Suzanne Fields

Out with the old, in with the new. The wheel of change has been spinning merrily during the long, hot (and often wet) summer. That's especially true for those who make the news. The media is the message.

There's a new man at the helm of the New York Times. Arthur Sulzberger is counting on Bill Keller to staunch the blood oozing from the wounds inflicted by the worst scandal in the paper's history (unless you count Walter Duranty's relentless whitewash of Soviet brutality in the 1930s, for which he won at Pulitzer Prize).

"I've been shot with more arrows than Custer's horse," Howell Raines, deposed as executive editor in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, told Charlie Rose in his first television interview. The unkindest arrow of all, of course, was from the publisher's quiver, forcing him out for doing what he thought was his mandate to "shake up a 'lethargic culture of complacency.'" The lethargy eventually morphed into lively aggression - against Raines.

One story that angered Raines' critics was a front page number on pop nymphet Britney Spears. He defends it as appealing to readers under 40. While his critics saw it as "dumbing down" the New York Times, Raines describes it as a "sociological" story about an industry that "picks up a sexually precocious-looking young woman, lifts her out of obscurity, elevates her to a level of wealth and acclaim, far in excess, perhaps, to her talents and then drops her like that."

Sociology or bubble gum, the teenagers loved it.

If Howell Raines wanted to give the Old Gray Lady a facelift, Bill Keller is expected to take a more holistic approach, appealing to his reporters to do "a little more savoring" of life by spending time with their families or browsing through an art gallery.

However engaging that may sound, some conservatives agree with the assessment expressed by Brent Baker of the Media Research Center: "The New York Times replaces one liberal executive editor with another one." Others, aware of Keller's reputation for professionalism, are willing to wait and see.

Over at MSNBC, talkmeister Michael Savage got canned for telling a homosexual caller, "You should only get AIDS and die." He had been hired to compete with Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, although O'Reilly usually purrs when his Savage competitor howls.

Undaunted by failure, MSNBC will try again with another grunter and growler. Jesse Ventura, the onetime wrestler and governor of Minnesota, stages another reincarnation in verbal excess as he takes over his own talk show. Barbra Streisand could provide the theme song: "Send in the clowns."

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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