Harry Evans, editorial director of Mortimer Zuckerman’s mini media empire, has declared war on a persistent and, to his mind, extremely bothersome foe: Toby Young.
Toby Young ? That partygoing British freelancer with the shaved head who once edited The Modern Review and did light-lifting for Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair ?
Mr. Evans, through his London attorney Theodore Goddard, has threatened to sue Mr. Young over a series of articles Mr. Young wrote for the British newspapers The Guardian and The Spectator . According to Mr. Evans, the articles portray him and his wife, New Yorker editor Tina Brown, in an unflattering light, and sound the general theme that the couple’s clout in New York is on the wane. Mr. Evans accuses Mr. Young of “making a cottage industry out of denigrating me,” and he wants to get even by using Britain’s strict libel laws to his advantage.
“I don’t want to encourage sloppy journalism by somebody new to the game,” Mr. Evans said. “If he’s going to dedicate his life to covering me, let’s get it right.” Mr. Evans wants Mr. Young to apologize, pay legal fees and damages, and “desist forthwith from further defaming, denigrating and ridiculing Mr. Evans and Ms. Brown,” in the words of his attorney, Mr. Goddard.
Mr. Young says that the last requirement-that he not “ridicule” Mr. Evans and Ms. Brown-is the real issue. He is putting the finishing touches on a satirical play about the New York media world entitled Liberté, Egalité, Publicité , which features two characters who strongly resemble Mr. Evans and Ms. Brown, and is searching for a producer for a New York staging. He believes that Mr. Evans’ legal threats are an attempt to squelch the project. Mr. Young cites as evidence that Mr. Evans engaged the battle the day after a mention of Mr. Young’s project appeared in Cindy Adams’ gossip column in the New York Post .
The trouble started with a Nov. 29, 1997, Spectator article by Mr. Young headlined “Harry in a Spin,” covering Mr. Evans’ departure from Random House, where he had been president, for Mr. Zuckerman’s fiefdom. More a compendium of other news stories on the subject than a groundbreaking piece, Mr. Young’s Spectator story posited that Random House owner S.I. Newhouse Jr. had “let Harry know that he had until the end of the year to find another job,” that Ms. Brown had tried to land a job for her deposed husband through her contacts with the Walt Disney Company’s chief executive, Michael Eisner, and that at 69, Mr. Evans was “a little old to engage in a bloody circulation battle” with the Daily News ‘ tabloid rival, the New York Post. Mr. Young also noted that Mr. Evans’ “powers of concentration are not what they used to be.”
Over a month passed with no word from Mr. Evans. Then on Jan. 21, Cindy Adams mentioned Mr. Young’s play in her column. The next day, Mr. Evans sent a five-page rebuttal to the editors of The Spectator , demanding an apology and citing 13 “malicious fabrications.”
“My wife has never discussed my career with Mr. Eisner nor hinted at a career for me with Disney,” Mr. Evans protested. “It would be unthinkable.” The article’s “general drift,” he added, is “that I have lied about my career, acted beyond my authority as president of Random House, am generally incompetent, and since my arrival in the United States in 1984 have had to be found ‘figurehead’ roles by a friend.”
Mr. Evans said he was particularly piqued by the article because “people in England kept calling me about it.”
But Mr. Young wasn’t finished. On Feb. 9, he published an article in The Guardian headlined “Big Apple’s Big Couple? Is the Bubble About to Burst for Harry and Tina?” in which he concluded, “It’s beginning to look as if Si [Mr. Newhouse], as he’s known to his friends, is growing tired of Tina and Harry.”
“I’m editorializing there,” Mr. Young told Off the Record.
That did it. On Feb. 16, The Spectator heard from Mr. Evans’ attorney, demanding an apology. In a letter, Mr. Goddard warned them that Mr. Eisner, erstwhile Clinton adviser Dick Morris (one of Mr. Evans’ authors) and Mr. Newhouse would back Mr. Evans’ claims. A proposed apology, which the attorney helpfully included, gives some indication of Mr. Evans’ sensitivity on the issue of his departure from Random House. It suggested, for example, that The Spectator “acknowledge that Mr. Evans’ departure from Random House was in no way connected with its acquisition of Mr. Dick Morris’ memoirs; Mr. Evans left Random House of his own accord.”
The lawyer’s letter has done little to diminish Mr. Young’s zeal. “Harry’s attempting to use the repressive British libel laws to prevent stories from being circulated in the U.K. that have been widely reported over here,” he said. “If you examine the timing of this threat, it seems clear that Harry’s real agenda is to stop me going forward with my play … Harry and Tina are behaving like a couple of Scientologists.”
Mr. Evans said that’s bunk. “I’ve never heard of his ‘satire of the publishing world in New York,'” he scoffed. “Mr. Young can do what he likes. I just wish he’d learn some elementary journalism.” And as for the criticism that he’s using British libel laws in an untoward way, Mr. Evans responded, “There is something to be said for British libel law because it encourages better journalism. There is a difference between reporting facts and reporting paranoia and fantasy.”
Mr. Young has the backing of his editor at The Spectator , Frank Johnson, who said his paper has no intention of issuing a retraction for Mr. Young’s piece, but would allow Mr. Evans to state his case in a letter to the editor. “He wants to silence Toby Young, fearing this play,” Mr. Johnson said. “Isn’t there something in your country called the First Amendment?”
The plot of Liberté, Egalité, Publicité revolves around Tiffany Fox, an English woman who edits the Manhattan publication Our Town , and her husband Freddy Jones, the president of the “Arbitrary Press.” The play kicks off when Jay Bernstein, owner of Forward Publications-the parent company of Our Town and the Arbitrary Press-dies of a heart attack, “leaving New York’s premiere English power couple vulnerable since he’s their patron,” Mr. Young explained.
