June 27, 2004


A copy of a popular newsmagazine showed up in my mailbox this week with my name printed on the cover. This is surprising because I'm quite certain I haven't ordered any magazines lately, and I certainly wouldn't have ordered this one. I think it is Newsweek, but I can't be sure since the last letter of the title on the front is blocked out by a picture of Bill Clinton's book. Perhaps it is Newseek, or Newsweed, or even Newswee. If you hang around until the end of the post let me know in the comments what you think is most appropriate.

I haven't picked up a copy of Newsweek in perhaps 25 years, so I thought I'd read it. Sometime later... Wow! I'm not sure but it seems as though the editorial boards of YM (yes, I have a teenage daughter) and Newsweek must have been combined to save money. How else to explain the remarkably juvenile nature of many of the stories and the predominance of puerile prose?

The Cover Story is about the release of Spiderman 2, sorry, I mean "Spidey's return" and:

... the tangled inside story of how the hot sequel to the original smash overcome a perilous casting crisis to make it to the big screen.

Bold fonts in the original. Meanwhile, less important matters this week such as the War on Terror, Saudi Arabia in turmoil, and partisan journalism are each relegated to less space in the index than that taken up by the blue material on "Spidey's" left thigh in the picture which dominates the week's index of articles.

Moving on to Periscope, or Newsweek's "Heads-Up Look at Scoops, Trends, Ideas, and People to Watch", my eyes are immediately drawn to the picture of Bill Clinton and John Kerry that unintentionally illustrates John Kerry's biggest fear as Bill Clinton is shown in full profile blocking out everything but John Kerry's important hair. The caption to this picture is:

TELL ME: The ex-prez and the prez hopeful at Reagan's funeral.

My goodness, I could read so much into this if I had more time, but I'll content myself with wondering what demographic they are trying to appeal to with the use of "ex-prez" and "prez." Perhaps the IM crowd are the only people left who take Newsweek seriously. At least I won't lose any more sleep worrying about alternate spellings of Al Qaeda, Beijing, Mao Zedong, etc., as the grand poohbahs of popular journalism try to stay hip with the latest fads in cultural sensitivity.

Moving to the bottom of the page we find Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" section. My favorite entry this week is Vice President Dick Cheney, or as the caption to the picture notes:


THE VEEP gets a big thumbs down with:

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he's still selling Iraq-9/11 link. Put up or shut up.

Uh huh. Aside from the fact that Dick Cheney has never tried to sell an Iraq-9/11 link, there's still the little matter of how one gets "overwhelming evidence" of a lack of evidence? Perhaps if the New York Times hadn't held on to its evidence for two weeks while printing contradictory headlines, it wouldn't have been necessary for so much of Big Media to be so wrong so often. As for "put up or shut up", well, if these magazines keep coming in the mail, maybe I'll start doing a weekly review of what Newsweek's Conventional Wisdom was one month previously, just to evaluate the worth or relative goodness of the Newsweek editor's conventions and wisdom.

In the event you fear your politically correct opinions may be in need of a refresher course, just read the Letters and Perspectives sections. If you missed your DNC talking points fax for the week, you'll probably find a fair bit of overlap here as well.

The first article is a five page layout on the War On Terror, dominated by three and one-half pages of pictures which do little but try to accentuate the snarky meme that Bush wasn't in charge on 9/11. The largest font is reserved for:

"Some doubted Cheney's account of the shoot down order. The White House reacted angrily."

Heaven forbid we learn anything about "some" or context surrounding the sitaution. Better to sow concern and doubt, allowing partisans to fill in the gaps with their own crayons.

The next article is about Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11. There's a lot of inside baseball about the release and a quick, and unchallenged, recounting of Michael Moore's more spurious accusations. Well, let's face it, Bushitler still hasn't been able to adequately answer the rhetorical question, "Have you stopped beating your wife."

Fareed Zakaria follows with an article about the state of Saudi Arabia and the coming storm. The YM readers will be flipping pages rapidly here since there is a greater ratio of text to pictures than anywhere else in the entire magazine.

Flip the page and under National Affairs there's a story titled "Bill's Self-Portrait" about the unveiling of Bill Clinton's White House portrait and his book. The story is dominated by a one and one-half page picture of Bill Clinton admiring, well, Bill Clinton. There is also another smaller picture on the facing page of the cover of Bill Clinton's book featuring, wait for it, Bill Clinton. The unintended levels of irony almost make this whole exercise worthwhile.

Next, Robert J. Samuelson has an op-ed featuring the results of the Pew survey that documents the growing distrust the public has for Big Media. The date on the cover of the magazine is June 28, 2004. I read it on June 26, 2004. The original Pew survey came out on June 8, 2004. Clearly, Newsweek isn't aiming for a demographic that actually stays on top of current events through the blogosphere. This story is so June 9th.

