High-Priced Celebrity Speaker Skewers Print Media Hosts at MPA Event

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NEW YORK ( -- An Advertising Week event designed to promote magazine publishing ran off the rails last night, when chosen moderator -- and magazine cover-boy favorite -- Jon Stewart ended up roundly mocking the editors on his panel and telling the assembled burghers of print that the medium now sits at “the children’s table.”
Photo: AP
'I don’t consider print media as relevant,' Jon Stewart told the MPA gathering.

From the start it seemed ominous. When Mr. Stewart turned to Rodale's star editor, Dave Zinczenko of Men’s Health, his first question was, “Why is your magazine so gay?”

$100,000 fee
Most marketing events, from press conferences to presidential “town halls,” are tightly controlled to prevent anything interesting from breaking out. So the Magazine Publishers of America deserves credit for taking an expensive risk (rumored price: $100,000) on hiring the big-draw Mr. Stewart and hoping for the best.

Their best hopes, however, were almost certainly not met.

The comedian won over most of the audience of magazine executives, advertisers and reporters when he first walked onstage at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater, but then struggled gamely for nearly an hour to stick with the evening’s official theme, “Laughing Matters: Magazines Celebrate Humor.”

Top editors
The panel presented a challenge on that score; it comprised top editors at titles that are powerhouses, yes, but not well-known for laughs: Jim Kelly of Time, Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair, Kate White of Cosmopolitan and Mr. Zinczenko.

Ms. White at one point asserted that some of Cosmo's readers call the magazine “the Bible.” The crowd burst into laughter when Mr. Stewart asked, “You’ve met someone who refers to Cosmo as ‘the Bible’?”

The discussion grew more lively, and awkward, after an audience member reminded Mr. Stewart of his criticism of Crossfire and asked what angers him equally in print.

Mr. Stewart hesitated before saying print does not bother him as much. “I don’t consider print media as relevant.”

'Children's table'
Among those who disagreed, Mr. Carter noted that print media sets much of the TV news agenda every day, but Mr. Stewart was ready. “I didn’t say you don’t have your place,” he said. “It’s at the children’s table.”

The comedian cited as an example the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that helped damage Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign last year. Print outlets did an excellent job of debunking the group's charges, Mr. Stewart said, but 24-hour cable news channels didn’t get the memo and the damage to Mr. Kerry was done.

“The world doesn’t run on print,” the TV star (and book author) said. One could almost hear the ad dollars draining from the room.

MPA 'entertained'
MPA spokesman Howard Polskin said, "We were all entertained by the irony of Jon Stewart poking fun at print media, especially because his face has graced the covers of so many magazines."

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