Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2002/ 29 Elul 5762


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Consumer Reports

An impossible scenario | Common sense is a rare commodity at the magazine division of the former Time, Inc., and I'm not even touching on the ill-fated, late-to-the-party merger with America Online, in which Old Media got snookered by Steve Case. Surely the skyscraper editors and publishers who print the fluffy, liberally slanted weeklies like Time and Entertainment Weekly every Monday read the list of bestselling books in The New York Times every Sunday. It galls the New York-Washington intelligentsia that conservative authors like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and the late Barbara Olson consistently top the charts, alongside celebrity bios and self-help primers. Still, isn't there one Big Thinker who's figured out that a mass-circulation conservative magazine-with a circulation that would dwarf the likes of The Weekly Standard's and the National Review's-would capture those same readers who memorize every word that Coulter's written?

Silly question, I suppose, for anyone with the brains to suggest such a notion would be banned from Manhattan cocktail parties, semi-private audiences with Kofi Annan and the summer homes of top executives.

Time's managing editor Jim Kelly gave The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz a beaut of a quote on Sept. 2. He said: "Our so-called 'investment journalism'-the stuff you spend a lot of time and energy on-is almost all terror-related. But we can't do 9/11 on the cover every week-there's not enough to say and our readers would begin to think we've become a terror magazine. So you end up with more Hollywood covers than we would normally do. We're looking to leaven our heavy 9/11 load with something interesting and relatively fun for the reader."

Isn't that sister publication People's function?

Of course, that hasn't stopped Time from printing a thoroughly useless "scoop" in its current issue. Stop the presses: Reporter Massimo Calabresi has learned from "sources" that Colin Powell will step down as secretary of state at the end of Bush's first term. Ignoring the history of cabinet shuffles during a presidential administration-does anyone remember Warren Christopher besides his tailor?-Calabresi concentrates on the Beltway's insistence that Powell is unhappy because his colleagues disagree with his intention to "delay or derail" the invasion of Iraq. Not that Time has even considered that Powell is in complete concert with Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney, and is acting as a decoy to keep the media apostles of appeasement happy.

Occasionally, there are glimmers of contrary thought. For instance, "Hot Sheet" columnist Jim Mullen, an old hippie who usually collects a paycheck for his recycled reading of the country's "zeitgeist," to use a word that's still in vogue in Manhattan, actually ran a few contrary observations in the current Entertainment Weekly. On The New York Times: "They will start printing announcements for gay and lesbian unions on the wedding page. But only if they come from the best families." That obvious, but curious entry given the source, was trumped by the following item: "New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg wants smoking banned in all of the city's bars and restaurants. Hey, as long as we can still urinate in the streets..."


Althought fully expecting at least a short baseball strike last Thursday night-while fully enjoying seeing Roger Clemens get hammered by the Blue Jays-at dawn the next morning I had a feeling an agreement would be reached. This about-face started while chatting with my apartment's graveyard-shift doorman, an amiable fellow who nonetheless couldn't contain his hostility for the players. "I don't get it," he said, "these are the luckiest guys in the world. They earn enormous salaries, are celebrities and don't even work 12 months a year." He then laughed, and added a self-deprecating comment: "Hey, if Bernie Williams couldn't hit a ball, he'd probably have a job just like me and wouldn't have the money to watch a game at Yankee Stadium."

You can call this argument simplistic, and lacking an understanding of the complex labor issues involved (as if anyone could comprehend the absurd battle between the players' "union" and yacht-flaunting owners), but it was from the gut of a fan who struggles to make ends meet.

Then I read an Associated Press account of the Anaheim Angels' 6-1 win over the visiting Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Thursday night. A few spectators in the small (for a contending team) crowd of 18,820 threw foul balls back on the field while chanting "Don't Strike!" Scott Schoeneweis, the Angels' union rep, said: "You expect a little bit of that, but I would have hoped that our fans would have a little more class than what they showed tonight by throwing stuff on the field... When 4-year-olds are frustrated, they throw stuff. Grown adults shouldn't be doing that. It's disappointing. I know they're disappointed, but let us play the game. We're in a playoff race, we're your team-supposedly."

That sealed it: no strike.

In today's economic and political climate the players became the scapegoats for the hostility felt by Americans who equated them with the likes of Enron's Andrew Fastow and Sen. Robert Torricelli. "The Boys of Summer," and their commander Donald Fehr, could see the future: a loss of paychecks and lucrative advertising endorsements, abuse from the public and their livelihoods left in limbo.

It didn't matter that MLB commissioner Bud Selig's mantra of competitive imbalance was a scam: look at a century of baseball statistics and it's a fact that several teams have always dominated the sport. And it didn't matter-and I choke on these words-that the Yankees' George Steinbrenner was unfairly vilified by fans and other owners for having the drive to spend his money to field an extraordinary team for several years in a row. Finally, it didn't matter that no one forced the proprietors of also-ran franchises like the Pirates, Royals, Tigers and Orioles, for example, to enter the business.

Fans see a superstar like Jason Giambi touting a deodorant during a commercial break and they say: The heck with you.

Speaking of Giambi, the San Francisco Chronicle's Scott Ostler had a funny bit about the possible AL MVP on Aug. 29. He wrote: "'The owners want to change a lot of the dynamics,' Jason Giambi said. 'We're helping to protect Mr. Steinbrenner. He's the one [who's] going to take a beating.'

"That's as heartwarming as any episode of 'The Simpsons' in which Waylon Smithers defends his boss, Mr. Burns. Remember when Giambi was riding his Harley to a fast-food drive-up window on Hegenberger Road, the greasy-haired prince of the common man? Now he's a well-behaved, well-groomed foot soldier in King George's palace guard, probably riding a Lexus motorcycle to his own private drive-up at Elaine's. Now Giambi is the poster boy for unlimited baseball-player entitlement."

The country-club Red Sox, who squandered most of the season despite fielding its best team since 1986, weren't immune from dumb comments from its stars. Johnny Damon's one of my favorite players on the Bosox, but his comment to a Boston Globe reporter on Aug. 31 was plain stupid. Damon, the team's union rep, said: "Hopefully now the jealous fans who were calling us a bunch of names can take a step back and hopefully they will give us a little respect. They're tarnishing us lately. The fans should be happy now. There's no sign of another stoppage." (The Sox also have on board AL union steward Tony Clark, whose disastrous performance this year will no doubt cause his release after the World Series, which Boston fans will watch on the tube. Clark, who by all rights should've been confined to hitting fungos to teammates after Memorial Day, was probably given rally-killing at-bats merely because of his position in the union.)

And as much as I like Trot Nixon, the self-described "dirtbag" rightfielder who'd be more comfortable (if not financially) in an earlier era of the game, he was way out of line when he called ace Derek Lowe "weak" for admitting that his pitching was affected by the labor uncertainty. Lowe, who turned in a crummy performance against the Angels on Aug. 25, said: "I'm an honest person and it did have an effect. Just because you play a sport, it doesn't make you exempt from being a human." On the night the strike was called off, Lowe threw five shutout innings in a 15-5 romp over the Indians.

Finally, who can resist quoting the words of the Yanks' resident yahoo David Wells? The sorehead pitcher told a Daily News reporter: "[Selig's] a knucklehead. Man, he's a knucklehead. He's coming in and trying to break our union, basically. Just some of the things he's thrown on the table, you just don't understand. I don't think anybody has the balls [the News used dashes for that "expletive"] to say it. But I don't care..."

And no one cares what Wells has to say.

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

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© 2002, Russ Smith