Put me in with Greg Pollowitz and Robert Stacy McCain among those skeptical of Newsweek’s most recent “reinvention.” Howard Kurtz acknowledged a pretty key factor in what has defined that magazine lately:
The ideas that Newsweek is promoting are mainly left-of-center. The cover story in today’s issue is a generally sympathetic interview with President Obama, written by Meacham, that describes Obama “moving as he wishes to move, and the world bending to him.” An accompanying piece by Tina Brown on Nancy Pelosi — who’s just endured her worst week as House speaker over the waterboarding controversy — calls her “fast-talking, formidable, high-energy and supremely self-confident.”
Earlier, in Newsweek’s 100-day assessment of the new president, liberal columnist Jonathan Alter wrote, “Barack Obama has put more points on the board than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.” Allison Samuels wrote this month: “I knew that Michelle Obama was already changing the way we see ourselves as African-American women. . . . What’s remarkable now . . . is how quickly and decisively Michelle has taken on the issues that matter most to us.”
A key point is not just that Newsweek is lefty, but that it’s boring in its predictable touting of lefty ideas. Most of the examples Kurtz cites above, along with Time’s “Republicans are an endangered species” and David Frum’s anti–Rush Limbaugh cover piece, fit into this stultifying “Democrats rule, Republicans drool” theme. They probably feel good for liberals to write, and for liberals to read, but they don’t transfer much information in the process. Kurtz continues:
[Newsweek editor Jon] Meacham, an admirer of the Economist, is fashioning a serious magazine for what he calls his base, with a heavy emphasis on politics and public policy.
We’ll see. I became a big fan of the Economist over in Turkey, when it was the only English-language news source I could count on to arrive in Ankara in a timely manner. I’d note that besides being written at a much higher level than Newsweek, the Economist showers a reader in tons of news from far-off corners of the world, news that few other sources are bothering to bring to readers. The most recent issue features datelines from Bogota, Caracas, Buenos Aires, Takht Bhai (in Pakistan), Dehli, Kathmandu, Juyuan (China), Bangkok, Canberra, Cairo, Jerusalem, Doha, Pretoria, Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Rome, Athens, Evesham (U.K.), Sao Paulo, London, San Francisco, Madrid, Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Bedford, New Hampshire, and New Orleans. It’s 108 pages. It looks, feels, and reads like the product of a massive news-gathering operation, guaranteed to tell the reader something that they won’t see or hear on the cable news networks or in their newspapers.
What’s more, it’s tough to put a predictable partisan spin on Nepal’s political crisis, the U.K. political expenses scandal, the Pope’s visit to Jerusalem, or how companies are cutting back on charitable contributions in the recession.
I don’t agree with everything I read in the Economist, but if I pick up an issue, I can be fairly certain I’m going to learn a lot I didn’t know already. Can Newsweek or Time really make that claim? And if they can’t, why are they operating?