Newshounds at City Hall Left With Kibbles ‘n Bits

The big news in Room 9 on May 22 was puppies. After a month of constant and bizarre news cycles, all was quiet in the City Hall press room, save for chatter about Mayor Giuliani’s cuddly photo-op. Mr. Giuliani’s decision to drop out of the Senate race on May 19 meant that the hard-edged political buzz was gone. And so were some of Room 9’s tenants. The New York Times City Hall reporter Elisabeth Bumiller took two days off. And City Hall bureau chiefs for the New York Post and New York Daily News were nowhere to be found.

“It’s like, ‘Wow what the heck just happened?'” said Frank Lombardi, the veteran political writer for the Daily News .

Mr. Giuliani’s withdrawal means that City Hall reporters are no longer covering a hot political property. Just as Albany reporters 10 years ago thought Mario Cuomo would move to the White House and take them with him, some local political writers figured that Mr. Giuliani’s candidacy would raise their profiles and earn them the attention of would-be employers.

But the end of the Giuliani campaign means a return to governance as usual in City Hall–not the most exciting prospect.

And so, on May 22, the big news story in City Hall was a mayoral press conference with household pets, as Mr. Giuliani did his part to mark pet adoption month in New York. “He’s going back to being the Mayor, which means kissing puppies,” said Stuart Marques, the New York Post’ s managing editor for news. “And the City Hall bureau is back to covering him kissing puppies.”

Things have gotten so dull at City Hall that even Rafael Martinez Alequin, who puts out a journal called The Free Press and has proudly pestered the Mayor over the last six years, tromped off to a Mount Vernon seniors’ home where Hillary Rodham Clinton was campaigning on May 23 rather than hang around City Hall.

There was some speculation that Daily News City Hall bureau chief Michael Blood would continue to cover the Senate race despite the Mayor’s withdrawal. But on May 23, Michael Kramer, the managing editor directing all of the News’ political coverage, put that rumor to rest. “Mike Blood was going to cover him as a Senate candidate. Now he’s going to cover him as Mayor,” Mr. Kramer said. “He’s the City Hall bureau chief. He’s staying in that job.”

Mr. Marques of the Post said the paper is planning no major adjustments. Bob Hardt, who had covered the Senate race out of the City Hall bureau, will probably move to the paper’s main newsroom.

Mr. Marques conceded that his reporters might be pretty upset. “There’s no question that there’s some disappointment,” he said. “This was a hot race that would capture the national spotlight.”

Kurt Andersen stood by himself, before a backdrop of blue light, at one side of the bar at the Chelsea lounge Eugene, sipping a glass of Bass ale. Well past 10 p.m., his launch party was nearing an end. For over three hours, Mr. Andersen had been glad-handing well-wishers to mark the launch of his fledgling Web venture, Inside.com.

Condé Nast’s James Truman, Time’s Walter Isaacson, GQ’ s Art Cooper, Talk’ s Ron Gallotti, New York’s Caroline Miller, Brill’s Content ‘s David Kuhn, Joan Didion, Bret Easton Ellis and Tom Brokaw, among others, were on hand.

“If you have a party at one’s home there’s this ‘hostness’ that’s an odd thing, being grabbed every five seconds,” Mr. Andersen said. “It’s bizarre, but you know, several times, I stopped and thought, ‘Would I enjoy this party if I were just one of the guests rather than one of the hosts,’ and I thought, ‘Sure, yeah.'”

The main room at Eugene, which is split between a lounge with Oriental rugs and plush couches and another slightly elevated area with a long rectangular bar, had been packed mostly with editors, writers and reporters, with a couple of publicists and photographers thrown in for good measure.

The reporters working the party reported on each other, the paparazzi standing at the entrance photographed the editors filing in, and the editors dazzled each other. There were no beautiful people: no movie stars, musicians, not even a painter or model-actress to break the effect. The media elite, which so frequently tags along with glamour, were able to be, if only for just a moment, glamorous.

“You know since Mencken at least,” Mr. Andersen said, “journalists have been sort of turned into some kind of celebrities and certainly from Woodward and Bernstein on they have been quasi celebrities.”

For Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, their celebrity won them chances to pal around with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman–not each other. Besides, having chased a president out of office, they had done quite a bit more than win a National Magazine Award. Deep Throat! The C.I.A.! That’s the stuff of movies. But an editor trying to wrangle a starlet for a magazine cover?

Over in the corner of Mr. Andersen’s party, dressed in a suit and bow-tie, stood Oliver Platt, who is getting ready to play a New York journalist in the TV series Deadline , set to make its debut this fall on NBC. He was the only celebrity in the room (unless you count Mr. Brokaw), but he managed to convince the ink-stained wretches that they’re really in the thick of it.

Mr. Platt’s preparation for his new role apparently is paying off. He’s learned the lingo, for one thing. When asked who he’s been consulting, Mr. Platt won’t say.

“I’ll tell you off the record,” Mr. Platt said. “But I won’t tell you for the record. You know something, these guys are like totally spilling their guts to me and telling me all the things that go on in their lives. It’s almost like not revealing sources.”

Mr. Platt denied that scribes are sucking up to him. “The ironic thing is that it’s totally the other way around: I’m sucking up to them, trying to get them to give up their trade secrets.”

Moments later and a few steps away, Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter approached the producer of Deadline , Dick Wolf, who’s also produced Law & Order . “You know I had lunch with Oliver today,” Mr. Alter said.

“I heard,” said Mr. Wolf.

“The show sounds great,” Mr. Alter said.

Mr. Wolf agreed, “It’s going to be really good.”

Mr. Alter then made a bid to be of as much help as possible. “If there’s anything that I can help you with in terms of the believability, let me know,” Mr. Alter offered. “I mean, if there’s just some little bit in it and you’re wondering, would this ever happen, you know, let me know and I’ll tell you.”

