Ethics & Religion
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January 3, 2013
Column #1,636
Newsweek’s Last Print Issue
By Mike McManus

I just finished reading Newsweek’s “Last Print Issue.” As a journalist who once worked for its arch-rival, TIME, I find Newsweek’s demise profoundly sad.

Its editor, Tina Brown, bravely announced “A New Chapter,” that the magazine will be “on your IPad or Kindle or phone.” Not on mine. I refuse to read a magazine of in-depth journalism on such trivial instruments.

Michael Isikoff of Newsweek was the first to learn of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, and to discover that it might become part of Kenneth Starr’s investigation of the President. Starr’s deputies asked Isikoff to hold the story, because it might “sabotage an on ongoing law enforcement operation,” Isikoff recalls in the current issue.

Rick Smith, the magazine’s editor-in chief, asked Isikoff, “Could we really accuse Clinton of an impeachable offense?” The reporter was stunned. “`Impeachable?’ I thought. `What does this have to do with impeachment? It’s just one hell of a story – as much about Starr as it was about Clinton,’ he argued with his boss.

Then Newsweek learned that Starr had gone to Janet Reno, Clinton’s Attorney General, and had gotten permission for a formal expansion of the mandate to conduct the Monica probe. Evan Thomas, Newsweek’s Washington Bureau Chief at that time, argued, “IF we were The Washington Post or The New York Times, we would print. But the brass wanted more research. Newsweek decided to hold the story.

That episode illustrates what group journalism is like on a newsmagazine. Unlike newspapers, where a reporter writes a story with little or no editing, newsmagazines are more deliberative. In this case, less sensationalistic. More responsible.

However, several days later, Matt Drudge made Newsweek regret its decision with a sensationalistic headline: “NEWSWEEK KILLS STORY ON WHITE HOUSE INTERN.,.SEX RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT.”

A week later, Evan Thomas wrote an “must read” cover expose that told the story in such depth that it won a National Magazine Award.

In 1965 I reported my first TIME cover story on Frank Keppel, Commissioner of Education, who oversaw the first major federal spending to strengthen public education for America’s poorest children and scholarships for them to attend college. I wrote more than 100 pages for TIME’s New York editors. Other correspondents wrote about Keppel’s experience at Harvard’s School of Education. What was published was a condensed 5 page story.

In those years, TIME’s covers were all painted portraits, a bit more elegant than Newsweek’s photos. When I grew up my father religiously read TIME from cover to cover. I got in the habit, too. That fired my ambition to become a TIME correspondent, one of 100 people writing a first draft of world history each week.

Why will I miss Newsweek? And what does this have to do with this column I call “Ethics & Religion?”

I am a news junkie, subscribing to three daily newspapers, plus TIME, Newsweek, and until it died in 2010, U.S. News & World Report. Despite its title, the latter magazine never really attempted to cover the world, like its competitors.

Newsweek has continued to be a worthy competitor of TIME. A recent issue ran moving excerpts of a new book by Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who own brain shut down, and he lay in a coma. During that week, he “journeyed beyond this world and encountered an angelic being who guided him into the deepest realms of super-physical existence. There he met, and spoke with, the Divine source of the universe itself,” as he described the experience.

Newsweek’s recent cover story, “Who Was Jesus?” raised disturbing questions about Luke and Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth: “They both give genealogies of Jesus’ father, Joseph, but they are different genealogies.” Only Luke reports that Joseph and Mary needed to register for the Census in Bethlehem, their ancestral home. “Is everyone in the entire Roman Empire returning to their ancestral home from a thousand years earlier? Imagine the massive migrations for this census” that no historian ever mentioned.

In Matthew, the wise men follow a star to Bethlehem. Newsweek asks, “How is it that a star…can lead anyone to a particular town? And then stop over a particular house?” Good questions.

Sadly, Newsweek’s demise is only one sign of the decline of print media. In the pre-Internet era, before a constant stream of information was made available, everyone read a daily newspaper. Last year, the historic New Orleans Times Picayune dropped from 7-day-a-week publishing to three days, as did papers in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville, AL plus others in Syracuse, NY and Harrisburg, PA.

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