What the World Needs Now? A News Blackout The plane crash that tookthe lives of John Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn and sister-in-lawLauren Bessette was an unspeakable tragedy only exacerbated by the coldheartedmass media intrusion on their families' privacy. The perpetrators will counterthat the Kennedys are public figures, America's "Royal Family,"and other such nonsense, but the plain fact is that three young people are dead and their relatives and friends should be left alone to mourn. Instead, forthe next month it'll be Lady Di-II, U.S.-style, and it makes meashamed to be a journalist. The Kennedys lived a fewblocks from my family in Tribeca, and so we witnessed the surreal neighborhoodscene last weekend. Television crews stood in front of their empty N. MooreSt. apartment, filming what? Radio reporters interviewed the "little people"at local hangouts like Bubby's, Fourth Estate and Socrates,who dutifully said John was a regular guy who bought flowers at the same deli they did, and would gladly sign autographs. On Sunday morning, MUGGER III andI went to see our friend Mary Parvin at Fourth Estate, and strolled aroundthe block to see if the "journalists" were still keeping vigil. Whata question. Of course they were, to the extent that one reporter even askedmy four-year-old son for his reaction. CNN and the major networks broadcastalmost nonstop coverage-and don't tell me it's cynical to assume that behindthe scenes the gleeful expectation of higher ratings was on the minds of producers,as their teams worked overtime and called out for pizza and indulged in gallowshumor-of the search for the plane, as if any new information would be immediatelyforthcoming. Time and Newsweek had to call in their suburban troopsto remake their covers and inside features, which is legitimate, especiallysince these will be the bestselling issues of the year thus far. What reallyirks me is the minutiae of the coverage: the examination of Kennedy's flyingrecord, what Carolyn was wearing on the flight, the weather conditions, thequestions of whether or not they should've boarded a commercial airline. Inthe end, obviously, it doesn't matter: They're dead and the story should endthere. God only knows what Oprah, Larry King, Barbara Waltersand Geraldo have up their sleeves; it was painful opening the dailiesto find pundit after pundit bemoaning the end of Camelot once more. Howmany times can the American public lose its innocence?
And, asusual, Bill Clinton will go even more overboard in the emotion department.Granted, it's his place to make a statement to the country, but you just knowhe'll continue to debase the sad occasion with poll-conscious oratory. Initially,he's been restrained; just wait until the funeral. Other politicians will exploitthe deaths as well. Count on Al Gore; I hope George W. Bush, who'shad little contact with the Kennedy family, will be simply gracious in payinghis respects. Sen. Orrin Hatch was already groaning on for CNN's Kingabout the near-mystical Catholic faith of the Kennedys. I believe that was trueabout matriarch Rose Kennedy, and Ethel Kennedy, but the thirdgeneration of the family has never worn religion on their sleeves, in eitherwords or actions.
There'salready been column inch upon column inch in the newspapers about an entirenation in "mourning." That's simply not true. This is an instanceof a celebrity meeting an untimely death; unfortunately, it'll be given moreattention than Littleton, Kosovo and Rwanda combined. Iwant no part of it, don't want to hear the eulogies, don't want to read thesick postings on the Internet from those who hated anyone named Kennedy,don't want to hear blabbermouths like Liz Smith groan on abouta man who was so successful, so drop-dead handsome, such a brilliant editorwith the failing George. The lying will be outrageous. Yes, when someonedies, especially prematurely, it's natural for a family to put him on a pedestal;that doesn't mean the entire country has to.
Still, newspaperwriters have to fill space, and some do so better than others. I don't begrudgethe New York Post's Jack Newfield his heartfeltwords at all; he truly was a close friend of the family. I could argue aboutthe headline of his July 18 column, "Good night, sweet prince of a noblefamily," but his writing is sincere: "John was never arrested. Henever stained his family's name. He didn't run around with a posse of goon bodyguards.He was good in a way very few famous men are."
Newfield'scolleague Andrea Peyser, on the other hand, let on to readers on thesame day that she can't write on deadline. Read this hysterical bit: "Thefirst reaction upon waking is: It can't be true. Not him. Not now. Then, denial:This must be some kind of hideous mistake! He wasn't on that plane. He's safe.And anger: Why was he flying in that dinky aircraft, in the dark? John, don'tyou know what could happen to you?... My heart is broken this sad, dreary day.This can't be true. He can't be dead."
At the DailyNews, Stanley Crouch had a strange lead to his eulogy on July 19:"When Princess Di got it, I didn't get it."
