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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday May 30, 2000 (Vol. 2; No. 22)

All Ayes for SDI; Security Lapse Flaps; Don't Go Changing, Bill

1. U.S. News & World Report and Time both found George W. Bush has Al Gore on the defensive over a shield against nuclear missiles, as "missile defense seems to be an idea whose time has come."

2. Only U.S. News published a story on the latest security Clinton administration security lapses, including the General Accounting Office sting with fake I.D.s in "allegedly supersecure" buildings. Paul Bedard reported on the pile of security violations earned by ambassadorial nominees.

3. U.S. News and Time covered the Arkansas recommendation that President Clinton be disbarred with essays full of Clinton fatigue. Only Time touched Linda Tripp’s scandal wins, with the sendoff "Now pleeeze disappear."

4.All three news magazines touched on the Democratic National Committee's big soft-money party last week, but only U.S. News noted with a quote that comic Robin Williams delighted the President and Vice President with a "profanity-laced comedy routine." Newsweek and Time found the obscenity in the contributions, not the language.

5. In Time’s back-page essay, novelist Mark Leyner declared boys should be boys, especially our lovable lame duck: "none of us really wants our President, Bill Clinton, to change even one iota." We want him "noshing on marzipan as he steeps with a bevy of hot-tub hootchies in his Malibu compound."

Time and Newsweek suffered from an outbreak of baby-boomer fiftysomething attempts to stay hip with their June 5 cover stories. Time blurred its classic red frame for a cover on the "hot" new drug, "What Ecstasy Does to Your Brain." Newsweek promoted "The War Over Napster," an Internet-based music source, whose approach to intellectual property rights is a bit anarchistic, with rock bands like Metallica suing for copyright infringement. U.S. News & World Report counterprogrammed with its Retirement Guide. U.S. News columnist John Leo countered the magazines’ usual passion for "hate crimes" with his column on "Faking the hate." If prejudice were so bad in America, why do they have to make things up?


U.S. News & World Report and Time both found George W. Bush has Al Gore on the defensive over missile defense. U.S. News White House reporter Kenneth T. Walsh admitted "missile defense seems to be an idea whose time has come...Now, both Bush and Gore consider support for some form of nuclear "shield" a necessity in their presidential campaigns."

Walsh noted both new conservative ads arguing Clinton and Gore have left America "unprotected," as well as liberal dismissals. Walsh concluded: "Most important, a national missile-defense system has never been proved technologically feasible...Clinton is to make his final decision this fall on whether to move ahead. But few expect him to abandon the idea. Regardless of its feasibility and geopolitical impact, the new interest in missile defense may be more a matter of political security than national security. As a result, another round of testing and research, and eventual deployment, seem more likely than ever."

In Time, James Carney and Douglas Waller said Bush may have stumbled in past foreign-policy remarks. "But lately George W. Bush has shown some new smarts, swimming in waters that previously seemed over his head to counter those impressions." They lauded his opposition to a "shortsighted Republican move to pull U.S. troops from Kosovo," then called his defense proposal "substantively questionable but politically sharp...Bush’s bold approach made the Vice President’s support for Clinton’s more cautious cut-and-defend security plan look wimpy."

On the same pages, Time Washington Bureau Chief Michael Duffy touted that "A Minister Tops the Bush List" of vice-president possibilities: former Missouri Senator John Danforth, who would "strengthen Bush in all his weak spots." Duffy concluded: "A key Gore organizer in St. Louis, informed of the prospect of Danforth on the Bush ticket, let loose a string of expletives before adding, ‘he’s every popular among moderates and independents.’ And for now, with the likely GOP nominee himself." Duffy didn’t mention that Senator Danforth floated around a squishy 60 percent rating with the American Conservative Union, which is about as conservative as reporters like Republicans.

