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Breaking the News Cycle

Turnip for Hugh

Brief updates to news stories that have slipped off the front page. This week: Smoking lounges at Reynolds American, Hugh Hefner’s hibernation, and the financial disasters that are Olympic Games.

Rose Eken, Marlboro Cigarettes, 2013. Courtesy the artist and V1 Gallery. Via Artsy.


Breaking Story: Although Congress has never tried to enact a federal smoking ban, California became the first state to impose a statewide smoking ban nearly 20 years ago. Since then, 28 states have enacted statewide bans on smoking in all enclosed public places.

Current Status: Past the tipping point. Reynolds American, the second largest American tobacco producer and maker of Camel cigarettes, recently announced that a smoking ban in its corporate offices will take effect in January. While employees will still be able to smoke in designated smoking lounges throughout the office, the decision represents a shift in the industry toward smokeless products, like e-cigarettes, battery-powered vaporizers that contain nicotine, but not tobacco. Lawmakers and activists are shifting with the industry: In August, the FDA proposed expanding its authority over tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco, among others. The American Medical Association supports the FDA’s movement toward regulation, yet others argue that the further regulation will only serve to restrict the development of a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.


Michelle Obama

Breaking Story: Her biceps, bluntness, no-frills elegance, and rags-to-riches story continue to set Michelle Obama apart from her FLOTUS predecessors. All of these elements, along with her apparent disinterest in campaigning and politics except where they concern the President, haven given her an unlikely star power. In 2013, she became the first First Lady to announce an Oscar Winner.

Current Status: Pop culture icon. Since the beginning of her time as First Lady, Obama has attracted attention primarily for her style—sleeveless J. Crew dresses—and what could be called “spunk,” rather than her main project, a healthy eating initiative. Obama’s actions over the past six years have only reinforced the primacy of her popular public persona: In 2013, she starred with Jimmy Fallon in the viral video “The Evolution of Mom Dancing,” then followed up the performance this fall with a viral Vine clip “Turnip for What” in which she held a turnip while dancing to “Turn Down for What.” Despite complaints of hunger from students at schools that have implemented her Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, Obama continues to enjoy a much higher approval rating than her husband. Americans, not surprisingly, seem to prefer pop stars to politicians.


Hugh Hefner

Breaking Story: In December 1953, Hefner published the first issue of Playboy, which featured Marilyn Monroe as the centerfold. The rest is history.

Current Status: Fixed in time. Hefner is rarely in the news because he generates no news: At 88, and married, he rarely leaves the 22,000-square-foot Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. In fact, as a poignant 2013 Esquire profile observed, Hefner does as much as he can to preserve the regularity of his daily routines—Manly Night, Movie Night, dinner in bed, an aging staff, ageless blonds, a Casablanca viewing party every birthday. Years ago, he bought the crypt next to Marilyn Monroe’s at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. It seems unlikely he will make any newsworthy moves until then.



Breaking Story: On Aug. 9, white police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown, a young, unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., in alleged self defense. Protests immediately broke out near the location of the shooting. When reports of violence and looting grew, the police cracked down with apparently inordinate force on the protestors. Although the conflict has died down in the intervening months, demonstrations have continued almost nightly.

Current Status: Holding their breath. The grand jury tasked with deciding whether to indict Wilson is expected to return with its decision in the next few days. If jurors decide there is not enough evidence to go forward with the trial—an outcome that many on the ground in Ferguson view as inevitable—protestors will once again hit the streets in full force.

Demonstrators, police officers, and Ferguson residents alike have been preparing for a no-indictment decision: Activists have been leading instructional sessions in nonviolent protesting, cell phone numbers have been traded, and an app has been designed to record police interactions. Over 1,000 police officers, who will now be required to carry a laminated card with First, Second, and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution on their person, have gone through hours of specialized riot training, and Ferguson residents have been buying guns: One store in a neighboring town has seen a 300 percent increase in daily sales.

The city, newly plastered with “I ♥ Ferguson” signs and paraphernalia designed to raise money and spirits, seems to be trying to do the impossible: to maintain normality, to ignore the storm, in the eerie calm beforehand.



Breaking Story: The global financial crisis of 2008 turned Dubai, a city described almost exclusively in terms of positive superlatives—the most populous, most famous, most expensive city in the UAE with the world’s tallest building and largest flower garden—into a shadow of its former self. In 2009, half of the city’s massive and costly construction projects ceased indefinitely and housing prices dropped by fifty percent.

Current Status: On the rebound, with fingers crossed. After years of stalled construction and low property prices, in 2013 Dubai’s residential property prices finally began to increase—yet so rapidly that many feared another bubble. Earlier this month, however, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that the property price bubble in Dubai was no longer a concern. The city seems similarly sanguine: Developers have just announced plans to spend nearly $7 billion on the world’s biggest mall (upsetting the current record holder, which also happens to be in Dubai) as well as to construct the world’s tallest twin skyscrapers. Fears that Dubai, in its eagerness to impress as host of the 2020 World’s Fair, might repeat the mistakes that led to the 2008 crash are not, it would seem, unfounded.


Airport Security

Breaking Story: A month after Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush established the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in order to regulate the security of the traveling public in the US. Since then, airports have not only become targets of public anger but also a locus of constitutional debate.

Current Status: Stuck. John Pistole, the TSA’s fifth chief, recently announced he will retire at the end of the year. During his tenure, he aspired to create a risk-based—as opposed to “one size fits all”—approach to airplane security. However, many of his initiatives, such as allowing pocket knives on board, met with resistance from both airline personnel and the American public. Pistole’s main success has been the PreCheck program, which allows expedited screening to those who provide fingerprints, pass a background check, and pay $85 for five years of lower-hassle travel. And yet not all travelers have embraced the convenience: Some, seeing that unapproved travelers have been permitted to pass through security with the reduced PreCheck measures, worry that terrorists will be able, eventually, to sneak through.

In 2014, the TSA confiscated a record-breaking 1,855 firearms. Seventy-nine percent of them were loaded. The question remains: how to scale back security measures without inciting fear and distrust in Americans, habituated as we have become to removing belts, shoes, and cardigans? How to restore trust, once destroyed?



Breaking Story: Earlier this year, Russia spent a record $51 billion on infrastructure for the Sochi Olympics. It didn’t pay off: Not only were many new buildings left unfinished by the opening ceremonies, but Russia’s new anti-gay laws, combined with reports of violent homophobia, led many to call for a boycott of the games.

Current Status: Ghost town. In August, the Russian photographer Alexander Belenkiy posted photos of the empty hotels surrounding the equally desolate Olympic Village. According to him, shops, restaurants, and hotels were operating at five percent capacity. Some of the hotels that weren’t completed in time for the games have yet to open. Stray toilets and piles of bricks line the streets. But competition is not entirely dead in Sochi: The World Chess Championship is currently underway in the city, which is also at work on a new Formula 1 racetrack. Tourism, however, is not faring so well. As Guy Young, the president of the cruise company Uniworld, observed, “Whatever positive exposure Russia received from the Olympics in Sochi has been offset by political tensions with Russia over a variety of issues, including Ukraine.”

The Olympic in Sochi have produced at least one positive outcome: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has introduced an anti-discrimination clause to the host city contract, effective starting with the bids for the 2022 Games. Competition for those games so far seems to be scarce. In October, Oslo became the fourth city to drop out of the running, reportedly intimidated, after Russia’s $51 billion, by the possible financial burden.