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Jewish World Review July 23, 1999/ 10 Av 5759

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Stop the Whining! --
THE RECENT HEATWAVES have brought out the worst in The New York Times --- if you can believe it, 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 high temperatures and humidity, the writer also slipped in another plug for Al Gore, and not at all subtly at that. The edit read: "[T]he city’s discomfort offered an unpleasant reminder that if the globe continues to warm, a warning that looms beyond this week’s heat emergencies, these heat waves may become more common. For now it is sobering enough to think that it is still only the first full week of July."

What nonsense, even without the pitch for Mr. Global Warming. I grew up on Long Island and summers were hot. Period. Usually, Northeasterners get hit with one month out of three that has a 10-day stretch of days where the thermometer rises above 90 degrees; if it’s a particularly scorching season, two of those months will be uncomfortable. To some, that’s a disadvantage of living in New York as opposed to Los Angeles, where the climate is superb. Talk about minuscule tradeoffs.

The Post’s John Podhoretz wrote a smart column on the same day as the Times editorial, pooh-poohing the absurd amount of media silliness about the heat wave. Sure, you had to ignore the Pod’s usual grab-bag of rhetoric—Spike Lee’s an idiot; a crazy suggestion that thanks to Rudy Giuliani it’s safe to sleep in the parks again—but he was right on the mark about the hysteria that ensued because of a stretch of unseasonably hot days. Recalling that New Yorkers used to figure out ways to live with the heat, like going to movies for the air conditioning, without a brainless radio reporter sticking a microphone in their faces asking how they’re coping, Podhoretz put the weather in perspective.

He wrote: “Americans weren’t quite so health-obsessed in those days. They remembered when people died from strep throat, so the notion that ordinary daily life might be fatal was ingrained in them. This is a fact we 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 feet when it’s drizzling outside.”

(Not that the Post is immune to heat hyperbole. It’s not Podhoretz’s domain since he’s editorial page editor, but last Saturday the paper ran a headline across pages two and three that read “Another Weekend of Hell on Earth,” with the subhed “Baked Apple goes on blackout alert.”)

The Boston Times, I mean Globe, also ran last Saturday with a stupid, meaningless edit on the weather. What a waste of space. An example: “Strategy for the day: Find air conditioner, but don’t try to buy it, because the stress of a bidding war on the last unit will only make the heat seem hotter. Go to the mall and look at fall clothes. Go to the grocery store and look at frozen food.” Who writes this nonsense?

Probably a union member whose only job at the grossly overstaffed Globe (just like every “prestigious” daily in the country, with the exception of the New York Post) is to churn out drivel like this once or twice a week. The person responsible for this editorial is even worse than the Globe’s Mark Jurkowitz, possibly the worst media critic in the country; a guy so lazy that he makes the Voice’s Cynthia Cotts look like the late Geoffrey Stokes in comparison.

On Hold: The Daily Observer

Mostly, it was a typically slow 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 Drudge Report. The dailies arrive at Morgans, the local deli, at about 6, and so I go downstairs, chat with the concierge Ray about the previous night’s ball games and then buy a large coffee. Soon, the boys are awake and we wrestle and josh around -- Junior’s new nickname for me is Pickle-Face -- and then they wander off to the tube to watch Animaniacs, Pokemon and Arthur, while I work at my orange iMAC. On Thursday, Junior and I finished a game of Monopoly, and he was annoyed that I won in the end, even though he had the lucrative Boardwalk and Pennsylvania Ave. properties.

I was ruthless in the match; Monopoly is probably the most instructive board game ever created as far as life lessons go. The art of negotiation, managing money, luck, skill and a sense of humor are all included: A repetition of Monopoly contests is no doubt more important than any grade-school course, with perhaps the exception of learning how to type.

