Watching the Watchers 
By Bryan Close  


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Several magazines run regular features devoted to telling us what is good and what is bad. The New York Review of Magazines has decided to judge the judges.

Newsweek’s "CW Watch" (Conventional Wisdom)
: The conventional wisdom on this war-horse, instituted in 1988, is that it is glib and wry, insidery and obscure, with more nicknames tossed around than at a George W. Bush Cabinet meeting. Still, the dishy tone is part of the point and half the fun is being in the know. Also, when compared with Time magazine’s trite "Winners & Losers" (see below), Newsweek’s CW looks even better. Example: Recently, President Bush reversed a campaign promise to place limits on CO2 emissions, a promise new EPA head Christine Whitman had asserted that Bush would keep. Time illogically gives a loser slot to Whitman, simply because she was lied to. Newsweek’s "CW Watch," however, gets closer to the heart of the matter, giving a down arrow not to a personality in this second-grade squabble, but to the "Enviro," commenting: "Shattering speed records for breaking promises, W does 180 on CO2 limits. Cough, cough." The CW, apparently recognizing that the world is not all up and down, also picks up points for giving us the double-sideways-arrow option. This one remains the standard by which the other judges are measured. Up.

Time’s "Winners & Losers": This department picks three winners and three losers each week, and does so with a consistent lack of imagination or insight (see above). Example: John Ashcroft survives a Senate confirmation process that focused on ugly and morally questionable aspects of his professional past, and he becomes Bush’s Attorney General. He is rewarded with a slot in the Winner column. Why? Sure, he got the job, but after being assailed by a host of civil rights organizations, how’s Ashcroft’s reputation doing? Time’s "Winners and Losers" has no time for such niceties. And we’ve got no time for it. This one’s a Loser.

Columbia Journalism Review’s "Darts and Laurels"
: This media-watchdog exposes both the best and the worst of the Fourth Estate. It praises exceptional reporting, such as the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s long-standing coverage of Pacific Gas & Electric ("exposing the plagues visited on the public by the programs and policies of the monopoly that provides most of the city’s power"). It also busts big shots, such as Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Susan Laccetti Meyers, for incompetence and conflict of interest. Meyers campaigned in the paper for a state-funded commuter rail system for her own neighborhood while simultaneously denying that she lived there. With CJR on the case, we can be sure that journalistic virtue will be rewarded and shoddiness exposed. We’d better note here that both CJR and The New York Review of Magazines are affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and that we both work in the same building. (If we didn’t disclose all that, they’d probably give us a dart.) The only criticism is that big offenders get the same size darts as relatively small offenders. Even so, CJR gets a Laurel.

Vanity Fair’s "Out & In": We wanted, really and truly, to give this one an In. Vanity Fair, our thinking goes, is In almost by definition. The problem is that this department is not only almost impossible to find buried amid the magazine’s countless ads (in the April issue it’s on page 346), it is also unremittingly stupid. For the category Hot Ethnicity, Australians are Out and Asians are In (even though neither "Australian" nor "Asian" is, in fact, an ethnicity.) Shiny skin is Out and Orange skin is In. (Okay…) On page 106 of the February issue we learn that Lesbians are Out and Transsexuals are In. (Good to know…) Mexico is Out and Canada is In. (Have they forgotten George P. already?) No explanations, no context, no In for Vanity Fair. It’s Out like shiny skin.

Entertainment Weekly’s "Shaw Report": Not that we read Entertainment Weekly, you understand — it’s just that we were at the dentist and…sigh. What can we say? This one’s just, well, entertaining. Jessica Shaw trisects the world into the categories, In, Out and Five Minutes Ago (which presumably is also out, but not quite as far out as "Out"). Though arbitrary and whimsical, and occasionally even idiotic, this one is funny in a pleasantly off-beat way. Unlike Vanity Fair’s ratings (see above), which don’t seem to be based on anything, Entertainment Weekly’s are thematically linked. Who knew, for example, that stealing hotel shampoo is firmly Out, and stealing hotel bathrobes has become Five Minutes Ago, but that stealing hotel sheets is In? We do now. This one is too trivial to be In, too fun to be Out. We give it a "Five Minutes Ago," mainly because we can.

Brill’s Content’s "Stuff We Like"
: Quibblers may say this one doesn’t belong, since it only lists the good things. To them we say, "Why all the negativity, man? Can’t we all just get along?" We also say take a look at this department, which devotes several pages in the front of each monthly issue to telling us what’s best in the world of non-fiction. From overlooked books, to important documentaries, to useful, wacky Web sites, this is the place to go. The April issue, for example, calls deserved attention to C-Span’s 40-part series, American Writers: A Journey Through History; The Slotkin Letter, a "deliriously opinionated and often brilliant monthly theater newsletter," and a Web site,, that offers $1-million prizes for solutions to several "solution-resistant" mathematics problems. As TNYRM goes to press, Brill’s is changing its name. We hope they keep this department though. This Stuff We Like.