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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday October 19, 1999 (Vol. One; No. 21)

Test-Ban Tantrums; Al’s Advertising Acumen; Hubbell’s Friends in "High" Places

1. Like the rest of the national media, the news magazines are angry at both sides of the aisle over the failure of the nuclear test-ban treaty. But the real danger came from conservatives. Newsweek blamed "conservatives" and "hardliners" but found no "liberals." U.S. News & World Report singled out "a handful of conservative turks," and owner Mort Zuckerman claimed Republicans ‘border on xenophobia.’

2. Campaign 2000: The same reporters who pooh-pooh tax cuts as a long way down the public’s list of pet issues decides Al Gore is brilliant for tapping into the apparently overwhelming voter demand for a nuclear test-ban treaty.

3. Time repeatedly championed liberated avant-garde sexuality. James Poniewozik wanted more gay love scenes on TV right away, and Richard Zoglin championed Hillary-loving playwright Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues.

4. U.S. News discovered Clinton crony Webster Hubbell found friends in "high" places, speaking out against the Ken Starr team free of charge before the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

None of the three news magazines used deadline-sensitive news themes on the cover this week. Time hit the soccer-mom anxiety beat with "A Week In the Life of a High School," in suburban St. Louis, to be precise. Newsweek was for the most part ‘news weak,’ as they devoted much of their issue to their cover story on America’s greatest athletes, featuring Muhammad Ali on the cover. U.S. News & World Report asked, "Is the Bible True? Extraordinary Insights from Archeology and History." Time and Newsweek have feminist synergy on the new movie Fight Club: Susan Faludi reviewed the film for Newsweek as a "male Thelma and Louise," while Time’s Joel Stern wrote a column noting that Faludi called the film "Stiffed on speed," meaning a cinematic I.V. of her book’s theme that "We’re all complicit in a culture that disfigures people."


Like the rest of the national media, the news magazines are angry at both sides of the aisle over the failure of the nuclear test-ban treaty. Time’s headline was "Mutually Assured Destruction," with photos of Trent Lott and Bill Clinton laid over a red-orange mushroom cloud. The U.S. News headline was "A mutually assured destruction," with photos of Trent Lott and Bill Clinton an inch above a small photo of a red-orange mushroom cloud. Perhaps they should have phoned each other to avoid the Xerox image of their group-think.

Newsweek’s headline also blared the alleged bad news: "All Bets Are Off: If there is a real danger in last week's vote against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, it is that the rest of the world may no longer trust American leadership." Reporters Michael Elliott, Michael Hirsh and John Barry highlighted the political motivations behind Republicans and Democrats, but whereas they labeled Republicans such as Jesse Helms and Jon Kyl who opposed the treaty as ‘conservative’ and ‘hardliners,’ there were no references to Democrats as liberals:

"[Tom] Daschle was mistaken. Lott, who would later say, ‘There was never a handshake, there was never an agreement,’ met later Tuesday with Republican hard-liners, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms and Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl. Both men have long been convinced that the treaty's ban on nuclear testing was effectively unverifiable, unenforceable and against the national interests of the United States. His colleagues left Lott in no doubt; if he did a deal with the Democrats, conservatives would see that he paid for it."

Newsweek determined the Senate’s rejection of the treaty would have damaging repercussions to the United States. "If there is a danger in last week's vote, it is not that nuclear war is suddenly more likely, or even that a clutch of nations will now test weapons that they have been hiding. It is that the rest of the world may no longer trust America to put the needs of the global community above domestic politics."

But the trio also laid blame at the White House: "Yet it was the Clinton administration that demonized the United Nations for its actions in Somalia -- an adventure that was American-planned, American-led and American-botched. It is the Clinton administration that preached the virtues of the rule of law to the rest of the world -- and then lobbed a cruise missile onto a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in retaliation for attacks on its embassies. If Republican senators sometimes seem to ignore the case for adherence to international norms, they have company farther west on Pennsylvania Avenue."

Time’s Richard Lacayo mourned: "the Beltway is consumed by concepts like nuclear blasts, mutual assured destruction, and radioactive fallout. Of course, not much of that talk revolves around the treaty. Those just happen to be the terms you need to describe the mood between Congress and the President, a climate so poisoned by the impeachment fight that as Bill Clinton moves toward his final year in office, he doesn’t only have scorched earth behind him. He has it in front of him." Lacayo complained that Sen. Jesse Helms imitated British prime minister Tony Blair signing off with "Give Monica my regards," and added: "It was also no wonder that Clinton was in a genuinely vengeful mood after the vote when he accused the Republicans of ‘reckless partisanship.’"

