Despite all the speculation that Sept. 11 would awaken today’s
magazine editors from their dreamy haze of celebrity puffery and smiley service
writing, when the industry convenes at the Waldorf-Astoria on May 1 to present
the National Magazine Awards, the winners will be drawn from a list of
finalists in which reporting on terrorism or war is conspicuously absent.
Excluding nominees for fiction and “leisure interests,” out of 81
finalists in 16 different N.M.A. categories, by our count, just 16 have any
relation to the Sept. 11 attacks or the war in Af-ghanistan. In some categories
where one would most expect to see such material-like public interest and
profile writing-there are no Sept. 11–related entries at all.
That paltry showing has some editors worried that the National
Magazine Awards will show an American magazine industry-and a sponsor
organization, the American Society of Magazine Editors-dangerously out of step
with the rest of the world.
“If the right things win, it’ll be O.K.,” said one top magazine
editor, who did not want to be named. But if not enough Sept. 11 material takes
home the N.M.A.’s Ellies, the editor said, “we will look like we’re out of
touch; the awards will look like they missed the boat.”
The absence of Sept. 11 coverage from the N.M.A. finalists is
striking. By contrast, this year’s Pulitzer Prizes-set to be awarded at
Columbia University on April 8-are apparently thick with nominated coverage of
terrorism and war dominating this year’s highest honors in newspaper
journalism. According to Off the Record’s unconfirmed list of Pulitzer
finalists, more than half are entries related to the war in Afghanistan or
But the N.M.A.’s finalists are another story. And to some, it
confirms the worst suspicions about the direction of the glossy industry: that
magazines had become so enraptured with celebrity hagiography, society-buffing
and catalog-style writing that they were vastly unprepared to react and
chronicle one of the most devastating stories of their time.
N.M.A.’s judging process has two stages. First, the nominated
entries are screened by a collection of people-mostly editors-who then pick
five finalists in each category. Then a second, separate set of judges in each
category picks winners from the finalists.
Sources involved in the initial rounds of N.M.A. screening told
Off the Record that the submitted Sept. 11 coverage was weak.
“Some of the coverage-which was doing the best they could with
whatever they had, on short notice and tight deadlines-was not that compelling
or particularly insightful or advancing the stories significantly,” said one
screener. The screener added: “The pieces had this wildly disappointing feeling
Another screener said that in one N.M.A. category, a
guilty-feeling screening group actually went back and resuscitated eliminated
material in order to make a nod toward Sept. 11. The screener said that at the
start of judging, several submissions from newsweeklies detailing Sept. 11 were
eliminated from consideration, but at the end of the session-after one person
in the room asked if the group was comfortable with no Sept. 11–
related finalist-a move was made to add coverage from at least one newsweekly.
“It was a total afterthought,” the screener said. “If our group had dispersed
two minutes earlier, [the Sept. 11 coverage] would have never made it in.”
Cyndi Stivers, the editor in chief of Time Out New York and the current ASME president, agreed that Sept.
11 did not provoke, at least initially, much award-winning magazine work. The
terrorist attacks, Ms. Stivers said, “prompted magazines to do some of their
best work, but some of it doesn’t age that well.” She added: “Everybody did it
the same way everyone does a Thanksgiving-turkey story if you’re a food
As an example, Ms. Stivers pointed to her own magazine, Time Out , which was forced to skip one
issue after the attacks, mainly because her staff couldn’t get into its
downtown office. Time Out did a
special issue on eating and drinking. Ms. Stivers said her magazine had to
acknowledge the events in that issue, but said, “It wasn’t going to be
When the N.M.A. finalists
were announced, not everyone in magazines was surprised by the absence
of Sept. 11 material. Some pointed to
coverage in daily newspapers and round-the-clock cable television and said
that, at least initially, there was
little room for magazines to further the story.
John Rasmus, the editor of National
Geographic Adventure , which received three nominations this year, said that
so far, Sept. 11 hasn’t proven to be a story where magazines have more to offer
than other media. “It has been hard for magazines to get any more depth on the
run than television or newspapers, quite frankly.”
Other editors said deadlines made it difficult to do
award-winning work immediately after Sept. 11. When the attacks came, most
monthly magazines were just closing their November issues. Many-whether they
were Esquire or Money or Martha Stewart
Living -tried to adjust, reworking their covers and changing as many pages
inside as they could, but it was a rush job.
