SIDEBARS

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MediaMeanderings:

Four French actors, interviewed by Holly Millea in the February Premiere, were each asked, "Who is Michael Ovitz?" "A writer?" guessed Vincent Perez. "A drag queen?" asked Pascal Gregory. Jean-Hughes Anglade offered, "He does sports? Boxing?" Only Julien Rassam got it right: "The boss of CAA or something like that." By now I'm sure they all know.

Let me tell you about some "insider" byplay in the Oscar-bound "Quiz Show" movie. It's the scene where investigator Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow) checks off a list of "Twenty-One" contestants. Look fast and you'll see the names of Al Davis and Art Franklin. Far from being contestants, they were show producer Dan Enright's real-life PR guys in those days.

Brilliant AT&T move: Having Jerry Stiller and Estelle Harris do their "Seinfeld" roles in those funny "True USA Savings" spots ("You Got Circles?") Now that George's parents (Stiller and Harris) have joined George, Kramer, Elaine and Jerry as TV commercialites, it's time for a smart agency to work the Great Schemer, Newman (Wayne Knight), into a storyboard. Maybe the U.S. Postal Service?

The Saatchi Snafu:

The fierce public ousting of Maurice Saatchi from the agency empire he created vividly demonstrates the problem all publicly held ad agencies dread: institutional investors who do not understand service company dynamics, especially as dictated by sensitive and complicated client relationships. Treat a public agency as just another manufacturing company with a management problem and you're bound to screw up. And it doesn't help when agency principals and directors themselves are not fundamentally advertising agency people. Witness how Maurice Saatchi always considered publicly held Saatchi & Saatchi Co. to be his personal piggybank, and how S&S directors let themselves be steamrollered by U.S. investors in dumping the greedy Mr. Saatchi. Their joint failure to recognize contemporary agency-client roles, ties and client expectations inevitably sent S&S stock plummeting. Had they handled the problem more discreetly, as others have done over the years, the deed could have boosted S&S stock. Bad show, chaps.

Newt & the Beltbloids:

A The New York Times story was headlined, "Who Will Be the New Ralph Fiennes? The Next Hugh Grant?"

Since these two actors are so new to movie stardom, we wonder why anyone would be so eager to replace them. But when we see how our news media are treating another new-to-stardom figure, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, we realize that it's what news media do; it's in the genes. Newt's been the dominant newsmaker for a long time-since last November, for crying out loud-so it's time to send him packing, too.

Clearly, Gingrich is more than our national news media are used to handling. Having already accomplished the impossible-single-handedly managing to turn C-Span's coverage of the House into riveting television-he happens to be the most interesting lawmaker on the Hill.

This I had to discover on my own. The news media certainly aren't out to trumpet his cause. The opposite, in fact, is true, and he understands what he's up against. He recently told U.S. News & World Re: "I think they're [the media] like the Chinese mandarins in the 1890s, who sat around talking to each other and still thought they were important."

When he emerged from a White House meeting and was asked when partisan combat could be expected to resume, he challenged the Washington press corps to first report on the "positive" meeting with President Clinton. "There is no point in you all being destructive .*.*. this is a different era with different ground rules. We are doing different things," he said. And then he implored the reporters not to "find some way to get a cat fight started." This refreshing sound bite was all over the TV news. But not so with the print media. Instead, there were new efforts by print to start a "cat fight."

The New York Times didn't carry the "cat fight" comment but did include the fact that years ago he "boasted of using `Chinese water torture' tactics to destroy the Democratic house .*.*." And later on there was that chilling TV scene when Gingrich told reporters they did not know what he thinks of Hillary Clinton and a reporter shouted, "Is your mother a liar?"

It has been all downhill for Gingrich since then. Unfortunately for the Speaker, in his rush to sign a Harper Collins book deal, he handed the media, and Democrats, another club with which to whack him. And they will never stop.

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter has noted that Newt was "right to lambaste White House reporters." He added that "Washington journalism" is "so hooked on conflict that it didn't recognize a truly new story-Clinton and Gingrich getting along, however momentarily."

Adam Gopnick, in The New Yorker of Dec. 12, called today's journalism a "kind of weird, free-form nastiness .*.*." He even found that the media's "malicious manner" has even "made its way" into his magazine, "which has published its share of inquisitorial reporting and criticism."

Pete Hamill, writing about a "debased" news media in last December's Esquire, added, "(Most) members of the Washington press corps wear a self-absorbed sneer. They sneer at any expression of idealism. They sneer at gaffes, mistakes, idiosyncrasices .*.*."

Witness our Sunday Washington talk shows. They have evolved into Beltbloids, the Beltway's electronic version of tabloid journalism. James Fallows, in the December 1994 Atlantic, says the Beltway shows "highlight personality rather than work product, opinion and attitude rather than reporting, and prediction .*.*. instead of analysis of what has actually occurred.

Fallows especially decries their ritualistic, "Who won the week?" question. He quotes New York University professor Jay Rosen: "(That) question ... sets a rhythm to politics that permits the media to play timekeeeper, umpire and, finally, judge." So it was jarring one Sunday last month, after John McLaughlin answered his own "Who won the week?" question with, "The press had a very bad week,"to hear Mort Kondracke say, "Gingrich won the week. But the press have a way of getting back at him for it."

Our Washington pundits like to remind President Clinton that his ratings go up when he is less visible, avoids the jogger/hunter and glad-handing, goofing-around "photo ops." Is more aloof. Talks less. And they're right. Which is why it's time for the Beltbloid crews to take their own advice. As for Newt, the "happening" House Speaker who is now at Media Ground Zero? I expect we'll soon be seeing the headline: "Who Will be the New Newt Gingrich?"

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