Time writer John Cloud also mourned the defeat, but noted "it’s important not to overstate the impact of its don’t have to be a Clinton hater to believe there were problems with how the test ban was constructed in the first place."

In U.S. News, Senior Editor Richard J. Newman carried the liberal media zeitgeist with gusto: "But what happened in the Senate's back alleys -- and, finally, on the Senate floor -- was a nasty political food fight over nothing less than the international arms race. There was blame aplenty to go around. President Clinton and his aides did an abysmal job of preparing for the Senate vote, first goading the GOP leadership into a vote, then blowing the opportunity for a dignified retreat when failure stared him in the face. The Republicans behaved no better. Fueled by a well of post-impeachment anger at the president, they allowed themselves to be stampeded by a handful of conservative turks into voting against a treaty many say they still support. The combination of ineptitude and ill will doomed a treaty that was to have been a capstone of nuclear-arms-control efforts dating to Dwight Eisenhower." (The Web site’s links are all to liberal groups: the Center for Defense Information, the Council for a Livable World, and the Brookings Institution. Why not the conservative Center for Security Policy at

In his editorial headlined, "A Dangerous Abdication," U.S. News owner Mort Zuckerman argued Republican isolationists put politics ahead of the world’s safety: "In rejecting the first major treaty since Versailles, the Senate continued a pattern of withdrawal that borders on xenophobia. The vote is of a piece with our failure to pay U.N. dues, our reductions in foreign aid, our refusal to provide funding to support the Middle East peace process, and our decision to stop requiring young Americans to register for the draft. The only solace is that the Senate vote did not reflect the will of the people. Support for the treaty exceeds 80 percent, which is not surprising considering that every president since Eisenhower has worked hard for arms control." Zuckerman concluded, "Last week, this great country became Little America, and the world became a more dangerous place."

All the hype over an endangered world is quite a contrast from the magazines’ dismissive takes on the Cox Report, and its allegations that the Clinton administration was making the world more dangerous by allowing China to commit espionage against the U.S. and pass on technology to rogue nations like Iraq and Libya.


The same reporters who pooh-pooh tax cuts as a long way down the public’s list of pet issues decides Al Gore is brilliant for tapping into the apparently overwhelming voter demand for a nuclear test-ban treaty.

See the up-front smart-mouth features for confirmation. Time’s "Winners and Losers" listed Al Gore as a winner: "Tin man cuts smart nuke ad, finally gets AFL-CIO nod. Now all he needs is a heart." Bill Clinton was a loser, sort of: "Lame-duck prez loses test-ban vote. But issue could nuke GOP – and W. – next year." (They also sent off Ken Starr with another loser tag: "Independent counsel finally quits job. Well, even Javert eventually packed it in.") In his Gore article, Time Senior Political Correspondent Eric Pooley felt the Gore ad "may not get voters dancing in the streets of Nashua, N.H., but at least it proved he was capable of making a spontaneous move."

In this week’s "Conventional Wisdom Watch," Newsweek presented the "Special Less-Safe-World Edition," with the opening complaint: " The CW can understand why some GOPs have problems with the test-ban treaty. So why didn't they postpone it? Killing it sends terrible signal and gives Dems an issue for 2000."

CW gave down arrows to Trent Lott and Jesse Helms. Lott: "Cuts off world's nose to spite Clinton's face. Now that's statesmanship." Helms: "Refers to ‘Monica’ in treaty debate. In case you forgot, this guy runs U.S. foreign policy." George W. Bush received a sideways arrow: "Not confident enough on treaty details to face press. Hit the books, Dubya."

Clinton’s loss garnered he and his Secretary of State down arrows. Clinton: "Humiliating loss augurs end of any cooperation with Congress. Sad it came to this."Albright: "Her top mission was to charm Helms, sell prez's policy. She failed in both." Only Al Gore earned an UP arrow: "Cuts quick ad blasting GOPs on nukes. Even manages to look a little presidential."

In U.S. News, Roger Simon argued that Gore discovered the slam-bang appeal of test bans in a Seattle union event: "He grabbed the microphone and told the workers that the test-ban treaty had been rejected. There was a gasp from the crowd. Gore was pleased. ‘Damn Republicans!’ one worker yelled. ‘You ought to kick their butts!’ a woman shouted at the stage. ‘I agree with the sentiments!’ Gore said, striding back and forth, lambasting the Republicans who, he said, had acted with ‘almost breathtaking irresponsibility’ and were ‘making the world a more dramatically dangerous place.’"

