A Hip Mag For The C-Span Set

JFK Jr's New Magazine, George, will try to make celebrities out of ordinary politicos and backroom operatives. But it won't poke into their private lives. It won't have a partisan edge, or tackle tough issues, or try to break news. It will be a kind of high-road fan magazine--Rolling Stone for the C-Span crowd.

Trying to interest the public in politics is a worthy goal. But does it make for a hot magazine? Advertisers rushed to fill the roughly 300-page first issue, 500,000 copies of which arrive at newsstands in late September. The reason, of course, is John F. Kennedy Jr. When Kennedy and his partner Michael Berman made a pitch to 150,000 potential customers, a healthy 5.7 percent responded when they stressed Kennedy's connection. That's twice the normal response.

Still, there is no shortage of skeptics. With Clinton's election in 1992, there was a brief spurt of interest in politics, says Eric Alter-man, author of "Sound and Fury," a book on pundits and politics. But "the bubble burst," says Alterman. George's editors, he says, "don't have a political standpoint, they don't appear to have a base, and Tina Brown [editor of The New Yorker] has all the best political writers. What they do have is John-John's celebrity, and that's good for the first issue." (Writers range from political analyst Chris Matthews to comedian Al Franken.)

Political magazines usually flop commercially because their partisanship offends advertisers. George hopes to escape this fate by being resolutely nonideological and decidedly Hollywood. And while George started out aiming at both sexes--another advertiser no-no--backer Hachette Filipacchi hopes to woo women with Kennedy's allure.

Not that readers will see Kennedy bimonthly in his spandex bike shorts. Kennedy will interview worthies for his column, but that's all the exposure he wants, He clearly wants respectability. Still, rumors abound that Cindy Crawford is George's cover girl.

Among political insiders, the expectation is that George will be slick, well edited and vapid. The new magazine that interests the Beltway crowd is The Standard, funded ($8 million the first year) by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The Standard is a neoconservative attempt to do for the 1990s what the neoliberal New Republic did for the 1980s, Edited by New Republic refugee Fred Barnes, "Hell of a Ride" author John Podhoretz and all-purpose conservative guru Bill Kristol, the weekly Standard will focus on the nitty-gritty of policy. "George is going for the massified, glossy-magazine audience," says Podhoretz. "We aim to be opinion leaders." Kristol jokes that the all-white and (with one exception) all-male staff runs the ideological gamut from "conservative to ultraconservative." Unlike George, The Standard's role will be to provoke--to "batter, abuse and squash the bad conservative ideas." The fact that there are no liberal ideas worthy of The Standard's scorn would seem to cry out for a strong new liberal magazine. It's not likely to be George.