Mrs. M and I then escort the boys to their nearby camp, stopping along the way to buy lunch and 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 devotion to the Red Sox. It’s been a pretty good season so far for the team, and we were both pleased with Pedro Martinez’s spectacular turn at the Fenway Park All-Star Game last Tuesday night, and found it not at all upsetting that Yankees fans are already booing Roger Clemens.

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 limited capacity (some 33,000), as well a load of obstructed seats, don’t make sense today. Boston’s sportswriters and editorialists are of different minds about the project, debating the sense of bilking taxpayers on the one hand, and of creating a spiffy new tourist attraction on the other, but as a New York resident, I say build the thing. Ted Williams agrees. In a July 17 piece in The Boston Globe, he wrote: "Boston has to have a team that is competitive in every way that is affordable to the fans. The Red Sox deserve a chance to be able to procure the best players possible and to keep the 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’s the time." Coming from Old Man Grumpus, I’ll bet Williams’ opinion will sway a lot of bench-straddlers.

A lot of kids 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 lot more fun than reading letters to the editor from morons whose IQ levels are below 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, ate chips, slurped Orangina and a few even sunbathed.

Last Wednesday, I was surprised to find not a word about Conrad Black’s rumored purchase of The New York Observer in that week’s issue. Chat about the deal between mogul Black, who controls Hollinger International, Inc., and is the third-largest newspaper proprietor in the world, was bandied about for at least a month before Alex Kuczynski's New York Times article on July 9 made it official. Black, who owns London’s finest daily, the Telegraph, as well as The Jerusalem Post, Chicago Sun-Times and Canada’s National Post, is itching for a toehold in Manhattan, and buying the tiny-circulation but uptown Observer makes a lot of sense. Certainly more than taking the Daily News off Mort Zuckerman’s hands and inheriting an avalanche of union problems, the likes of which must infuriate the conservative Black just on principle.

In addition, it’s said by industry insiders that he has plans to transform the Observer into a five-times-a-week daily, which would potentially be a splendid antidote to the insufferably liberal New York Times.

Anyway, last Wednesday in the media-obsessed Observer there was just the usual blend of infuriating and intelligent articles. There was a gorgeous illustration of Tim Zagat by Victor Juhasz that dominated the front page; a who-cares story about former Met Keith Hernandez; a letter to the editor from Time Out New York’s president Cyndi Stivers, who criticized the previous week’s “Off the Record” column, in which Carl Swanson wrote about that sleazy weekly’s lack of factchecking; and of course a story about Conde Nast’s move to Times Square.

The juxtaposition of the Observer’s political views is one reason I buy the paper every week. 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 her support for a Palestinian state with this silly exercise in ethnic politics. Perhaps she thinks that by saying something she believes to be popular, Jewish voters will forget her tawdry past, her carpetbagging opportunism and her arrogant belief that New Yorkers can be fooled into buying a dubious product with a scandalous track record."

Across from that acidic editorial, Clinton administration loyalist Joe Conason has a different take on Hillary’s "listening tour." He writes: "If he is as smart as he thinks he is, Rudolph Giuliani must be starting to realize just how formidable an opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton could be in next year’s Senate race. Her recent incursion has been judged a success even by bitter critics, and she escaped cleanly without a disastrous error."

Apparently, Conason doesn’t include his own paper’s editorial writers in the company of "bitter critics."

But not a word about Black, which struck me as odd, since the Observer remakes its front page when a Vogue assistant editor sneezes. Requesting anonymity, one Observer staffer told me that the paper "operates without a first-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 --- unless it 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 the night before and indeed the deal would be announced the next day. He said that Black insisted the paper would go daily and tilt conservative; the staff, including editor Peter Kaplan, was due for a momentous shake-up. Black was reportedly disgusted that the Observer recently printed a piece by Christopher Hitchens; 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’d been tracking the deal. Business Week Online claimed, "Disagreements arose at the last minute over the Observer’s finances [and a source says] ‘as a result of which Hollinger has decided not to proceed with the transaction.’"

