Desperate times can lead intelligent people to do silly things. A case in point: The current turmoil afflicting newspapers and journals of opinion has moved Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, to turn to Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. Colbert will serve as Newsweek’s guest editor (the first in the magazine’s 76-year-history) in the next edition.
This is the same Mr. Meacham who, in his commentary a few weeks ago introducing the “new” Newsweek, wrote that his magazine will cover breaking news, but with “A rigorous standard in mind: Are we truly adding to the conversation?” The goal of Newsweek is supposed to “bring you as intellectually satisfying and as visually rich an experience as the great monthlies of old did.” And the person Mr. Meacham turns to in order to provide us with such elevated public discourse is Mr. Colbert, who is not a journalist at all but a satirist (and a very good one). I can just imagine the reaction of, say, George Will, a contributor to Newsweek, upon learning that Mr. Colbert will edit the magazine — and for all I know, will decide he wants to edit Mr. Will’s column.
For those who lament the state of American journalism as having become increasingly unserious, tendentious, and willing to blur important lines, this will become one more data point for them to cite. It is the journalist equivalent of the publicity stunt by St. Louis Browns’s owner Bill Veeck, who made Eddie Gaedel, who popped out of a cake between a double-header, the first midget to participate in a Major League Baseball game.
Turning to Stephen Colbert to be Newsweek’s guest editor is a very unwise decision, and one, I suspect, both Meacham and Newsweek will come to regret.