The smoke coming out the ears of New Republic owner Martin Peretz was courtesy of the March issue of Washington Monthly, which published an article accusing Peretz of buckling under to pressure from the tobacco industry.
The article, which author David Owen says was originally written for Peretz's magazine, accused a number of publications of yielding to pressure from the tobacco industry. In the Monthly version, Owen added The New Republic to the list, saying that the magazine spiked the story out of fear of losing back-page ads for such cigarettes as Merit and True.
Owen, a New York writer, quotes The New Republic's literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, who Owen says commissioned the piece, as explaining that the article was killed to forestall" 'massive losses of revenue' " from tobacco ads.
"Being economically illiterate, I doubt that I said that," Wieseltier says now, declining to elaborate further on the Owen piece.
"It was not a piece that was commissioned by us," Peretz said this week. "I thought it was frankly a hysterical piece. I think this is a weighty scientific subject, and it requires a much more balanced treatment than this is."
"I didn't believe the piece, and I didn't run it," he concluded firmly.
"Those are all lies. Marty knows it," countered Owen. "It was a commissioned piece," he added, citing an August 1984 letter from Wieseltier. "Marty's just trying to duck."
Charles Peters, Washington Monthly editor in chief and a close friend of New Republic editor Michael Kinsley, said Friday: "I'm proud that we ran it, and I think it's extremely important to expose the cowardice that comes from almost all of the press.
"It's particularly disappointing, of course, when it comes from somebody like this. I have mostly admired what Marty has done at The New Republic," said Peters, "but this is beyond my understanding."
In another battle that undoubtedly appeals to some of the same readers, columnists at The Village Voice are locked in what one observer calls "the journalistic equivalent of a food fight." Voice columnists Nat Hentoff and Geoffrey Stokes have been at each other in recent weeks, not in the usual reporters' pubs, but in their publication.
The Voice writers are at odds, to understate the case, over the question of who said what "on the record" about who should be their new editor. (The issue arose after editor David Schneiderman was elevated to the position of acting publisher.)
Without getting into too many of the complications of this internecine jousting, it started when former New Republic editor Hendrik Hertzberg, one of those interviewed for the job, found that a conversation concerning the editorship that he believed was private suddenly appeared in the pages of The Voice.
Stokes, who published the Hertzberg item in his "Press Clips" column, apologized in the next issue for using the private comment. He then said that the quote from Hertzberg was passed on to him as public by Hentoff and political writer Jack Newfield -- a deed that Stokes called "unpalatable."
Under the Hentoff/Newfield "operating rule," even friends and associates would have to "speak only sentences you would be willing to see in print," Stokes wrote.
At his next opportunity, Hentoff shot back with a full-page counterattack, calling Stokes "Saint Geoffrey of the Newsroom" and insisting that Hertzberg's comments were not off the record. Hentoff even lamented the departure of Stokes' predecessor, Alexander Cockburn, who resigned after criticism that he failed to reveal he had received money from an Arab organization to write a book.
"Whatever our occasional differences, Alex does not have a mind made out of mush," Hentoff wrote.
Those, of course, would seem to be fighting words.
So in the latest issue, Stokes says readers can write for his three-page response to what he suggests are "the fantasies of a guy who's been running on empty for years." Figuring that there would be few takers, Stokes advised that letters should be addressed to Stokes, care of "Tempest in a Teapot."
Stokes said Friday that after the issue had been out for only two days he had received about 30 requests, "to my amazement."
Lest that end it, the same issue includes a heated letter from Hertzberg (challenging the accuracy of Hentoff's attack on Stokes) and an equally irate reply from Hentoff, who moved to heavy artillery with shots fired both at Hertzberg's term as editor of The New Republic and at The New Republic's owner, none other than Peretz, already warmed up from his fight with writer Owen.
One suspects, however, that readers may be beginning to lose sight of the original issue -- that is, who will be the new editor of The Voice. At this point, sources at the newspaper are floating no new names.
"A display of this sort would undoubtedly discourage a rational person from taking the job," acknowledges Stokes.
Exactly one week after taking over as editor in chief of The Washington Times, Arnaud de Borchgrave offered a $1 million reward for the arrest, trial and conviction of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele.
In a departure from the usually anonymous nature of journalism, de Borchgrave's full name was mentioned five times, and his title appeared six times in the front section of the paper, in connection with the announcement. De Borchgrave also stressed in the article that "the reward is not a publicity stunt."
Asked how he chose this crusade for his first big splash as editor in chief, de Borchgrave gave two reasons beyond those published in The Times, where he was quoted as saying that Mengele is a "monster whose successful escape from justice must be ended."
"I have been thinking about this ever since I covered the trial of Rudolf Hess in Poland, my first story," de Borchgrave said. "That, plus not only am I a World War II veteran, but I'm related to the Rothschilds and to the Cahen d'Anvers, the second most prominent Jewish family in France."
He said that so far the offer had brought a lot of tips from people who "lived with [Mengele] or who lived next door" and that after "debriefing" these people, Times reporters will investigate those that are not "off the wall." He added that he planned to coordinate the paper's investigation with the Justice Department's pursuit of Mengele.