Mr. Young denied that he’s obsessed with Mr. Evans and Ms. Brown. “I shouldn’t think I’ve written any more about them than any other British journalist in New York,” he said. He also denied that he has manufactured a controversy to promote the play. “The only person who’s really stimulating interest in my play is Harry by attempting to suppress it,” he said.
Mr. Evans expressed concern for Mr. Young’s career. “I worry,” he said. “If I stop screwing up, he won’t have a livelihood. I might have to walk naked down Fifth Avenue so he has something to write about.”
William F. Buckley Jr.’s most recent fund-raising letter for The National Review offers a grim portrait of the magazine, thanks in part to the specter of the old Communist periodical The Daily Worker .
Mr. Buckley’s annual letter, which he has sent out to a select few, and presumably wealthy, friends of the magazine since 1957, begins, “Last year was not-so-good.” Circulation at the magazine dropped 10 percent, Mr. Buckley wrote, attributing the changes to “the ambient political torpor, combined with economic good times and that amazing invulnerability Mr. Clinton has got for himself.” The circulation drop, Mr. Buckley confessed, “hurts our cash flow and also-our feelings!” Revenues for 1997, he reported, were off about $300,000 from expectations.
Since Mr. Buckley started The National Review , the magazine has been an almost sure-fire money loser. As the magazine piled up losses, Mr. Buckley explained in his letter, it also stored up a valuable tax credit that it could use to offset taxes on the occasionally profitable year. Mr. Buckley kept the operation running during those lean years thanks to $34 million in gifts from fans of the magazine. And that’s where The Daily Worker comes in.
In 1996, for the second time in its history, The National Review posted a profit and thus owed taxes. Mr. Buckley tried to take advantage of the tax credit he thought he’d accumulated, but an Internal Revenue Service agent-citing a case from the 1950’s involving The Daily Worker -ruled that the $34 million given to the magazine by supporters was earned income, and therefore taxable.
“How come? we asked with amazement,” Mr. Buckley wrote to the faithful. “Because there was a quid pro quo, he said. The contributor sent money and got the magazine.” An attorney for The National Review estimated that the magazine had a “50 to 80 percent” chance of getting the ruling reversed, but would have to put up $2 million in the meantime. So Mr. Buckley cut his losses.
E-mailing from Gstaad, Switzerland, where he winters, Mr. Buckley explained: “In 43 years we’ve lost approximately $36 million. Twice we’ve had marginal profits, but we depend upon our annual fund appeal to keep us level.… We lost a very large tax carry-forward, which is always at least a theoretical asset.”
On a lighter note, Mr. Buckley also informed fans of the magazine in his fund-raising letter that he had persuaded The National Review ‘s new, 30-year-old editor, Rich Lowry, to call himself “Richard” on the masthead. To wit: “How will you list yourself on the masthead?” Mr. Buckley said he asked Mr. Lowry. “Are you going to be a Jimmy Carter and a Bill Clinton up there?” To help Mr. Lowry in his decision, Mr. Buckley sent a memo to National Review staff members: “If Rich decides to appear as Richard on the masthead, it’s not he putting on airs. It’s me, who suggested the possibility, putting on airs.”
“And lo!” Mr. Buckley reported in his fund-raising letter. “Richard Lowry emerged as the third editor of The National Review .”
Michael Medved, the film critic of the New York Post , is leaving the paper after four and a half years and roughly 750 reviews, to pursue a career in talk radio. His final review will appear on Friday. “Radio is frankly what I love doing, and you gotta go where the love is,” said Mr. Medved, quoting from Waiting for Guffman , one of his favorite films. Both Mr. Medved and Post editor in chief Ken Chandler said the parting was amicable.
“He has this radio career which is taking off,” said Mr. Chandler. “It was becoming harder for him to give us the time that we needed because we want to increase our movie coverage.”
Over the years, Mr. Medved, who is also a contributor for USA Today, established himself as a kind of family-values movie critic, a characterization that Mr. Medved disputes. “I was particularly enthusiastic about Titanic even though some critics have attacked it as a Marxist movie,” he said.
Mr. Medved’s local Seattle radio program, The Michael Medved Show , is being picked up by the Salem Radio Network-which in the past produced shows by Republican Presidential candidate Alan Keyes and everybody’s favorite conservative kook, Oliver North. It will be broadcast nationally. Mr. Medved is being replaced at the Post by Rod Dreher, the film critic of the south Florida-based Sun-Sentinel . Asked if he would be a similarly conservative voice on film, Mr. Dreher said, “I appreciate that Michael Medved drew attention to the moral dimensions of film. I think I’m younger and more indie-oriented.”
Editors at the Daily News were desperate to publish excerpts from the latest Kennedy potboiler, Christopher Andersen’s Jackie After Jack . But when the News lost a 21-round bidding war to the New York Post , the paper did what any self-respecting tabloid would do: They panned the ever-living hell out of it.
Before the bidding war, the News worked hard to butter up the author. Mr. Andersen said that deputy features editor Jane Freiman called him personally and “said she felt it was the best Kennedy book ever written.” But when the News lost the bidding war to the Post -which paid a mid-five-figure sum for second serial rights, an unusually high figure-the paper’s fascination with Jackie After Jack changed dramatically. News reporter Paul Schwartzman was dispatched to take the book apart, which he did under the banner “In Fact, It’s Fiction! No Basis for Salacious Tales in Jackie After Jack , Many Say.” Mr. Schwartzman’s piece reported that former Presidential aides were “dismissing” the work.
“It was a transparent effort to counter the Post ,” Mr. Andersen complained. “You don’t expect them to be so obvious.”
Said News editor in chief Debby Krenek, “We went out and talked to some people in the book and printed their reactions. It’s not inconsistent with what we often do with books.”