Newsday'sJames Pinkerton, also writing on July 19, concluded his column with anoddly sentimental line that's uncharacteristic of his work. "And now he'slost, and we're facing a stiller world." That's what Time's odiousLance Morrow would claim is the beer talking. The world is no more "still"after Kennedy's death; he was just one more person who died, although far tooyoung.
JimmyBreslin, big surprise, was just downright mean. Not about Kennedy, of course.Instead, he wrote in Newsday on Monday: "Jack Kennedy was presidentfor 1,000 days. Jimmy Carter was president longer than that. Who would you ratherhear about, Carter or Kennedy? Ford was a president? Who was he? Who is he?Who cares? He bores. Clinton has been president for three more years than Kennedyand I want somebody to tell me one phrase he turned in his whole time of flat,banal English. Except for that finger wagging, 'that woman.' This is a president?That is all he could add to the language? All the rest, Nixon, Ford, Reagan,are minor names. You say Kennedy and all these years later something comes alive.Go ahead, go to the moon. Because it is hard." Nixon and Reaganare "minor" names? Jimmy, you hittin' the sauce again?
Then therewas the Times' John Tierney, on Monday, with his condescendingtwaddle: "The Kennedys became everyone's surrogate family, a balm for themany rootless people here and across America." Speak for yourself, John.
Again inthe Times, on Monday, Douglas Brinkley wrote on the paper's op-edpage: "Americans in their 30's, like me, grew up with John Kennedy... Withhis earnest demeanor, handsome countenance and admirable devotion to being asocially responsible citizen, he was my generation's photogenic redeemer."Brinkley, an historian and professor at the University of New Orleans,diminishes his reputation with such sentimental slop.
In the July26 Newsweek, Jonathan Alter was just as presumptuous, writingthat Kennedy's magazine George was "underrated." No, it wasn't.It's a trivial, often silly, publication that most likely would've folded sooneven if Kennedy hadn't perished. But the conclusion to Alter's column tellsme that all members of the Beltway media should take a yearlong vacation.He writes, incomprehensibly, "He was more than our 'Prince Charming,' asthe New York tabs called him. We etched the past and the future on his fineface." No, Jon, "we" didn't, even if you did. Which I doubt.
A Kennedydeath (but not Michael's) wouldn't be complete without a remembrancefrom Arthur Schlesinger Jr. And so in the July 26 Time, Schlesingerwrites with atrocious elitism: "That is why he took up flying. When hetraveled on commercial aircraft, fellow passengers would ask questions, seekautographs, exchange memories. He understood that they were people of good-will,and he could not bear to be impolite, but the benign interest of others wasa burden. Once he got his flying license, he seemed a liberated man, free totravel as he wished without superfluous demands on time and energy. Nor washe a reckless pilot. The mystery of his death remains."
Finally,as to the continuous talk of the "Kennedy curse" and allusions toShakespearean and Greek tragedies, that's all in the minds of imaginative writers.The Kennedy family is huge and is known for its aggressive, risk-taking lifestyle.It's all in the odds of life.
I nevermet John Kennedy Jr. But if what friends tell me is true, that he was a likable,generous man, I have no doubt he'd be acutely embarrassed by this outpouringof confusing, and often self-serving, punditry.
Besides,after all the Kennedys' years in public life, isn't it time the media left themalone? On Hold: The Daily Observer Mostly, it was a typicallyslow summer week at the MUGGER household. Nothing wrong with that. I like routines:Each morning, I arise at 5, pop open a can of Coke and scan The DrudgeReport. The dailies arrive at Morgans, the local deli, at about 6,and so I go downstairs, chat with the concierge Ray about the previousnight's ball games and then buy a large coffee. Soon, the boys are awake andwe wrestle and josh around-Junior's new nickname for me is Pickle-Face-andthen they wander off to the tube to watch Animaniacs, Pokemonand Arthur, while I work at my orange iMAC. On Thursday, Juniorand I finished a game of Monopoly, and he was pissed that I won in theend, even though he had the lucrative Boardwalk and Pennsylvania Ave.properties. I was ruthless in the match; Monopoly is probably the most instructiveboard game ever created as far as life lessons go. The art of negotiation, managingmoney, luck, skill and a sense of humor are all included: A repetition of Monopolycontests is no doubt more important than any grade-school course, with perhapsthe exception of learning how to type. Mrs. M andI then escort the boys to their nearby camp, stopping along the way to buy lunchand chat with other parents in the park. The other day I saw my friend Rick,an unapologetic liberal whose political views are outweighed by his devotionto the Red Sox. It's been a pretty good season so far for the team, andwe were both pleased with Pedro Martinez's spectacular turn atthe Fenway Park All-Star Game last Tuesday night, and found itnot at all upsetting that Yankees fans are already booing RogerClemens.
