June 4, 2002








What war on terrorism?
Check out K-CAL 9

Derek Yu

In November 2001, news organizations had much to keep them occupied, including the war against terrorism, the shaky U.S. economy, the John Walker Lindh case and Enron.

But in a Nov. 26 Los Angeles Times column called "You gotta admire TV's commitment to meaninglessness," Steve Lopez noted that a previous broadcast on Los Angeles station KCAL-9 included the following stories, in order:
- a Britney Spears concert in Anaheim
- a Jennifer Lopez concert
- strip club protests
- shopping for lingerie
- Operation Playmate, in which Playboy bunnies will entertain American troops.
- Hackers breaking into the Playboy website and stealing credit card numbers.

"We were witnessing the triumphant resurrection of bad taste," Lopez wrote.

The Washington Boast and the scoop that wasn't

The Washington Post told readers it broke another big one in March: a shadow government was working outside Washington, D.C. in secret government bunkers, where they would ensure U.S. government continuity in case of a catastrophic attack.

Engrossed readers, however, could have read pretty much the same story by Sabrina Eaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer way back in October. What most readers also didn't know is that, a few days later when The Post became aware of Eaton's story - as well as a small "whisper" in U.S. News and World Report about the secret plans - they continued to claim credit for an exclusive.

In a letter posted March 1 on Poynter's MediaNews website, Barton Gellman, who co-wrote the first shadow government story for The Post with Susan Schmidt, said that he did not see either the Plain Dealer story or the U.S. News item. He also sniffed to MediaNews that Eaton's story was based on "intelligent speculation."

Perhaps Gellman and The Post can be forgiven for the Journalism 101 oversight of not finding background material by conducting a standard Lexis-Nexis search. Even though the report was of such magnitude that Gellman, in his own words, considers the article to be "of historical import."

But The Post cannot be given a pass. Three days after they became aware of the Plain Dealer and U.S. News stories, The Post's own media columnist, Howard Kurtz - a guy who is supposed to be keeping tabs on the media - reiterated to readers in his March 4 column that The Post broke the story. You'd expect someone with Howard Kurtz's job to regularly visit a site called MediaNews and digest what's there. At the very least, you'd expect The Post would pay someone to do it for him.

While it is true that The Post's story had new details and better sourcing than the Plain Dealer story, it is astonishingly clear from looking at all the stories that Eaton first uncovered the news on the contingency plans and bunkering of government workers, even if it wasn't wrapped in a package as fancy as The Post's.

Easton should have received at least a nod from The Post. Unfortunately, the paper had its nose so high in the air it couldn't see anyone else.

Stupid magazine tricks

Following September 11, New Yorkers needed a little self-affirmation. Maxim magazine, purveyor of frat-boy good cheer (and celebrity T&A), served up plenty. In its March issue, the magazine declared New York the "Greatest City on Earth."

However, readers in Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. each received their own issues naming their city "the greatest." All in all, the monthly rag printed 13 different versions, each a rose-tinted mirror for every fair metropolis.

Then Maxim got caught. The editors compounded the situation when they lied to reporters about it, according to the Detroit Free Press. First editors said they really did love Detroit. Later, they said they couldn't pick just one best city and that it issue was an April Fool's gag.

Maxim played the hypocrite. Its editors never confessed to the real purpose behind its "greatest cities" issues - sales. As John Strausbaugh of New York Press noted, Maxim is "perhaps the most market-driven magazine in the business.

Every word and image of its editorial is geared to sales, every issue rigorously focus-grouped to ensure maximum appeal to its core market."

Magazines that have nothing better to do print weak, market-driven stories on "10 Best Getaways" or "20 People to Watch." Maxim, so blatantly enslaved to ad money, doesn't even have the authority to provide a list of the 10 best dog foods. They should stick to what they know best: riveting articles about the 10 Best Racks in Hollywood."

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