August is the cruelest month for the working journalist -- that is, the journalist who has neither the time nor the seniority to go on vacation.
News is traditionally scarce, especially in Washington where there is no Congress to cover and no president. Members of the Cabinet are out on fact-finding missions. Consultants and lobbyists who would normally interrupt their own weddings to talk to a reporter in June are out on a lake somewhere in August.
So, what fills the newspapers and the airwaves?
There is some genuine news like "spy dust" and the dollar's decline and South Africa. There are disasters, man-made and natural.
But that still leaves a lot of dead air time and deadly white space.
Without a major summer scandal, one hot ticket has been Lotto -- so big a story that USA Today did a survey of how states make money on $1 dreams and ABC commentator George Will, decrying the corrupting influence of state lotteries, opined, "There's something wrong with a democracy financing itself by encouraging mob hysteria and mass delusion."
Time and Newsweek agreed last week's news was as soft as summer ice cream. Newsweek's cover warned that "America's Sweet Tooth May be Hazardous to its Health" while Time -- same subject, different tack -- featured "The Fun of American Food."
Dan Rather's summer cold is a big item. Most major papers noted that the "CBS Evening News" anchor was missing from his post, replaced one evening by a Rather look-alike, Forrest Sawyer.
This story, which would probably rate a mere line in September, was nothing to sneeze at in August. USA Today ran a front-page story on Thursday, followed by a longer story on Sawyer over the weekend. The wires have picked up the yarn, as have some of the other television networks.
"I just don't understand it," said CBS director of communications Ann Morfogen, who said she has fielded "any number of calls" on Rather's flu.
"This is absurd," she added.
Still, the big winner in the annual August news competition is clearly The Washington Times. Its story last week, complete with a four-column color photo, was about how a parrot named "Danny Boy" had been birdnaped and then returned to its owner.
The headline said "Kidnapped parrot tells tale to cops" and it dominated a page that included an account of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's drive to "sink sanctions" against South Africa and a UPI story on how churchmen were trying to get President Reagan to pardon the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, whose Unification Church owns the paper. Reagan on Armageddon---
For all the odd stories surfacing this season, one that got surprisingly little notice from the big news organizations was by James R. Mills, former president pro tem of the California Senate. Mills, in the August issue of San Diego Magazine, tells about a dinner conversation 14 years ago with President Reagan that he calls "our dialog about Armageddon."
Mills, a Democrat, was the honoree at the dinner, which Reagan was attending as governor of California.
It was your normal political banter until the chefs brought the flaming cherries jubilee for dessert, he writes. Then, according to Mills, Reagan began talking about his concern about the imminent end of the world "like a preacher to a skeptical college student."
Reagan, who has reportedly referred to Armageddon five times as president, was taking his message from the 38th and 39th chapters of the biblical book of Ezekiel.
" 'Ezekiel tells us that Gog, the nation that will lead all of the other powers of darkness against Israel, will come out of the north. Biblical scholars have been saying for generations that Gog must be Russia . . .It didn't seem to make much sense before the Russian revolution, when Russia was a Christian country. Now it does, now that Russia has become Communistic and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God. Now it fits the description of Gog perfectly,' " Mills quoted Reagan as saying.
A biblical scholar who has written a book about the motivation of Pontius Pilate, Mills refers to himself in the article as being from a household of "bibliolatrous Baptists" and recalls being intensely interested in the argument.
"He was very well equipped to handle this," said Edwin F. Self, editor in chief of the magazine. "He has a memory like an elephant."
But 14 years?
"I have a very good memory and I took some notes, oh, a month or so later, about it," Mills said yesterday. "But it was sufficiently vivid, it is sufficiently vivid even now, it was not hard to remember." Egging on The Guardian
It could be called the incredible, inedible egg: a television advertisement in Britain that has many on Fleet Street yolking it up over the latest antic of the indomitable Harry Evans.
Evans, former editor of The Times of London -- who parted ways on unfriendly terms with owner Rupert Murdoch -- stars in a television ad for a Murdoch competitor, The Guardian.
In the beginning of the commercial, Evans, wearing an overlarge bow tie, is seated at a breakfast editorial meeting with a very proper soft-boiled egg perched on the table in front of him. Evans is faced with a predicament -- a very British predicament indeed -- about how to eat his oval breakfast.
One voice advises a few taps on the top of the egg before peeling the bits of shell back. Another voice, also suitably patronizing, explains that the only civilized way to open an egg is with a swift chop of the knife.
"I look at one of them and then the other and then break the egg with a big smash," said Evans, now editorial director for U.S. News & World Report and editor of Atlantic Monthly Press. "It's a symbol of bloody mindedness."
The announcer then intones: "Harold Evans reads The Guardian. No one tells either of them what to do" -- a not-so-subtle attempt to say that somebody, perhaps Murdoch, perhaps Margaret Thatcher, tells The Times what to do.
Evans, who said he was paid a "fair amount" for doing the ad, "but it wasn't enough to be called a bribe," added they had to break 32 eggs to get it right.
"I got a lot of letters as a result of it," he acknowledged. "I got more letters than for any editorial I ever wrote."