American Pie 21.03.02

America’s most famous syndicated advice column, Dear Abby, has a problem of its own. It is under fire for tipping off the police about a  young man who wrote in seeking help because he had fantasies about having sex with his girl friend’s pre-teen daughters.  Police arrested him when they found sex pictures of young children on his computer. He was freed after a night in jail, but the question being asked now is should the author of the column, Jeanne Phillips, who writes under the name of Abigail Van Buren, the pen-name of her mother who started the column nearly 50 years ago, have passed the young man’s letter on to the police? Ms Phillips says she agonized  for several days over what to do. "I really believed this man was genuinely seeking help. Yet there was the priority of the safety of those young girls." The editors of some of the 1,200 papers that run the Dear Abby column are worried that many readers who might want to write in will now be afraid of being turned in. As one put it: "One of the column’s main virtues, its credibility, is based on anonymity."  

The angry letter that President Harry S Truman dashed off in 1950 to the music critic of the Washington Post who had the temerity to criticise a recital of his daughter, Margaret, is up for auction in New York. In the letter, Truman threatened to do physical harm to the critic. "Some day," he warned, "I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below." The letter is expected to fetch at least $70,000 (£49,000).


Covering the White House is an exciting beat. But gruelling. There’s a lot of travelling, days away from home, barely edible  airline meals. It’s one reason there is a noticeable increase in the number of young journalists on the White House trail  these days. About a third of the 100 who are accredited are under 30. Steve Holland, of Reuters, who is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and at 46 one of the oldest on the beat, is not surprised at the trend. "The White House", he says, "is no longer the be-all and end-all of journalism." Of course some, like Helen Thomas, of Hearst, who is in her late 70s and has been covering the White House since 1961, still believes it’s like standing on the front doorstep of history.    

The New York Post has never been called anti-American. Or even anti-feminist. Until now. A veteran Post journalist, Maralyn Matlick, who was fired from her job as Sunday editor last month after 25 years on the paper, is suing for discrimination. She claims she was fired for two reasons – she is a woman and she is an American. Since last year, she claims, the paper has made a practice of not hiring women executives and only hiring executives who are British or Australian. A spokesman for the Post  would only say: "We needed to make an editorial change. We offered to let her keep her salary and became associate metro (news) editor, which she declined."

First it was the office space. Now Talk is selling off its subscription list. It’s selling roughly 600,000 names and addresses to AOL Time Warner for "several million dollars" – which probably works out at less than $5 a name. It’s expected the list will be used to boost the circulation of Time Warner’s Entertainment Weekly.

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