Doomsday Scenarios as Marketable Media Feasts

Herpes. Third World Debt. Nuclear Winter. Terrorism. Liability Insurance. Radon Gas in the Home. A Hole in the Ozone Layer. AIDS.

In "The Crisis Crisis," Playboy's Peter Moore delivers serious criticism while making fun of the media's propensity to shock with doomsday scenarios, killer trends and national crises that often prove to be more hyperbolic than apocalyptic.

In their intense competition for the eye of the public and the wallet of the advertiser, media feast frenziedly on one crisis, then abandon it for a newer one, Moore complains. There's profit in crisis-mongering, such as "crack mania," which he says boosted magazine sales and drove up ratings. Though Moore is concerned about the public swallowing all the hysteria, he's more worried about lawmakers reacting too quickly with half-baked legislation and about politicians who take advantage of crises for their own gain.

Imprisoned Editors

What if an important U.S. magazine editor suddenly found himself sentenced to solitary confinement somewhere deep in the Fourth World? What if his jailkeepers let him subscribe to only five magazines. Which would they be?

"Obviously, the New Republic," said that feisty magazine's feisty editor Michael Kinsley from Washington, "plus Time and Newsweek to compare how differently they cover identical stories; Atlantic, because all my friends write for it, and the Spectator of London, out of Anglophilia."

William F. Buckley Jr.'s secretary at National Review said her super-prolific boss was in Switzerland working on yet another book (Part 2 of his Pacific sailing chronicle "Racing Through Paradise" runs in this week's New Yorker). And U.S. News & World Report editor David R. Gergen certainly wasn't referring to the National Lampoon when he responded: "I'd only need one magazine."

Harper's Lewis Lapham was less chauvinistic, however, perhaps justifiably assuming that if he weren't the editor his magazine wouldn't be published. He'd choose Grand Street, "the best of the literary quarterlies, for its fiction, essays and poetry"; the Economist, Publisher's Weekly, Congressional Quarterly and W--"the court gazette" of the two or three thousand members of the "American Versailles," where "the fashionable opinion is."

Esquire's Lee Eisenberg would select "Vanity Fair, to know what I'm not missing; New York Review of Books, to remain passably educated; Baseball America, to keep track of the Louisville Redbirds; Time, to be reasonably informed; and Esquire, to see if I've still got a job."

Total Average: Batter Up

Probably as many baseball fans have heard of Tommy Lasorda's new restaurant as have heard of Thomas Boswell's Total Average (TA). But Boswell's statistical invention, which is presented for its annual airing in the March Inside Sports, is touted with considerable validity as the best way to determine a player's all-around offensive productivity.

Simply divide the total number of bases a player accumulates in a season by the number of outs he makes. The TA's of heavy-hitting superstars like Yankee Don Mattingly shine (with 442 total bases and 456 outs for a 1986 TA of .969). So do players like Eric Davis, the L.A.-grown Cincinnati Reds star who combined speed and power for a TA of 1.120 in 1986--the best in the majors. (Some perspective: A .900 career TA is Hall of Fame material; Steve Sax, the best Dodger, had a respectable .805 TA in 1986. Babe Ruth's career TA was 1.432, the best of only five players in history with career TAs higher than Davis' '86 average.)

Boswell entertainingly defends and explains his statistical offspring and ranks all the players according to TA. Sport magazine, meanwhile, bangs the baseball drum with its "Spring Training Special," which includes a report on off-season happenings, a feature on "the next Willie Mays," Eric Davis, and a double-page, info-filled road map of spring-training territory in Florida and Arizona.

Bits & Pieces

In its "Science and Censorship" issue, Omni unabashedly takes the side of science in the battle against fundamentalists who seek to censor science books that include the theory of evolution and other forms of "satanic heresy." The magazine includes a straight-talking post card that Omni says it will forward to the White House: It begins, "Dear Mr. President, I violently oppose censorship in any form and protest the recent attempts by right-wing zealots aided and abetted by elements of your own administration to infringe upon my First Amendment rights." . . . Los Angeles magazine's solid profile of David Putnam, the new boss of Columbia Pictures, captures his non-Hollywood way of thinking about movies and how to make them. Putnam's wife, Patsy, sounds like she could run a studio pretty well too. . . . California Business catalogues California's wealthiest citizens, including "the vulgar rich, the down-and-out rich and the rich women." Donald Bren, the "West's biggest land baron" who owns most of the $3-billion Irvine Co., is on the cover, but electronics whiz David Packard's estimated $2 billion in personal holdings makes him No. 1. Sylvester Stallone belongs to the vulgar rich and Joan Beverly Kroc's McDonald's inheritance makes her the state's richest woman. . . .

U.S. News & World Report's cover story asks if America is becoming "A Nation of Liars?" and discusses the issue at length, citing poll results that show 71% of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the current levels of honesty and standards of behavior in government, business, in the workplace and even in science. . . . The New Republic's Crocker Coulson reveals that despite their philosophical distaste for government-funded activism, during the Reagan years a number of important conservative activist groups have quite happily used federal money to advance their goals. . . . Musician, which has evolved from a music-education magazine through jazz to its current pop/rock/fusion/jazz state, celebrates its 10 years and 100th issue by reprinting chunks of past interviews with about 30 rock and jazz stars, from the Beatles and Prince to Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett. . . . Part of McCall's "Women's Health Handbook" section on health issues that affect women focuses on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), explaining symptoms, treatment, prevention and means of transmission. Of the most serious STDs, chlamydia is most prevalent in the United States (affecting 1.6 million women a year), followed by gonorrhea (1 million) and syphilis (32,000).

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