News Magazines: Also AWOL on the Hearings
by L. Brent Bozell III
July 31, 1997
The networks' decision to ignore the Senate fundraising
hearings - not just by electing not to give any live coverage, but also by
failing to even summarize them most nights on the evening news -- is becoming
painfully apparent to everyone. On CNN's "Reliable Sources,"
Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz was blunt: "The real significant
failure here has been by NBC and ABC, which have simply blown off these
hearings, just blotted them out of their evening newscasts, which is their
'front page,' on many, many days of the hearings so far. And I just think that
is just giving the back of your hand to an important story."
What's less recognized is the equally awful job the news
magazines are doing, especially since they maintain that the manic
24-hours-a-day news cycle requires them to provide a longer, more in-depth
view, to offer perspective on the news. On Charlie Rose's PBS dronefest in
1996, Time boss Walter Isaacson asked the American people to let Time set the
agenda for them: "Time magazine...can be your intelligent agent. It can
help set the agenda so that we, in a time when everything is fractured, 500
channels, hundreds of thousands of places to go on the World Wide Web, what we
do need in this country, and maybe in this world, is common ground." If
that's the case, then Time's agenda calls for Americans to come together and
ignore the fundraising hearings in favor of more important issues like gay
serial killers and Cosby paternity squabbles.
In the issues dated July 14, both magazines gave the Senate
hearings a significant preview - six pages in Time, four pages in Newsweek.
But as the hearings progressed, and the evidence of wrongdoing increased, the
coverage became less and less serious. One week later, Time was down to a
couple of pages, Newsweek one. The July 28 issues were stunning examples of
tabloid news judgment: Time had 16 pages on Gianni Versace's murder, to only
one on John Huang. Newsweek obliterated its entire space on national affairs
for 17 pages on Versace and Andrew Cunanan. Then the August 4 editions
arrived: nothing in Time except Jamie Malanowski's fictitious interview with
Fred Thompson using lines out of Thompson's movies. Newsweek devoted another
six pages to Cunanan, eight to "the new rich," and just a half-page
scoop on Democratic attempts to blacken the reputation of Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.).
So how can the American public get any update on the
hearings? They can't get live coverage on network TV, on most nights the
network "news" gives them nothing. And now Time and Newsweek are
simply absent without leave. Tabloid trash rules.
Just look at the magazines' covers to see what are the most
important stories of the day. Both focused on Mars on July 14. The next week,
it was all blondes: Time had the folk-pop strummer Jewel, Newsweek had Playboy
centerfold-slash-sitcom star Jenny McCarthy giving an "ooh, icky"
look at a cigar. For July 28, Time picked Versace and Newsweek went with
Cunanan. The August 4 had the Mormons, and Newsweek had "The New
Rich." (Webster Hubbell was not mentioned.) In short, nothing on the
This isn't exactly new: while the magazines have produced
some original reporting on the fundraising scandal beat, it's usually in
small, one-page reports buried deep in the magazine with little promotion.
Let's go back to the very beginning. Both Time and Newsweek
have put the fundraising scandal on the cover only once: Newsweek on October
28, Time in the November 11 issue (on news stands just a day before Election
Day). Neither has bothered to put any elected official on their cover since
their November 18 election wrap-ups.
Both had one significant burst of coverage after the
election: in the five weeks from February 24 to March 31, Time had 21.5 pages,
Newsweek 30. Now compare what they've done in the succeeding four months,
dated April to July: Time's logged 19 and two-thirds pages, Newsweek only ten
Now compare that to the really important stories: Time had
17 pages in one week on the Heaven's Gate mass suicide. Newsweek gave it 30
pages that week, and another nine a week later. Or look at actual coverage of
substance: China (with the death of Deng Xiaoping and the handover of Hong
Kong) outpulls China subverting U.S. elections: Time's done at least 35 pages,
We might quibble from time to time about a newspaper report
here and there. But we must concede - no, proclaim - that the newspaper
industry, across the board, has on the whole been highly responsible in their
coverage. The television networks and the weekly magazines, on the other hand,
have become a joke, an embarrassment to the journalistic profession.
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