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New Quarterly Gives Journalists a Few Jabs From the Right

January 27, 1994|PAUL D. COLFORD | Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday.

Forbes MediaCritic, the new quarterly publication that sprang from the deep pockets of Forbes Inc. last fall, is on the lookout for what its logo calls "the Best and Worst of America's Journalism."

Issue No. 2, out this month, reviews how New York's newspapers covered the asbestos crisis in the city schools last year and suggests that an ill-informed press contributed to a sense of panic.

"Gotcha in San Diego" alleges that reporters overzealously sought to find poolside junketeering among those who attended a national conference of state legislators.

As many newsroom denizens know, the problem with serious media criticism is that it often has little to do with a reporter's working life. MediaCritic eschews the kind of ponderous reflections that can put journalists to sleep, but that is not its purpose. Relevance to a newsroom audience is a small concern to the new publication, which seeks to target consumers of news.

"It's not necessarily aimed at the trade," says Malcolm S. Forbes Jr., chairman of the publishing empire behind MediaCritic. "I think people have a fascination with the story behind the story and what were hits and misses."

Besides leading the company run by his showboating father, Malcolm Forbes, who died in 1990, the younger Forbes, known as Steve, travels in conservative circles and pushes rightward in the column he writes for Forbes magazine. So it is not surprising that early reviews have detected a conservative tilt, or some kind of ideological underpinning, in MediaCritic's approach.

"If they do want to set themselves up against what they see as a leaning toward the left in other media, I wish they would just say that," says Suzanne Braun Levine, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review.

The editor of MediaCritic is Terry Eastland, an author and former newspaperman who used to write the "Presswatch" column for the American Spectator, a conservative publication whose circulation has grown each time Rush Limbaugh praised its sometimes controversial exposes.

In fact, the new issue of MediaCritic presents a sampler of recently published assessments of Limbaugh, as well as a much longer piece ("Beyond the Beltway Press") that details how the broadcaster and other talk-show hosts successfully pressed for an end to the longstanding secrecy rule in the House of Representatives.

The latter article was written by John H. Fund, whose ID notes that he's an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal--but not that he collaborated on Limbaugh's first book, "The Way Things Ought to Be."

Both issues of MediaCritic have contained pieces by Fred Barnes, the conservative panelist on TV's "The McLaughlin Group," and the premiere featured Howard Kurtz, the respected media writer of the Washington Post.

Eastland says the magazine will not have a particular slant. "I would hope that people will see that the pieces I publish are not trying to produce a political opinion," he says. "I think there's something independent from politics known as journalism and the standards of accuracy and fairness can be applied to it."

Eastland says he is seeking a diversity of writers, including some well-known liberal voices.

Forbes says it is hard to determine who is reading MediaCritic, but that some copies in the 5,000-plus circulation have drawn positive responses from business people.

He adds that he expects a slow growth to a circulation of no more than 100,000, with a sizable following among professionals attracted to the New Republic, Foreign Affairs and other serious reads. No outside ads have run so far; Forbes is looking into the idea of single-sponsor issues.


On the Racks: In advance of Knopf's publication next month of "Brazil," John Updike's 16th novel (and 43rd book), Mirabella tagged along with the writer as he visited star-struck admirers at a Midwestern college.

"It's hard to know how old one is at 61," Updike says in the February issue. "Wouldn't it be nice if I were to make my own gesture toward the unemployment problem by getting out of the writing business and letting young people take my place? But in the writing business, there's nobody to give you the pink slip, so I will persevere."

The erotic "Brazil" finds the writer far removed from his usual milieus, but he downplays the notion of literary artistry, saying simply that it was time to write a novel. "First I went to Brazil, then I wrote it," he explains. "I think of myself as making a thing, a product, for which there exists a small but real market."

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