Off the Record

This week, the New York City Board of Elections ruled against one major incumbent: The New York Daily News will not get its regular piece of the board’s pre-election public-service advertising.

The board was responding to a protest raised Oct. 19, at its weekly Tuesday meeting, by Thomas Watkins Jr., publisher of the Daily Challenge newspaper. Mr. Watkins, whose Brooklyn-based newspaper targets an African-American readership, wanted to know why his paper wasn’t being included in the board’s ad buy.

Under state law, board spokesman Chris Riley said in a phone interview, the board is required to buy three advertisements—two half-pages and a quarter-page—in multiple daily newspapers to announce the election and list the candidates. But there was no procedure in place to decide which papers would get the ads.

Mr. Watkins, reached on the phone at his office, said that the Daily Challenge used to get legal ads from the Board of Elections, but stopped hearing from the agency after 2001. With a circulation of 4,000 in Staten Island and at least 10,000 in each of the other boroughs, he said, his paper clearly qualifies as a citywide daily paper.

“I fulfill the requirements of the law,” Mr. Watkins said.

But the board had been doing its advertising lately with the Daily News and the New York Post, along with selected papers that publish in Spanish, Chinese and Korean.

Mr. Watkins’ request prompted the board to farm out the ad-buying duties to the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

“We’ve informed them that we’d like to go with the advertisers who are going to give us the best rates,” Mr. Riley said.

That solution didn’t help the Daily Challenge. Mr. Watkins showed up at the board’s meeting yesterday—”I was there in person, to bid whatever the ad needed”—only to learn that the city’s central office had awarded the English-language contract to the Post and, supplanting the Daily News, the New York Sun.

Among the foreign-language press, Newsday ’s Hoy held onto its slot as the Spanish-language election-news paper of record, and the Korean Times kept the Korean contract. But the Sing Tao Daily took over the Chinese-language contract from the World Journal.

Mr. Watkins said he felt that his own ethnic constituency had been snubbed. “Our numbers in this city kind of demand some kind of respect,” he said.

The greater issue, though, was his paper’s eligibility to be an English-language paper of record. “They took the fact that I’m based in Brooklyn as meaning that I’m circulated only in Brooklyn,” he said.

“I’m on newsstands in Penn Station,” Mr. Watkins said. “You wouldn’t consider that an all-black stand.”

There’s also the question of how the two winning English-language papers fulfill the legal requirements. New York’s election-notification law stipulates that ads must run in newspapers representing both major political parties. Whether or not you consider the Post and the Sun papers for Republican audiences (albeit different strata), certainly neither can mount much of a case for being a Democratic Party organ.

When asked about the party-identification rule, Mr. Riley put Off the Record on hold to make inquiries. “I’ve been told that law does exist somewhere,” Mr. Riley said, returning. He was unable at the time to elaborate on what the law might mean for the board’s ad buy, and he didn’t return further phone calls by press time.

At the moment, it’s not clear that the Daily News would meet the test as a Democratic paper either. This past Sunday, the tabloid ran a long editorial criticizing George W. Bush’s performance on domestic policy, leading Editor & Publisher to pencil it in on its list of John Kerry–backing papers. But on Monday, the editorial page presented a second piece, on terrorism and foreign policy, arguing that after Sept. 11, Mr. Bush “answered that terrible call with wisdom, courage, vision and fortitude.”

Yet that piece, too, declined to formally endorse either candidate. Owner Mortimer Zuckerman, who has a noted soft spot for incumbents and for winners, may be waiting to see if the late polls will break one way or another. Arthur Browne, the Daily News editorial-page editor, said that the paper definitely has an endorsement of some sort in the works and will come up with it “before the election.”

“Endorsements are always a difficult decision, but it’ll be there,” Mr. Browne said.

Mr. Watkins displayed no such hesitation about choosing a partisan identity. The Daily Challenge, he said, is officially Democratic, just like the Board of Elections requires.

“None of the other papers say they’re a Democratic paper,” Mr. Watkins said, “so I should get it just for that.”

So has the Daily Challenge published an endorsement of Mr. Kerry? “No, not yet,” Mr. Watkins said. Will it? Given the challenger’s low profile in these parts, Mr. Watkins wasn’t sure there was any point to a New York paper formally endorsing Mr. Kerry.

“I don’t think he thinks it makes any difference,” he said.

Time magazine’s Joel Stein, the face of the late-90’s snarkiness bubble, has always been a take-him-or-leave-him figure. Entertainment Weekly, for instance, needed all of six months last year to go from taking Mr. Stein to leaving him.

But Mr. Stein’s newest employer knew exactly where he stood on the Joel Stein question: He was against the youthful yuks-monger. “I really had problems with the column he wrote for Time,” Michael Kinsley said.

“Maybe I was just an old fart,” added Mr. Kinsley, now editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times. Even so, said Mr. Kinsley, “whoring after youth was not something I wanted to do.”

Nor, said Mr. Stein, was writing an op-ed column something Mr. Stein wanted to do—at least, not the classic kind of op-ed about what the President should be doing. “I don’t like to read that stuff,” Mr. Stein said.

