Back in May, bleeding money, Newsweek decided to slice its base rate in half, stop being a news magazine run for the general public and try being “a serious magazine” for an “elite” (i.e., liberal) audience that had a more refined eye than the general public — switching, in their favorite metaphor, from the beer track to wine.
“Will they accept a more affluent demographic given that they’ve been acculturated all these years to think of us as a mass vehicle?” one editor wondered. The answer was “no.”
Having lost nearly $20 million in the first quarter of 2009 (pre-reinvention), its ad revenue in the third quarter (post-renovation) was down 48 percent from last year. Perhaps it was the way the magazine interpreted the words “serious,” “elite” and “wine.”
“First Newsweek had that ridiculous cover ‘In Search of Aliens,’ ... then ... a cover asking if your baby is racist,” wrote Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post. Early this month, the magazine fired 13 more people, then ran a cover of Sarah Palin in shorts — the sort that in World War II reminded the boys overseas what they were fighting for — and moved millions of dollars in war bonds.
The late Betty Grable had nothing on Palin. “We chose the most interesting image ... to illustrate the theme of the cover,” said Jon Meacham, the editor.
If the theme was that she was too frivolous to be taken seriously, it seemed to rebound on the messenger. “Newsweek has called attention to its own editorial judgment,” Achenbach added. “It’s just the ever-evolving Newsweek trying desperately to hang on to relevancy,” Jeffrey Goldberg would write.
Inside, editor — Obama is “sort of like God” — Evan Thomas said Palin was a terrible problem as she lacked the moderation and gravitas of the late Ronald Reagan, who was not only a centrist on the model of President Eisenhower, but a scholar and thinker to boot.
Certainly, Ike, the career soldier who lived in a time of consensus (there were almost no policy differences between Ike and Adlai, and still less between Nixon and Kennedy) and Ron — the former film star turned conservative theorist who came in after a liberal trainwreck and lived in a time of intense partisan conflict — were really two peas in a pod.
And Ron, the “amiable dunce,” the co-star of Bonzo, aka “Dr. Strangelove” and “Rambo,” was respected and loved by the press and the Democrats. Reagan did love détente (when he wasn’t campaigning against it), campaigning for Star Wars, promoting missile defense, prodding the Poles and the dissidents to upend the system, calling the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” saying it had an illegitimate government and ginning up the arms race to make it implode.
Nothing like a firm grasp of facts to woo elite readers. How could it fail?
In further analogy mode, Thomas and Meacham pose Palin as Goldwater against Obama’s John Kennedy, which makes perfect sense. After all, Obama is also a war hero, a tax cutter, and an ardent Cold Warrior who stared Russia down in a nuclear showdown, so the two are exactly alike.
The point is that Palin is a radical who is destroying the center, but it’s a matter of fact at this given moment that the center is being turned off by the left. Obama had a chance to co-opt the center, but lost it with radical policies.
It’s a good thing Newsweek stopped covering news, or it would have to notice such things as the Republican sweep in the 2009 midterms, and the swing of independents back to the GOP corner. News, however, is beneath the new Newsweek, which fancies the kind it makes up.
Newsweek loves Republican “moderates” who work with the Democrats; the other side, not so much. “A decade ago, Joe Lieberman was a source of great pride for American Jews,” opined Jonathan Alter, demonstrating the up-market tone of the new, improved Newsweek. “Now Jews ... are debating a critical question: why is Joe such a putz?”
Perhaps Newsweek fired the wrong 13 people.
How do you solve a problem like Newsweek? Not with an issue like this.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”