Real-life fugitive's story fascinating

MAGAZINES

June 12, 1994|By Bruce McCabe | Bruce McCabe,Boston Globe

Tina Brown's New Yorker continues to make and break news.

This week's issue is illuminated by two strong pieces that suggest, like the best journalism, that with all its resources, Hollywood can't match the real thing.

Lucinda Franks' ambitious, detailed investigation of former fugitive Katherine Ann Power makes "The Fugitive," either the movie or the TV series, look tame. The piece portrays both a flawed, vengeful and vindictive legal system and the grotesque legacy of warped and ruined lives in the wake of the Vietnam War.

James B. Stewart's "Gentlemen's Agreement" in the same issue is more intriguing in its way than the movie "Philadelphia." Like the Power piece, this one portrays a narrow, petty, legalistic system determined to show that no matter how capable you are, you can still be fired for being gay.

The most startling revelation in Ms. Franks' piece is that Power's attorneys negotiated the terms of the '70s fugitive's incarceration despite Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph Martin's belief that he had, "basically, no case."

But almost as fascinating is the way the troubled Power hired her Oregon lawyer, Steven Black, a "renegade public defender" and decorated Vietnam reconnaissance pilot who, after being told by Power that he was the one who should be put on trial, agreed with her and allowed himself to be publicly prosecuted in a mock trial for crimes against humanity. In the trial, which occurred before Power turned herself in, Mr. Black was, ironically, defended by Power. He testified about aerial "hunting" expeditions in which "I would shoot anything that moved" -- sampans, old men, children, or women hanging out their laundry. In her summation, Power argued that Mr. Black was only the victim of "the profiteers, the politicians, the bureaucrats." A jury of friends and spectators found Mr. Black "not guilty by 1969 standards but guilty by today's standards," and he was "sentenced" to 50 hours of community service.

Mr. Stewart's "Gentlemen's Agreement" has its similarly bizarre moments. The piece begins with its protagonist, Dan Miller, going into the Camp Hill, Pa., office of his employer, Donald L. DeMuth, wondering if he might become a partner in the business and instead learning that he was being terminated. As it turns out, Mr. Miller was fired by his employer for what the latter claimed was a violation of a contract in which Mr. Miller had been required to deny his homosexuality.

The news in "Agreement" is that in Camp Hill, as in most of the country, there isn't any law protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination -- eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes forbidding employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation -- and that most of the recent battles focus on repealing laws on the grounds that gays shouldn't be given "special treatment."

*

Cyberspace is getting considerable attention in the media these days, and two magazines, this week's New York magazine and Fortune, approach the on-line syndrome with varying perspectives.

New York's special section, "Virtual New York," celebrates computer chic and raises the question: Do you have to be a computer geek to be hip? The section interviews a range of celebrities from those who are virtually willing to live and die by their computers to those who . . . well, here's writer Fran Lebowitz: "I write with a pen. I don't even know how to turn a computer on. I only recognize them because people have pointed them out to me."

Fortune's Rick Tetzeli poses the question, "Is Going On-Line Worth the Money?" In a Consumer Reports-type analysis of the big three on-line services, Prodigy, CompuServe and America Online, Mr. Tetzeli writes that Prodigy is fun at home but "doesn't translate into a useful business tool"; CompuServe is the best of the bunch but expensive and might inhibit you from filing those charges on your expense account; and AOL is "a great introduction to cyberspace but it's not as useful for business people as CompuServe."

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