What does it all mean now for the Observer? One, it’s sort of a lame-duck newspaper that will be correctly or incorrectly assumed to be on the auction block. I imagine the fax machine is busy at their offices now, with writers and editors sending out resumes. I hope Black and Carter get back together, for a couple of reasons. One, it would be grand to have another daily, especially an upmarket conservative one, to buy during the week. Two, the fits it would cause the holier-than-thou owners, editors and reporters at the Times would be spectacular theater. It’s somewhat analogous to The Washington Times going against The Washington Post in DC, but without the Moonie baggage. The Daily Observer would always struggle for its share of tony advertising, going against the Times money machine, but Black would have his voice in New York and has the cash to make a go of it.

Peter Kaplan: Talk’s Next Hire?

A short update on Talk, Tina Brown’s monthly that’s scheduled to hit newsstands in just a matter of weeks. About 10 days ago, I finally received my first direct-mail solicitation for the magazine, as did a few other people I know. Its lateness is still a mystery to me: Usually, startups appeal to potential subscribers five or six months before the first issue is printed. But nothing about this impending publishing disaster is less than mysterious. The pitch was typical ad-speak, no more offensive than any other copy that publicity departments churn out.

It reads, in part: "Finally, the bold, new magazine from Tina Brown...the new magazine the publishing world and Hollywood have been buzzing about for months on end...the new 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, without risk or obligation. May we send it to you?"

But of course.

And now a word from Tina herself: "I’m Tina Brown. And I’m pleased to introduce you to the new magazine I’ve been given the opportunity not just to edit, but start from scratch... TALK is the exciting new magazine for the new century. Interestingly different. Refreshingly provocative... TALK is the new magazine that 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. And newsmakers. Saints. And scoundrels."

Okay, so Tina’s not a natural writer, a fact she proved in the latter days of The New Yorker when she swooned in print over the dashing Bill Clinton and besmirched a record of making many remarkable, innovative changes at the sleepy magazine she inherited.

Maybe it was this sort of drivel that caused respected author and critic Walter Kirn to cancel his contract with Talk. Kirn, who reviews books for New York, switched allegiance two weeks ago to competitors Vanity Fair and GQ. Kirn told Daily News reporter Celia McGee that he left on cordial terms with the magazine, citing the usual "creative differences."

(Wouldn’t it be swell if someone, anyone, came up with another euphemism for a resignation or firing?) He said: "As my image of what the magazine would be sharpened, I began to feel it wasn’t the kind of place I would do well at. I kept receiving celebrity profile assignments, which I felt didn’t play 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 would find a place there."

This was a diplomatic way of saying he didn’t want to interview Leonardo DiCaprio or Adam Sandler, a reasonable enough position to take. He also told McGee that he was "uncomfortable with Talk’s out-of-the-starting-gate coziness with the Clintons and their associates." Sharing space on a masthead with George Stephanopoulos and Lucinda Franks would give me the willies, too.

Then again, maybe it was the astonishing hire of former Details editor Michael Caruso, who produced an awful magazine for Conde Nast, as a consultant for the first issue that woke Kirn up.

The Hearst Corp./Miramax partnership that’s funding Talk is a very strange hybrid, not to mention the silent role that Disney, owner of the film company, is taking in the operation. I’m betting that Hearst, which isn’t attracted to "buzz"-driven publications, but to cash-cow/circulation leaders like Cosmopolitan (2.7 million), Good Housekeeping (4.5 million) and House Beautiful (890,000), has a number of options for pulling out of the deal. A July 12 Mediaweek article gushed about Hearst’s plan to launch a bimonthly magazine next spring starring Oprah Winfrey, with an initial printing of 850,000. Hearst’s part-ownership of Talk was only mentioned in the last sentence of the article.

Brown’s notion that Talk will resemble Paris Match, with stapled stitching rather 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 the magazine 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 this weekend and feature John Kennedy instead, an even-money bet) and say, "How odd, Mildred, The National Enquirer looks a little bit different this week."