By the way,count me among Sox fans who are entirely in favor of a new park in Boston.True, Fenway is legendary, but it was built in 1912, another era, and its limitedcapacity (some 33,000), as well a load of obstructed seats, don't make sensetoday. Boston's sportswriters and editorialists are of different minds aboutthe project, debating the sense of bilking taxpayers on the one hand, and ofcreating a spiffy new tourist attraction on the other, but as a New Yorkresident, I say build the damn thing. Ted Williams agrees. In a July17 piece in The Boston Globe, he wrote: "Boston has to have a teamthat is competitive in every way that is affordable to the fans. The Red Soxdeserve a chance to be able to procure the best players possible and to keepthe outstanding ones they have now. The Red Sox have the greatest fans in baseball,and a new park would benefit them as well as the Red Sox organization. Now'sthe time." Coming from Old Man Grumpus, I'll bet Williams' opinion willsway a lot of bench-straddlers.
A lot ofkids came to our rooftop for a pizza "barbecue" one day last week.I managed to sneak off from work to attend for an hour or so, which was a lotmore fun than reading letters to the editor from morons whose IQ levels arebelow even those of Gary Bauer and Lanny Davis. The group of six-year-olds,plus MUGGER III, waded in a pool, squirted each other with water pistols, atechips, slurped Orangina and a few even sunbathed.
Last Wednesday,I was surprised to find not a word about Conrad Black's rumored purchaseof The New York Observer in that week's issue. Chat about the deal betweenmogul Black, who controls Hollinger International, Inc., and is the third-largestnewspaper proprietor in the world, was bandied about for at least a month beforeAlex Kuczynski's New York Times article on July 9 madeit official. Black, who owns London's finest daily, the Telegraph,as well as The Jerusalem Post, Chicago Sun-Times and Canada'sNational Post, is itching for a toehold in Manhattan, and buying thetiny-circulation but uptown Observer makes a lot of sense. Certainlymore than taking the Daily News off Mort Zuckerman's handsand inheriting an avalanche of union problems, the likes of which must infuriatethe conservative Black just on principle. In addition, it's said by industryinsiders that he has plans to transform the Observer into a five-times-a-weekdaily, which would potentially be a splendid antidote to the insufferably liberalNew York Times.
Anyway,last Wednesday in the media-obsessed Observer there was just the usualblend of infuriating and intelligent articles. There was a gorgeous illustrationof Tim Zagat by Victor Juhasz that dominated the front page; awho-cares story about former Met Keith Hernandez; a letter tothe editor from Time Out New York's president Cyndi Stivers,who criticized the previous week's "Off the Record" column, in whichCarl Swanson wrote about that sleazy weekly's lack of factchecking; andof course a story about Conde Nast's move to Times Square.
The juxtapositionof the Observer's political views is one reason I buy the paper everyweek. On page four there was an anti-Hillary Clinton editorial, headlined"Hillary Go Home (Again)," which read in part: "Who does Mrs.Clinton think she's fooling? Perhaps she thinks Jewish voters will forget hersupport for a Palestinian state with this silly exercise in ethnic politics.Perhaps she thinks that by saying something she believes to be popular, Jewishvoters will forget her tawdry past, her carpetbagging opportunism and her arrogantbelief that New Yorkers can be fooled into buying a dubious product with a scandaloustrack record."
Across fromthat acidic editorial, Clinton administration loyalist Joe Conason hasa different take on Hillary's "listening tour." He writes: "Ifhe is as smart as he thinks he is, Rudolph Giuliani must be starting to realizejust how formidable an opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton could be in next year'sSenate race. Her recent incursion has been judged a success even by bitter critics,and she escaped cleanly without a disastrous error." Apparently, Conasondoesn't include his own paper's editorial writers in the company of "bittercritics."
But nota word about Black, which struck me as odd, since the Observer remakesits front page when a Vogue assistant editor sneezes. Requesting anonymity,one Observer staffer told me that the paper "operates without afirst-person voice emanating from its core, speaking for the paper's intentions,so there wouldn't be any place for the paper itself to talk about this-unlessit happens, in which case I guess we'd probably write something."
