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Spotlight Report

  Alex Beam  

An exhibition of hubris from Vatican


Yikes! In what can only be termed a case study in bad timing, the Vatican Museums, in conjunction with the San Antonio, Texas-based entertainment monopoly - sorry, conglomerate - Clear Channel Communications, are soliciting national ''Corporate Partners'' for next year's scheduled tour of ''St. Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Pope.'' According to the glossy, leather-bound sponsorship catalog, the exhibition will spend 31/2 months in each of four ''regionally centered US cities ... hosted by a major museum.'' One of the designated cities is ''Boston/NE.''

A friend of mine who was approached by the unholy Vatican-Clear Channel alliance says that a national sponsorship will cost $10 million. He gloomily predicts, ''They won't get anything.'' Partnership does have its privileges, according to the solicitation: ''Use of Vatican exhibition imagery, Vatican exhibition proprietary marks,'' and ''inclusion in multi-million-dollar multi-market broadcast, outdoor, and print advertising campaign.'' Why do you think Clear Channel owns 1,225 radio stations (WXKS and WJMN here) and 776,000 outdoor advertising spaces (billboard company Ackerley Group here)? The estimated public-relations/advertising value of a sponsorship is $20.2 million, claims the solicitation, which adds that ''the exhibit will also hold a special appeal to America's 60 million Catholics.''

Even the most generous-spirited observer would allow that this is a particularly tricky time for the Vatican to be passing the hat, especially in Boston, the temporary world capital of priest-perpetrated sex abuse. ''I won't allow myself to get into a dialogue about that,'' responds Clear Channel spokesman Howard Schacter, who instead referred me to a prepared statement from CC's Exhibitions Group president, Stacy King. The statement emphasizes that the exhibit has been in the works for more than five years and is still slated to come to the United States next year. As to which Boston museums are being considered as venues and which if any corporations have signed up as sponsors, Schacter politely told me to buzz off.

The Card card

Yes, it seems somewhat improbable, but Rindge, N.H.-based Franklin Pierce College will be opening up its spanking new, $4.5 million Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication later this month. How on earth did a tiny private college (1,560 students) in the shadow of Mount Monadnock become the home for a journalism center named for a Kansas-trained newspaperman best known as a presidential flack? Connections, my dear.

Franklin Pierce president George Hagerty went to high school in Holbrook with Andrew Card, who is now the White House chief of staff in Bush II and was a fierce loyalist and Secretary of Transportation in Bush I. When Bush pere was prexy, Card lured his friend, presidential spokesman Fitzwater, onto the college's board.

Franklin Pierce's No.1 major is communications - newspeak for journalism, public relations, etc. - and Hagerty asked Fitzwater if he would help start up a mini

J-school on campus. ''I told him I didn't have any money,'' Fitzwater recalls, ''so he said, `Well, can we use your name?' I said, `Sure, as long as you don't ruin it.''' Several years' worth of speeches and fund-raisers later, the name seems intact and ready to be plastered on the center with much ado. Expected to attend the grand opening on May 23 are Fitzwater's ex-boss, former president George H.W. Bush; Fitzwater's successor, Mike McCurry, of Clinton spin fame; and newsman extraordinaire Sam Donaldson, who will MC the ceremony, loudly, we can be sure.

Random notes

Not for the first time, I find myself plugging the cartoon books of Elisha Cooper, whose work I like, and the impossible Ted Rall, whose work I also like. Cooper has a new children's book out, ''Ice Cream,'' and you can get a taste from his Web site at www.elisha or from Greenwillow Books. To my knowledge, Rall was the only cartoonist to travel to Afghanistan during the hot period of the ongoing war, and his dispatches for The Village Voice and syndicated cartoons were excellent. They have been collected in a book, ''To Afghanistan and Back,'' from NBM Publishing.

Alex Beam's e-dress is

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 5/2/2002.
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