ONE LAST QUESTION: While no one would argue that The New Yorker’s David Remnick did not do an outstanding job interviewing Sen. Barack Obama during Monday’s luncheon at the American Magazine Conference in Phoenix, some senior editors there — including former Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker, now vice president and editor in chief of new ventures at the digital division of The Washington Post Co. — noted one obvious question the junior senator from Illinois was glaringly not asked by either the editor or the audience. Although Remnick grilled Obama on his potential run for president in 2008, his critique of the Bush administration and his experimentation with drugs as a teenager, Obama was never pushed on the issue of whether America is ready for an African-American president. “It’s just interesting that no one asked. Maybe it’s a good thing,” said Whitaker. “You would think it’s such an obvious question you’d want to hear what [Obama] would say.”
Remnick chalked up the omission to packing the most top-of-mind questions into just 40 minutes. In comparison, Remnick had nine days on planes and long dinners with former president Bill Clinton for a 20,000- word piece in The New Yorker’s Sept. 18 issue. “I assume there were 50 questions that weren’t asked,” responded Remnick. “I had a list as long as my arm and got to my elbow.”
In addition to lengthy preparation on his own, Remnick powwowed with Slate editor Jacob Weisberg, who recently profiled the senator in Men’s Vogue’s September/October issue, and Marlene Kahan, executive director of the American Society of Magazine Editors, prior to his interview with Obama.
What’s more, “this wasn’t that polite of an interview. I asked him about drug use, for God’s sake,” said Remnick, to which Obama answered frankly: “Well, I inhaled. That was the point.”
Remnick continued, “I pressed him about Hillary [Clinton]. I didn’t ask him, ‘Who were your three favorite ballplayers?’ or ‘What’s your favorite ice cream cone?’ or ‘Do you wear boxers or briefs?”
This story first appeared in the October 26, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That said, Weisberg agreed the question would have been “a good one,” even to a room packed with liberal magazine executives, but thinks it was one that Obama had been asked in prior interviews and therefore was perhaps not as high a priority. Weisberg also hypothesized Obama’s answer may have been less direct than his response on drug use: “He would have tried to point it away from himself, because he didn’t want to answer questions that assume he’s running.” — Stephanie D. Smith
NOT BILINGUAL: General Motors is in hot water again — but this time, it’s for airing a Chevrolet Silverado ad in Spanish during game three of the World Series on the Fox network on Tuesday night. A GM spokesman said Wednesday that it was a rough day in the automaker’s press office, as many consumers had called to rant about the ad, with complaints such as “this is America, not Mexico.” Some customers said they immediately turned off their TVs in disgust after the ad ran (and stopped watching America’s pastime altogether). And one customer told the GM spokesman that he would buy Ford vehicles from now on.
The irony is that this wasn’t the first time GM has aired a Spanish-language advertisement during the World Series; the first commercial ran during the 2004 World Series. The company released a statement Wednesday following the backlash that said it selected the World Series for the ads because baseball is so important to the Hispanic community. The company added that nearly 25 percent of all Major League Baseball players are Hispanic and 11 members of Detroit’s hometown team (where GM is based) are Hispanic.
In addition to the 60-second Spanish ad that ran Tuesday night, GM ran two 30-second spots in English from its Hispanic campaign. The theme of the campaign is “A brand/mark that lasts,” and it focuses on the “mark” Hispanics have left on the nation. Its plan was to run the ad only during the third game of the World Series, although it will continue to run the ad in Hispanic market programming. — Amy Wicks
WEDDING BELLS: In Style deputy editor Hilary Sterne is leaving the halls of Time Inc. for the open, lofty offices of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Sterne will become editor in chief of Martha Stewart Weddings, a new position, as of Nov. 3. Sterne joined In Style in 1998 as a freelance editor editing style manual “Secrets of Style” and joined the magazine full time as a senior writer a year later. Since 2003, she has been a deputy editor for special issues, penning the “In Style Weddings” book and overseeing most of In Style’s wedding stories. Darcy Miller remains editorial director. — S.D.S.
IF A BLOG FALLS IN THE FOREST: Do avid blog readers flock to a new one if its arrival isn’t trumpeted? That’s what Vanity Fair is about to find out after quietly launching its redesigned Web site, vf.com, a few days ago. While readers will have to wait a while before the site’s “big changes” arrive, there already is a blog written by James Wolcott that speaks to the “intersection of politics and culture.” “We’re planning to build vf.com into a major daily destination,” boasted Andrew Hearst, online editor. “It was only natural to bring Wolcott’s blog onto the site and there will be lots more to follow — blog-wise and otherwise.”
Other changes viewers will immediately notice is easier access to Vanity Fair’s archives, Web exclusives and slide shows. Jessica Coen, deputy editor (and former Gawker.com editor) will be assisting Hearst with the site, beginning Monday. A spokeswoman said that since the launch, there has been a spike in traffic to the site, although it’s too soon to measure it.
Another Web site that is increasing its blog exposure is Condé Nast Traveler, with its new blog, The Materialist. It will cover global shopping, architecture, art and design. “Blogs are a good reason to come back to a site,” said Tom Loftus, interactive editor. “The challenge is to keep it updated.” The blog, written by an editor the magazine is trying to keep a mystery, will appear approximately three days a week. The Web site launched its first blog, The Perrin Post, in August. It provides travel advice from Wendy Perrin, consumer news editor. “We’ve noticed a difference [in Web traffic], but it hasn’t been dramatic; it’s been incremental,” Loftus said. “But we do know blogs have the power to keep someone on the site longer.” Perrin said she enjoys blogging because it’s so easy; she can post an item without going through editors, fact-checkers and production people — a thought that might give some editors and executives at Condé Nast gray hairs. “Editing it would defeat the purpose of the blog,” she added. So opinions don’t have to be accurate? — A.W.