On Thursday,a source of mine in London called to say that he'd had dinner with Black thenight before and indeed the deal would be announced the next day. He said thatBlack insisted the paper would go daily and tilt conservative; the staff, includingeditor Peter Kaplan, was due for a momentous shake-up. Black was reportedlydisgusted that the Observer recently printed a piece by ChristopherHitchens; other left-wing writers were to walk the plank. Later that day,Business Week Online reported on the Web that a deal had been completed.On Friday, however, Arthur Carter denied it all, confusing everyone who'dbeen tracking the deal. Business Week Online claimed, "Disagreementsarose at the last minute over the Observer's finances [and a source says] 'asa result of which Hollinger has decided not to proceed with the transaction.'"
What doesit all mean now for the Observer? One, it's sort of a lame-duck newspaperthat will be correctly or incorrectly assumed to be on the auction block. Iimagine the fax machine is busy at their offices now, with writers and editorssending out resumes. I hope Black and Carter get back together, for a coupleof reasons. One, it would be grand to have another daily, especially an upmarketconservative one, to buy during the week. Two, the fits it would cause the holier-than-thouowners, editors and reporters at the Times would be spectacular theater.It's somewhat analogous to The Washington Times going against TheWashington Post in DC, but without the Moonie baggage. TheDaily Observer would always struggle for its share of tony advertising,going against the Times money machine, but Black would have his voicein New York and has the cash to make a go of it. It Just Gets Worse for Gore A few weeks ago in this columnI gave some smart advice to Al Gore: Resign the vice presidency, teamup with Bill Bradley and campaign for president full-time, unburdenedby the baggage of Bill Clinton. So far, he's taken a different fork inthe road, adding layers of bureaucracy to his organization, spending money lavishlyand still tumbling in the polls. Democrats of every bent-from Southern legislatorsto left-wingers like Paul Wellstone (who's endorsed Bradley) to the vastmajority of the mainstream press-are clearly spooked. (By the way, don't believefor a second the line currently being peddled that the Beltway poohbahsare soft on George W. Bush: They're still hoping against hopethat Sen. John McCain's candidacy will ignite. And after that honeymoon,the vast majority of the media elite will fall behind the Democratic nominee.) They seethat Gov. Bush's widespread support throughout the country threatens, rightnow, to swamp their party in the 2000 election. They recognize that Bush's fine-tunedcampaign apparatus, his Clintonesque skill on the stump, his buoyant optimismand, yes, his incredible amount of money, will not only win him the WhiteHouse, but could very well increase the GOP hold on the Senate and Houseas well. Pundits like Crossfire's Bill Press scream that Bushis "buying the election," an outrageous charge given the feloniousmanner in which Clinton and Gore were elected in 1996.
I almostfeel sorry for Gore. He's been reduced to being the honorary chairman of a July22 dinner, sponsored by the National Albanian American Council,to kick off the "Bean Bag Toys for Kosova's Children" relief effort.Fittingly, Liddy Dole is the cochair and Cokie Roberts is themaster of ceremonies. My house is filled with Beanie Babies and one thingis certain: You can put Erin, Roary, Spinner, Twigs,Baldy, Iggy, Kicks, Peace, Millennium, PrincessBear or Batty on a plate, douse them with salt & pepper and themeal will still come up zero on a nutrition scale.
So here'sanother idea for depressed Democrats to consider. Gore is not going to turnthis election around. In fact, he might even lose the nomination to Bradley,who in turn will go down to defeat against Bush. Clearly there's time for acelebrity candidate to challenge both Gore and Bradley for the Democratic prize,someone who can excite the party and raise money quickly. Someone who PresidentClinton will not sabotage by making campaign appearances instead of playinggolf or looking for another 21-year-old to screw around with.
Obviously,that person is Hillary Clinton. Why should she settle for a Senate contestin New York, which she has only an even chance of winning, when she'dhave a lot more fun, and possibly success, going for it all? Gore is on trackto lose California; Hillary could win it. Gore might even go down inNew York and New Jersey; Hillary could take them. And the money wouldn'tbe a problem. Why, Terry McAuliffe, the sleazy fundraiser who's doneso much for the Clintons, would rise to the challenge. After all, Hillary'salready set a goal of picking up $25 million for her New York Senate race, anumber that would shatter the record for a non-incumbent. (But I don't supposeCrossfire's Press would suggest she's trying to "buy"that election.) As far as her husband goes, there's a chance that he would actuallytry to help her, figuring this would be his way around the 22nd Amendment.
