After almost 10 years as the mascot of the leading investigative magazine of the American left, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones may soon go into semiretirement.
Executives of Mother Jones magazine fear they need -- if not a '60s-style revolution -- at least a few changes, which could include a new editor, a new look and perhaps even a new name.
MJ Publisher Don Hazen did not want to talk about whether the financially troubled publication had decided for certain to demote the formidable Ms. Jones, described in the magazine as a turn-of-the-century "orator, union organizer and hell-raiser."
But Hazen did say that readers, some of whom had complained that Mother Jones had lapsed lately into what one called "granola journalism," could expect a "relaunching" of the magazine sometime early next year.
The publisher said he is interviewing possible replacements for Executive Editor Deirdre English, who, he said, wants to go back to writing for the magazine. Among those being considered to lead the publication from the '60s to the '80s is former New Republic editor Hendrik Hertzberg.
"We haven't offered the job to anybody yet, but Hertzberg certainly comes highly recommended," Hazen said.
Still, there are some loose ends at the magazine, especially in the budget department. In the October issue, the editors wrote a plaintive appeal to readers for contributions to help pay this year's operating debts.
The plea, titled "Don't Let Our Voice Be Silenced," asked readers to fork out $197,000 in the next few weeks to make certain the publication perhaps best known for investigating Ford Pinto fire hazards in the late 1970s would maintain its place on the newsstands.
"We realize it's a little tricky to make such an appeal," said Hazen. "On the one hand, we want people to know that we need the money; on the other hand, we don't want to sound like we're about to expire."
In the mundane world of daily journalism, it seldom occurs to the reporter struggling to get his name in the paper that there is a higher yearning: Like, instead of one byline in print, how about two?
Nevertheless, there are some enterprising writers here and abroad who, for a variety of reasons, use their own name on one set of stories and a fictitious one on another. For example, in the London Sunday Times recently, there was a long piece from Moscow on the expulsion of British journalists and diplomats, written by one David Hatton. As London's New Statesman magazine revealed, "If you were wondering why Hatton himself was not on the hit-list, wonder no more. He does not exist."
Why the nom de plume? Sunday Times insiders said that Hatton must be protected from retaliation, not by the Soviets, but by his employer, who was someone other than The Sunday Times. It seems that the paper had no one in Moscow who could do the story that day, and instead of using mere wire copy, it borrowed a competitor's reporter.
"We're hoping to set up a bureau there by the beginning of next year," said Stephen Milligan, foreign editor of The Sunday Times -- at which point Hatton will take early retirement from the pages of the Sunday paper.
Now comes a case on this side of the Atlantic: Tristan Vox, a fictitious byline with operatic undertones that appears monthly in Vanity Fair magazine, attached to articles about fashion and the fashionable.
The real Vox said he figured long ago that his secret would get out, especially as soon as he hit a nerve. Indeed, he struck a ganglion in the October issue when he wrote a biting piece on the funny and much-favored New York writer Nora Ephron.
In the latest installment of the long, public saga of Ephron's estrangement and divorce from Carl Bernstein, Vox weighed Bernstein's infidelity versus Ephron's writing a book about it and -- in the name of the children -- came down thunderously for Bernstein.
It is an emotional subject for those who know the former couple, those who think they know them, and those who think they know anybody who has ever been hurt like Ephron or unfaithful like Bernstein. Readers have begun to ask if it's wrong to hide behind a pseudonym when making tough statements on such tender topics.
"I think that would be true if there had been any attempt to keep it a secret," said Leon Wieseltier, a Washington writer who is literary editor of The New Republic, author of "Nuclear War, Nuclear Peace" and creator of Tristan Vox. "But it's not. It's known. My real name is on the masthead."
Wieseltier said Vox is a lonely character in Michel Tournier's "The Fetishist" who gives sex advice on a radio talk show.
"I guess there were two points to the pseudonym," he said. "To see if in time I could invent not just another name, but another writer," and "to differentiate it from writing I do about other subjects.
"It's not a subject I'd write about for, say, Foreign Affairs."
The letter lobbying 535 members of Congress to protect the U.S apparel and textile industries with "realistic quotas" came as a surprise to some recipients. Not a missive from your usual lawyer and/or advocate, this one came from Eugene F. Fahy, a vice president at Fairchild Publications.
Fahy wrote that the legislation was needed "to signal this administration that for all U.S. industry, we intend to 'give 'em all the milk we can spare, but we intend to keep the cow.' "
"In my experience, I have never seen an executive of a publishing company write a member of Congress directly lobbying them on behalf of some legislation," said T. Dean Reed, former editor of Newhouse News Service who is now doing public relations for large department stores opposed to the protectionist laws. "I am frankly shocked by it," added Reed, who got the letter from a staffer on Capitol Hill and passed it along.
Fahy, who is vice president of advertising sales for Women's Wear Daily, W and M, said he did not check with those on the editorial side of Fairchild Publications before sending the letter. He said that the letter "in no way" compromised reporters covering the issue for Fairchild.
"If you read the paper WWD , you'd know that we have reported the issue absolutely fairly," Fahy said.
Michael Coady, senior vice president at Fairchild and executive editor of WWD and W, said yesterday that a telephone call from The Post was "the first I ever heard of the letter."
"We don't have an editorial position pro or con on this issue, but it is a very important one for us, and we have written a great deal about it," he said. Coady added that the Fairchild publications could be hurt whichever way Congress goes, because their advertising comes from foreign businesses as well as domestic ones.
"He Fahy is in the advertising department, and he doesn't have anything to do with editorial side," Coady said.
"He has a right to give his opinion," Coady added. "Whether or not he should do it in this way is another matter which I am not ready to get into right now."