SOLOMON: A Tale of Two Magazines
This is a tale of two magazines.One of them has more than 100 colorful pages of ads packed into each issue. Brand names evoke the very good life just out of reach: Saks and Victoria's Secret, Gucci and Mercedes-Benz, Armani and Cartier.The articles are equally cool in this new magazine named Talk, which had its splashy premiere a couple of months ago -- making headlines with a Hillary Clinton interview that discussed the First Husband's childhood hurts and adult philandering. Now, Talk is settling into its lofty routine as trendsetter extraordinaire.Tina Brown, the editor in chief, describes Talk as "a new, upscale monthly magazine that provides depth, passion and context to the issues that obsess us." She adds: "Talk tells the story of who we are. Talk reveals us, obscures us, positions us."Talk about blather! As a joint venture of the entertainment giant Miramax (a subsidiary of Walt Disney) and the Hearst Corporation, the magazine is powered by massive resources. But to what end?The first issues of Talk are sleek and breezy, focusing on the rich and famous. The mood is vicarious, the intellectual pretenses glossy.Last year, when Tina Brown left her job as top editor of The New Yorker to begin work on Talk, former Newsweek correspondent Robert Parry was already running I.F. Magazine on a shoestring far smaller than Brown's martini budget.To launch Talk, the Disney and Hearst conglomerates simply dipped into their deep pockets. To launch I.F., Parry cashed in his retirement account from Newsweek and borrowed against his house. He was determined to engage in journalism outside the limits holding sway in Washington.A couple of months ago, when I.F. Magazine seemed on the verge of collapse, Parry did not redouble outreach to corporate advertisers. (I.F. doesn't have any.) Instead, he sent a fund-raising appeal to readers, explaining that without a quick influx of $10,000 the magazine would have to fold."I was touched by how many of our subscribers helped us out in the emergency fund drive," he recalled the other day. "We did raise the $10,000, although that only covers our overdue printing bills. Still, it does say that a number of people really want the material that we're providing. They sure aren't subscribing because we do a lot of hyped-up advertising -- or have half-naked starlets on the cover."Indeed, I.F.'s covers tend toward the stark. Grays and reds present a somewhat lurid visual tone -- which is appropriate, given the subject matter.As editor of the magazine, Parry is concerned with recent history and its current implications. In print -- and online at www.consortiumnews.com -- the magazine is devoted to educating, not selling. Crucial information can be found, Parry insists. But we have to be willing to look for it, no matter where it takes us."Truth is fundamental to a healthy democracy, and ... the rules of common decency must be applied to all human endeavors," an I.F. editorial said a few months ago. "There are some acts that are simply wrong no matter who does them and why."In that spirit, the latest issue of I.F. probes under the usual varnish of American journalism. For instance, a longtime war correspondent examines the actions of the Kosovo Liberation Army and concludes: "As a consequence of NATO's military intervention, Kosovo appears to have traded the brutality of Serb paramilitary thugs for the brutality of like-minded Albanians."An article titled "Our Man in Morocco" notes that after the death of King Hassan II last July, "U.S. government eulogies and press retrospectives hailed the late monarch for his long service as a reliable client of Western diplomacy, with little note of his autocratic, corrupt and bloody rule." Other pieces expose nefarious operations involving U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies.You're not likely to find I.F. for sale on magazine racks. Nor are chain bookstores displaying Parry's superb new book "Lost History," which sheds intense light on how the U.S. government got away with backing murderous Central American military forces -- sometimes involved in drug trafficking -- during the 1980s. (The magazine and book are available at 1-800-738-1812.)While working with Robert Parry to co-write a few articles, I've been greatly impressed by his intrepid energy for exhuming facts. Eager to follow wherever they lead, he produces high-quality independent journalism that is a far cry from the go-along-to-get-along variety flourishing in elite media.To look at I.F. and Talk magazines, side by side, is to see the contrast between the vital and the flashy.Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."