(One digression:Voters' minds are usually decided by symbolic moments rather than arcane policyproposals. One remark by Clinton last Tuesday proves that she must neverdeviate from a prepared script. At Jones Beach, she said: "I feellike I'm on Baywatch. I've heard about [the famous beach] literally allmy life, from many friends who would come here and spend lots of glorious summerdays. I'm just delighted to be here.")
A goofyscenario? Not in this election cycle.
Aside fromJohn Kennedy's death, it was another extraordinary week in presidentialpolitics. Sen. Bob Smith left the Republican Party and will instead seekthe White House in a third party bid. This, in turn, caused a lot of ridiculousyammering from also-ran right-wingers like Gary Bauer and Pat Buchanan,who claimed it was an ominous sign for their party when such a valued senatordeserted their ranks. Forget all this rhetoric, from disappointed candidatesoutflanked by Bush, that there isn't any difference between the Governor andGore. (Or Bradley: Another trend this past week is that the Vice President'scampaign is flailing so much that Democratic partisans, perhaps unconsciously,are speaking about the Democratic nominee as Gore or Bradley.)
When RalphReed, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are all either outrightsupporting Bush or praising him despite pledges of impartiality, the cry that"grassroots" GOP activists will reject Bush rings hollow. The questionsRepublicans have to answer are these: Do you want Bush or Gore filling the nextSupreme Court vacancies? Who is more likely, with a GOP-controlled Congress,to deliver meaningful tax cuts, such as the abolition of the "death tax"?Who will promote an agenda of less government regulation and not be beholdento corrupt labor unions? And who will restore dignity to the White House? Theanswer to all these questions, of course, is Bush, and crybabies like LamarAlexander, Steve Forbes, Bauer and Smith look ridiculous and self-absorbedas they attempt to the derail the best GOP presidential candidate since RonaldReagan.
I get akick out of partisan journalists like Press who claim that Bush has too muchmoney. In fact, Steve Forbes (!) has received a free ride, despite his vastinherited wealth, because he's rightfully put in the loser category. Typicalof this hypocrisy is a paragraph found in Dana Milbank's latest NewRepublic piece (Aug. 2): "Those of us who don't carry around plasticfetuses should be encouraged by the right's loathing of Bush. If he's makingthose kinds of enemies, he's probably a sensible fellow. Still, the conservativesare right that there's something obscene about his $36 million take. Gore wouldhave been able to make an issue of it were it not for his own fund-raising controversiesfrom 1996. Absurdly, the greatest voice now the little guy is Steve Forbes,who will spend his personal millions to make sure the Republican primary iscompetitive."
It mustbe tough working in the Gore Republic bunker right now. Imagine ownerMarty Peretz on his cell phone, yelling at his reporters, "Do somethingfor Al!" What Milbank chooses not to mention is that, Bush aside, Gorewould've broken the record for a first-half-of-the-year financial filing oncontributions with his $18 million. Would that have been obscene? Ofcourse not, 'cause You Can Call Me Al.
Anotherliberal columnist, Mark Shields, just doesn't like the fact that Bushhas the nomination all but in the bag. Hmm, he furrows his brow, it's bad fordemocracy, bad for the Constitution and especially bad for Democrats!He concludes a column in the July 17 Washington Post: "A cakewalkto a coronation for the Republican front-runner would be harmful to his chancesin the fall. A competitive, robust, rugged conflict for the nomination wouldbetter serve the eventual chances of the party nominee, better serve his partyand, more important, better serve the country."
Horsefeathers.Bob Dole had the shit scared out of him in the '96 primaries, losingNew Hampshire, and his presidential campaign was still a nightmare. A"rugged conflict for the [GOP] nomination" would better serve Bradleyor Gore. Why can't journalists look themselves in the mirror and say, "Hey,I think I'll be honest today!" It would better serve their families and,more important, better serve the country.
JohnKasich was smart to drop out of the race even before the August straw pollin Iowa. As a result, it's likely that the influential Ohio congressman,who won't be running for reelection, will receive an important position in theBush administration. Alexander, when he finally packs it up, will be lucky tobe appointed as a White House usher.
