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What is this country coming to when the president of Merrill Lynch is ousted on grounds he was "too Yalie?"

Just why won't Detroit buy ads in Playboy? During lunch, new Playboy Publishing Group Prez (since February) Alex Mironovich and I hashed over the problem. "Detroit and Madison Avenue haven't caught up with the rest of America. They've said no for so long they don't know how to say yes," was Alex's take. Meanwhile, how are they doing without car ads? June was off in ad pages but otherwise, not too shabby. Alex reports a rate base of 3,150,000, a cover price rising to $5.95, overall ad pages up 9% year to date, 1.5 million profes-sional/managerial readers, 16% women readers (per MRI), and new advertisers including such mainstream powers as Ralph Lauren, Sony, HBO, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. While some college bookstores won't stock the book, Playboy targets shops in the campus periphery and with its college marketing program, has college sales up 62% in three years., a leisure mag on the Internet, promoted Jen Heck to managing editor.

Around slightly longer is Harper's, which tomorrow in N.Y. starts celebrating 150 years of continual publishing and 1,788 consecutive issues, with readings from the mag by, among others, best-selling author Sebastian Junger.

Anne Triece says the September issue of Metropolitan Home will be the biggest ever with the magazine's total page count topping 260.

ESPN the Magazine is upping the rate base to 850,000.

New associate publisher at The New Yorker is David L. Kahn. Editor is David Remnick, publisher is David Carey. If your name is Al, forget it.

Editor Peter Bart and publisher Gerry Byrne of Variety celebrated 10 years of helming the "born-again" showbiz bible with a party at Barney's on Madison Ave. hosted by Miramax's Weinstein brothers. The usual A-List celebs were rounded up but what had the paparazzi swarming was a Hillary vs. Giuliani Navy Yard media frenzy, ignited by Tina Brown's new mag Talk. Does Tina know how to get ink? I asked Publisher Ron Galotti, eliciting a vast grin. Also grinning, Variety's Bart & Byrne, beneficiaries of the considerable buzz.

In N.Y. this Daily News headline: "Why Johnny Can't Read." One public school district's own stationery spells district as "districk."

Promoted to ad director at House & Garden is William Li.

Retiring Primedia CEO Bill Reilly never did get it. When his New York angered the mayor with an ad campaign suggesting slyly that the mag itself was the only good thing in town Rudy hadn't taken credit for, instead of chortling (and enjoying the ink), Bill wondered (aloud to me at a Cathie Black Christmas party)

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