Stop the presses.

(925 words; posted Saturday, Jan. 18; to be composted Saturday, Jan. 25)

Stop the Presses
     The current issue of the Economist takes S
LATE to task for failing to inform our readers that we are owned by the Microsoft Corp. The distinguished British newsweekly notes that S LATE readers might have evaluated a recent skeptical article about, the online book-ordering service, differently if they had known that S LATE is connected to a company with commercial interests on the World Wide Web. The Economist observes, with its customary sharp insight, that every page of S LATE–including the page containing the article in question–does say “© Microsoft.” But this notice is “tiny,” as the prestigious journal rightly points out.
     The concept of “tiny” is a relative one, of course, raising deep metaphysical issues that are beyond the reach of a simple, unpretentious Webzine like S
LATE. It is better left to the legendary “Science” section of the Economist to explain how physicists have demonstrated that under certain extreme conditions, “tiny” can turn in on itself and become large again. For example, the notice on every page of the Economist telling readers that the magazine is half-owned by Pearson, a conglomerate with a wide range of publishing and business interests, is so small that no one on our staff was even able to find it.
     But let us not evade the central issue raised, with its usual moral clarity, by the influential London paper product. Following a rigorous internal investigation run, on the side, by Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, we were shocked–shocked!--to discover that the Economist’s charges appear to be correct! Yes, we can escape the harsh truth no longer: S
LATE is owned by the Microsoft Corp. Clearly, our frequent references to this fact were actually part of an elaborate psychology of denial. It will take years of therapy for us to come to terms with our parentage. But meanwhile, we apologize to any readers who were swept up in our blizzard of self-deceit.

     If you were stunned to learn that S
LATE is owned by the Microsoft Corp., you can just imagine how Bill Gates felt. “What?” he exclaimed. “We own those people? Have them killed. No, wait, have them sold. No, just a second–I’ve got it: Have them all transferred to CarPoint.” But Sire, we protested, you must have known that you own us. Why else would we be hanging around and sucking up to you all the time? “Don’t be silly,” he said. “Journalists are always sucking up to me.” A dreamy look came over his eyes. “Do you ever read the Economist? It’s my favorite magazine.”
Fleece Panic Postscript
     Last week, in ” The Great Fleece Panic of ‘96,” S
LATE’s Jack Shafer cast doubt on the retailing story of the Christmas season: that stores and catalogs were running out of merchandise–especially trendy outerwear–because of unexpectedly strong sales. The great fleece panic started with an article in the New York Times (“Tardy Catalogue Shoppers Risk Losing Out as Supplies Run Short,” Dec. 10) and was quickly picked up–and embroidered–by other media. Well, on Jan. 10, the day Shafer’s column was posted, the Times ran another article by the same reporter. The headline this time: “Retail Sales for December Well Below Expectations.” Without reference to the previous contention that retailers didn’t even have enough stuff to satisfy demand, the story explained weak sales as a result of a shorter shopping season, among other factors. It also noted that by Dec. 7–just three days before the previous “Supplies Run Short” story–35 percent of shoppers hadn’t even begun to shop. Go figure.
Onward and Upward With SLATE
     We would like to announce two new occasional departments. ” Tangled Web” will look at the various Internet-based conspiracy theories that pop up so often in the news these days. It will trace the development of these theories and supply links so that readers–if they are online–can trace the course of the alleged conspiracy and try to decide for themselves whether the theories have any validity. Our first “Tangled Web” column, by S
LATE Assistant Editor David Plotz, looks at the conspiracy alleged by the Clinton administration in a memo that surfaced in the press last week: a right-wing conspiracy, using the Internet, to discredit the president. (“Tangled Web,” by the way, is not to be confused with ” Webhead,” our monthly column about Web technology for lay people–look for a new one Thursday, Jan. 23–or with our occasional reviews of Web sites, which assess sites based on their editorial content.)
     “Life and Art” will deal with movies and books that are ostensibly based on fact, and will compare–as neutrally as possible–the fiction with what is known of the real story. The intention is not didactic: We don’t presume that there is something inherently wrong with fictionalizing real events. But we hope that readers share our frequent curiosity about how the fiction resembles, or departs from, the facts. Our first ” Life and Art” column (to be posted early next week) deals with a movie that has already stirred controversy on these grounds: The People vs. Larry Flynt.
And for Dessert …
     Also in the coming week, we introduce–yes, yet again–a new and (we hope) improved home page and table of contents. Among its other delights, it will require less scrolling and allow you the option of seeing articles listed in reverse chronological order–that is, with the latest stuff on top. Needless to say, a variable contents page is not available to our print readers. But we love you anyway.

–Michael Kinsley