Jonah, I wrote a column about this exact phenomenon among newsweeklies a few months back, keyed to Newsweek’s recent — and now infamous — cover story on gay marriage. Jon Meacham’s blustery editor’s note defending the story’s pro-gay marriage position is pretty much the classic example of how newsweeklies are trying to have it both ways. After trying to track his bizarre and conflicted defense I finally threw my hands up in the air and responded: “Meacham should change the name of his magazine to Opinionweek and stop scolding other people for correctly pointing out that he has an agenda.”
But two points — you write, “I have no problem with Time and Newsweek becoming better funded and ‘newsier’ versions of The New Republic, I do think they have an obligation to be honest about it.” I’m essentially on the same page, but the ultimate problem in that equation isn’t the obvious bias. It’s the “newsier” part. Getting back to the Newsweek cover story on gay marriage, that article’s, er, cardinal sin wasn’t that it was disagreeable. The problem was journalistic. To the extent it was a reported story, it read like you snatched an Amazonian tribesman out of the jungle and locked him in a room with a bottle of Night Train, the wikipedia entry on Christianity, and a typewriter. It badly, badly mangled the facts and arguments involved (the missus had a pretty good rundown). I expect we’ll see a lot more debasing of these magazines’ once high journalistic standards going forward now that they’re free of objective constraints.
The other thing I would note is that the desire of the newsweeklies to move in an opinionated direction doesn’t necessarily appear to be a shrewd move on their part. Newsweek recently slashed their circulation by a million copies, and I fail to see how a new editorial slant that further alienates a good many mainstream readers will somehow staunch the bleeding.