“If you look at what I did in November,” said Esquire ‘s David Granger, referring to
his November 2001 issue, in which he
spiked a celebrity cover story to make room for Ground Zero reporting, “we didn’t get the opportunity to do
good work. I didn’t have four months to put in and then submit to the National
At the same time, some of the better magazine work related to the
war and Sept. 11 could not be submitted to the N.M.A. because of regulations.
Even though nearly every monthly’s January 2002 issue reached newsstands in
early December, only magazines with 2001 cover dates are eligible for this
When it came to Sept. 11 coverage, weekly magazines like The New Yorker , Time and Newsweek did
well. Compared to last year, when Time
and Newsweek both received one
finalist nomination apiece- Time won
the award for public interest for a series on campaign-finance reform- Time has five finalists this year, all
for coverage of Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan, and Newsweek has four.
“With some magazines like the newsweeklies, it was their moment
to shine,” said Mr. Granger.
Still, others said the N.M.A.’s judging has always seemed to be
tipped against news reporting, even before Sept. 11. “As a newsmagazine editor,
what’s always been exhilarating, but at the same time frustrating, about the
National Magazine Awards is they fully reflect the range of magazines out
there,” said Time managing editor Jim
Kelly. Mr. Kelly said that in years past, newsweeklies sometimes felt like “the
least-favorite child in the family.”
Other editors said it was not fair to criticize magazines whose
editorial missions simply weren’t designed to cover events like Sept. 11. David
Remnick, editor of The New Yorker
(which has nine finalists, including Sy Hersh’s investigative work in the
reporting category and its Sept. 11 issue for the single-topic issue) said: “A
lot of magazines that don’t do this, how can you fault them for that? I can’t
imagine InStyle or a design magazine
would be going through strange gyrations to do stories on Islam or White House
Bill Clinton’s mega-hyped handshake with prodigal aide
George Stephanopoulos at Michael’s on Wednesday, March 27, seemed like a
classic New York City chance encounter: two former heavyweights turned mortal
enemies, now leading separate lives in Manhattan, meeting by accident in the
lunching hive of the city’s power elite.
But it looks like the fix was in.Turnsout
this”chance”encounter-at leastonMr. slos’
side-was about as choreographed as a Bob Fosse routine. Not only
didMr.Steph-anopoulosknow Mr. Clinton was going to be there, but some media
insiders got a heads-up that The BigHandshake was abouttohappen-and promptly
booked tables so they could be there to witness it.
Thestory beginswith Michael Wolff, NewYork col-umnistand Michael’s regular, who said he received a
call from the restaurant that morning at around 10, tipping him off that Mr.
Clinton would be there. The restaurant said they knew he was set to have lunch
with Mr. Stephanopoulos, and wanted him to know that the former President would
be lunching as well (Mr. Clinton was joining pals including Diane Sawyer, Liz
Smith, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal).
“We love George,” Michael’s general manager Steve Millington told
Off the Record. “He’s been a great guest. We wanted to save him any potential
embarrassment.” Mr. Millington said the restaurant did not alert Mr. Clinton
because “we did not have the means to do that. We were too busy preparing for
the mêlée surrounding the lunch.”
Mr. Wolff admitted that he considered not letting Mr.
Stephanopoulos in on the big surprise awaiting him.
“My first instinct was to not
tell him,” Mr. Wolff said. “Because I thought if I told him, he may not come.”
But Mr. Wolff did decide to tell Mr. Stephanopoulos, whom he
recalled saying: “You’re kidding, right? Oh my God, I’ve got to think about
“The whole tenor of the thing was out of junior high,” Mr. Wolff
said. “You know, ‘Is he going to be there? Is he not? What do I say if he
While waiting for Mr.
Stephan-opoulos to call back, Mr. Wolff said he called several people,
all of whom, he noted, proceeded to make reservations at Michael’s as if it
were Fight Night at Madison Square Garden.
Not much later, Mr. Stephanopoulos called back to say what the
heck-he’d go to Michael’s. But even when the former adviser got to the West
55th Street restaurant, he was uncertain how he’d handle the approach to his
“Once we got there,” Mr. Wolff said, “George asked, ‘Well, do I
speak to him first?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ It was completely eighth-grade.”
