Some staffers refused to believe it when rumors started flying this weekend that ‘New York Post’ editorial page editor John Podhoretz had been fired. But when the page proofs for the Monday edition came up and his name was missing from the masthead, the phones were ringing off the hook. According to sources, the man known as ‘the Pod’ got the news directly from Rupert Murdoch last Friday. Various reasons have been floated, including a column he wrote last July which depicted Satan gloating over the death of John Kennedy Jr.—and which editor Ken Chandler yanked from the second edition. Others say the seed of the Pod’s demise was his personal style: He had alienated just about everyone. But who will replace him? Chandler did not return calls for comment, but Podhoretz insists he resigned on account of “burnout.” His new life: writing a book, covering the campaigns, contributing to The Weekly Standard, and writing two op-eds a week for the Post.
Ted Rall’s Brawls
By now, we’ve all heard about Ted Rall’s libel suit against Danny Hellman, the rival cartoonist who signed Rall’s name to a satire on the Internet shortly after Rall’s attack on Art Spiegelman appeared in the Voice. The feud has been widely chronicled, and public opinion holds that Hellman should win. But this isn’t a popularity contest! The only relevant issue is whether Rall has the ammunition to back up his claim.
And he thinks he does. Rall’s attorney, Paul Levenson, dug up an old libel case from the 1920s, and on October 25, he used it to persuade the judge to deny Hellman’s motion to dismiss. “The theory is that if you impersonate somebody, and the impersonation injures them in their business, you’ve committed a libel,” says Levenson.
The ’20s case involved Florence Ben-Oliel, an expert on the social customs of Palestine. After someone published a newspaper article under her name, describing a bogus matchmaking process for Jewish teenagers, Ben-Oliel blasted the story as “absolutely false, ridiculous and grotesque.” The New York state court of appeals ruled that she had been libeled by the impersonation.
Apparently, the judge thinks the Ben-Oliel case is on point, because she threw out the motion to dismiss and told the parties to settle. But Hellman’s attorney Anthony Motta counters that while the Ben- Oliel impersonation hurt her professionally, because it contained false info, Hellman’s impersonation of Rall made him out to be “pompous, obnoxious, and self-promoting”—traits that never hurt a political satirist.
The week started soberly enough, when the Times‘s Alex Kuczynski questioned Talk‘s editorial independence, given that Talk‘s first four issues had promoted numerous stars and movies associated with Miramax and Disney, the magazine’s owners. On Thursday, Salon piggybacked on several recent Talk stories by giving Tina lots of room to respond. Then on Friday, the Post used the Salon story to launch its own attack on Times reporter Kuczynski, whom the Post accused of souring on Talk because of an alleged personal slight.
Indirectly, both Salon and the Post allowed Tina to slam the Voice‘s reporting on Talk. And so, with deep apologies for perpetuating the Talk-a-thon, we’d like to set the record straight. In a Press Clips column posted on the Internet November 2, the Voice reported that Talk lost a story about the Unabomber when the writer refused a revision that would have brought the story in line with a Disney movie about the Unabomber’s brother. Matthew Heimer had already filed a similar story for the January issue of Brill’s Content; after seeing the Voice story, Content posted its story on the Net November 3. Both Content and the Voice got stonewalled when we asked the hard questions—what did Tina know about the Unabomber movie, and when did she know it? Talk denied that Disney had tried to shape the lost story—and indeed, we found no smoking gun in the way of, say, a call from Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein. A week later, the New York Observer reported that Leonardo DiCaprio signed to appear on the cover of Talk, just days after Miramax agreed to distribute the financially challenged Gangs of New York, a movie set to star DiCaprio. Although a DiCaprio flak denied it, it looked as if Weinstein bought himself a cover boy. As the Observer‘s Carl Swanson framed the issue, “The teaming of Talk and the idol of Titanic calls into question, once again, whether or not [Talk] is at all independent” of Miramax and Weinstein.
In mid November, the Observer and the Times reported on the departure of Talk executive editor David Kuhn. Then came Kuczynski’s big Talk story, which produced such gems as Weinstein’s “secretarial” call to Charlize Theron, after which she agreed to grace the cover of Talk.
The Salon piece offered scant news. Instead, Susan Lehman prompted Tina to call the Unabomber thesis “a fabrication” and the DiCaprio story “ludicrous.” And Salon let Tina get away with some squishy answers, like when she said the Leo cover was a done deal “before Harvey got into it by offering Leo a part.” (Actually, DiCaprio signed on to Gangs months ago. What Tina meant was that she got Leo for Talk before Harvey committed to Gangs.)
On Friday, the Post‘s Keith Kelly recast the Salon story as a catfight, splashing photos of Tina and Kuczynski across a full page. It’s true that the Times has cooled on Talk, but the Post‘s thesis about Kuczynski’s motive was pure speculation. Worst of all, the tabloid had Tina accusing the Times of running a “fabrication” by repeating the Unabomber story—even though Kuczynski’s piece didn’t mention the Unabomber!
The Voice and Brill’s Content broke the Unabomber story, and both publications stand by it.