January 3, 2013
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
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
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
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
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
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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