American Pie 31.01.02

 

Is Sports Illustrated jinxed? Does an appearance on its cover spell disaster for a sports celebrity? Some think so and it’s why many are apprehensive about being featured on the cover. In an effort to nail the story, SI’s editors went back and checked every one of their 2,456 covers. They found to their surprise that there is some basis for the belief. In all, 37 per cent of cover subjects did experience something unpleasant within two weeks of their appearance – a shock sports upset, injury, family tragedy, even a divorce. The jinx hits men and women, swimmers and golfers – even animals (the racehorse Baystreak broke a leg after gracing the cover in 1977). On the other hand, none of SI’s most- featured celebrities – Michael Jordan (51 covers) Mohammad Ali (38), Jack Nicklaus (23) – seem to have suffered seriously. As for those swimsuit cover girls who appear once a year, the worst that seems to happen to them is the occasional sunburn.

 

Again, it may or may not be coincidence, but for some years the names at the top of the annual "Enemies of the Press" list compiled by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists have met their fate within a short while of making the list. First to go was Abu Abdul Rahman Amin, leader of the Algerian terrorist group, who was killed in an ambush two months after topping the 1996 list; Nigerian dictator Sani Abachi died of a heart attack after making the list in 1998; Slobodan Milosevic, who topped the list in 1999, is now awaiting trial in The Hague; and a year later Sierre Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh was arrested just three weeks after being named press enemy number one. Who heads this year’s list? Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran.

 

Cutting page size is one way for editors to save money. Another is to cut issues. For example, New York Magazine is dropping four issues this year. There is also a rise in the number of so-called "double issues", which used to be confined to Christmas and summer holidays. The ad slump means magazines here are slimmer than in recent years. The days of phone-book-sized magazines are over – for now at least.

 

News conferences can be tedious. But don’t do what Linda Picone, editor of the South West Journal in Minnesota , did when she was bored. She started sighing and tapping her pencil on the table. The publisher asked her to leave the meeting – and fired her the next day. "Her actions were plainly insubordinate," he ruled.

 

The secret of how White House press secretary Mike McCurry manages to change the subject when the questions get tough at his daily press briefing is out. He picks out, for the next question, a journalist whom he knows has a pet peeve or favourite subject. For example, to end questions about tricky stories such as the Enron scandal, he will pick out Raghubir Goyal of The Indian Globe who is certain to ask about the perfidies of Pakistan, or Jacabo Goldstein of CNN’s Spanish-language service, guaranteed to ask a Latin American question. To end the conference, he’s likely to turn to radio reporter Lester Kinsolving, renowned for persistent questions about the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s affairs. Groans will be heard from the senior correspondents, one of whom will call out, "Thank you, Mr Secretary", and that’s the end of the briefing. No more hard questions.

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