In Newsweek, Howard Fineman found more trouble for Gore: "Internally, Gore's campaign has more open knives than a Swiss Army store. Some advisers grouse that the media consultants, led by the legendary Bob Shrum, have too many lucrative clients—and aren't giving Gore his due. But most of the cutlery is aimed at chairman Tony Coelho, loathed for his dictatorial management style." Coelho, he reported, in the face of subpoenas to his business associates, has "told friends that his aim is to have the Gore campaign running smoothly by the Democratic convention in August, so that he can walk away if he wants to – or has to."

In case this week’s offerings cause you to consider forming a group complaining about anti-Gore bias, Newsweek’s Matt Bai offered the more conventional liberal reporter’s take on Bush in an article on Jesse Ventura voters, colored by his gun control obsessions: "But with his $84 million in the bank, and strong ties to lobbies like the National Rifle Association, Bush is hard-pressed to convince disaffected centrists that he'll be a real reformer. McCain might be able to help sway them, of course, but he doesn't exactly seem swayed himself."


Only U.S. News published a story on the latest security Clinton administration security lapses. (Sticklers could point to Time giving FBI Director Louis Freeh a "Loser" mention in their "Winners & Losers" feature: "Oops. Government investigators get into your FBI HQ with fake Ids. Even liquor stores card better.")

Reporter Angie Cannon laid out the uncomfortable facts from the General Accounting Office: "GAO officials told a House panel last week that they got into 18 of the 21 allegedly supersecure buildings on the first try and the other three sites on a second visit. At 15 sites, the agents conned their way to just outside the suites of cabinet secretaries or agency heads. To gain entry, the agents presented themselves as armed law enforcement officers; one agent always carried a suitcase. Their bogus credentials were never challenged. The agents said they could easily have carried weapons, explosives, and listening devices into the buildings."

Cannon’s colleague Paul Bedard added to the indictment in the lead item of his "Washington Whispers" feature. "State Department security guards have more headaches than a few computer kleptos or auditors sneaking in with fake passes. Whispers learns that some of President Clinton's own nominees to key ambassadorial posts have a long rap list of security violations. The numbers: Of 36 ambassadorial nominees to overseas posts, six have committed security violations. The total number of offenses: 62. One nominee has 22 violations on his record. That diplomat received a harsh punishment by State Department standards -- a letter of reprimand and suspension. But, noting that all scofflaws were still nominated for higher office, Sen. Rod Grams says, ‘persistent violators are continually rewarded.’ Republican Grams heads a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that reviews security and background checks of diplomatic nominees. While he wouldn't name names or the infractions -- yet -- his message was clear: Future nominees with checkered backgrounds won't be tolerated. He won agreement from the incoming personnel chief, Marc Grossman. ‘We will be much more serious on this.’"


U.S. News and Time covered the Arkansas recommendation that President Clinton be disbarred with essays full of Clinton fatigue. U.S. News columnist Gloria Borger showed no patience with White House arguments against disbarment: "The president lied, we knew it, we still know it, and we're tired of it. And it's not as if the courts are likely to ruin the president's secret plan to hang a ‘Clinton & Rodham Clinton’ shingle to practice law in Chappaqua, N.Y. But so far, the courts have been alone in issuing punishment for the president's lapses. So maybe it's more about the rule of law than about whether Clinton is disbarred permanently or temporarily." After running down Clinton lawyer David Kendall’s same-old, same-old arguments, she suggested: "So maybe the reason the Clinton legal team never released the full text of its 87-page brief is that it was just too embarrassing for them to admit to making the same old bad arguments."

Borger concluded: "As usual, Clinton wants it both ways: While he argues that his high position should not be held against him, he also believes that his decades of public service as an esteemed public official should be taken into account. Sorry, says Arkansas Rep. Asa Hutchinson, an admittedly pro-impeachment Republican. "This is about the legal profession, not Bill Clinton. It's consistent with what the Supreme Court has been trying to do in terms of toughening standards in Arkansas." Good news for the public; bad news for the legacy."

Time handed the job over to contributor Andrew Ferguson, who whimsically observed: "Clinton has never suggested that he would ever again practice law, so a disbarment proceeding would be a purely antiseptic exercise. (And there’s something exquisitely postmodern, not to say Clintonian, about punishing someone by not allowing him to do what he didn’t want to do anyway.)"

