American Pie 27.05.04

Cartoonist Gary Trudeau has been stirring it up again. Hard on the heels of his controversial Doonesbury strip in which a US soldier was depicted cursing the loss of his leg in Iraq – a cartoon which many papers here declined to run (Press Gazette 7 May) – Trudeau devoted the whole of his strip on America’s Memorial Day this week to listing, in tiny type, the names of more than 700 US soldiers who have died in Iraq. That created a new controversy. Trudeau, whose cartoon strip runs in about 1,400 newspapers around the world, is known for playing close to the edge. Earlier this year he devoted his strip to a contest seeking witnesses to President Bush’s disputed National Guard duty in the Seventies. Although it was claimed to have been just a coincidence, a strip last week depicting a head being served on a platter provoked yet another stir, coming just days after the beheading in Iraq of US businessman Nicholas Berg. According to Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes the strip, the cartoon was drawn before news broke of Berg’s death. Trudeau apologised for the “bad timing”.

Another controversy in the US press involves Graydon Carter, veteran editor of Vanity Fair. It has been revealed that last year, Carter received $100,000 from Universal Studios for suggesting that the book A Beautiful Mind, about the mathematical genius John Nash, would make a good movie. Nothing illegal about that. In fact the movie won an Academy Award for Best Picture. But in the magazine and even the movie world, the payment of consulting fees to a magazine editor who controls coverage of the industry has no precedent – and is seen as possibly unethical. Carter, a Canadian who started in journalism on Time magazine and once edited Spy Monthly, has been hosting the magazine’s annual Oscar party for years and is a close friend of many Hollywood celebrities. At one time, Vanity Fair was known for its exposures about the movie industry. But as Toby Young, the British writer who once worked for it, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, those were the days when Vanity Fair didn’t give celebrities copy approval and writers were encouraged to remain aloof from the world they covered.

An unprecedented petition is being circulated among the paparazzi of New York to have one of its group banned from red carpet movie premieres and other celebrity photo shoots. The reason? His alleged boorish behaviour. So far 15 photographers have signed the petition, which has been delivered to Warner Brothers, Lions Gate Films and several other studios. Some claim the photographer, Steve Sands, has in his pursuit of a picture pushed them off ladders and even broken their equipment. They say he provokes fights and is even rude to celebrities.

The New York Press included him in its list of Fifty Most Loathsome New Yorkers. What does Sands say? A veteran photographer with 25 years in the business, he was in London taking pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow’s new baby when news of the petition broke. Apart from threatening to sue the photographer organising it, his only comment, according to the New York Times, was: “Let them be jealous. I don’t need their premieres any more. I’m a millionaire.”

For the record: President Bush does read newspapers – or so his wife insists. In fact, reading the daily papers has been a ritual all their married life. They read them in bed every morning. But Mrs Bush admits her husband doesn’t read the stories by reporters who regularly cover him. “He doesn’t want to get mad at them,” she explained. “Anyway, if he was there, he knows what happened.”

By Jeffrey Blyth

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