LN: You know, Brad, there I am, reeling at the new issue of Newsweek with Palin and her BOOBS on the cover, although I did find comfort in this hysterical post Gryphen did on that. Then I find myself sitting in a doctor’s office opening yet another Newsweek winner. This issue features Princess Diana at 50. Their artists have melted her face, plumped out her hips and even created a Facebook page for the Queen of Hearts. Tina Brown tells us who she thinks Diana would be at a half-century, who Diana would have reconciled with, how she would have felt. What cheek. Talk me down.
BS: I subscribe to Newsweek, but it’s getting harder to justify the expense. As you suggest, the magazine is getting fluffier, more like People magazine – and who am I to say Tina Brown, the top editor, is wrong in a financial, let’s-boost-the-circulation sense for going in that direction. The magazine has been hemorrhaging money for years.
But, you know, she could have gone in a different direction. It was in April, as I recall, just after she took the reins at Newsweek (and merged it with the Daily Beast online operation) that she lured Andrew Sullivan from The Atlantic. I thought, foolishly it seems, that his move there signaled that the magazine would become more hard-hitting, and might even go after Babygate.
In fact, I contacted Newsweek about the time Sullivan went there, and I pitched the idea of the magazine publishing my spiral-of-silence article. Being lazy, I did so using some online send-us-your-comments box, so my pitch may never have gone up to the decision makers.
But my pitch went something like this: This is your chance to do something fantastic – break the damn spiral of silence surrounding Babygate and make Newsweek stand for powerful, tell-it-like-it-is journalism. They had a chance to do that. Would that have made good business sense, Laura? Or is there no market for that anymore?
LN: I applaud your effort. And I am chagrined at their short sightedness, yet not surprised. Some have said that USA Today was the downfall of modern intelligence or the appetite for news, what with its short stories and colorful layout. Newsweek now seems to have completed the trajectory into inanity. A mocked up Twitter page for Diana? Why stop at that? How about @JackieOh! with more than a million followers.
Truly, I’d like to think that your comment got lost in the shuffle. You and I both know how difficult it is to keep up with my blog. Yet, they make room to create stories, how about making room to finish reporting on one. And let you do the heavy lifting, Brad.
I wish I had an answer for you. It goes back to that “ick factor” which is shorthand for all the reasons no one wants to touch this baby story. It will piss off the people who want short articles and big BOOBs on the cover. And it probably isn’t cost effective for the legal eagles that have to protect the rag, excuse me, magazine, and thereby protect their phony-baloney jobs, as Mel Brooks would say.
BS: I was aiming for a high-brow tone to my comments, sort of intellectual and refined – a Masterpiece Theatre kind of tone – but since you have brought up BOOBS twice (those capital OO’s remind me of something … I was very young … and hungry …), WTF were they thinking at Newsweek? Who’s the bigger whore in this transaction – Palin, for thinking she can seduce the male electorate into voting for her by thrusting her inflatable hooters at us from the magazine’s cover … or Newsweek, for thinking American men are so puerile and horny that inflatable hooters on the cover will make us to reach into our pockets and grab our limp … wads of cash.
(Remind self … Masterpiece Theatre … Masterpiece Theatre …)
LN: Since when did it become important or integral to a story to have multiple photos of the subject reclining on a dock or standing in a field? What does that say about the subject or the topic at hand? Nothing. It says “we’re about titillating the audience.” That’s all. And that’s sad.
BS: So the cover and the semi-masturbatory photos (meaning you can’t get off on them unless you have a water balloon fetish) and puff piece article should be a giant embarrassment for everyone connected with Newsweek.
But something caught my eye. The writer said that in August 2008, when the McCain campaign introduced Palin to the public, she’d been accompanied by four of her five children, “including their youngest, Trig, who’d been born four months earlier with Down syndrome.” I can see no reason the writer would cast that in the passive voice other than a deliberate effort to avoid naming Sarah as the birth mother.
So the writer must know the truth and he’s trying to avoid repeating the lie about Trig’s birth. And that’s certainly progress on the Trig front. On the other hand, the writer did say Trig was born four months earlier, thus sticking with the probably fictitious April birth date given by Palin – but hey, you can’t have everything.
Still, word of the hoax seems to be getting around. Earlier this year, when Tina Fay was four months pregnant and barely showing, Bill Maher sent out this line on Twitter: “When Tina Fay commits to a role, she really commits!”– an obvious reference to Palin’s amazing six-week barely-showing pregnancy.
So if the media are taking baby steps toward Trig truthfulness, maybe they are not totally hopeless. Anything else in Newsweek strike you as a hopeful sign, Laura?
LN: Truthfully? I don’t have much hope when once again, Mrs. Palin says her husband is a registered Independent when I believe it’s been solidly established that he was a member of the AIP. But it appears that the stenographer at Newsweek did their job and took down Palin’s facts as she determines them.
A final thought on Newsweek and Palin: even though Newsweek has never caught up with Time magazine in circulation, it distinguished itself as a worthy rival with innovative approaches to the news. For example, in recent decades it did some outstanding reporting on social ills and pushed for solutions. It was thus an early practitioner of “civic journalism.” Osborn Elliot, the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University when I was there, was most responsible for those achievements at Newsweek. He died in 2008. Even though I considered him a pompous ass, I can’t help thinking he must be turning in his grave to see what “journalism” has come to today. And here’s where I can say I agree with Palin on something: mainstream media has become irrelevant. It’s not doing its job. It’s not failing in the way she thinks. But in the way its not reflecting on what she says and does. It’s become shallow and stenographic.
BS: These are perilous times financially for many publications. Despite my unkind words for this issue of Newsweek, I understand that there needs to be experimentation, that the next decade may be a time to try out new business models in journalism.
Maybe the Benjamin Day for our times will soon appear. Benjamin Day started the first penny newspaper in the U.S., in New York City, in 1833 – his competitors sold papers for a nickel or more.
And guess what: the new factory workers, and immigrants, and housewives – people who had never read newspapers before – started buying these penny papers as they were hawked by newsboys in the street (also an innovation). And all those new readers attracted advertising – which became the key to how the penny paper could be sold so cheaply. And the penny papers, which hired reporters who dug up lots of sex and crime and man-bites-dog stories (also innovations), drove out the stodgier, more expensive papers.
Benjamin Day found the financial formula that would serve newspapers, and magazines, very well for 175 years or so. But now it’s time for another Benjamin Day (or more likely, Bertha Day) to appear.
LN: And they probably will. But I don’t think it’s Tina Brown. Don’t get me wrong: I want to write like her when I grow up. I think she’s a fabulous journalist. Her book on Diana was spectacular and gripping. But a story about what would Di do on Facebook? Not so much.
BS: Taking the long view, I’m not despairing about the sad state of journalism today. I think we need to wait for this new-fangled Internet thing to sort itself out. Then the Steve Jobs or Bill Gates of the news biz may transform journalism, except “he” is likely to be a “she,” since women are more and more rising to the top in our field.
And that’s why Palin with her inflatable BOOBS is so depressing. The Playboy bunny is dead. Someone should tell Sarah. Like maybe the press baron that runs Fox, Rupert Murdoch.
LN: Maybe he will, except I hear he’s busy in meetings in London and will probably be grilled by Parliament next week. Maybe when he’s done getting filleted by the tabloid masses, maybe then he’ll tell Palin to pack it in and go home.
Tell us what you think, readers, about this issue of Newsweek and Palin’s glamour shots, and also about the state of journalism today. Brad and I want to hear your views and react to them.