“Well, you know, it’s going to be heightened reality,” Mr. Wolf replied.

“I understand that. But there were about 50 stories I could have told him today.”

“Well, you never know, we may just call you up and run something by you,” Mr. Wolf said diplomatically.

Later, Mr. Alter said of the conversation, “Oliver called me up for lunch and asked if I could help in an informal way and after seeing Oliver at the party I extended the same offer to Dick, but I’m not expecting it to amount to anything.”

Wedged in next to the stairs to the bathrooms, Mr. Platt looked out into the crowd from his height of 6-foot-4 and apropos of nothing, said, “Well it’s a big ol’ ratfuck, isn’t it?”

But that was at about 8 p.m. Nearly three hours later, with the open bar closed, the crowds had mostly departed. Near the front of the lounge, Inside.com editor in chief Michael Hirschorn, formerly editor of Spin , and his business editor Richard Siklos were chatting when Courtney Love walked in, along with two women friends.

Ms. Love walked over to the bar to order a drink for herself and her friends, Rebecca Odes, the creative director of gURL.com, and Brooke Barnett, who maintains Holemusic.com. Five minutes after Ms. Love’s entrance, the social equilibrium in the room began to work against Mr. Andersen.

As the 30 or so remaining revelers crowded onto Ms. Love’s side of the bar, Craig Marks, the Inside.com music editor who is friends with Ms. Love, brought Mr. Andersen over for an introduction.

“Kurt Andersen,” Mr. Marks said to Ms. Love. “You know Kurt.”

“Kurt … Hi, Kurt,” Ms. Love replied.

“Hi, nice to meet you,” Mr. Andersen said.

The two shook hands, and Mr. Andersen soon left.

Ms. Love was wary of talking to anyone from The Observer , particularly because of the 8-Day Week’s creative use of bold fonts. After assuring her that there is no selective bolding in Off the Record, she began talking about her Web venture.

“Right now it’s called Holemusic.com, obviously, but we’re kind of expanding it and making it cooler, more of a community,” she paused and then said, “Don’t make fun of me! A person is allowed to say we started a Web site without absolutely getting, like, vicious font, right? Like, I mean, why would you get bad font for saying, ‘I started a Web site?’ I don’t understand. You know, the truth is, I should be immune to irony, I should be immune to it, but I’m in this one stinky generation that still gets it–I just try to ignore my generation and move past your font because people who are 24 don’t even understand the font thing.”

Mr. Marks then began to lead Ms. Love away.

Ms. Love said, “I’m going to go somewhere else where there’s less …”

Mr. Marks finished for her: “media folks.”

On her way back to an alcove, where Ms. Love spent the rest of the evening with Mr. Hirschorn, Mr. Marks and Mr. Siklos, Ms. Love mentioned one more thing to Off the Record: “As long as you say I’m pretty, I really don’t care.”

Shortly after Michael Kelly closed his first issue of the Atlantic Monthly in March, he said that one of his priorities would be boosting the presence of long-form, narrative nonfiction in the magazine.

So far in Mr. Kelly’s tenure, the editorial mix has resembled The New Republi c that Mr. Kelly edited from 1996 to 1997, with plenty of thoughtful – if sometimes wonkish – reported essays about issues . Covers include stories about the collision of academia and corporations, gender in primary schools and what the Unabomber’s time at Harvard teaches us about “The Culture of Despair.”

Aside from a few historical pieces, there has not been much narrative. But Mr. Kelly hopes that will change with the hiring of Robert Vare, a former editor at The New Yorker , The New York Times Magazine , and Rolling Stone , as a senior editor. “He will be focusing primarily on long-form narrative, which is his specialty,” said Mr. Kelly.

“It’s something that’s been in the works for a while,” Mr. Kelly said. “We had our first conversation very soon after I came up here.”

Mr. Vare will start at the end of this month.

“I would like very much to see the magazine become a home for narrative nonfiction, particularly descriptive narrative, and even more particularly long-form nonfiction,” Mr. Kelly said.

While the blockbuster adventure-disaster genre inspired by The Perfect Storm (opening soon in a theater near you!) is still a staple of men’s magazines such as Men’s Journal , narrative long-form nonfiction has been on the decline in recent years. If Mr. Kelly and Mr. Vare were to follow through on their plans, it would be refreshing.

Mr. Kelly said he has scheduled a story on the ship-salvage industry in India, by William Langewiesche, for the August issue.

There is, it should be noted, the apparently requisite disaster element to this seemingly obscure topic. “They do about 300 ships a year. They also lose about 300 men a year,” Mr. Kelly said. “So, there is a saying: ‘One ship a day, one man a day.'”

Mr. Kelly said that he hopes Mr. Vare will recruit new writers to The Atlantic . “He knows many of the best narrative nonfiction writers today,” Mr. Kelly said, adding, “Robert will do some degree of work with his group of writers.”

Mr. Vare left The New Yorker in 1996 for a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University . In the early 1980’s, Mr. Vare was one of the humor writers behind such parodies as Off the Wall Street Journal and Playbore .

What do Geraldo Rivera, United Press International, the Associated Press, CBS News, CNN political analyst Bill Schneider, the New York Post , New York Daily News , and The New York Times all have in common? They all pronounced Representative Rick Lazio, in his bid for the U.S. Senate, to have “hit the ground running.”

Actually, The New York Times wrote “Representative Rick Lazio has gotten off to an energetic start in his race for the Senate,” but, and we think the paper’s language maven William Safire would back us on this one, that’s close enough.

Off the Record can be reached by e-mail at gsnyder@observer.com. Newshounds at City Hall Left With Kibbles ‘n Bits