American Pie 22.04.04

It’s usually just four or five pages, but it’s the most important and sought-after publication in Washington. It’s called The Early Bird. Published around 5am on a small printing press in the basement of the Pentagon, the first copy is rushed to the waiting armour-plated vehicle that takes US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld to his office every morning. He reads it on the way to work. Often not very happily.

For The Early Bird is a digest of stories about the US military from publications all around the world, from The New York Times to The Daily Telegraph, some translated from foreign journals, others from relatively obscure but important publications such as Inside Missile Defence or Aviation News. Many in the Pentagon don’t like The Early Bird and sometimes try to have the more critical stories censored. But it is an institution that dates back to the Fifties. At one time all branches of the American services had their own version, but in 1961 Robert McNamara merged them into one. In its heyday during the Cold War, its editors read and clipped 65 papers a day, 300 magazines a month.

No US newspaper or TV network has yet ordered any staff to leave Iraq, but the growing violence against civilians has led most major news organisations here to review the safety of their staff. Most have ordered their reporters to stay indoors as much as possible, and if they venture out to do so with bodyguards or the military. ABC has ordered its 60 reporters and camera crew not to go out after dark. The New York Times has told reporters to stay within the Baghdad city limits. In a message to his head office, Rod Nordland of Newsweek reported: “It’s getting worse every day.” Some women journalists are resorting to adopting Muslim dress when they go out.

Stephanie Sinclair, who works for Time, has taken to wearing an abaya, a full-length Islamic tunic, and a head scarf – and if accosted says she is French. USA Today reporter Cesar Soriano, a Mexican-American, tells everyone who asks that he is from Mexico. His Caucasian colleagues say they are Canadian. Most executives have assured their staff no one will be penalised for refusing an assignment if they feel it’s unsafe.

Although it is still before the courts and Congress, same-sex marriages are to be the topic of a new magazine. Rainbow Weddings is the idea of Michael Weiskopf, whose previous ventures have included titles Dance Spirit and European Dance News. The new magazine will be aimed at the affluent gay and lesbian market and will give advice on wedding arrangements, honeymoons and how to adopt a baby. An initial print run of 100,000 is planned.

The new glossy Star is under fire for changing the colour of a celebrity’s dress. On the cover of its latest issue, actress Demi Moore is shown wearing a sexy white dress. In reality the dress was brown. Bonnie Fuller, editor of Star, said the colour was changed because the story was about Moore’s upcoming marriage to Ashton Kutcher – and white was more in keeping with the story’s theme. Changing the colour of a star’s dress, some feel, is relatively innocent compared with Time’s darkening the image of OJ Simpson during his trial for murder. But Fuller’s rivals were quick to condemn the practice. Janice Min, who took over the editorship of Us from Fuller, declared: “Fabricating images is one way of losing readers’ trust very quickly.” The editor of People, Martha Nelson, insisted: “We would never do that.” A spokesman for a group of fashion designers, asked his opinion, said: “We are living in an age of such hype that publicity is more important than truth.”

By Jeffrey Blyth

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