Hey, Time, get a life away from Baltimore

September 02, 1999|By Michael Olesker

MEMO TO Time magazine: Take your Luce journalistic morals and buzz off.

We don't like strangers from New York coming into Baltimore and making fun of our candidates for mayor. We think people who live and work in Baltimore should be the ones making fun of the candidates for mayor of Baltimore.

We know what we've got in the current campaign -- and we also know who's spending about 10 minutes to cover it, and trumpet its most ridiculous elements, and why.

We've got Time magazine, brainchild of Henry Luce, spawner of imitators such as Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, all of which call themselves "news" magazines -- even in an age where the world's news arrives instantly, around the clock, out of breath, and these "news" magazine folks show up a week later pretending they have something to tell us that we don't know.

And, unintentionally, they do. They tell those who still pay any attention that these magazines have become poignant relics of another era and are forced to run the trivial, the fatuous, the snide aside, the glittery public relations handout disguised as the culturally significant -- and the empty cartoon version of a race for mayor of a struggling American city.

Time, whose major story this week is "Why We Take Risks" -- illustrated by a cover photo of a highly newsworthy rock climber. Time, whose important cover "news" stories this summer have included Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman "Like You've Never Seen Them" (July 5), and "Star Wars: the Complete Guide to the Phantom Menace" (April 26).

And let's not overlook Newsweek, whose cover stories this summer have included "America Goes Hollywood," with the always newsworthy Elizabeth Taylor on the cover (July 28), and "The New Age of Cosmetic Surgery" (Aug. 9).

And U.S. News, whose big cover breakthrough this summer was "The Year 1000 -- What Life Was Like in the Last Millennium" (Aug. 16). And who would know better about the last millennium than those producing publications that seem like throwbacks to such a period?

But let's deal with Time, and its notion of what the world needs to know about Baltimore and the race for mayor. "Rounding Up the Usual Suspects," its headline reads, with a smaller head declaring, "The trouble with the race for mayor is that one of the candidates is going to win."

Its one-page coverage includes photographs of each of the three leading contenders and a grand total of six -- SIX! -- highly analytical paragraphs. The names Carl Stokes and Martin O'Malley do not appear until the very last of these six paragraphs, perhaps because they are the leading, and least laughable, candidates.

Who's in the first paragraph? Dorothy Jennings. Time found out about her burglary rap. What fun! What opportunity for grand sport! But, a question: Did Time think somebody around here considers Jennings a serious candidate, or was it just hinting what a bunch of drooling idiots live in Baltimore and run for its top office?

But leading with Jennings lets Time ask -- yuk, yuk -- "Is that the mayoral debate or America's Most Wanted?"

From there, the magazine tells its readers about such other front-runners as the Rev. Jessica Davis, who dares refer to herself as "the next mayor of Baltimore"; A. Robert Kaufman, who "has socialist solutions and ... doesn't seem to have a paycheck to miss," and Roberto Marsili, "a stonemason" who runs to get "an indoor job."

Does Time have something against a working man running for political office?

Actually, people at the magazine see it as just one more chance for ridicule. Here's a little more. Time asks, "Do the candidates know what city they are hoping to run? City Council President Lawrence Bell ... put out a lovely campaign brochure featuring his smiling mug, happy schoolchildren, a calculator and those picturesque Victorian town houses of, um, San Francisco."

Gosh, thanks for noticing, Time. While you're at it, you might notice that Baltimore has a historic place called Druid Hill Park -- and not "David Hill Park," as you refer to it.

That "usual suspects" reference in the Time headline is obvious. As its reporter, Sally B. Donnelly, points out: "Of the 27 original candidates for mayor, six have criminal-arrest records, three have filed for bankruptcy, one is a convict."

Listen, we know what we have here. We know that we have lots of people running because the job's finally open after the dismal Schmoke years. We know that, as in other cities, fringe candidates jump into the race, for reasons entirely their own, and nobody who pays attention takes their chances very seriously.

Every news outlet in town has reported about these folks. But, on a daily basis, we've also talked about this city's real issues, and the track record of those who are its most serious mayoral candidates.

We haven't pretended that those with arrest records are possible winners. We haven't spotlighted the oddball stuff and ignored the meaningful. We know about our real problems, without a once-relevant national magazine holding up trivialities for the whole country to mock.

And we know a cheap shot when we see one.

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