'Rosie' verdict: Everybody loses

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Nobody won the Rosie trial. Not only did nobody win the Rosie trial, but everyone lost.

True, the combatants in this court drama-Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing and Rosie O'Donnell, G&J's former business partner in Rosie-failed to convince New York State Supreme Court Judge Ira Gammerman they deserved the millions of dollars in damages they claimed. But the real damages will take longer to calculate, and the effects will likely extend beyond Ms. O'Donnell and G&J.

Magazines fail (and questions were raised in this space about Rosie as far back as 2000). But few fail like this. Rosie's demise in December 2002, after 19 months of operation (and about $18 million in losses), was enveloped in a cloud of bitter acrimony played out in the tabloids. Almost inevitably, it seemed, it culminated in eight days of a courtroom post-mortem: wrenching, sometimes embarrassing-and troubling to the entire ad business for what it suggested could be "normal" in the already suspect business of tallying newsstand sales.

Suggesting that "nobody won" blandly understates what the ad business is left with. A once promising magazine niche, the "celebrity" magazine, now looks worn and riskier than ever. A major magazine publisher, G&J, is damaged, forced to proclaim its renewed dedication to scrupulous honesty in circulation reporting (while hiring an outside circulation consultant to scrutinize its existing practices). And then there's the larger magazine industry, facing a new round of doubt and questions about its commitment to fair-dealing with advertisers.

While Ms. O'Donnell may yet recoup some of her legal fees, she put $6 million into Rosie and she emerges with her personal "brand" badly bruised. While some may applaud her combativeness, the Rosie on display in all this is also volcanic, bullying and harsh-not bankable qualities in the celebrity world.

Nobody won? Yes. But the losers are many and their problems are not over.

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