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Jerry Falwell Starts a Drive Against Sassy

September 15, 1988|GARRY ABRAMS | Times Staff Writer

Sassy magazine's October letters page is filled with the kind of mail editors hate to get.

The letters castigating the 7-month-old monthly for teen-age girls represent the latest episode in a fight between the New York magazine and the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority organization, based in Lynchburg, Va.

Since the battle began in July, the Moral Majority has been advocating that supporters write the magazine and its advertisers to penalize Sassy for content that promotes "teen-age promiscuity" and "homosexuality," said Martin Mawyer, editor of the Liberty Report. The Liberty Report, with a circulation of 125,000 to 150,000, is the organization's monthly newspaper which announced the campaign against Sassy and published the addresses of some of its advertisers.

Sassy is a brash upstart on the teen magazine scene with a circulation of 500,000. The September issue, for instance, contains items on a new brand of condoms and "Abortion Rates: America vs. the World." The latter advises that pregnancy and abortion rates in the U.S.--particularly among teens--are much higher than those of other developed countries because sex education and birth control are less available here.

For the moment at least, the Moral Majority is claiming a partial victory--a result hotly disputed by Sandra Yates, president of Matilda Publications Inc., Sassy's parent company and also publisher of Ms. magazine. Yates maintains that loss of advertising has been more than offset by new advertisers, including a major West Coast fashion firm she declined to identify.

Advertisers Withdraw

Two major advertisers--Noxell Corp., maker of Noxzema and Cover Girl, and Schering-Plough Corp., maker of Maybelline--have dropped their products from Sassy's pages, Yates said. However, Noxell, upset about the magazine's content, is said to have made the decision to stop advertising before the letter-writing campaign began. Schering-Plough has refused to discuss why it discontinued advertising. Tambrands Inc., manufacturer of Tampax products, also has suspended its advertising until the end of the year, Yates said.

Another target of the letters, Levi Strauss & Co. of San Francisco, said it asked its advertising agency to review Sassy as an ad vehicle. The agency recommended that Levi continue to consider the magazine for advertising but review its policy on a monthly basis, said Levi spokesman Dan Chew. He added that only one more Levi ad is slated to run in Sassy this year and the firm won't decide whether to advertise in 1989 until later in the year.

The company received about 60 letters inspired by the Moral Majority, said Chew, as well as a handful that apparently were spontaneously written by Levi customers.

Yates, an Australian who bought both Sassy and Ms. this summer when her employer decided to get out of the U.S. market, said the letters page is meant to show the "threatening" nature of the correspondence. For example, Craig and Gina Harrell of Robins Air Force Base in Georgia write that ". . . God's holy word, the Bible, makes it crystal clear that sexual intercourse outside marriage is wrong, no ifs, ands, or buts about it." Their letter accuses Sassy of promoting a "humanistic philosophy" that allows decisions about sex to be made without regard to a higher moral code. Another letter from three mothers in Wabash, Ind., objects to "the sexually explicit material and the value systems presented in Sassy." But the three women also said they "appreciate" some features in the magazine, including beauty tips and an article on parents' divorce.

Public Service

Yates said she considers promulgating information about birth control a public service, adding that she is surprised at the strength of the negative reaction to the magazine. "I expected some controversy but I thought that this is a democracy and people who didn't like it just wouldn't read it," she said. She added, "We've got a responsibility to talk to these kids about birth control. . . ."

The Moral Majority's Mawyer said Sassy is "tamer now than what it was two or three months ago."

Yates disputed this too. The magazine will continue to run sex education articles, she said, noting that a story on virginity is scheduled for November. Titled "Why Virgins Are Cool," the article written in Sassy's usual breathless style will contain "very serious advice on dumb reasons to lose your virginity," Yates said.

The October Sassy is due out on newsstands today.

Kids' Guide to the Games

Meanwhile, in an even younger part of the magazine market, the Kids' Official Olympic Games Magazine, produced by New York's Welsh Publishing Group Inc., is making an appearance on newsstands. A guide to the Games in Seoul for children ages 6 through 12, the magazine, priced at $1.95, includes a quick scan of the major sports, a feature on how Korean children live, profiles of U.S. athletes such as heptathlon star Jackie Joyner-Kersee and swimmer Matt Biondi and advice to parents on how to pick a sport for their children.

The Olympics magazine is merely the kickoff in what magazine publishers see as a growth market, demographically and economically.

In January, Sports Illustrated will launch a monthly junior version of itself called Sports Illustrated for Kids. The slick, 50-page magazine will be aimed at kids 8 and older and has a promised circulation of about 500,000. Half of that figure will come from copies donated to 2,500 schools in poverty areas participating in the new magazine's literacy program.

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