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Jewish World Review Sept. 3, 1999/ 22 Elul, 5759


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Leisure Reading

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- Riffling through the Times’ first section Friday, mostly to see if Richard Berke had distorted any of Gov. Bush’s statements any further, I came across a striking full-page subscription ad for Talk, the Hearst/Miramax/Disney monthly that caused a stir a few weeks ago with an article about Hillary Clinton’s theories on child abuse. The ad reads: “There’s only one way to guarantee you’ll never miss an issue...SUBSCRIBE TODAY.” I hope Times readers who fill out the coupon or call the toll-free number have better luck than I did. When Talk finally launched a direct-mail campaign to lure potential readers some six weeks ago, I sent in the card immediately, ignoring all the happy-chat enclosed in the pitch. I read the debut issue, of course, but had to buy it on the newsstand: I still haven’t received my first issue.

Tina Brown is still on her speaking, as opposed to listening, tour, and appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources with hosts Howard Kurtz and Bernard Kalb two weekends ago. She parried well with her interviewers, disputing Kalb’s assertion that Talk is “a little of this, a little of that,” by saying, “I think that the whole aim of the magazine is that people can picnic visually and intellectually.” Kurtz was polite but funny as he continued the conversation by prefacing a question about Brown’s well-known trait of spending lavishly on talent (at least for her journalism “stars” and “pets”) by saying, “At the risk of being the skunk at your little picnic...” Brown countered, correctly, that she left Vanity Fair in terrific shape financially, and less convincingly that The New Yorker “was losing less money when I left.” But this was my favorite back-and-forth:

Kurtz: “In fact, you know, when you were at Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, you kind of inherited well-oiled machines. What’s the hardest thing about starting a new magazine from scratch?”

Brown: “I think the hardest thing really is the fact there is no well-oiled machine, that every single thing, from, you know, how to actually buy pencils has to be sort of thought up from scratch.” I’m sure the accountants at Hearst/ Miramax/Disney have had a dilly of a time answering that question themselves. How, dear me, does one “actually buy” a pencil?

Meanwhile, at the Talk shop, the staff grows restless, I’m assured by two discreet sources, with mini-rebellions popping up amongst the have-nots in Tina Brown’s pecking order. One person told me: “It’s a miserable workplace, with Tina driving her little staff as if she’s got the giant staff and infrastructure of Conde Nast. And now they’re trying to hire higher-priced grownups.”

Moving on to other magazines, I got a real charge out of the following letter in Entertainment Weekly’s Sept. 3 issue. Brent L. White, of Tucker, GA, writes: “Having read your coverage of Woodstock 99, I must ask: When did you hire my mother to write for your magazine? Kurt Loder’s troubling vibes and ‘bad feeling’ aside, the foolish antics of a tiny percentage of kids in attendance didn’t make Woodstock 99 another Altamont... Finally, before you complained about public nudity and the media exploitation of it, you ought to have thrown a wet blanket over that oiled, seminude body of Sarah Jessica Parker on the cover.”

But it appears that EW’s editors won’t be following President Clinton’s, or Bill Bennett’s, recommendations to tone down the sex in their publication. In an intro to the mail section, an unnamed staffer writes: “Our cover shot of a barely dressed, oil-slicked Sarah Jessica Parker (#497, Aug. 6) sure sparked some lustful thoughts.” Maxim strikes again. And, as reported in People’s Sept. 6 edition, Ike Turner sure is full of beans, suggesting that a reunion with his ex-wife Tina would cause a worldwide ruckus. Why, I imagine even Talk would devote five pages of an issue to it—maybe stop the presses if the timing was tight. In his forthcoming book Takin’ Back My Name, the wifebeater writes: “‘Ike and Tina back together’ would make the front page of every newspaper in the world. It would be no sweat off her back... We don’t even have to talk. If she don’t want to see me, she don’t have to see me.”

In a letter to the editor in that same issue of People, Janelle Tate-Beyerlein of Kansas City heaps praise on Sen. Teddy Kennedy: “For years I’ve heard negative comments and snide remarks about Ted Kennedy. I hope your story will allow people to see the person and not just the political figure. You don’t have to agree with his politics to respect the role he has played in the lives of the fatherless young Kennedys.” I’m assuming sweet Janelle must be about 22 years old. Old Teddy is a swell uncle, I’m sure, but it ain’t just his wiggy politics that’ve caused those “snide” remarks. There was a reason Kennedy was mute at the farcical inquisition of Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas back in ’91. Does Chappaquiddick ring a bell? Palm Beach? Teddy and Sen. Chris Dodd on the prowl in DC restaurants, mauling waitresses?

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.

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©1999, Russ Smith