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Ed Driscoll

L-Word, Unintended Triangulation Spotted At Newsweeklies

January 19th, 2009 - 4:32 pm

This doesn’t happen often, so it’s worth highlighting: Howard Kurtz, a good media critic except for his frequent see-no-liberals style, actually uses the L-word; this time in reference to weeklies such as Time and Newsweek, whose publication rate is rendered glacial by the speed of the Web.

(Incidentally, Kurtz has ties to both magazines’ owners: Newsweek is owned by the Washington Post Company, which also publishes Kurtz) and Time is published by Time Warner Inc., which owns CNN, the network which airs Kurtz’s weekly Reliable Sources segment.)

As Kurtz notes, in order to survive, the rival editors at both of these once prominent weeklies have been forced to turn out magazines “that are smaller, more serious, more opinionated and, though they are loath to admit it, more liberal”:

When Rick Stengel joined Time in 1981, every story in progress filled a thick binder — the reporter’s version, the editor’s rewritten version, the top editors’ version, the fact-checked version — that would be unimaginable in today’s cut-to-the-bone corporate culture.

Many of the recently laid-off staffers, Stengel says, “were people whose jobs really didn’t exist any more.”

When Jon Meacham joined Newsweek in 1995, “there was a phrase in the culture — ‘We need to get something in on X’ — that we never use anymore,” he says. The days of a “newsmagazine of record,” Meacham says, are long gone.

The rival editors are turning out weeklies that are smaller, more serious, more opinionated and, though they are loath to admit it, more liberal. They are pursuing a more elite audience, in print and on the Web, abandoning the old Henry Luce notion of catering to the masses. It is nothing less than a survival strategy.

And Kurtz lays out the survival plan later in the piece:

One answer is to jettison the old straddle-the-center formula in which the newsweeklies spoke with an institutional voice rather than publish bylines. Each magazine’s lead columnist — Time’s Joe Klein, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter — is liberal. Newsweek has been running columns by Jacob Weisberg, the liberal editor of Slate, another Post Co. property. Newsweek also ran a controversial cover last month headlined “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage” — “one of the last great civil rights issues,” Meacham says. And its top writers appear regularly on liberal talk shows on MSNBC, with which it has a news partnership.

“I’m not going to be silly about it,” Meacham says. “A lot of people think we’re left of center. I think it depends on the week and the issue. . . . I’m not ideologically driven by any means.” He notes that Barack Obama’s campaign limited cooperation with the magazine when Newsweek ran a cover photo of arugula last spring to symbolize his elitist image. Meacham himself wrote a post-election cover piece on why America is still a center-right nation.

Time ran a column last week by liberal academic Jeffrey Sachs titled “The Case for Bigger Government.” This week’s issue features Obama, Time’s Person of the Year, yet again, and the cover headline “Great Expectations,” plus a piece on his wife as “America’s Next Top Model.”

Stengel, who worked for Bill Bradley’s Democratic presidential campaign, says he has tried conservative columnists — including Bill Kristol, who left — but has not come up with a star. “I get as many complaints from readers that we’re too left as complaints that we’re too right,” he says. “I’m really conscious of trying to be fair and balanced.”

Too bad you’re not conscious that you’ve just triangulated your publication as establishment liberal.

Since the early days of this blog, I’ve been writing about an increasing number of legacy journalists willing to go on their record about their own, and their employers’ biases. The sheer number who came out for Obama this year renders the idea of an “objective” media DOA, as many, such as Michael Malone and Victor Davis Hanson noted at the conclusion of the 2008 election. As does advertising such as this. (I can’t wait to hear the response when the next GOP president asks CBS to reciprocate with his slogan on inauguration day.)

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