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Some Press Hounds Heel for Kennedy

Couples: Two major media players vow to lie low, but a wave of interest in JFK Jr. and his bride is fueling freelance photos and gossip reporting.

November 05, 1996|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After John F. Kennedy Jr. returned to New York last month from his overseas honeymoon, he paused with his wife, Carolyn Bessette, outside their apartment and asked the waiting reporters and photographers to give her some space. "This is a big change for anyone, and for a private citizen even more so," he said as the pack snapped and scribbled. "I ask that you give Carolyn all the privacy and room you can."

In a striking development, Kennedy's request is being honored by the two biggest practitioners of celebrity journalism. The editors of People magazine and the National Enquirer say they will not pursue the couple except for taking photos of them at public functions.

"When they said they wanted to be left alone, I basically said that, in terms ofintrusive reporting, that was the end of it," People Managing Editor Landon Y. Jones Jr. said. "I'm very much against rewarding photographers who ambush them on street corners."

At the Enquirer, Editor Steve Coz said, "We're not staking them out or following them around, but instead we're relying on our network of sources to keep us informed if something major happens." This presumably includes the "scoop" this week from a source close to Bessette that she has called on Martha Stewart for cooking and decorating ideas.

Although it does not appear that any journalists have been assigned to cover the newlyweds on a daily basis, many of New York's news organizations are finding ample reasons to produce Kennedy copy.

The marriage of the dashing Kennedy to a beauty of considerable mystery has continued to drive freelance photographers, the New York tabloids, gossip columns and TV broadcasts to chronicle the couple's style and meanderings around the city with regularity.

Three weeks after addressing the press, the Kennedys emerged from their home to the sight of two reporters and two photographers working for the Daily News. They followed the couple to breakfast at a nearby coffee shop. According to a witness, Kennedy left for a moment to buy newspapers and speak with one of the shooters. Take your pictures, he asked, but don't follow my wife around. But two days later, a spread of five photos and boilerplate copy ("He took a train home from work Tuesday after his bike got a flat") gave readers a look at husband and wife in what the tabloid called "24 Hours of Camelot."

Newsweek followed with a cover story on Bessette, "The Carolyn Style," going on for five pages about how "JFK Jr.'s Bride Is Already a Fashion Icon for the '90s." The theme was echoed last week by the New Yorker, which playfully sketched her in autumn designs by Bill Blass, Donna Karan, Anna Sui and Marc Jacobs.

During last Thursday's broadcast of the popular "ER," New York's WNBC-TV hyped an 11 p.m. news feature on Bessette, which consisted of little more than previously printed modeling photos that she had posed for a few years ago. The next morning, a Daily News gossip column led with an item on Kennedy's "wedding-bell blues," reporting that the groom is dickering over charges levied by the inn on Cumberland Island, Ga., where his reception took place Sept. 21.

Is Bessette pregnant? The tabloids have speculated that she is. Which explains why many freelance photographers, hungering for a potentially lucrative shot showing a rounder Bessette, have had their cameras ready. On a recent Saturday, there were 13 of them waiting--and hoping--outside the Kennedys' building in the Tribeca section of Manhattan, until a neighbor revealed that the couple had left town the night before.

"They are right now the No. 1 couple in America and he is the No. 1 hunk in the world," said Coz, of the Enquirer. "Add in the fact that she is a mystery woman, statuesque, beautiful and all of a sudden she's a Kennedy. Women are fascinated by what Kennedy saw in her."

"I think there's tremendous pressure on her to pick up the mantle left by Jackie Onassis," said Richard Johnson, mainstay of the New York Post's gossipy Page Six. "People look at her as the next generation's arbiter of taste and elegance."

Confirmation that she's having a baby would only intensify the media's gaze. "At that point, naturally, we would ask him for a picture," Coz said. "If we were politely refused, we would be forced to have a stakeout."

The ticklish problem for Kennedy as he tries to shield his married life from prying eyes is that he, too, plays in the media game. As a co-founder and editor in chief of George, a politically driven monthly that puts movie stars on the cover, he has been able to parlay his own fame into access and visibility for the magazine.

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