- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Dwindling audiences

“What terrifies top studio executives this year is not the 7 percent decline in the overall box-office receipts, but the dearth of word-of-mouth event movies. Even George Lucas’ heavily advertised ‘Star Wars — Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,’ which debuted on more than 3,600 screens in America, fell to $25 million in just two weekends (after a $108 million opening). The studios’ marketing chiefs look at these numbers and see that they can still drive teens to the multiplexes with ads, but these manufactured audiences, while they may produce pseudo-events in the entertainment media, no longer create the event movies that the studios need.

“Meanwhile, with home entertainment poised to make a quantum leap in quality with high-definition television, TiVo-type digital recorders, and high-definition DVDs, the studios recognize they have as much of a chance at stopping the secular shift of audiences from the theater to the home as King Canute had in commanding the tide.”

—Edward Jay Epstein, writing on “The Vanishing Box Office,” Tuesday in Slate at www.slate.com

Hoover’s blackmail

“It was fairly well known during [J. Edgar] Hoover’s later years that he retained his position [as FBI director] through presidential administrations of both parties by using blackmail and intimidation. …

“Here are two stories that are told by [former FBI agent] and Watergate veteran, G. Gordon Liddy. One concerns Martin Luther King Jr., who once started a campaign of criticizing the FBI for assigning white agents to black communities as part of a racist strategy. The truth was that the FBI was not racist at all and had always hired and promoted fairly. King received a message that if he did not desist from spreading this falsehood, Hoover would be compelled to publicize some photographs and tapes that would show King’s black followers that he was partial to white women.

“The second story … conveys a sense of the atmosphere of intimidation Hoover fostered. A report had come into Hoover’s office from one of the regional branches and the agent who authored it had typed too close to the margins. Hoover liked a lot of space on either side of interoffice memos so that he could jot his comments. Annoyed, he scribbled: ‘Let’s watch the borders.’ When he returned the document for immediate action, the various border outposts were all ordered to be on high alert. For weeks, extra agents were being assigned to the tense border patrol that resulted from that misunderstanding.”

—Jay D. Homnick, writing on “Old Agents,” Tuesday in the American Spectator Online at www.spectator.org

Radical misfit

“Like Lee Harvey Oswald, Madalyn [Murray O’Hair] tried to defect to the Soviet Union in 1960 but was rejected as undesirable. … Even the ACLU eventually found itself unable to stomach her. …

“That such a woman — loser, misfit, renegade, outsider — could have ended the right of an avowedly Christian country to invoke the grace of God upon its children at the start of their school day raises time-honored questions about the role of the individual in history. … Madalyn and her patchwork, scattershot life might be viewed as the ever-present ‘free radical,’ ricocheting around within the body politic but only doing damage once that body is susceptible.”

—Marian Kester Coombs, writing on “One Woman’s War on God,” in the July 4 issue of the American Conservative

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