The Son Also Rises

Press Clips takes solace in the knowledge that the publishing business forgives and forgets, that it always gives a second chance to those who commit youthful indiscretions, as long as their hearts are in the right place and they have the right connections.

Case in point: most pundits seem willing to cut John Kennedy some slack for not making a runaway success out of George. At least he was willing to take a risk on it, when everyone knows that start-ups can be a colossal headache even for seasoned professionals like Tina Brown and Steve Brill— and that few achieve the perfect pitch of SPY in the late 1980s.

And unlike many journalists, Kennedy was a stand-up guy who didn't lie and could laugh off bad publicity. He even managed to publish a few memorable stories, notably Lisa De Paulo's February/March 1996 exposé of Ruth Shalit, in which she laid out the basis for the plagiarism charges that dogged Shalit until she quit her job as a staff writer for The New Republic. Shalit has, of course, been given a second chance by Salon, for which she now writes regularly about the advertising business.

And speaking of start-ups, it's worth noting that Salon gave itself a boost last year by adopting a sensational approach to journalism. Remember all the publicity they got for exposing Henry Hyde's adultery? Well, the irreverent approach continues. This month, Salon takes the sex columnist craze to a new extreme by paying "working girl" Tracy Quan to embellish anecdotes for a fictional series, "Nancy Chan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl." No doubt Quan, who Salonsays is out of the business for now, is getting lots of page hits; but, as one Salonreader pointed out, "An escort's life in New York is notglamorous."

Another journalist to resurface this year is Mike Barnicle, who was fired by The Boston Globe in 1998 for shoddy reporting and picked up as a columnist by the Sunday News a few months ago. Last week, after the fateful plane crash, Barnicle started "pimping himself out to every network, cable and local news show as a Kennedy confidant," in the words of the Boston Herald's gossip columnists Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa.

On July 17, CNN interviewed Barnicle on the street in Hyannisport, and by the next day, NBC had signed him up as a news consultant, in which capacity he appeared frequently on prime time over the next several days. Much of what Barnicle had to say consisted of platitudes (e.g., John and Caroline Kennedy were "emotional twins") and at least once, he labeled his comments "conjecture." According to Fee and Raposa's July 20 column, Barnicle fabricated his report that Ted Kennedy took a "midnight sail" to work out his grief, causing CNN to issue a retraction. The Daily News columnist recalled last seeing John "with the wind at his back" after a Thanksgiving sail ("I think last Thanksgiving") and, at one point, said John had "lived for 39 years," when, in fact, he died at 38.

Returning to Barnicle on July 23, Fee and Raposa reported on a 1997 Globecolumn in which Barnicle mocked Kennedy for having "the brain of Sonny Bono." The next day, the New York Post's Page Six reported on the mocking column as if they'd found it themselves, and on July 25, Barnicle rounded out his Daily Newscolumn on Kennedy with his own reference to the 1997 piece, omitting the attention it had received and recalling ruefully that the editor of Georgehad responded "by sending me a funny note."

In an unrelated case of media cannibalization, the Postreported July 22 that Talkpublisher Ron Galotti sent copies of Vanity Fairand The New Yorkerto an advertiser in a trash can. It was a good story— so good that the Timesrepeated it without crediting the Post in a July 26 business story on Talk. Even worse, the Timesstory was accompanied by a photograph of Talkeditor Tina Brown with executive editor David Kuhn; the caption underneath mistakenly identified Kuhn as Galotti.


Learning To Talk

During these final days before Tina Brown lays claim to the Talkbrand once and for all, it seems only right to pay homage to that other Talk . . . remember? The original Talk, The New Yorker's Talk of the Town. This section had a distinctive personality until Brown took over in 1992. Then, in the space of five years, she tossed Talk into the hands of a succession of editors— Alexander Chancellor, Gerald Marzorati, David Kuhn, Brendan Lemon, and Charles Michener— under whom its tone veered from the publicity-baiting to the quietly eccentric. The section finally settled into a long-term relationship with Susan Morrison, who was appointed by Brown in 1997 and has called the shots at Talk for a record-breaking two years now.

How does Morrison keep the section consistent, week after week? Her secret is a trademark formula so elemental that a monkey could learn it— a carefully edited monkey, of course. Press Clips reviewed the last 12 issues of The New Yorker in order to offer the following analysis of a typical Talk story.

Above all, think Hollywood, celebrity, and media. Publicity events are likely sources for stories, as is litigation, or any conflict that can be framed as a Celebrity Death Match. No story is too speculative, no rumor too premature. But plotted or not, all stories must drop the names of numerous celebrities, media outlets, and upscale products. (There are no quotas; trust the editors to know when enough is enough.)

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