American Pie 02.09.04





Cut back on TV listings, stock market reports, even sports results … and relatively few readers object. But touch the comic strips (the funnies), which have been a mainstay of American papers for decades, and hear the cries of outrage. That’s what The Dallas Morning Herald discovered when it proposed – due to rising newsprint costs – to cut back the 50 or more comic strips it runs daily. 40,000 readers wrote in. Papers across the country have been contemplating cutting down on funnies (some days they run to four pages) to try to save money. Some papers, such as the Salt Lake Tribune, have cut down the number of strips, others have shrunk their size. What worries many publishers, is whether they will they lose younger readers. But newspapers are not benefiting from the upsurge in advertising enjoyed by many magazines (Press Gazette, 27 Aug). The cost of newsprint has jumped ten per cent and – ominously – is still going up.

It’s not just the failure to adequately report the build-up to the Iraq war that some papers have been apologising for. Some have been taking a second look at how they covered the civil rights movement in the Sixties. The Herald Leader in Lexington, Kentucky, has admitted it was remiss in the way it reported the protests and demonstrations 40 years ago. To make up for it, the paper has run several articles looking back to those days, and has even run pictures it never published at the time, including a page of pictures of the sit-ins at local cafeterias which refused to serve blacks, and demonstrations outside hotels and theatres. The Herald Leader admitted what should have been front-page news got back-page treatment. It was not an oversight, the paper’s present editor admits, but a deliberate effort to play down the movement. Some people who took part in the sit-ins and demonstrations say “better late than never”, but others remain bitter. One said: “It will be a long time before I read that paper again”.

The one-time porn publishers are having a bad time. Apart from Al Goldstein, who admits he is now on his uppers (Press Gazette, 20 August), Bob Guccione – who started Penthouse in London back in the 50s – is auctioning the contents of his riverside week-end retreat in upstate New York. The baronial-style mansion, which sits on 82 acres, is a far cry from the flat he lived in when he worked for The London American. It has 20 rooms, stuffed with rare furniture, which – along with a 1994 white Cadillac with just 56,000 miles on the clock – has been put on the block. The auction should raise around $250,000.

Will the Presidential election be decided by the candidates’ wives? Not on how the voters regard them – but who bakes the best biscuits! Since 1991, when Family Circle editor Susan Ungaro started the contest, the winner has invariably turned out to be the wife of the next President. This time Laura Bush, winner in 2000, submitted a recipe for an oat-meal chocolate-chip cookie. Teresa Heinz Kerry – although she confesses she doesn’t do much baking and asked her staff to help – submitted a recipe for a pumpkin-spice biscuit. Early reports say voting in the cookie-contest is close.

Religion still sells – at least here. The best selling issue of People magazine so far this year was the one which featured Mel Gibson’s controversial movie The Passion of The Christ on the cover. It sold 1,700,000 copies on the news

stands alone.

by Jeffrey Blyth

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