Left liberals enjoy a cruise

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Dec 11 12:07:09 MST 2000


NY Times, December 11, 2000

Supporting the Cause on a Cruise

By ALEX KUCZYNSKI

ABOARD M.S. RYNDAM, off Cuba, Dec. 7 - Three hundred readers of The Nation
magazine sipped coffee and ate breakfast pastries in a dimly lighted
auditorium where they had gathered to hear a lecture about the environment,
"Are Humans an Endangered Species?"

The panelists - the politician and activist Tom Hayden, the novelist
Barbara Kingsolver, the Nation columnist Patricia J. Williams, the radio
talk-show host Jim Hightower and the newspaper columnist Molly Ivins -
spoke for three hours on subjects as various as chlorofluorocarbons,
atmospheric radiation, God and global warming.

The audience was rapt. This was serious stuff.

But it was a little hard to take it all that seriously in this unctuous
setting. The liberal opinion makers on the panel sat on a stage flanked by
12-foot-tall glass and metal tulips, in front of a swaying sequined curtain
better suited to a Las Vegas floor show, as a public address system kept
booming something about the win-a-cruise bingo game at 3 p.m.

So it went on The Nation cruise, where the nurturing of an ideology clashes
with the cold, hard reality of keeping a magazine afloat in fiscally
challenging times, not to mention Marxists who do not disdain cruises in a
good cause. This year, the third annual Nation cruise attracted 310
"silver-haired pinkos," as Ms. Kingsolver described her audience, to the
chagrin of some. Each had paid $1,900 to $2,900 for the privilege of
attending this "floating palace of populism" as Mr. Hightower described it:
a Holland America cruise ship, the M.S. Ryndam, which features a
quarter-mile jogging track, a casino, 24-hour room service and a daily
lecture on the art of cigar appreciation.

This year is the Nation's 135th year, making it the oldest weekly magazine
in America, and yet it has never turned a profit, said Victor Navasky, its
publisher since 1978. (He added that there was a rumor the magazine once
turned a profit for three years, but he has been unable to figure out
when.) The magazine has instead supported itself with contributions from
private donors like Michael Douglas and Paul Newman; some minor fund-
raising efforts and some ad and subscription sales. According to the Audit
Bureau of Circulations, the magazine's rate base, the circulation
guaranteed to advertisers, is about 97,500.

But that is all changing now, Mr. Navasky said in an interview over a
breakfast of sausage links and scrambled eggs in the Rotterdam Room. This
year the magazine is the closest it has ever been to profitability: in
1996, the magazine lost $900,000, he said; in 1998, $300,000, and last
year, it only lost $166,000. This year, The Nation might break even, he said.

In order to make money, however, the magazine has found itself relying on
fund-raising techniques that do not quite fit with the themes of anti-
commercialism in its pages.

On the Ryndam, for example, there was a counter spread with Nation
pamphlets advertising The Nation Platinum Visa card, which is illustrated
with an Edward Koren drawing of Uncle Sam reading the magazine and holding
his head in shock. The Nation, reads the pamphlet, has been "politically
charged since 1865." The Visa program, despite some criticism from readers
about its capitalist aspirations, made about $50,000 last year for The
Nation, Mr. Navasky said.

And there is The Nation Legacy program, which boldly encourages potential
donors to make bequests to The Nation in their will. Mr. Navasky said that
arrangement was by its nature a mixed blessing.

"A lawyer calls you up and says, `I've got some good news and some bad
news,' " he said last week. " `The bad news is that Mr. So-and-So died. The
good news is that he went back and forth for 15 years about who would get
the money, and for a while there it was the A.C.L.U., but guess what? You
won the draw.' "

While the platinum Visa card and the predeath bequests are unconventional
ways for a magazine to make money, the cruise is perhaps most
unconventional. For the last three years - as long as the cruise has been
up and running - Nation patrons have complained vigorously about the fact
that these fund-raising seminars are held on cruise ships, which have been
accused of exploiting nonunion employees as well as being environmental
polluters and vandals of fragile ocean ecosystems, cruise patrons said.

Complete article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/11/business/11SHIP.html

Louis Proyect
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