It sayssomething when even Lars-Erik Nelson, the Daily News columnistwho's probably never voted for a Republican, writes a piece called "BushSmears Are Low." On July 9, Nelson called the Los Angeles Timesstory questioning Bush's military record-why that paper has it out for BushI haven't figured out yet-"careful and balanced," but "part ofa destructive trend" among journalists to destroy presidential candidates.
He writes:"It is not partisan malice. [I'll let that whopper go for the moment, sinceLars is making so much sense here.] We are more like thoughtless children pullingthe wings off flies, just out of curiosity. Any time some new political figurepokes his head up and decides to run for high office, the press now feels obligedto find some fatal character flaw, some crooked deal in his past... His spouse,Laura, has been derided in The New York Times as a 'Betty Crocker wife,' meaning,no doubt, that she cooks for her own children. How bourgeois! How five minutesago!
"Enoughis enough. Bush has been a popular governor of Texas. He courageously stoodup to the yahoos in his own party when they wanted to throw the children ofundocumented immigrants out of the public schools. He remains a mystery on manyimportant national issues, and he should be asked to explain where he stands.There may be excellent reasons not to vote for him. But there is no reason todestroy his character or question his intelligence or sneer at his family. That'snot journalism. It's destructive mischief, and it hurts the country."
Apparently,Nelson, unlike so many of his ostrich colleagues, has realized that short ofa gigantic scandal-it would be hard to beat rape-Bush will be the GOP nominee.Nelson's ready for the general election, and will no doubt write thousands ofwords on behalf of either Gore or Bradley, but at least he's come to grips withthe political reality of Bush's dominance. After all, it's no accident thatRepublicans in Congress have suddenly awoke from their slumber and are actuallyproposing legislation that has some teeth. It's because Bush is now the titularleader of the GOP. Ever since Newt Gingrich self-destructed in '95 theparty has been adrift. That's all about to change. Stop the Whining! The recent heatwaves havebrought out the worst in The New York Times-if you can believeit, given the paper's daily skein of transgressions against the reading public.On July 7, not content to settle with a boilerplate editorial about the hightemperatures and humidity, the writer also slipped in another plug for AlGore, and not at all subtly at that. The edit read: "[T]he city's discomfortoffered an unpleasant reminder that if the globe continues to warm, a warningthat looms beyond this week's heat emergencies, these heat waves may becomemore common. For now it is sobering enough to think that it is still only thefirst full week of July." What nonsense,even without the pitch for Mr. Global Warming. I grew up on Long Islandand summers were hot. Period. Usually, Northeasterners get hit with onemonth out of three that has a 10-day stretch of days where the thermometer risesabove 90 degrees; if it's a particularly scorching season, two of those monthswill be uncomfortable. To some, that's a disadvantage of living in New Yorkas opposed to Los Angeles, where the climate is superb. Talk about minusculetradeoffs.
The Post'sJohn Podhoretz wrote a smart column on the same day as the Timeseditorial, pooh-poohing the absurd amount of media silliness about the heatwave. Sure, you had to ignore the Pod's usual grab-bag of rhetoric-SpikeLee's an idiot; a crazy suggestion that thanks to Rudy Giulianiit's safe to sleep in the parks again-but he was right on the mark about thehysteria that ensued because of a stretch of unseasonably hot days. Recallingthat New Yorkers used to figure out ways to live with the heat, like going tomovies for the air conditioning, without a brainless radio reporter stickinga microphone in their faces asking how they're coping, Podhoretz put the weatherin perspective. He wrote: "Americans weren't quite so health-obsessed inthose days. They remembered when people died from strep throat, so the notionthat ordinary daily life might be fatal was ingrained in them. This is a factwe are happily unfamiliar with. But it's still no reason for the media to sound collectively like an overanxious grandmother who forces galoshes on your feetwhen it's drizzling outside."
(Not thatthe Post is immune to heat hyperbole. It's not Podhoretz's domain sincehe's editorial page editor, but last Saturday the paper ran a headline acrosspages two and three that read "Another Weekend of Hell on Earth,"with the subhed "Baked Apple goes on blackout alert.")