And maybe that’s an idea that will work, sort of like Hello! in England. But a combo of lowbrow and highbrow writing would seem to turn off every demographic category.

Last Friday, The Drudge Report had a link to a Talk parody, which was yanked within a matter of hours. According to Jim Romenesko, who produces the invaluable website, the send-up, created by Mike Colton, vanished because of a "cease-and-desist letter from Miramax/Talk Mag lawyers." Not long after, "Miramax had a change of heart and let the site go up again."

It’s pretty funny stuff. Go to for the full treatment, which takes pages, but here’s a sample.

"WHO IS TALK. Talk is a man who loves it when a plan comes together, and a woman who loves that same man. Talk is a small child staring out a big window, looking at a dog, or a plane, or a poster supporting the campaign of Hillary Clinton for U.S. Senate. Talk is F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bjork, funny black people, stoic Filipinos and daring Asians. Talk is astronauts and kremlinologists, people who read the New York Times Book Review but don’t actually read books, and Helena Bonham Carter. Talk is a foreigner, often a mysterious foreigner, who kills for pleasure. Talk is gay people, and lesbians. Talk is civilians who’ve slept with celebrities. Talk is celebrities who have died. Talk is celebrities who are more interesting than other celebrities who have died. Talk is celebrities who 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 IS TALK. Conversation! Discussion! Chatter! Banter! Emotion! Solipsism! Pretension! Cold fusion and Krispy Kremes! A really close, well-played Super Bowl! The little feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you look at the sea, with your eyes squinted, drunk. Talk is interestingly nice, and nicely interesting. Physically challenged. Challengingly physical. Writing. And writers. News. And newsmakers. Baking. And bakers. Flimflam. And flimflammers. Talk is something that we should do. Talk is something for me and you. Talk is natural! Talk is good! Not everybody does it, but everybody should."

The New York Observer, at least in its editorials, is no fan of Tina Brown. On July 12, reacting to the canceled Talk party at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the paper praised Rudy Giuliani’s decision to scotch the planned celebration at that site. "The fact is," the edit read, "that the party had a thinly veiled political agenda... One doesn’t have to read Talk to understand the magazine’s fondness for the Clintons. Mr. [Harvey] Weinstein, who escorted Mrs. Clinton to the premiere of Shakespeare in Love, has called Mrs. Clinton ‘the First Lady of all of our hearts’... [Brown’s] husband, Daily News editorial director Harry Evans, is also a zealous Clinton partisan who reportedly urged the tabloid’s writers to go easy on the President during the impeachment scandal.

"Of course, the magazine got lots of free publicity from the city’s canceling of the party. But both Mrs. Clinton and Talk face long odds --- a lot longer than a ferry ride to Brooklyn."

But wait! Super-shill Liz Smith rides in on her horse to the rescue! In her July 13 syndicated column, Smith is distressed at the drumbeat of criticism aimed at Tina and her Euro-style monthly. Now, Liz is an equal-opportunity publicist, flacking for any magazine, such as Vanity Fair, that’s nice to her, but she’s roaring for Brown’s success. “What is it about [Brown] that scares the rest of the press?” Smith wrote. “I think many in the Fourth Estate won’t be happy until they can burn Tina at the stake. Maybe they could make 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 on the Oval Office desk, I’m sure she’ll be there with lavish words for his wife Laura’s taste in furniture, and the stunning beauty (and intelligence!) of their twin daughters.