He added: "Gore went on: ‘This group of right-wing...’ ‘Wackos!’ a man shouted as Gore laughed. ‘This group of right-wing senators,’ Gore said, ‘are listening to an extremist point of view in their party. They are incredibly irresponsible on the issue of war and peace! They have a hatred of President Clinton that just eats them up.’ But Al Gore had a plan. ‘My first act as president will be to re-submit this treaty!’ he said, and the machinists roared and beat their hands together and shouted, ‘Woo! Woo! Woo!’"

Simon argued: "Over a comprehensive test-ban treaty? Amazingly, yes. Gore saw why it could work. He saw he could take the test-ban treaty and do with it what the Clinton-Gore campaign had done with gun control in 1996: make it a mainstream issue, a family issue, an issue on which Republicans could be portrayed as hopelessly out of sync with the American people."


Time repeatedly championed liberated avant-garde sexuality. TV writer James Poniewozik’s story asked: "Gay characters have quietly become hot. Can their love lives?" The former critic declared: "Gay content and gay characters – increasingly common accessories on shows aimed at trendy young adults – serve as a sort of coolness shorthand, bestowing hipness on their shows and audience, serving as a conduit to cred for the majority group, just as racial minorities have in the past. From Norman Mailer’s White Negro we’ve gone to the Gay Hetero."

Poniewozik complained about the lack of diversity among gay characters (only one animated WB series has an old gay couple, only ABC has one gay black, and there are no working-class gays since Roseanne ended) and the lack of physical love except for gay kisses by otherwise straight characters like Fox’s Ally McBeal: "To focus on the Kiss Question casts the issue in terms of the schoolyard obsessions of homophobes: What do they do together? Do they kiss on the lips?" Poniewozik concluded that "avoiding all that one-on-one contact is a lacuna that will become all the more glaring as babes like Will [a male on NBC’s Will and Grace] and Ford [a male on ABC’s Oh Grow Up] remain unattached," and when gay love scenes finally arrive, they "may be bound by TV’s answer to the military’s fumbling version of tolerance. Go ahead and ask, and please do tell. Just, for the love of God, don’t show."

Richard Zoglin hailed Eve Ensler and her play The Vagina Monologues: "There are lists of answers to ‘empowering’ questions (‘If your vagina could talk, what would it say?’) and harrowing first-person accounts of sexual abuse; diatribes against gynecological exams and reveries about genital hair." He raved at her one-woman performance: "Ensler can soar to Rabelaisian heights (giving a bravura impression of every type of orgiastic moan) or move us with quiet compassion (a woman in her 70s describes the embarrassing episode as a teenager that all that ended her relationship with the place ‘down there.’)" In case you’re not moved by this sex-obsessed creation, Zoglin emphasized her plays on homeless women, nuclear disarmament, Bosnian rape victims, female self-mutilation, and research for plays on Kosovo and the Oklahoma City bombing.

Ensler also joined Hillary Clinton’s Senate exploratory committee: "I feel like Hillary Clinton has the potential to be a true leader of really speak our voice." Zoglin concluded with Ensler’s claim that theater is "the energy that will get this planet going," adding: "She may not save the world, but what other playwrights even think of trying?"

Joel Stein put openly gay rock singer Melissa Etheridge on the spot in his quippy one-column "Q&A" interview. "Fans toss their bras onstage at you. And you wear leather pants a lot. Are you the lesbian Tom Jones?"


In the "Washington Whispers" section of U.S. News, Paul Bedard caught Clinton crony Webster Hubbell hanging out with hanging out with those that are proud to admit they’ve inhaled. "Clinton pal and former jailbird Webster Hubbell has found a crowd of dudes who dig his rap: defense lawyers associated with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. ‘He's turned out to be quite a compelling speaker,’ says Allen St. Pierre, NORML's executive director. Hubbell spoke to the group in May and attacked Kenneth Starr's Whitewater probe, which snared Hubbell while he was a Justice Department official. At the upcoming December NORML legal conference in Key West, Fla., Hubbell plans to broaden his criticism and touch on his theory of ‘diesel therapy.’ St. Pierre says Hubbell believes prosecutors pressure convicts to testify against bigger targets by keeping them from their families. How? Since families must apply for visits 30 days in advance, prisoners are moved in diesel buses to a new prison every 29 days or so, meaning they never see their kin. The theory also covers stressful bus trips to interrogation sessions. Landing Hubbell wasn't hard. ‘His dance card is pretty wide open,’ says St. Pierre. Hubbell is still angry at Starr and his replacement, Robert Ray. The evidence: He's speaking free of charge.’"

Seems that $700,000 of hush money makes a man generous with his free time.

-- Geoff Dickens


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