The BostonTimes, I mean Globe, also ran last Saturday with a stupid, meaninglessedit on the weather. What a waste of space. An example: "Strategy for theday: Find air conditioner, but don't try to buy it, because the stress of abidding war on the last unit will only make the heat seem hotter. Go to themall and look at fall clothes. Go to the grocery store and look at frozen food."Who writes this shit? Probably a union member whose only job at the grosslyoverstaffed Globe (just like every "prestigious" daily in thecountry, with the exception of the New York Post) is to churn out drivellike this once or twice a week. The person responsible for this editorial iseven worse than the Globe's Mark Jurkowitz, possibly the worstmedia critic in the country; a guy so lazy that he makes the Voice'sCynthia Cotts look like the late Geoffrey Stokes in comparison. Peter Kaplan: Talk's Next Hire? A short update on Talk,Tina Brown's monthly that's scheduled to hit newsstands in justa matter of weeks. About 10 days ago, I finally received my first direct-mailsolicitation for the magazine, as did a few other people I know. Its latenessis still a mystery to me: Usually, startups appeal to potential subscribersfive or six months before the first issue is printed. But nothing about thisimpending publishing disaster is less than mysterious. The pitch was typicalad-speak, no more offensive than any other copy that publicity departments churnout. It reads,in part: "Finally, the bold, new magazine from Tina Brown...the new magazinethe publishing world and Hollywood have been buzzing about for months on end...thenew magazine you can be a part of from the very beginning, starting right now...Introducing talk. You've been selected to enjoy the Premiere Issue free, withoutrisk or obligation. May we send it to you?"
But of course.
And nowa word from Tina herself: "I'm Tina Brown. And I'm pleased to introduceyou to the new magazine I've been given the opportunity not just to edit, butstart from scratch... TALK is the exciting new magazine for the new century.Interestingly different. Refreshingly provocative... TALK is the new magazinethat provides illumination, depth, and perspective to the issues, passions,and pleasures that surround us, and obsess us. Entertainment. And entertainers.Films. And filmmakers. Politics. And politicians. Spin. And spinmeisters. Technology.And the digerati. Publishing. And publishers. Writing. And writers. News. Andnewsmakers. Saints. And scoundrels."
Okay, soTina's not a natural writer, a fact she proved in the latter days of TheNew Yorker when she swooned in print over the dashing Bill Clintonand besmirched a record of making many remarkable, innovative changes at thesleepy magazine she inherited.
Maybe itwas this sort of drivel that caused respected author and critic Walter Kirnto cancel his contract with Talk. Kirn, who reviews books for NewYork, switched allegiance two weeks ago to competitors Vanity Fairand GQ. Kirn told Daily News reporter Celia McGee thathe left on cordial terms with the magazine, citing the usual "creativedifferences." (Wouldn't it be swell if someone, anyone, came up with anothereuphemism for a resignation or firing?) He said: "As my image of what themagazine would be sharpened, I began to feel it wasn't the kind of place I woulddo well at. I kept receiving celebrity profile assignments, which I felt didn'tplay to my strengths as a writer, and I'm not confident that the kind of longer,reported, in-the-American-grain stories that I'm eager to write about wouldfind a place there."
This wasa diplomatic way of saying he didn't want to interview Leonardo DiCaprioor Adam Sandler, a reasonable enough position to take. He also told McGeethat he was "uncomfortable with Talk's out-of-the-starting-gate cozinesswith the Clintons and their associates." Sharing space on a masthead withGeorge Stephanopoulos and Lucinda Franks would give me the willies,too.
Then again,maybe it was the astonishing hire of former Details editor MichaelCaruso, who produced an awful magazine for Conde Nast, as a consultantfor the first issue that woke Kirn up.
The HearstCorp./Miramax partnership that's funding Talk is a very strangehybrid, not to mention the silent role that Disney, owner of the filmcompany, is taking in the operation. I'm betting that Hearst, which isn't attractedto "buzz"-driven publications, but to cash-cow/circulation leaderslike Cosmopolitan (2.7 million), Good Housekeeping (4.5 million)and House Beautiful (890,000), has a number of options for pulling outof the deal. A July 12 Mediaweek article gushed about Hearst's plan tolaunch a bimonthly magazine next spring starring Oprah Winfrey, withan initial printing of 850,000. Hearst's part-ownership of Talk was onlymentioned in the last sentence of the article.
Brown'snotion that Talk will resemble Paris Match, with stapled stitchingrather than perfect binding, is one that appeals to the New York-L.A.cognoscenti (perhaps), but I'd imagine the bulk of the 500,000 readers themagazine is hoping to attract will take one look at it in their local Waldenbooks,see Hillary on the cover (that is, if Tina didn't remake the issue thisweekend and feature John Kennedy instead, an even-money bet) and say,"How odd, Mildred, The National Enquirer looks a little bit differentthis week."
And maybethat's an idea that will work, sort of like Hello! in England. But acombo of lowbrow and highbrow writing would seem to turn off every demographiccategory.
