriate tone.
Mr. Davis was known among friends and editors as affable and voluble, a man who arrived at every personal encounter equipped with a capacious store of unusual facts and anecdotes he was prepared to dispense at the slightest provocation.