Talk Mag Goes Kaput; Journo-Mayor of Dallas; FAIR and Chomsky Celebrate

Talk About Talk

Tongues are waging among the chattering class as the Queen of Chatterers, Tina Brown, has received her comeuppance. Brown's start-up magazine Talk finally bit the dust after two years of publication -- two years that cost Talk's backers, movie studio Miramax and publishing powerhouse Hearst, at least $50 million.

Talk never struck a resonant editorial chord with readers, and thus never broke through on the newsstand, where it had to succeed to be viable. The vaunted Brown magic fell flat month after month, despite a king's ransom of dough. Surely, $50 million was enough to create a great magazine.

Brown's desperate mix of celebrity profiles, serious journalism and tits and ass may have titillated some readers, but after its first issue, Talk never gained significant reader loyalty or any must-read buzz. The magazine was constantly criticized for promoting Miramax movies, books and paid talent, especially Gwyneth Paltrow for the infamous dominatrix spread she did, apparently at the behest of Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein. Brown also suffered from an editorial revolving door, as talent came and went with speedy regularity.

Talk's current and last issue line highlights its schzoid personality: a boring "catch up" with a subdued Sean Penn, hanging out with his kids in Marin County, set alongside a deep and revealing profile of Pakistan's first woman Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. These were juxtaposed with head scratching photos of celeb superbody models like Carmen Electra and Veronica Varekova posing uncomfortably among salivating soldiers, accompanied by a rather tasteless tag line in the table of contents: "A bevy of buxom babes who really know how to get a rise out of the doughboys."

Talk always had the odor of a dressed-up super market tab, one presumably aimed at upper middle class shoppers. Current articles about cross-dressing murder suspect Robert Durst and the celebration of electroshock by Andy Berman are two current examples of tasteless appeal to their mythical audience. Too bad it took $50 million to realize that there was no one there.

The Journalist for Mayor

It's highly unusual for a journalist to get elected to public office, especially a print investigative reporter. However, Laura Miller, 43, is on the verge of becoming Mayor of Dallas.

Miller, a talented former reporter for the New Times-owned Dallas Observer, shifted careers a few years ago and was elected to the Dallas City Council. She served for three and a half years, mostly acting as a thorn in the side of the political establishment and Mayor Ron Kirk, who is now running for Phil Gramm's vacated Senate seat. In the first round of the mayoral election, Miller won 48.8 percent of the vote -- 1.2 points short of the majority she needed for a straight win. In the run-off election next month, Miller will face business establishment candidate Tom Dunning, who received 39 percent in the first round. A third candidate, Domingo Garcia, had pulled in 11.1 percent.

ABC Omits U.S. From Human Rights Report

On its Jan. 16 broadcast, ABC's World News Tonight aired this brief item about the annual report released that day by Human Rights Watch:

"The international human rights group Human Rights Watch has released its annual report, and it says that several countries are using the U.S.-led war against terrorism as a justification to ignore human rights. Human Rights Watch says that Russia, Egypt, Israel, China, Zimbabwe, Malaysia and Uzbekistan have all cracked down on domestic opponents in the name of terrorism."

According to watchdog group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting), that summary is close to what the group's press release stated. However, FAIR underscores that "one country singled out for criticism by Human Rights Watch was conspicuously absent from ABC's report: the United States, whose anti-terrorism measures were described in the group's press release as 'threatening long-held human rights principles.'"

According to Human Rights Watch, several recent Bush administration actions demonstrate a "troubling disregard for well-established human rights safeguards, including new laws permitting the indefinite detention of non-citizens, special military commissions to try suspected terrorists, the detention of over 1,000 people, and the abrogation of the confidentiality of attorney-client communications for certain detainees."

As FAIR says, ABC did a disservice to its viewers by excluding criticism of the U.S. Indeed, U.S. human rights problems are most likely to affect American viewers, and Americans are also in the best position to do something about them. FAIR is asking people to pressure ABC to issue a correction to its original report about the Human Rights Watch Annual Report to reflect the group's criticisms of the U.S. You can contact ABC at:

World News Tonight
Phone: 212-456-4040
Fax: 212-456-2795
PeterJennings@abcnews.com

FAIR and Chomsky Celebrate

Speaking of FAIR, the group is celebrating its 15th birthday on Jan. 22 with a town hall event in New York City. The event will feature the legendary Noam Chomsky, television host Phil Donahue and FAIR veterans Jeff Cohen and Laura Flanders. As champions of free speech and ever vigilant media watch dogs, FAIR has never been more needed and crucial to keeping the media accountable. The Masher will be there and reporting on anything interesting that happens.
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