"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 6 October 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
News of the Weak


[now i know what it was....]

As the whole Diana debacle

played out on CNN, there was no

sight more delicious than

watching "serious mainstream

media" types scurry to distance

themselves from the "tabloids."

But nobody out there in

cathode-ray land was buying it.

Even supermarket-line

periodical-scanners have noticed

the confluence of these two

supposedly polar opposites. In a

remarkable show of prescience,

however, the Crack Suck Research

Squad set out to plumb these

depths long before the Pont

de l'Alma bridge replaced Jim

Morrison's grave as the

must-stop spot for dumb American

tourists. Our objective:

explaining the continued success

of newsweeklies such as Time and

Newsweek, despite the fact that

the Internet and TV long since

essentially transformed them

into stale organs for redigested

news. Below, our media

experiment results.




Weekly newsmagazines have

mutated into upscale tabloids to

match the new news environment.




Most people ignore any breaking

news that doesn't affect them.

Sure, stockbrokers watch their

Bloomberg screen like sharks

because it makes them millions,

politicos track issues for

potential photo-ops, and the

media consume news because ...

well, because otherwise we'd

have to get around to actually

working. But everybody else is

too busy hitting sales quotas

and trying to perfect their

antidepressant cocktails.




Suck's research team tracked

both Time and Newsweek for a

10-week period this summer,

using the National Enquirer as a

control for - and model - of pure





Basically, we, uh, looked at the

covers. While it's hardly a

rigorous approach, Suck's budget

prohibited actually buying

entire issues. And that's how

the average supermarket-shopper

scans the mags, anyway. (You

want rigorous methodology? Read

American Demographics.) In

evaluating the covers we used

three criteria:


Actual News - i.e., whether it

related to something that

happened the previous week


Q-rating - the box-office value

of the persons pictured


Anguish - i.e., the degree to

which the cover might engender

overt or subliminal fear among



[now i know what they said ...]



Actual News Value: All three

magazines were essentially

indistinguishable in this

regard. Time and the National

Enquirer both had five

news-based covers, while

Newsweek had four. The two

"news" magazines' covers chose

the same lead story only three

times - on the Mars Pathfinder

landing, Bill Gates saves Apple

and Andrew Cunanan's killing

Gianni Versace, to which the

Enquirer also gave cover play

("Gay Killer and Tom Cruise").

Granted, the Enquirer's "Demi

Caught: It's 3 a.m. No Bruce. No

Bra. No Problem?" and "Lisa

Marie Suicide Drama" aren't

exactly hard news, but we also

gave Time credit for spinning

George Soros' playing Mr.

Fix-it into a profile on "Saint

George and his Unlikely



[tangent #2: let's develop some kind of music survey-no point intended of course]

Q-rating Results: Not

surprisingly, the National

Enquirer scored a perfect 10

here, and even got bonus points

for the skillful introduction of

Tom Cruise into the story on

Cunanan. Newsweek fought a

valiant battle, though, with

over half its covers given over

to celebrities ranging from Will

Smith to Cunanan to Bill Gates.

And Newsweek did win the

Gratuitous Celebrity

subdivision. Its "Cigars Are

Cool?" scored a triumph of cover

treatment by matching a

thrice-tired trend with equally

overexposed silicon

starlet/tongue exhibitionist

Jenny McCarthy. Then "The New

Rich" featured Gates, Oprah,

David Geffen, and a score of

other tycoons, trouncing the

Enquirer's Di-Demi-Fran

Drescher-Jane Fonda cover

"Breast Surgery Secrets: Whose

Are Real ... Whose Are Fake."

Time came in a sorry last with

only four celebrity covers,

though it gets some props for

snagging definitive celebrity

Madonna's meandering meditation

upon Gianni Versace's death.


[just like one of those really cool

Anguish Index: Fear and tragedy

played a big part in all three

magazine's cover stories. Once

again, the Enquirer won the race

with six tragedy-fueled covers,

including "Farrah Drug Agony"

and "JonBenet Rape Shocker." But

it was a slim victory. Newsweek

scored five such fronts and got

the visual knockout prize for

its bloody-ground- beef-under-

Saran-Wrap "Can This Meat Kill

You?" Time also notched five

unsettling covers, including

"The Death of Privacy" and the

unlikely "Mormons, Inc.: The

Secrets of America's Most

Prosperous Religion."




[does piano music make you think of a. the piano scene sex in sex Pretty sex Woman sex or b.damn, don't you just hate

While usually thought of as

semi-stolid news compendiums, Time and

Newsweek have kowtowed to the

same mentality driving tabloids,

brewing up a bouillabaisse of

celebrity and latent fear to

keep readers entertained. While

critics complain of pap, your

average American only really

wants enough news to keep them

from looking stupid at the water

coole r, and the newsweeklies

deliver exactly that.


During the experiment's phase,

both Time and Newsweek also

unloaded a couple of their

classic bogus-trend stories.

Covering the Lilith Fair, for

example, Time just could not

resist the unequivocal

declarative subhead "Macho music

is out; empathy is in." Tell it

to the Wu-Tang Clan. It's

precisely such sloppy

over-reaching that most defines

newsweeklies. In 1991, for

example, Time launched the myth

of anomie-ridden

"Twentynothings"; six years

later, they debunked the very

fallacy they had forwarded,

proclaiming "The so-called

Generation X turns out to be

full of go-getters who are just

doing it - but their way."


Keying off their own

experiences, the pundits assume

everybody else will swallow up

news sources as fast they

manifested themselves. It's like

putting Marv Albert in charge of

updating the Kinsey Report.

Don't trust news junkies to

judge America's appetite for news.

But then again, you probably

shouldn't trust the news,


courtesy of Prolex

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