Take Richard "Mad Dog" Beckman. You've got to be wary of people who revel in nicknames that glorify antisocial behavior. The Napoleonic Beckman may be the rule's proof. After years of terrorizing competitors and, perhaps, a subordinate or two, the former publisher of GQ and current publisher of Vogue has finally banged one head too many -- literally. His Conde Nast superiors have been forced to ante up between $1 million and $5 million to compensate a saleswoman whose nose Beckman broke at a sales meeting.
Some say it was a joke gone bad, but very few people, particularly inside the mag biz, are laughing. Here's why: Abuse -- physical, sexual and verbal -- is the periodicals industry's dirty little secret.
As the rag trade has gotten tougher, a different person is finding his way into the upper ranks. The tough guy -- pugilistic, destroy-the-competition, intimidate the staff -- has succeeded the gentleman golfer as ad director and publisher. Activity once scorned, whether lying about competitors or browbeating underlings, is now standard operating procedure.
That this is tolerated is a crime against the industry, the more so because magazine sales has become increasingly feminized. Despite the rise of many women into the industry's upper echelons, there are still too many situations where male welterweights are beating up, in word if not in deed, the women who work for them.
Conde Nast's response to the Beckman affair invites more such abuse. It is paying off his victim and requiring Beckman to seek counseling, but not dismissing him or disciplining him further.
This only guarantees an embattled magazine industry will find itself ever shorter of talent as other businesses snatch up the people who understand you can be humane and still make the numbers.
Mad Dog Beckman is the mag world's problem. Mad Dog Giuli-ani, though, is everyone's problem. The New York mayor's latest assault on free expression shows that, if elected to the U.S. Senate, he will willingly endanger his city's economy, which rests heavily on the unfettered communication of ideas and information.
For those who've missed it, Rudy Giuliani has threatened to withdraw city funds from the Brooklyn Museum unless it dismantles a shock-art exhibition he doesn't like. It's hardly the first time he's tried to use the levers of his office to quash ideas with which he disagrees. He attempted to ban from the city's buses a New York Magazine advertising campaign that poked fun at his tendency to take credit for the city's resurgence. He blocked protests in front of City Hall. He twice tried to shut down political rallies in Harlem. In each case, his reasoning was elemental: Some people -- notably Rudy -- were offended by the opinions in question.
Why should the mayor's fulminations concern the advertising and media industries? Because their ability to operate in an arena of free exchange is central to their survival -- let alone to the flourishing of American culture. It's the very openness of our media and our streets to different -- and yes, occasionally offensive -- ideas that has lent greater strength to our society and economy than those in more restricted foreign climes.
For a high-ranking official in the capital of advertising, the center of broadcasting, the seat of culture and the second home of the Internet not to understand this fundamental tenet of American history renders Giuliani unworthy of the New York mayoralty. It's only a short step between removing "bad" ads from MTA buses or "bad" art from city-funded museums and eliminating real estate tax breaks from networks that broadcast "bad" news.
The next step: police raids on the New York Public Library to remove "bad" books. Or city department of finance audits of columnists who accuse the mayor of "bad" leadership.
To think of putting Giuliani in the U.S. Senate, where he can more effectively tamper with the Constitution he holds in such contempt, should scare the daylights out of anyone whose life depends on freedom of communication.
Mad dogs and Englishmen, as Noel Coward put it, go out in the midday sun. Mad Dog Beckman and Mad Dog Giuliani are two I'd like to see stay inside and a bit further away from my business.