REPOST: Jumping the Cockroach

Tina Brown

UPDATE (10/18/2012): Tina Brown announced today that Newsweek, founded in 1933, will cease publication and go digital in tablet form for paid subscribers, saving the company $42 million in production fees.  In my original post from last week, I pointing out some of the content and image issues both Brown and her team have been suffering.  As Politico pointed out, “a relative frugality governed Tina Brown’s Newsweek — given the financials, it had to. But editorially, humility was left on the cutting room floor.” (Read more of that article HERE.)

For me, as someone who creates content, TDB’s flashiness and grand showmanship was part of the problem and will continue to be until Brown takes a page out of Arianna Huffington’s book and lets pure content and forums drive traffic, not personality.

The essential problem is this: as with Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, having these massive egos like Andrew Sullivan’s swanning around is unappealing to too many people to risk having them there in the first place. They are knowledgeable braggarts, the kids in school who think they’re cool but really aren’t because it’s the one’s who don’t care if they’re cool or not and aren’t even in the game who really are the ones to look up to.

In other words, I like Tina, I just don’t like most of her friends.  During the print era, and particularly in the 90s when Tina was in her heyday, you had no choice but to read her wares.  Or not read them at all, or read them infrequently, which is what I chose to do.  I just couldn’t stand the smug tone of most of it; I just wanted the information, not the personality behind the information.  It would appear I’m not alone in feeling this.

Having said that, HuffPo is a mess—too much, too sloppy—and there’s not enough original content, and if there is it’s of poor quality, so there is room for Tina online if she just gets rid of the Andrew Sullivan of it all and turns her twentieth-century circus into a type of politically skewed infotainment that fits this era, an era epitomized by the single-most-used screen name in the digital world:


Here is my original post:

It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned my evil twin Andrew Sullivan in these pages.  He’s become such a clown, I was debating whether to write anything at all about his freak out yesterday in The Daily Beast, which even HuffPo is calling “hysterical.” Sullivan’s fellow denizens of Homolandia know this brand of hysteria well: It’s the classic woman’s meltdown in the powder room turbo boosted by testosterone.

An hysterical drama queen having her “spack out” is extremely annoying, not least because it gets your heart racing and induces a false panic attack just by listening to it.  The first image that comes to my mind is that scene in the original Airplane when a woman starts screaming, “I’ve got to get out of here!” and the other passengers line up to slap her, which is exactly what I feel like doing to Sullivan:

Sully’s article has been the lead story on The Daily Beast for two days running, which means he has succeeded in stirring the shit enough to drive much-needed views to the site.

For those unfamiliar with the vagaries of the media world, Newsweek/The Daily Beast has been in trouble for some time now.  The Harman Family stopped investing in June of this year, handing full responsibility for Tina Brown‘s loss-making venture to Barry Diller.  Ninety-one-year-old billionaire Sidney Harman originally bought Newsweek for a dollar back in 2010 because he thought it was more of a “philanthropic venture,” according to an article in Reuters, which always struck me as dangerous way to run any kind of non-charity.  Rumors were that funds would dry up in September of this year and that it might fold—Brown even had to send out a memo to employees assuring them their jobs were safe—but Diller has deep pockets and is the kind of ‘philanthropist’ who would shrug off a relatively small recurring loss for the sake of the prestige of being associated with Brown, probably as long as she is perceived to be running a tight ship.

I’m not jumping on the scandal-faced bandwagon of those appalled by Brown’s choices for magazine covers, like the digitally aged Princess Diana or Obama with a rainbow halo touting him as the “first gay president,” which was one of those moments that made me embarrassed to be gay, not from self-hatred but because that fucking rainbow motif is so atrociously tacky and unrepresentative of who I am that I feel like having a meltdown of my own and just want to get the hell out of here.

This week’s “Heaven Is Real” cover is just as gratuitously controversial for atheists.  At the very least, Brown could have softened it by changing it to a question, “Is Heaven Real?”  (I agree with Gawker that this is “the most embarrassing cover story Newsweek has ever run.”) Sadly, a recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that, while atheism is on the rise in America and organized religion is on the decline, only 6% of Americans identify as atheist.  Numbers like that don’t move magazines among those who fear death and search for any signs that there might be an afterlife, as opposed to those of us who are happier having the lights just switch off at the end of this madness and never have them come back on again.

Newsweak Heaven Is RealIt is Pew that is at the heart of all of this, because it is that conservative organization’s poll that hijacked Sullivan’s emotions by showing Romney in the lead over the President by four points.  There are so many things wrong with modern polling—namely that these surveys are conducted on landline telephones, and who the fuck has those any more? (old people)—that one would think Sullivan would take those errors into account before shrieking and tearing his few remaining hairs out.  Again, it would seem that reasonableness and restraint don’t drive page views as much as hysteria and histrionics do, something I suppose we’ve known since William Randolf Hearst invented yellow journalism and concocted wars.

Personally, I don’t dislike Mitt Romney any more than I particularly like Obama—I still maintain that Hillary would have made a better president.  I don’t care that Romney is flip-flopping and becoming more of a centrist in order to cinch the swing votes; Obama himself is hardly above playing a mean, streetwise game to get what he wants and where he needs to be.  As a member of the last oppressed minority that doesn’t enjoy equal rights, I oppose Republican ideology because it opposes me—in that respect, Obama has been the gay man’s Abe Lincoln.  To take that analogy further, I maintain that anyone who supports any Republican candidate for office supports the Confederacy and slavery in what I have coined our Cold Civil War.

But I don’t want to see the G.O.P. demolished. I want it to hit rock bottom and be reformed.  And a win for Romney would be a vindication that they are doing something right.  It would be a return to the destructive, meshugana ways of the Bush Administration, and we can’t have that.  In this respect, Sullivan is right to be concerned, but not to be alarmed to the extent that he is writing pieces that sound like the warning sirens during The Blitz.  If nothing else, this election has become a gripping show of high-stakes brinksmanship.  I’m definitely enjoying it.

As for The Daily Beast, it wasn’t just Sullivan’s piece that made me lose all respect for it once and for all, although no doubt I’ll continue to use it as a source.  It was a small story this morning buried deep on the Cheat Sheet, Man Dies After Roach-Eating Contest, about some Sad Sack named Edward Archebold, who bit the dust after ingesting more cockroaches than anyone else at some classy event near Miami, Fla.  After saying that an autopsy was underway, the wag who wrote the short piece stated, “Here’s hoping they find out what was bugging him.”

Ugh, Tina.  Ugh.

Yeah, Old Tina has finally jumped the cockroach, all right.  And somewhere, in an unreal heaven, Joseph Pulitzer is having a meltdown and screaming, “I’ve got to get out of here!”


Comment: 1

  • ericjbaker October 12, 20129:25 pm

    Everyone knows the real journalism happens at Yahoo!, with their “contributor network” of “reporters” who keep patriotic Americans well informed!

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