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Monday, July 19, 1999 Published at 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK

World: Americas

What's the future for George?

Breaking the mould: Kennedy saw politics as part of lifestyle

If the messages on the George Magazine online chat board are anything to go by, the future for the publication founded by John F Kennedy Jnr may be bleak.

Kennedy Tragedy
Almost all the messages posted to the site, published exclusively on the web by America Online, inextricably link the politics-cum-celebrity magazine with its famous founding editor and urge the publishers to allow it to live and breathe without the famous name.

Even before the tragedy, media speculation had it that John Kennedy Jnr's project to be part of the media, rather than just the subject of it, was doomed.

George claims the highest circulation of any American political magazine, shifting more than 400,000 copies every month.

But commentators (and a few competitors to boot) have publicly attacked it as nothing more than America's smallest circulation celebrity magazine, a project that would have never got off the ground without the famous Kennedy name.

More than your average read

Kennedy founded George almost five years ago as a firmly non-Washington political magazine promoting itself as "not just politics as usual".

[ image: Not amused: And not the target audience either]
Not amused: And not the target audience either
Since then, commentators have criticised it as inhabiting an ill-defined world stuck somewhere between the heart of political power in Washington and the glamour of Hollywood.

Kennedy made no apologies for the magazine's direction, saying it was the political publication for "post-partisan" America - a statement which rings hollow in the aftermath of the bitter scenes of President Clinton's impeachment.

Political magazines should look like lifestyle leaders such as Elle, Kennedy told the New York Times: "They [political magazines] should look like really inviting, accessible, exuberant youthful magazines."

While its competitors such as New Republic would lead on campaign trail turmoil, George would focus on political personalities and celebrities in a far from bashful manner.

Tickle the public

The cover story of the July edition looks at how the "new Latino power brokers are making America sizzle" - complete with the heaving chest of cowgirl-styled Mexican actress Salma Hayek.

[ image: Bomb Castro: 'President' Fuentes tells it how it might be]
Bomb Castro: 'President' Fuentes tells it how it might be
The subject of the "If I were president" column is Daisy Fuentes, host of "America's Funniest Home Videos". In keeping with the cover, the accompanying photograph of Ms Fuentes focuses on some of her more obvious attributes.

An earlier edition raised eyebrows when Buffy the Vampire Slayer - a TV teen idol who does exactly what the name suggests - gained entry to the magazine's ten most influential political women thanks to her true "girl power".

The magazine's supporters say this is all about celebrating politics - and doing it with a bit of Hollywood thrown in.

Washington is not the only place you'll find political power worth writing about, says George.

[ image: She's got the power: Buffy made it to top ten]
She's got the power: Buffy made it to top ten
The magazine has a very personal and urbane touch, looking at the human stories behind the policy.

Other stories in the July edition include the candidate least likely to reach the White House in the coming presidential elections and one of Linda Tripp's children defending her mother's pivotal role in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Another columnist complains that Republicans are "lemon-sucking" moaners.

George argues that politics informs every part of modern life - and that includes popular culture and entertainment.

The charge from critics is that the two drinks not only don't mix, they leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Celebs galore

Critics go on to say (some would say bitterly) that the magazine could not have succeeded without the magic of the Kennedy name which has drummed up publicity and attracted star name writers and interviewees.

One of the modern greats of American literature, Norman Mailer, has written for the magazine and Kennedy raised eyebrows when he signed up former Republican senator Alfonse D'Amato to pen a no-nonsense "Ask Alfonse" column.

Cover stars have ranged from Madonna to former House speaker Newt Gingrich. The last edition led on Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart "on food, feminism and fighting the press".

Women dominated the early sales figures and Fidel Castro, JFK's old enemy, is reportedly a fan. While that rumour remains unconfirmed, Washington has remained unimpressed.

Speculation over future

Leading American newspapers have speculated in recent months that George's publisher, Hachette Filipacchi, is considering pulling the plug.

[ image: Public Row: Streisand criticised magazine]
Public Row: Streisand criticised magazine
The all-important advertising revenues - drawn mainly from glossy magazine brands such as fashion designers and car manufacturers - are reportedly declining and the magazine has been embroiled in a number of controversies.

Barbara Streisand publicly attacked George for allegedly misrepresenting her views and an article on a trip to Haiti by actress Julia Roberts' was also criticised.

Despite all this, a loyal band of readers has stuck by the unconventional magazine. One correspondent to the George chat board has already proposed that the magazine should now be renamed "John".

Kennedy said that he wanted to see George valued in its own right but the personality-driven publication may find it difficult to survive without the celebrity at its very centre.

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