Mr. Stephanopoulos settled for a handshake. One press report
stated that Mr. Stephanopoulos popped by Mr. Clinton’s table on his way to the
bathroom. Another version had it that Mr. Stephanpoulos went directly to the
table without a visit to the loo.
“He was going to the bathroom,” Mr. Wolff confirmed. “It was one
of those things where he was up and said, ‘On my way, I’m going to say my
Reports were the exchange was amicable, though Mr. Clinton mildly
snubbed his former employee by only rising slightly out of his chair during the
Mr. Stephanopoulos did not comment for this story, but a
spokesperson for Mr. Stephanopoulos at ABC News verified Mr. Wolff’s account.
“As it turned out,” Mr. Millington said, “it wasn’t embarrassing,
but history-making. It was really cool. It was a great day for Michael’s.”
TheNationalMagazine Awards ceremony has, in recent
years, dragged on to Oscars-length proportions. There’s a boozy 11:30 a.m.
reception that transforms into a three-hour luncheon, padded out with plenty of
introductory remarks, a keynote speech, a Hall of Fame award-think “lifetime
achievement”-plus windy descriptions of nominees read by professional
This year, ASME president Cyndi Stivers has decided to cut these
descriptions from the ceremony. Instead, just a quick sentence will be read
aloud (the full citations will still appear in the program). “That’s my way of
getting you out of there a half-hour earlier,” she said, adding that it was her
goal to achieve “the all-time shortest show.”
That was what the Oscar 2002 folks said, but as Condé Nast
staffer said when told the news: “Thank God! It’s the most boring lunch.”
Nearly a year has passed since Brendan Lemon, editor in
chief of Out , disclosed his
relationship with an unnamed Major League Baseball player. Lemon’s May 2001
piece was a big deal in media circles and “The Show,” too-it was reportedly
tacked up in pro clubhouses, where players gleefully fingered each other as Mr.
Since then, the gay ballplayer’s name has remained a mystery. But
Mr. Lemon and Player X are still a couple, and in honor of the new season, Off
the Record asked Mr. Lemon if he’d like to finally reveal his boyfriend’s
“No, I don’t,” Mr. Lemon said. “It’s his decision. He has to
decide when he wants to himself.”
Mr. Lemon, also the American
theater critic for The Financial Times , maintained that his
revelatory editor’s note was done with the blessing of his boyfriend. The
details he did provide-that his boyfriend’s team was “a major-league East Coast
franchise” and the boyfriend himself “not his team’s biggest star but a very recognizable
media figure”- provoked plenty of speculation both inside and outside media and
“It was meant to be provocative,” Mr. Lemon said of the piece.
“Provocation is a good thing. It got some discussion going.”
Mr. Lemon said that he received hundreds of e-mails in the wake
of the piece from people confessing their own furtive relationships. Baseball
players sent encouraging messages. He also received calls from “dozens of
hysterical women” worried that their diamond idol was gay.
“Whenthey stoppedcrying,” Mr.
Lemon said, “I told them I couldn’t give them that reassurance. And why was it
so important? If it was so-and-so, why couldn’t they keep up that poster up on
the wall? What makes him so different now?
“What struck me about all the guesses,” Mr. Lemon continued, “is
all the assumptions people made. People thought he’d be single, probably white.
I never said what his race or marital status is.”
Since the controversy’s heyday, Mr. Lemon has finished a novel, Last Night , now published by the books
division of Out parent company LPI,
Inc. He said he began his book-the story of an American man’s affair with a
Cuban boxer-after leaving his post as cultural editor of The New Yorker in 1997, but continued it after dating Player X.
“I read big parts of the book to him,” Mr. Lemon said. “He’s not
terribly literary, but he’s able to understand the story well. He was able to
help with baseball details and the psychology of an athlete in the story.”
Now, as Mr. Lemon tries to get people to buy Last Night , Player X begins another season with his secret intact.
However, he’s in therapy, Mr. Lemon said, and his coming out will happen …
“There’s a lot of work to do,” Mr. Lemon said. “There’s a lot of
preparation that has to be done within the ball club itself before he can do
it. It’s not easy. He has to deal with thousands of fans each night. That’s the
difference between him, say, and a Hollywood actor working on a closed set.
“This is all an issue of
trust,” Mr. Lemon said. “My boyfriend has enough trust in me to let me discuss