OPINION: Stuart Elliott in America

There used to be a phrase in America, "Banned in Boston", which

referred to publications deemed so salacious by the puritanical

standards of Massachusetts and other New England states that they could

not be sold upon pain of fine or even imprisonment.



At first, the words were proscriptive, then descriptive. Later, they

became a sort of sales pitch, implying that the contents were

sufficiently spicy to warrant tracking down no matter how much

censorship impeded the purchase.



So it was delicious to learn that Britain has banned the sale of Tina

and Harry Come to America: Tina Brown, Harry Evans and the Uses of

Power, a new book by Judy Bachrach, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair

magazine.



The book was published by a division of Simon & Schuster named the Free

Press - such delectable irony! - to widespread attention on this side of

the Atlantic, where perhaps Brown and Evans have grown even more famous

than they were originally at home.



It's unclear how much the phrase "Banned in Britain" will add to the

marketing efforts for the book here. (As for curious Brits, I'm told

that with Amazon.com refusing to ship copies, the best way to obtain one

is via FedEx - when it absolutely, positively has to be sneaked in over

there, to paraphrase the old ad slogan.)



Short of being banned from the Conde Nast building, the book's sales in

America will probably have to rise or fall on its merits. As such, it

may be hard to resist for the increasingly large number of ardent fans

of what's called dish, especially dish related to the media.



The phenomenon of the growing popularity of the media's reporting on and

gossiping about the media is not a new one. But it still surprises

people who can recall a time not that long ago when the results of how

movies performed at the box office each weekend were disseminated only

to a tiny handful of moguls in Hollywood and tycoons in New York rather

than to an entire nation via Sunday evening TV newscasts and Monday

morning newspapers.



Brown and Evans fascinate media dish devotees for myriad reasons, wholly

apart from what some perceive to be the romance-novelesque aspects of

their personal lives.



Between them, they have run or led the editorial efforts of some of the

nation's most fabled media properties (Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, US

News and World Report, Random House, The New York Daily News) and worked

for two of the nation's most closely watched media magnates, Si Newhouse

and Mort Zuckerman.



Then there's the most recent chapter in Brown's career, Talk, which is

not only a joint venture of two pillars of the media establishment,

Disney and Hearst, but a magazine that competes against two she

previously edited for Newhouse, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.



In sum, it's the stuff of night-time soap operas, but it's better

because it's real. Who cares about JR Ewing when one can read about Si

Newhouse Jr?



Besides, devouring the contents of books such as Tina and Harry Come to

America enables us simultaneously to wallow in media mania while

pooh-poohing it as a frivolous waste of time. It's the feeling that one

of the brightest lights of The New Yorker, the late film critic Pauline

Kael, once described as brushing your teeth with a candy bar.



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