JANUARY isn't, of course, February -- everyone's first choice for elimination from the calendar -- but it can be almost as vexing. With all the snow and ice and wind, things are getting blown around in many spheres.
First of all, we're being invited to weep for Rupert Murdoch, the press lord, who had a dirty trick played on him by Teddy Kennedy. In the dark of night at the drag end of the last session of Congress, Kennedy put out a contract on Murdoch. The hit man was Kennedy's Senate pal Fritz Hollings. Kennedy was doing what politicians do, getting even with someone who causes him a lot of bother. Murdoch, owns, among his vast other holdings, The Boston Herald, and it has a habit of calling Teddy "Fat Boy" whenever it mentions him, which is extremely often.
Let's stipulate that he shouldn't have done it. But the outcry that is going on has a slight air of burlesque about it. Leave aside Murdoch's piratical approach to journalism. Such howling and hand-wringing about the First Amendment and freedom of the press has seldom been heard.
Kennedy's sneak attack on Murdoch means that the latter must sell either the New York Post or WNYW-TV in New York and either the Boston Herald or WFXT-TV in Boston. Under an FCC ruling, which had been temporarily waived for Murdoch, no one person can own both a newspaper and a television station in the same city -- and Kennedy saw to it that the omnibus spending bill passed last month contained an amendment preventing the FCC from changing the cross-ownership rule.
Make no mistake -- it would be sad if the New York Post were to fold, as per Murdoch's thunderous prophesying. As one who went through the death of a newspaper, I can say life offers little worse.
But we're not talking here about the legendary William Allen White and the Emporia Gazette or any other paper whose sudden silence would deprive a community of an authentic, irreplaceable voice. The New York Post is a noisy little tabloid which prints mega-point headlines about all that is bad in New York. Example: HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR.
The Post serves as a court circular for the administration of Mayor Edward J. Koch and his merry men. The mayor is serving as the chief mourner over the possible demise of the Post. No suspicion of a disinterested passion for the free flow of ideas sullies His Honor's grief over Teddy's perfidy and the possible consequences: He is a commenator on Murdoch's television station.
Dry-eyed observers who have trouble summoning a tear for Murdoch, a man more feared than respected by his peer group, note that he could easily afford to keep the Post going if it means that much to him. He could just sell the television station instead.
This is all unfolding at a time when the networks seems to have made a decision that life is not grim enough. How else can you explain the fact that on a recent Monday night, the big eye gave us Ann Jillian's story of her double mastectomy and on Tuesday treated us on "Cagney and Lacey" to a harrowing account of Cagney's date rape. We went with her to the gynecologist and then on to a roundtable with other victims. Some of us cowards slipped away and found sanctuary in a rerun of "Upstairs, Downstairs," which was its steadying self but subjected some of us addicts to a scrambled chronology. I have been muddling through World War I with them all, on another station, but suddenly I was in a postwar world where Richard Bellamy is a lord and Hazel, his poker-faced daughter-in-law, is dead. It's hard to keep your bearings these days.
Politically, things are in a hopeless snarl. Iowa is acting funny. If ever there was a state you could rely on, I had thought it was Iowa, home of cheerleaders, trombone-players, 4 -- H Club members, peaceniks. And I thought Iowa was going steady with Paul Simon. He's a virtuous, earnest, kindly sort who wants to make the world a better place. Made for each other, I said, as I watched Simon and Iowa on the porch swing or going down to the center for ice cream. After a mad, spring fling with Gary Hart, Iowa was settling down.
Then bam! All of a sudden, Gary bounded back into her life and Iowa got a new idea. At least she's telling poll-takers she will actually vote for him on Feb. 8, but . . . well, he's taller than the others.
This sudden switch from the square to the swinger is a bit unnerving. Iowa may come to her senses on caucus night when she is called upon to stand up before God and her neighbors to say who her choice is -- and why. Betimes, she is dropping maddening hints about the others.
In education, things are no better. The Supreme Court ruled that a high-school paper cannot tell its readers what's really going on with teen-agers -- pregnancy and divorced parents and downers like that. And Education Secretary William Bennett is getting pounded for saying that pupils should learn the hard way, that computers and visual aids and field trips won't conjugate a Latin verb.
It's a confusing time. As I say, it might as well be February.
Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.