I owe this column almost entirely to Peter Carlson, a staff writer for The Washington Post, who recently wrote an article on magazine publishing in the year just past.
On Fox News Watch, we do not pay much attention to magazines. Television, yes; newspapers, yes---but seldom magazines. As Carlson points out, however, journalistic irrelevance and malfeasance seems to have reached new depths on the glossy pages in 2002.
Take the matter of celebrity journalism. Please. Carlson tells us that Us magazine went so far as to use a “morph-o-matic” gadget to combine the faces of Julia Roberts and her new husband, cameraman Daniel Moder, thereby arriving at a kind of composite photo of what their kids might look like. “The result,” says Carlson, “was two surprisingly ugly little fictitious tykes.”
And then there was the “apogee of awfulness” that Esquire magazine achieved in its profile of actress Cameron Diaz. The reporter reported on the pleasure Diaz takes in burping and farting, and then quoted her as follows: “I’ve gotta pee soooooooo bad!”
Hard to imagine Audrey Hepburn giving an interview like that.
Carlson cites Maxim magazine for new math of a most disreputable variety. In its fifth anniversary edition, the upscale men’s rag proclaimed “the Greatest City on Earth,” and then proceeded to publish different regional editions, pandering to the populace of each by naming as the greatest a city in that particular region.
And then there was “Jane, the increasingly vulgar and idiotic women’s magazine, [which] ran a cover story on actress Lara Flynn Boyle and printed this comment on the spine of the magazine: ‘This cover girl made our writer puke.’”
In its January, 2003 issue, which appeared on newsstands early in December, High Times reached a low point. The magazine, which seems to exist for no other purpose than to promote the use of marijuana, asked the question, “Was Jesus a Stoner?”
Bad enough. Then it answered the question in the affirmative.“Citing ‘outlawed Christian texts,’" says Carlson, “the gospel according to High Times proclaims the good news: Jesus anointed his disciples with a powerful potion composed of olive oil and marijuana. The result, High Times reveals, was ‘knowledge of all things.’”
To me, the year’s nadir in magazine journalism was the cover of the final 2002 issue of Newsweek. At the end of the first full year of the war on terrorism, with war with Iraq growing imminent, with a sniper having murdered 13 people in the Washington, D.C. area, with the Catholic Church having been rocked by a sex scandal, with the highest reaches of corporate American having been rocked by financial scandals, with the U.S. economy having oscillated wildly and with the Dow Jones Industrial Average having sunk for the third straight year---with all of this and more having happened, what was on the cover of Newsweek’s special end-of-the-year edition? An airborne Keanu Reaves, and the headline: “2003: Year of The Matrix. Two Sequels. Fanatic Fans. An Exclusive Preview.”
It would have made as much sense for the magazine to have featured Cameron Diaz’s body functions.
Newsweek also caught Carlson’s eye this year, although for a far less disreputable reason. He says that, in 2002, magazines provided a great number of “Huh?” moments.
“Sometimes,” he writes, these moments were hidden “deep inside stories that were otherwise utterly normal. I was drowsing through a Newsweek cover story called ‘Clinton Now’ when suddenly a comment by Julia Payne, the ex-president’s spokeswoman, made me laugh out loud. ‘One night last year he called about 1 a.m., ranting and raving about something.’ Payne recalled. ‘And I said, “Sir, are you watching Fox again?”’”
So, my thanks to Peter Carlson of The Washington Post for his careful monitoring of magazines in the year just concluded. If you do it again next year, Mr. Carlson, I hope you’re not able to find as many perversely intriguing examples of journalism on the downslide.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.. ET/8 p.m. PT .