Week in week out, the New Republic is hard to beat for intelligence, wit and political provocation.
Sure, it's liberal and tilted toward Democrats. But editor Michael Kinsley and his gang wrestle with the Big Ideas of the Day without inducing Epstein-Barr syndrome, sacrifice a sacred cow occasionally and are a font of some of the most clever headlines in magazinedom. The current April 27 issue with the swell caricature of Secretary of Education William Bennett on the cover (headlined "Secretary Smarty-Pants") is especially loaded. Ex-Democrat Bennett is accused by John B. Judis with becoming the Administration's leading publicist of Reaganism. In-house conservative Fred Barnes mulls President Reagan's non-handling of the AIDS issue. Henry Fairlie sinks his sharp teeth into TV evangelists for their avarice and for "stripping the Bible of its authority." Critic Stanley Kauffmann calls the POW film "Hanoi Hilton" exploitative "filth." Jeffrey Pasley details the sad state of the sales-oriented textbook industry that is so intent on not offending any organized groups that it has virtually eliminated the subject of religion from its mushy-timid school books.
"The Zeitgeist Checklist," alone, however, is worth the price of subscription. Charles Paul Freund charts the hot 10 media issues each week the way Billboard tracks U2 LPs. No. 1 is the "Embassy Fiasco" (headlined "Merchant Marines"), while entering the charts at No. 9 is "Qaddafi." Freund's keen commentary, as usual, is all pith:
"Given the enormity of Qaddafi's bogeyman media role only a year ago, it is astonishing how relatively little interest has been shown in his Chad debacle. He's been written off. Events in the last year have revealed his earlier media status to have been preposterously inflated--by the West--all along."
The Beta Battle
Court delays and endless legal maneuvering aren't always necessarily bad, as James Lardner demonstrates in the New Yorker.
Last week Lardner traced the early years of the complex legal maneuvering and big-time political lobbying surrounding "The Betamax Case," which began with a lawsuit filed against Sony by MCA/Universal Television in 1976 that could have killed the Video Age in its crib. MCA, arguing that Sony's primitive home-video recorder violated copyright law, wanted its sale, manufacture and use outlawed.
Part II picks up the legal trail that finally reached the Supreme Court in 1983. There, the "Copyrightist" forces (the established TV, recording and movie interests) lost a crushing 5-4 decision to the upstart "Home Recording Rights Coalition." The colorful cast of litigants and lobbyists includes everyone from lovable Mr. Rogers (an early volunteer and hero of the Betamax army whose testimony, one commentator wrote, "may have tipped the scales") to Jack Valenti, the loquacious movie-industry lobbyist who attacked the humble Betamax as a "parasitical" device.
As Lardner points out, however, the Supreme Court decision was virtually moot. During the seven years the issue was slugged out in lawyerland, the combined powers of mass marketing and rapid technological change had brought forth a full-blown Video Revolution. By 1986 VCRs had become just another household appliance for a third of American homes and today the movie industry makes more money from video-cassette revenues than it does from box-office receipts.
A Subdued Flynt
Whatever happened to Hustler magazine's creator Larry Flynt? And should anyone care?
The 1970s renegade publisher who got rich and notorious by delivering crude and graphic sex magazines to truck-stop America is not exactly a hero among polite society. Yet in Tom Johnson's profile in Los Angeles magazine, Flynt's unfulfilled quest for the respectability money can't ever buy almost makes you feel sorry for him.
Johnson details why America's self-avowed "smut-genius" was once a recurring star on the nightly news: Fighting (and never losing) obscenity charges all over the country. Converting to Christianity. Getting shot and paralyzed in 1978. Moving to Los Angeles and propounding outlandish conspiracy theories while becoming a Howard Hughes-like recluse. Running for President.
The 1987 Model Larry Flynt that Johnson encountered, however, is 46, prematurely aged, much heavier and very calm. Flynt, who tells Johnson he's no longer crazy, characterizes himself as a manic-depressive currently in lithium therapy.
Though he's still rich and still publishing, Flynt wants to sell Larry Flynt Publications (which includes Hustler and Chic and a national magazine-distribution business). But no one who can afford the price tag (reportedly $25 million) is interested in buying the bad company image. Flynt, concludes Johnson, is "in his own odd way as genuine an example of the American Dream as you are likely to find--the product of hard work and the sweat of his brow--and he's got no one to share it with."
Bits and Pieces