American Pie 25.11.04

This is the time of year when Time considers who to choose as its Person of the Year. (It used to be Man of the Year, but times have changed.) At a pre-selection luncheon in New York, the favourite seemed to be George Bush-or his campaign manager Karl Rove, who is getting a lot of credit for Bush’s re-election. Other names that came up were God and Jesus Christ. Again, theology and faith are getting a lot of credit for the Bush victory! Other possible nominees: moviemakers Mel Gibson and Bush-bashing Michael Moore. One outsider is the grimy-faced US soldier fighting in Fallujah who was photographed with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. The picture- which ran in more than 100 papers here and also worldwide – created controversy, especially among the antismoking lobby, which accused papers that ran the picture of encouraging smoking. There were others who suggested that running pictures of soldiers handing out sweets to Iraqi children is equally bad-for their dental health. Who gets the nod will be announced on 20 December.

Yet another newsman has been tried for refusing to reveal the source of a story – veteran reporter Jim Taricani, who works for a TV station in Providence, Rhode Island. His case involved a local politician who was charged with-and went to jail for – accepting a bribe. There was a videotape of the incident, which Taricani’s station aired. Although there was nothing illegal about broadcasting the tape and the bribery case has been long closed, Taricani has been pressed for more than three years to reveal where he acquired the tape. He refused and was initially fined $1,000 a day – which his network agreed to pay when it reached $85,000. Now, for continuing to remain silent, Taricani has been found guilty of contempt of court -and despite a heart ailment, faces up to six months in jail. Taricani said that when he entered journalism 30 years ago he never imagined he would face jail for “simply doing my job”. He will be sentenced on 9 December.

Although he is embroiled in takeover battles and disputes with some of his major shareholders in the aftermath of his company’s move to the US, Rupert Murdoch is pushing ahead with his plan to launch a new business news channel on cable TV in the US. It is expected to start up next summer. Murdoch’s Fox News channel, which recently overtook CNN in ratings, has several business-oriented programmes which presumably will be switched to the new channel.

Maxim, the first and most successful of the British-style lad mags to hit the US, is endeavouring to change its image. It wants to get rid-at least in the US-of its “babes and booze” image. It prefers instead to think of its readers as sophisticated men. “The word ‘lads’ is now out,” insists Rob Gregory, group publisher. Although it is still No 1 in its field (with a circulation of 2.5 million) Maxim is facing new competition-and declining ad income. The rivals include Cargo, a new men’s shopping magazine, FHM, Vitals, Sync, a newcomer called Giant and Best Life. All of which may explain the reports here that Felix Dennis is contemplating selling Stuff, which he launched in 1998 in a pre-emptive response to FHM’s expected entry into the men’s market. Although it still sells more than a million copies a month, Stuff is said to be costing Dennis Publishing around $2ma year.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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