American Pie 08.02.06

By Jeffrey Blyth

The decision by Associated Press not to distribute pictures of the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, at least not to American papers, evoked considerable controversy in the US. Although copies of the cartoons, mostly miniature versions, were available on many websites, just two major American newspapers, the Austin American-Statesman in Texas and the Philadelphia Inquirer, decided to publish the one of Muhammad wearing a bomb-like turban. While the American-Statesman reported just one complaint, the Inquirer’s decision did evoke protests from local Muslims, who picketed the paper’s offices.

The editor of the Inquirer, Amanda Bennett, assured the protestors that the paper meant no disrespect and that the decision to publish the cartoon was only taken after several days of debate.

She also pointed out that as a duty to its readers, it felt it had to run even such stark images as the photograph of civilian contractors who were burned to death and strung from a bridge in Falluja just over two years ago or the photograph it once ran of Christ on a crucifix in a bucket of urine. The paper felt the cartoons of Muhammad were becoming more not less newsworthy. Despite the assurance about the paper’s motives, the protestors in Philadelphia warned that unless an apology is forthcoming within a few days they will organize a boycott of the paper.

While the fury continued elsewhere in the world, , four American journalists working for the New York Press,, a weekly freebie, including the editor announced they were quitting because their paper refused to reprint the cartoons. In Texas, a local paper in Austin that did run one of the cartoons, claimed it had received only one letter of protest.

It’s well agreed now that Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world these days for journalists. But it’s worse than some of the figures indicate. According to one recent report, 61 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the war began, but a new survey by the International News Safety Institute says the figure is much higher – at least 101. The reason for the difference? The earlier survey listed only media workers killed by either bombs or gunfire. But there have also been deaths from physical violence, beatings and exposure to chemicals and other health problems. Plus the fact that there have been at least a score of “media workers” such as drivers and translators – who in Iraq often act as de facto reporters – who have been “killed in action”.

How does Iraq compare with other spots? The second most deadly place for reporters last year was the Philippines where seven journalists were killed and dozens physically assaulted. Altogether last year more than l,300 journalists world wide were attacked That’s a new high.

Nevertheless news organizations here report no drop-off in the number of journalists competing for assignments abroad – even in war zones. Covering wars and revolutions is still, for many, the “big story”. According to a column in the Boston Globe by University of Maine journalism professor Michael Socolow, most journalists don’t like to discuss what draws them to trouble spots. Some talk of public service. But the “dirty little secret”, writes Socolow, is that war reporting is the fastest way to get ahead. There is also, Socolow adds, ego gratification. Dodging bullets in Sarajevo, or flying bombing missions over Berlin as Ed Murrow did during the Second World War can be powerfully romantic and challenging, he suggests. Socolow even recalls the reaction of Tim Page, a photo-journalist badly injured in Vietnam, when it was suggested to him he write a book about his experiences that would take the glamour out of war. Page responded: “Take the glamour out of war! I mean, how the bloody hell can you do that?”

There is turmoil here in the magazine industry. It involves those freebie copies of many magazines that are given away in airports and on planes, and lie around the waiting rooms in many doctors’ and dentists’ offices. And beauty salons. Recently the Audit Bureau of Circulation ruled that such magazines should not be included in a publication’s official circulation figures. At the request of the Magazine Publishers’ Association, the order was stayed until this summer. But now American Media, which publishes Shape, The Star and other magazines, has agreed to go along – before the deadline – and deduct unpaid or “sponsored” sales from its official figures. Consternation in the ranks! Other publishers such as Time Inc, the largest in the US, have said they will wait until the new rules are officially adopted. Some magazines claim they are not affected by the new rules – among them Maxim, Stuff and Blender, which Dennis Publishing claims don’t have any “sponsored” circulation. Others like Hearst and Condé Naste won’t say what they intend to do.

There is a new – and some might even say dangerous – expression cropping up in crime stories these days. It’s “person of interest”. It’s not an official term. It’s more of a euphemism for “suspect:” – but its never been officially defined by either the police, or lawyers. It was used a lot in the investigation into the recent mystery deaths of the wife and baby daughter of Englishman Neil Entwistle in a small town in Massachusetts. The origin of the expression is somewhat obscure. The first instance of its use was back in l996 when a bomb went off during the Olympic Games in Atlanta, killing one person and injuring over 100 others. At the time, a security guard called Richard Jewell was described in several news stories as a “person of interest”. Although no-one admitted to coining the phrase, when the real culprit was caught, tried and convicted Jewell sued several local papers – and was awarded substantial damages in an out-of-court settlement. He also got an apology from the then-US attorney general, Janet Reno, who was one of the people who it was claimed used the phrase. After being dormant for some time, its now being used again.

If People magazine paid $400,000 as reported for exclusive pictures of a pregnant Angelina Jolie, what will the magazine – or any other celebrity publication – pay for the first pictures of her baby? That’s the guessing game here at the moment. Speculation is the first pictures of the baby will command at least $500,000 – which is what US magazine reportedly paid for pictures of Jolie and actor Brad Pitt on holiday last year. A million dollars? Not impossible say some picture editors and picture agency chiefs here, considering those holiday snaps boosted news-stand sales of US magazine by almost a million copies.

Publisher Bob Guccione has finally had to give up his luxurious Manhattan home with its huge indoor swimming pool, Italian marble statues and gold plated chandeliers. Plagued by bankruptcy, the founder of Penthouse magazine, after handing over the keys of the 45- room mansion, has temporarily moved to Texas. Guccione started Penthouse as a saucier and sexier rival to Playboy back in the sixties while he was working as a salesman for The London American, a paper for Americans living in Britain, which was owned by former London Evening News reporter Barbara Taylor Bradford before she became a best-selling novelist.

Security guards at this year’s Fashion Week in New York say they have never had such a busy time – stopping gate-crashers and pseudo-journalists. Their biggest problem: the number of women wearing dark sun glasses pretending to be Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Apart from crashing the big fashion shows and sitting with celebrities, the other big draw for the phony journalists are the “swag bags” which many fashion houses give out to bona fide guests. They often contain, in addition to cosmetics and other beauty aids, such expensive gifts as mini calculators and even cell phones.

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