Billy Wilder, please pick up a courtesy phone! Mr. Kinsley’s pages, as it happens, showcase pedigreed specimens of That Stuff: Besides the editor’s own column, the paper since September has included weekly offerings from Time ’s Margaret Carlson (debut-column sample: “Bush is the strong, reliable breadwinner who’ll go downstairs and check on the noise in the night”) and the New Republic ’s Jonathan Chait (debut-column sample: “At his very best, Kerry is capable of adequately delivering a prepared speech”).

But Mr. Stein pitched Mr. Kinsley something else: a column about the entertainment industry. And Mr. Kinsley, to his own surprise, loved Mr. Stein’s ideas. “They were fantastic,” Mr. Kinsley said. “I was thrilled.”

Entertainment, Mr. Kinsley said, is “the local story. It’s also the national story that we ought to own.” Just as The Washington Post ’s opinion pages cover politics, Mr. Kinsley argued, the Los Angeles Times should do the same for its local industry.

Sure, but everyone puts The Washington Post ’s local industry on their op-ed pages. Does Mr. Stein’s take on Hollywood really fit in an opinion section? “It might run in our Sunday section,” Mr. Kinsley said. “It might run in op-ed.”

“I would hope that people would have a broader range of interests than politics,” Mr. Kinsley added.

Mr. Stein compared his new role to that of a long line of comic op-ed writers, including Russell Baker and ( ulp) Art Buchwald. Not Bob Novak. If anyone tries to leak the name of a C.I.A. agent to Mr. Stein, he said, he’ll cooperate with investigators immediately. “I’m going to rat out anyone that gives me information if it means me going to jail,” he said. “Other than that, I feel kind of lost.”

Mr. Kinsley is experimenting with short-term contracts for some of his columnists—”We’re not hiring people with life tenure, like the Supreme Court or The New York Times,” he said—but Mr. Stein’s job, though freelance, is open-ended.

And unlike some of Mr. Kinsley’s other op-ed recruits—or Mr. Kinsley himself, who has kept one foot in Seattle—Mr. Stein, currently a New York resident, plans to move out to live in Los Angeles full-time at the end of the year.

“If I hate it, I’ll come back,” he said.

Still, Mr. Stein confessed that he may be ready to put New York behind him. Since getting married, “my life has kind of turned into watching TiVo and cooking.”

So perhaps, Mr. Stein said, it’s time to leave New York to “a younger, hipper person” and embark on a series of career moves to ever-less-cool cities. Where will he end up? That depends on his success. If he strikes it rich, Mr. Stein said, “I’m banking on Palm Springs … otherwise, Des Moines.”

What goes well with rock-hard abs? In its November issue, Men’s Health magazine supplements its patented gut-tightening techniques (current featured move: “Barbell Rollout”) with a cover line touting “The 8 Rules of Dressing Great.”

The tips focus on maximizing one’s appearance of virility and prosperity—targeting women’s primal desires. Cutting away the hormonal mumbo-jumbo, Off the Record pared the advice down to the following:

1. Wearing fragrant leather is one great way to get inside her head.

2. Wear pinstripes. Vertical lines enhance your height.

3. Spend, and spend some more, on watches and cool shoes.

4. Don’t leave home without a sport coat.

5. Wear a straight-point-collar dress shirt, with collar points 2 3¼4 to 3 inches in length.

6. Wear a shirt with raglan sleeves.

7. Surrender to pink.

8. When sex is on the line, definitely wear velvet.

Going eight-for-eight on the checklist would seem to make the Men’s Health reader look less like Beau Brummel and more like, say, Stephen Tyler.

“I think you’re probably not far off,” said Robert Burke, Bergdorf-Goodman’s vice president for fashion.

Could Mr. Burke even theoretically fit all that advice into a single outfit? “I don’t know that I’d want to see the person, but it would be possible,” Mr. Burke allowed, reluctantly.

“Certainly a good watch and good shoes is always something to do.”

But how to put the rest of it together? Pink leather? Pinstriped velvet? And can you really find a shirt with both raglan sleeves and a three-inch point collar? “I mean, it depends on what you call a shirt,” Mr. Burke said. It would not, he added, be “a proper cut-and-sewn shirt.”

“We probably don’t recommend doing everything all at once,” said Men’s Health fashion director Brian Boyé. Using all eight rules at once, he said, would be like using “eight great bottles of cologne” simultaneously. “That’s not going to be great,” Mr. Boyé said.

The reader, instead, should pick and choose depending on what he plans to do as he woos his date—and on other considerations. “It depends on your stature, in some cases,” Mr. Boyé said, referring to the height-heightening effects of pinstripes. A short man, he suggested, could go with Rules 2 and 3: a “pinstriped suit and a killer watch.”

Bergdorf-Goodman’s Mr. Burke, however, disdains Men’s Health ’s tricks to enhance one’s strapping, manly frame. “Not everyone has to be six-two to have style,” he said.

So someone, say, 5-foot-6 shouldn’t focus on pinstriping his way to greater apparent height? “I’m five-six, and I’ve come to grips with it,” Mr. Burke said. “And I think that I dress fairly well.”

Correction

Richard Berke’s newly created position at The New York Times is associate managing editor for news, not assistant managing editor for news, as it was rendered last week. Off the Record regrets the error.