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Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 1999/21 Tishrei, 5760


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White Jews Own
The Washington Post

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AS A 21ST-CENTURY KIND OF GUY, I prefer The Washington Post to The New York Times, but that Beltway newspaper blew it badly by agonizing in print so laboriously over a simple headline about Baltimore’s Democratic mayoral primary.

On Sept. 15, the day after Councilman Martin O’Malley won 53 percent of the vote (tantamount to victory in this heavily Democratic town), the Post ran this headline above Angela Paik’s article: “White Man Gets Mayoral Nomination in Baltimore.”

Big deal. It was an accurate description of the results, not only because Baltimore hasn’t had a white mayor in 13 years, but O’Malley’s majority tally, in a city that’s approximately 70 percent black, was astonishing. And uplifting: The outgoing mayor, Kurt Schmoke, resorted to race-baiting in his reelection campaign of 1995. O’Malley (unlike his two main black challengers, Carl Stokes and Lawrence Bell) didn’t, instead addressing the real problems of Baltimore: poverty, drugs and crime. Mobtown’s citizens are hopeful that O’Malley can replicate the success of other mayors like Rudy Giuliani, Jerry Brown, Richard Riordan and Ed Rendell.

But the next day, the Post “clarified,” the headline, after receiving an outpouring of complaints from its readers. It said: “[The headline] distorted the role of race in the election and violated Washington Post policy about reporting racial identifications only in proper context.”

This was a major story, especially since the last poll before the primary showed Stokes leading O’Malley 32-30 percent. The magnitude of the councilman’s victory was newsworthy, as was the fact that he’s white. (It’s telling that The Baltimore Sun, which endorsed Stokes to cover their butt with the black community, didn’t commission another poll during the last week of the campaign.)

The Post’s “clarification” didn’t stop the paper’s self-flagellation. In the next two weeks, ombudsman E.R. Shipp, a black woman, wrote two columns deploring this one single headline.

In contrast, The New York Times also ran a supposedly controversial headline about O’Malley’s win: “Baltimore Democrats Pick White Councilman in Mayoral Primary.” The Times, which probably wasn’t inundated with protest calls and e-mails, didn’t see fit to issue a correction. Which wasn’t surprising, since the paper is notoriously stingy in owning up to its stupefying number of mistakes. But this decision, if there was even a conversation about it, was correct.

O’Malley & wife
Clarence Page, a black columnist for the Chicago Tribune, joined hands with me in wondering what all the fuss was about. On Sept. 22, he wrote: “Silly me. I actually was delighted when I saw that headline. Maybe I’ve been covering politics too long. I did not think it added to the racial divide. I saw it as a sign that the divide has narrowed, at least in Baltimore, a city that is two-thirds black.”

And the San Francisco Examiner’s Emil Guillermo weighed in on Sept. 18, also wondering why the Post was being so needlessly squishy. He said: “The state of our nation’s ethnic sensitivity has come down to this: Is it offensive to call a white man a white man?... [The Post’s headline] gets to the heart of the story. Here’s a white guy winning in a black city. Isn’t that calling a spade a spade?... A ‘correction’ is merited for something like a picture of Hillary Clinton with the caption ‘Miss Puerto Rico,’ or for a gross error like calling a Democrat a Republican, as if anyone can tell them apart these days.”

I’ll ignore Emil’s Buchananism and just compliment him on having more sense than The Washington Post.

Finally, Al From Baltimore, commenting on this nonsense, wrote: “I say the Times let it stand because a) they’re the Times; and b) they’re outraged by yet another white mayor in an urban city. I say congratulations to the Post for being consistent in its p.c. policies.”

But Has Tina Figured Out How to Buy Pencils Yet?

Don’t know about you, but I think my prediction that Talk magazine would last 18 months was premature: a year might be the smarter bet. Last Friday, the Daily News’ Celia McGee reported that Lisa Chase, the jumbled and jittery glossy’s features editor, has resigned. The public comment from Talk spokeswoman was that Chase’s departure was “honorable and amicable,” but I assume that’s Tina Brown spin. As I’ve written before, backed by impeccable sources, Brown’s number two, David Kuhn, has been looking all over town for a new berth: there were rumors he’d replace Peter Kaplan at The New York Observer, apparently unfounded. His search continues for a venue that’s not run by an egomaniacal woman who has no clue that 1994 was five years ago. Another top editor at the magazine, apparently chagrined that the staff was hauled off to a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in Connecticut, where the First Hick’s wife rambled on for an hour, is also looking for a change of employment.

Kuhn and Hillary sycophant Martha Stewart were very chummy during the affair, leading to not entirely facetious speculation that his next post will be at Martha Stewart Living.

The November issue (at least right now) is scheduled to feature Arnold Schwarzenegger on its cover; so I guess I was wrong about Milton Berle receiving that dubious honor. But say this about Brown: she’s got balls. Dissatisfied with her budget, she’s gone hat-in-imperious-hand to co-owner Hearst to ask for further investment in Talk. I’d say lots of luck, considering the less than tepid reception the second issue of the magazine received, that infamous edition with Elizabeth Taylor on the cover. I suspect that early next year won’t be a highlight of Brown’s career: With newsstand sales dwindling even further, it’s likely that both Hearst and Miramax/Disney might pull a partial-birth abortion on the feeble project.

But don’t rely strictly on my opinion. Here are a few comments from the stately Echo chatroom about Talk, reacting to Chase’s departure.

“If you compare mastheads from month to month, I think you’ll see quite a lot of activity.”

“Dang. And [Chase] is the one I know there. She seems really sweet, too, unlike many in such jobs.”

“I never did get through the first issue of Talk.”

“I never did get my second issue and I subscribed and they cashed my $12 check.”

“Buzz is increasingly negative on Talk and its prospects. People say, ‘Well, is this just anti-Tina Brown sentiment?’ But consensus seems to be that no, it’s because the magazine sucks... To me, the Liz Taylor cover seemed like a Richard Prince conceptual art joke. I’ve heard tales of some articles that to me sounded very interesting being denatured into that flat, dull ‘hotness’ Brown favors, or else being rejected because they were not that.”

“I wouldn’t count it out just yet.”

“No, definitely too early, and it could change. But I’ve just been surprised at how negatively everyone I talk to seems to be reacting to it.”

“It’s over.”

“They certainly managed to flatten [Bill] Monahan’s piece in the first issue. It had none of the out-of-control drunk stuff that makes Monahan funny to read. It was just a straight travelogue.”

“Monahan’s really funny in print. His dispatches from the UK in NYPress have been hilarious.”

“I just got my second ish in the mail this week—a full three weeks after I first saw it on the newsstand. They really give you your $12 worth, eh?”

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