American Pie 10.01.06

Virtually unnoticed in all the stories about Jack Abramoff, the Washington lobbyist accused of various offences, including bribery of Congressmen, who turned up in court wearing a l930’s homburg and trench coat that reminded many of the Al Capone gangster era, was the fact that for a time he represented the Magazine Publishers of America, . His job? To persuade the Government to keep a rein on the postal rates for magazines in the US. As one spokesman for the industry put it: “We actually spend more on postage than on paper and ink.” So postal rates are important. Whether Abramoff – in his efforts to keep the rates down – ever took American legislators on golf-junkets to St Andrews, as he allegedly did for some important Washington politicians involved in other issues, is not known but if he did his ploy didn’t work too well . Postal rates for magazines continue to go up. (The latest increase went into effect this week). Nevertheless his involvement with the MPA is proving something of an embarrassment. It’s been claimed the MPA paid the lobbyist (or his company) at least $l,400,000 – possibly closer to $2,000,000. for his efforts. Now the magazine publishers are looking into how money may have been spent. A legal spokesman said “If it’s found the money was spent illegally, the MPA will be outraged.”

In that other scandal that’s now under investigation, the payment by the US Government of Iraqi journalists to write pro-US stories for their papers or radio and TV stations, there is yet another new twist. Now its being claimed that for years American lobbyists and business groups have paid writers in the US to write positive stories about the US Government or its legislative policies . . In some cases as much as $2,000 a time. Mostly the stories or features appeared in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times,, even the Financial Times. No-one claims the papers involved knew of the secret payments, but the question is being asked: How could any writer spend time and effort on features that require so much research for the fees that most papers pay – often as little as $200 – unless they are receiving a back-hander? .Some journalists have come clean and admit they do a mix – writing for publications, accepting payments from business organizations , even ghost-writing speeches for top business executives. “Where do you draw a line? ” asked a former White House speech writer for Ronald Reagan., who recently discussed his dilemma with the LA Times. One suggestion has been the writers should identify who is paying them. Most critics concede that it’s not a very practical idea. As one writer in the Miami Herald put it this week “Even with disclosure, the picture will still remain murky”

More belt-tightening at the NY Times: There will be no more free hang-over cures, or even quick medical check-ups for fatigued newsmen. Or even free Band-aids. As an economy measure the paper is closing down its free medical clinic, and dispensing with its in-house nurse. At the same time – and this has upset the staff much more – it is no longer offering a l5 per cent discount to members of the staff who buy NY Times shares. That was considered a real perk!

Remember the New York retiree who announced last year that he intended to try and set a new record by visiting l,000 bars in 2005? . No, he wasn’t a newsman – but he got plenty of attention in the New York press.. Well, he did it. He ended the year by visiting his 1000th bar. Altogether Dan Freeman estimates he downed l,500 drinks altogether in his year-long mission and spent roughly $10,000 – or just over 4,500 pounds. What did he drink? Guinness mostly, but also Scotch and sodas and gin and tonics., occasionally a martini and now and again a glass of red wine. Did he ever get drunk? Only once did he get hammered, as he put it, when he sampled a new brew called Druid Fluid. And he kept strictly to one rule: Only visit each bar once, and only one drink at each. He also kept a log of the best bars and the worst. This year he is sticking to his favorite bar in Brooklyn.

On the subject of bars,, the once most favoured bar of British newsmen in New York (and quite a few American journalists too). Costello’s, just off Manhattan’s Third Ave (close to the old London Mirror and Daily Express offices) has got as a decoration a new wall of cartoons For years one of the walls in Costellos’s featured a display of cartoons drawn on the wall by some of the leading cartoonists of the day , among them .Stan Lee of Spiderman fame, Mort Walker who drew Beetle Bailey and Paul Fung, creator of Blondie.. Legend at the time was the cartoonists drew the cartoons in lieu of paying their bar bills. – just as the legendary James Thurber is said to have done back in the Thirties. When Costello’s closed a few years no-one knew what happened to the wall of cartoons. Some say it was ripped down and parts of it stolen, others that it was plastered over. Anyway now the bar has re-opened under a new name,. The Overlook Lounge, a new generation of cartoonists have revived the tradition. One of the new cartoons, by a cartoonist for Mad Magazine, depicts a homeless man with a sign reading “Will Drink for Food.” Maybe it should read “Will Draw for Drink.” The new owners won’t say whether that was part of the deal. It probably was!.

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