Last Friday,The Drudge Report had a link to a Talk parody, which was yankedwithin a matter of hours. According to Jim Romenesko, who produces theinvaluable website obscurestore.com, the send-up, created by MikeColton, vanished because of a "cease-and-desist letter from Miramax/TalkMag lawyers." Not long after, "Miramax had a change of heart and letthe site go up again."
It's prettyfunny stuff. Go to mediagossip.com for the full treatment, which takes pages,but here's a sample.
"WHOIS TALK. Talk is a man who loves it when a plan comes together, and a womanwho loves that same man. Talk is a small child staring out a big window, lookingat a dog, or a plane, or a poster supporting the campaign of Hillary Clintonfor U.S. Senate. Talk is F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bjork, funny black people, stoicFilipinos and daring Asians. Talk is astronauts and kremlinologists, peoplewho read the New York Times Book Review but don't actually read books, and HelenaBonham Carter. Talk is a foreigner, often a mysterious foreigner, who killsfor pleasure. Talk is gay people, and lesbians. Talk is civilians who've sleptwith celebrities. Talk is celebrities who have died. Talk is celebrities whoare more interesting than other celebrities who have died. Talk is celebritieswho have died but still sleep with other celebrities, some of whom have died,others of whom have yet to die, and still others of whom will never, ever die...ever.Talk is celebrities who kill for pleasure. Talk is not Walter Kirn.
WHAT ISTALK. Conversation! Discussion! Chatter! Banter! Emotion! Solipsism! Pretension!Cold fusion and Krispy Kremes! A really close, well-played Super Bowl! The littlefeeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you look at the sea, with youreyes squinted, drunk. Talk is interestingly nice, and nicely interesting. Physicallychallenged. Challengingly physical. Writing. And writers. News. And newsmakers.Baking. And bakers. Flimflam. And flimflammers. Talk is something that we shoulddo. Talk is something for me and you. Talk is natural! Talk is good! Not everybodydoes it, but everybody should."
The NewYork Observer, at least in its editorials, is no fan of Tina Brown. On July12, reacting to the canceled Talk party at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,the paper praised Rudy Giuliani's decision to scotch the plannedcelebration at that site. "The fact is," the edit read, "thatthe party had a thinly veiled political agenda... One doesn't have to read Talkto understand the magazine's fondness for the Clintons. Mr. [Harvey] Weinstein,who escorted Mrs. Clinton to the premiere of Shakespeare in Love, hascalled Mrs. Clinton 'the First Lady of all of our hearts'... [Brown's] husband,Daily News editorial director Harry Evans, is also a zealous Clintonpartisan who reportedly urged the tabloid's writers to go easy on the Presidentduring the impeachment scandal.
"Ofcourse, the magazine got lots of free publicity from the city's canceling ofthe party. But both Mrs. Clinton and Talk face long odds-a lot longerthan a ferry ride to Brooklyn."
But wait!Super-shill Liz Smith rides in on her horse to the rescue! In her July13 syndicated column, Smith is distressed at the drumbeat of criticism aimedat Tina and her Euro-style monthly. Now, Liz is an equal-opportunity publicist,flacking for any magazine, such as Vanity Fair, that's nice toher, but she's roaring for Brown's success. "What is it about [Brown] thatscares the rest of the press?" Smith wrote. "I think many in the FourthEstate won't be happy until they can burn Tina at the stake. Maybe they couldmake it a double-feature, Tina at one stake and Hillary Clinton at another."
Then again,Liz is so easy that when fellow Texan George W. Bush puts his spurs onthe Oval Office desk, I'm sure she'll be there with lavish words forhis wife Laura's taste in furniture, and the stunning beauty (and intelligence!)of their twin daughters.
As I'vewritten before, I think Tina Brown made a career mistake, especially if shehad any interest in retaining her celebrity status. A wiser choice might'vebeen a Barbara Walters-like weekly interview program on a major network(or perhaps on CNN); she's a natural successor to the repellent Walters.Brown is attractive, intelligent and shrewd. She'd have access to almost anypolitician or movie star she'd want to submit to her questions. A show likethis would be the next step in a logical trajectory: from Tatler to VanityFair to The New Yorker to television. When Talk tanks, however,her jig is probably up, and the next the public will hear about the famous expatriatewill be in a People "Where Are They Now?" paragraph, perhapsalongside other forgotten notables like Al D'Amato andSting.