As I’ve written before, I think Tina Brown made a career mistake, especially if she had any interest in retaining her celebrity status. A wiser choice might’ve been 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 any politician or movie star she’d want to submit to her questions. A show like this would be the next step in a logical trajectory: from Tatler to Vanity Fair 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 expatriate will be in a People “Where Are They Now?” paragraph, perhaps alongside other forgotten notables like Al D’Amato and Sting.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


07/21/99: What the World Needs Now? A News Blackout
07/16/99: Time of the Season
07/14/99: Hillary Sucks Up The Media’s Gush And Mush
07/09/99: Hillary & Sharpton: So Happy Together
07/07/99: Al Gore’s Mondale Impersonation; Bush Conquers California
07/02/99:Make Room for MUGGER
06/30/99:It’s Not Too Early: Gore Needs to Raise the Bar
06/25/99: Summertime Cruise
06/23/99: The Times Unofficially Endorses Gore: Bush Confuses The Media
06/18/99: Taki Growls And Prowls
06/16/99: Bush Begins His March: The Beltway Pundits Pout
06/11/99: In the Days Of Gold
06/09/99: Pollution Alert: Hillary Clinton Loves New York
06/03/99: Life in the Danny Thomas Suite
06/02/99: A McCain For All Seasons
05/28/99: Brill's in The Wrong Profession
05/26/99: Gun Control Solves Everything
05/20/99: Gross, Quasi-Gifted and Broke (For Now)
05/19/99: Gore Pushes The Panic Button—Again
05/14/99: Watch Out: There's Someone's Behind You
05/12/99: Memory? What's That You Asked?
05/07/99: There Will Always Be a Washington, DC
05/05/99: Colorado Exploitation: Why Can't CNN Just Go Home?
04/30/99: John John: I'll Moonlight, Too
04/28/99: T.J. Walker's The Man!: A Former Clinton Disciple Repents
04/23/99: Baseball and Politics
04/21/99: Sharpton's Nostalgia Trip Is a Bust: The Backlash Is Immediate
04/16/99: Notes From A Baltimore Hick: Pressing My Nose Against the Window
04/14/99: The Bush JugGoreNaut Continues; Send Sharpton to A Rwanda Fat Farm
04/09/99: John McCain's Moment
04/07/99:The Media Flips: It's No Longer "Just About Sex"
04/05/99: The Gore Republic Gets Dressed Up. So What?
03/29/99:Louder Than Bombs: Jetlag and English Manners
03/26/99: Hollywood's Horror Show
03/24/99: Black Ops Mark Vietnam War, Class War & the POW/MIA Issue
03/19/99: The Wealthy Survivor
03/17/99: Clinton's a Broken Man: The GOP's Huge Opportunity
03/12/99: Like Father, Like Son: New Hampshire in Another Era
03/11/99: Who is Dorothy Rabinowitz?
03/10/99: It's George W.'s to Lose
02/26/99: Springsteen Ain't No Chopped Liver; Vanity Press Musings
03/05/99: This Must Be the New World: The Mainstream Is Left Behind
02/26/99: Hillary, Juanita & Rudy Kazootie; First Baker, then Rich and Soon Lewis
02/24/99: The New Yorker Takes the Local: Mister Hertzberg Strikes Out; A Search for the Clemens Upside
02/19/99: The Howell Raines Conspiracy
02/17/99: History Lessons: An Immigrant's Advice
02/12/99:The Man Who Owns the World
02/10/99:The Impeachment Trial Splatters: Lindsey Graham Emerges a Hero
02/05/99: A Slight Stumble for Bush
01/29/99: Rich Is Back in the Tank
01/29/99: Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit
01/27/99:This Is Not America: Clinton's Set to Walk and Party On, Suckers
01/25/99:Sniffles and High Fever: Kids Say the Darndest Things
01/20/99: Whole Lott(a) Waffling Goin' On
01/14/99: Senator Hillary Rodham in 2000: The First Step Back to the Oval Office
01/08/99: Drudge Is the Hero
01/06/99 : MUGGER & the Martians
12/30/98 : Last Licks of '98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irving's the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starr's Magnificent Moment
11/18/98: Who could have imagined!?
11/11/98: Send Dowd Down to the Minors
11/05/98: Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush
10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabar's: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1999, Russ Smith