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Jewish World Review July 11, 2003 / 11 Tamuz, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Vanity Fair dishes it out on JFK Jr., N.Y. Times


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | It's tabloid time at Vanity Fair.

But just because it slaps a photo of John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette on its August cover and includes a "location piece" from the media-mad hometown of murder victim Laci Peterson doesn't mean Vanity Fair has gone totally third class.

As it proves with its regular stable of top columnists, a solid story about the nasty office politics at the New York Times and an excerpt from a new book about novelist John O'Hara, Vanity Fair is one of the best $15-a-year buys in the magazine universe.

Don't worry. Vanity Fair is not saying in "Secrets and Lies" that handsome JFK Jr. and his beautiful but apparently very unpleasant wife are still alive. It's just saying the fairy-tale couple had a rocky, unhappy, about-to-disintegrate marriage that included drug problems, domestic violence and co-charges of infidelity -- tame stuff by the standards of Kennedy Family Values.

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"Secrets and Lies," which includes lots of photos of the doomed couple, is an excerpt from Edward Klein's new book, "The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America's First Family 150 Years."

Nothing Klein writes is over-the-top unbelievable or really that damning (Bessette is a spoiled, psychologically troubled you-know-what and JFK Jr. is her No. 1 victim). But based on the gossipy content and the mostly unnamed sources, Klein -- a former New York Times staffer -- won't win a Pulitzer for nonfiction.

No one who reads Vanity Fair -- especially anyone who's worked at a daily paper -- will have trouble believing "The Times's Restoration Drama," David Margolick's behind-the-scenes account of the editorial power struggles, arrogance and nasty office politics at the New York Times under recently cashiered editor Howell Raines.

Margolick, a former Times staffer with lots of inside sources, says Raines -- an unlikable boss who comes off as a jerk, personally, managerially and journalistically -- was ultimately brought down not by the lies and fabrications of ex-reporter Jayson Blair but by a mutiny of mid-level editors and bureau chiefs.

The sophisticated targets of Vanity Fair's monthly dish of celebrity gossip and kinky fashion ads will be far more entertained by "The Golden Fleece," the story of a strange scam artist who apparently made millions in Hollywood by duping A-list stars and politicians such as Cher, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hillary Clinton.

Aaron Tonken, reports Bryan Burrough in excruciating detail, is a high school dropout and fast-talking loner with a serious facial tick and a bundle of insecurities who is commonly described as a "schlemiel" and a "loser."

Yet Tonken was able to use his celebrity schmoozing skills to organize a series of star-studded fund-raisers beginning in the late 1990s that raised millions for various charities -- large piles of which he allegedly looted for himself and his shady "investors."

Tonken, now deep in debt and legal trouble, is being investigated by at least six state and federal agencies, including the FBI and the IRS. Although Vanity Fair shows pictures of him schmoozing with Hillary and/or Bill Clinton at four gala Hollywood fund-raisers, the Clintons -- understandably -- have distanced themselves as far away from him as they can. Tonken's name isn't even in the index of Hillary's new book, "Living History."

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald