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Sure, Don Imus went too far down in Washington the other night. Always does. That's what his radio show is all about and has been for years. Which makes it seem hypocritical to me the way all these media icons and politicos are cringing aloud and distancing themselves from the I-Man, the same pols and journalists who are forever sucking up to get on his air.

To dismiss Steve Forbes' run as a brief, marginal distraction would be a mistake. He injected some pizazz (remember the shock when the Arizona primary vote came in?) into the process, floated one idea voters could grasp (the flat tax) and decide whether they liked it or not, had the good sense to dump those ill-advised attack ads and get back to stressing the positive, and he pumped some family millions back into the economy. Besides igniting the best major-magazine feud (Fortune vs. Forbes) in memory. Incidentally, riffing through some old mags I came across the June 12, 1995, issue of (not Forbes but) Fortune with a swell cover story all about....the flat tax!

Allen & Co., one of the great old N.Y. merchant banks, is now the largest single investor in Meigher Communications, I am reliably informed. My source? S. Christopher Meigher, who is also preening over those three National Magazine Award nominations for his Saveur.

Dept. of better-late-than-never: Up in Chestnut Hill, Mass., retired Hearst newspaper promotion guy Mark Finley was just awarded a Russian Commemorative Medal for his work in "the Great Patriotic War," which the rest of us call WWII. Finley was a light colonel cited for getting lend lease K-rations and ammo from the Brooklyn piers to Leningrad via Mur-mansk.

Cheers and more cheers to Bob Herbert of The New York Times for his magnificent op-ed page piece on the great William Manchester, biographer of Churchill, author of "Goodbye, Darkness," and Okinawa-side Marine, in whose heart, 50 years later, doctors just found a Japanese bullet. Bill Manchester might live forever. And there are those of us who hope he does.

From L.A., Mario Machado reports he's organizing this coming September's reunion of "Old China Hands" at the MGM Grand in Vegas, reaching out to such folks as Mike Medavoy, Peter Max, China Machado, Michael Blumenthal, et al. If you qualify China-side, contact Mario at 213-460-4336.

Mark Goldsmith says ad pages are up in the first quarter by 16% over last year for General Media's Automotive Group and revenues 22% ahead.

Also doing well in a so-far down year, Gourmet, where Publisher Peter King Hunsinger tells me, "Our May 1996 issue is huge-the largest May in history with 143 ad pages.....8% increase over last year's."

Mark your dance card! The annual Juvenile Diabetes Foundation Publishing Industry Ball is April 18 at the Hotel Pierre on Fifth Ave.

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