Then there is a story about SUVs and high gas prices which notes sales are declining for the largest SUVs while priming the pump for the Prius, which isn't exactly a replacement for an SUV. Some samples of the seriousness of this article are:

[Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche on SUV sales], "This crisis scenario always pops up in May and June...". Nothing like a predictable crisis, is there?

[GM Chairman Rick Wagoner on the Hummer's declining sales], "They're a fashion statement." [He added that declining sales were], "completely predictable." I never thought Hummers would go out of fashion.

[Commenting on the new Dodge Magnum, SUV eschewer Sheryl Yeakey says], "This car has that gangster lean." I have to admit I have no clue what she's talking about. It didn't help that she then said in explaining why she didn't want an SUV, "With all that's going on in Iraq, I don't want to put all my eggs into something I'll be sorry for later." No doubt.

"With SUV's it's all about size and power," says Psychologist Margaret Krikorian of the L.A. trend-spotting firm Iceology. "It's all about Freud." What would a Newsweek article be without a little meaningless pop psychology thrown in? Later, Krikorian says, "It's a completely emotional purchase... but we all want to appear logical." This explains so much.

I'm getting almost as bored writing this as anyone still reading it probably is and we still haven't got to "Spidey" so we'll skip over the articles on the NBA draft being high school heavy, today's female bikers who are "reinventing motorcycle culture," banning tanning for wan teens, and a hazing scandal at an exclusive prep school.

And now, Along Came Spidey tells us more than we ever wanted to know about Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi and how their inability to talk to each other instead of having my people work with your people almost resulted in someone else playing Peter Parker and having the opportunity to earn $17M. Then there's the love triangle with Kirsten Dunst involving her real life squeeze, Jake Gyllenhaal, who was tentatively picked to replace Tobey, who was rumored to be romantically involved with Kirsten during filming of the original movie. Finally, I'll note the cheesy, weirdly chosen list of film villains inserted into the article which includes Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. Strangely enough, there are nothing but white men in this list, but, to be fair, this is Newsweek. As far as the movie goes, they like it.

Skipping over an article on rap's newest superstar, in which my interest level is undetectable, the next article is ostensibly about issues concerning the use of electronic balloting, although the lead paragraph focuses on Walden O'Dell's, the CEO of Diebold, fund-raising for President George W. Bush. Gotta plant those seeds of conspiracy in fertile young minds every chance they get, I guess. That's so much more important than providing a balanced presentation of the technological and logistical issues involved.

Newsweek's Tip Sheet is a bunch of quick hits on topics that must strike the fancy of the the editorial staff. Contrary to the subtitle, I found nothing in this section that offered:

Smart Strategies for Your Money, Health, Family, Technology, Design, Real Estate, Travel

The penultimate Newsweek section is titled Newsmakers. In this section we learn the Los Angeles Lakers are troubled and that Kelly Ripa is "Super Busy Super Mom Super Rich." There's a gossipy item on Allegra Beck and Donatella Versace with an eerie picture that belies the fact that these beautiful people are the height of fashion. And to top it all off, you can learn the answer to the question we've all been waiting to ask Vince Vaughn about the time he kissed Christine Taylor in Dodgeball:

Does that mean you slipped her the tongue?

Or perhaps you were more interested in knowing the answer to:

Did you wear a cup for the movie?

Or even:

Did you actually train?

Perhaps my observation at the outset about YM makes more sense now.

The last page is reserved for The Last Word by Anna Quindlen. I have no idea what she wrote since, as a matter of policy, I'm not wasting any more time reading anything by Anna Quindlen.

Anyone have any idea why this thing showed up in my mailbox?

Posted by Charles Austin at June 27, 2004 01:07 PM

I have a subscription to Newsweek (purely because I donated money to NPR). That having been said, I almost never read it. It seems like they've given up competing with Time (I haven't read time in a while - I know it's gotten pretty bad too) and are instead trying to compete with People or Entertainment Weekly. Like those publications, it core audience consists of people who like to look at pictures of things than actually read about them. I remember that Newsweek was pretty bad 15 years ago when I was in grade school but now it seems to have given up all pretenses of having journalistic goals and just shills for the latest media campaign. This is a claim often levelled at Time (synergy with Time Warner blah blah blah) but Newsweek is owned by the Washington Post so I guess they are just pandering to the lowest common denomiator.

A good sign of a news weekly is if there are stories you don't bother reading and you still can't get through it in a week (see The Economist and The New Yorker which I am currently backed up 3 weeks on...)

Posted by: Barnaby James at 05:44 PM

I remember my dad getting Newsweek. Back then (about 25 years ago) George Will had the last page article. I remember my dad saying something to the effect that I should read Will because he knows what he's talking about. From George Will to Anna Quindlen... my, how things have changed.

Oh, my dad hasn't subscribed to Newsweek for a long time now. He subscribes to National Review now.

Posted by: Jon at 01:21 PM