Susan Smith stole November's Cover Story crown from O.J. Simpson. SMITH CHILD MURDERS OUST SIMPSON

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The Michael Jackson-Lisa Marie Presley marriage wasn't weird enough. The adulterous daliances of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, weren't titillating enough. And President Bill Clinton ... Well, it just isn't marketable anymore to put beleaguered Bill on anyone's magazine cover.

Nope, to topple the O.J. Simpson murder case from the top of the Cover Story ranks, it would require coverage of yet another ghastly human tragedy that can be sensationalized by both the tabloid and more respectable print press in a way that plays to our prurient interests but can be justified as being of serious social importance to the American public.

And November finally saw the story that could out-juice Simpson murder mania: the Susan Smith infanticide case.

Cover Story is a monthly ranking of celebrities' popularity as reflected by their appearance on the covers of more than 30 of the nation's leading publications.

The Smith story was indeed a gripping pulp nonfiction: A seemingly sweet Union, S.C., housewife, Ms. Smith confessed to killing her two sons, Michael, age 3, and 14-month-old Alex, after trying to deceive both police and press with the story that they had been kidnapped during a carjacking.

Newsweek and Time found this modern-day Medea moving enough for same-week cover stories. And tabloids like The National Enquirer and The Star were all over the story for weeks.

The bottom line: 8 points on 7 covers.

Still, the O.J. Simpson murder case nearly claimed its sixth consecutive Cover Story crown. It managed 7 points on 5 covers, including an Esquire profile on the disgraced gridiron great, now standing trial in Los Angeles for alledgedly killing his ex-wife and one of her friends.

Dueling for third and fourth were Hollywood hunks Tom Cruise and Christian Slater. The "Interview With the Vampire" co-stars helped their megahit flick with appearances on Premiere (Tom) and Us (Christian). Mr. Cruise nailed 4 covers for 6 points, while Mr. Slater nabbed 2 covers, also worth 6 points.

Finishing fifth was The Republican Party, which was the big winner on Election Day last month, capturing both houses of Congress and putting the fear of God into Mr. Clinton and his fellow Democrats. The Republican victory was chronicled in 4 weekly news magazines, worth 5 points.

An odd trio of celebrities tied for sixth in November: National Basketball Association star Charles Barkley, actress Julia Roberts and talk show chattress Oprah Winfrey each earned 4 points with 2 covers.

And a bottleneck of celebs at ninth place round out the November Cover Story survey, each with 3 points.

Among them: grungy punk Frisco band Green Day; Republican whip turned House Speaker Newt Gingrich; multimedia diva Barbra Streisand; and Aerosmith's scarf-sporting frontman Steven Tyler.

Joe Mandese coordinates MediaWorks.

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