On the lonely Clinton scandal beat, only Time mentioned the collapse of Maryland’s Linda Tripp prosecution or Defense Secretary William Cohen’s wrist-slap of the men who leaked her personnel file, crankily declaring her a winner in their "Winners & Losers" feature: "Wiretap charge dropped. Judge: Clintonistas violated your privacy rights. Now pleeeze disappear."


All three news magazines touched on the Democratic National Committee's big soft-money party last week, but only U.S. News noted in a single quote that comic Robin Williams declared "Whoa, there's child in the front row. He's learning new words." They did not specify the words, or explain how they delighted the President and Vice President with a "profanity-laced comedy routine at a fundraiser honoring President Clinton." Some honor. Newsweek broached the subject of profanity by running a faithfully quoted interview with white rapper Kid Rock, leading to a game of count the number of f-----s.

To reporters, the obscenity at fundraisers is the money, not the language. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff mentioned the DNC bash as he offered his scoop on the latest outrage at Common Cause headquarters: "Stealth PACs" which buy radio and TV ads without disclosing contributors. Isikoff spent most of the article detailing Republican finagling with these new forms, but acknowledged, "Much as Democrats complain about the groups -- reformers have already introduced legislation in Congress to outlaw them -- campaign-finance experts say it may have been Clinton himself who led the way" with his soft-money ad buys during the 1996 campaign. Isikoff added that other campaign loophole innovators are the AFL-CIO, and in a rare outbreak of ideological candor, the "liberal Sierra Club." Someone at the rewrite desk has probably already been chewed out.

Time’s Michael Weisskopf covered the "king of campaign cash," Democratic money man Terry McAuliffe. Like Isikoff, Weisskopf sees this as a Common Cause-boosting story: "Is he the poster boy for reform?" Weisskopf reported on McAuliffe leading the whoops at the DNC’s soft-money hoedown, then declared: "But the triumph of McAuliffe this week seems on a collision with Americans’ growing dissatisfaction about the way in which campaigns are financed." (Weisskopf did not mention that this "growing" passion for "campaign reform" always lands last in the polls about which issue people care about most.)

The focus on McAuliffe forced Weisskopf to at least gloss over his ethically questionable practices with a few sentences each. His $1.35 million loan guarantee to help buy Hillary’s house in Chappaqua (later dumped as too ethically troublesome). His schmoozing an old pal in charge of a union pension fund into buying his stake in a Florida land deal for $2 million of pension funds. His fee for helping Prudential secure a government lease (as part of a pattern, while Prudential was fined, McAuliffe went unpunished). His role in setting up Teamsters boss Ron Carey’s campaign-contribution swap scheme with the DNC in 1996. All of these have never been mentioned in Time magazine until this week. For a deeper view than Time has ever offered on the DNC-Teamsters connection, see August Stofferahn’s analysis for the Capital Research Center, which suggested "At a minimum, McAuliffe should be facing perjury charges" in the case.


Time turned its back page essay over to novelist Mark Leyner (author of classics like I Smell Esther Williams), who wanted boys to be boys, especially our lovable lame duck: "And none of us really wants our President, Bill Clinton, to change even one iota. No one wants to see him toiling monastically on his memoirs or with a wrench in his hand, building low-cost housing for Habitat for Humanity. We expect and desire him, once he’s thrown off the trammels of the presidency, to become the great Casanova (at least the great Bubbanova) of the Western world (at least the West Coast), noshing on marzipan as he steeps with a bevy of hot-tub hootchies in his Malibu compound."

But perhaps the editors chose picked Leyner for his talent at outrageous statements. In the October 12, 1992 Time, John Skow favorably reviewed his novel Et Tu, Babe: "What is new and brilliant about this novel is its hard-edged irrelevance. It's possible that you might find the projectile-vomiting sentence [a sentence about "another ten-minute nonstop barrage of projectile vomiting"], perhaps, the 43rd chapter of Moby Dick. You never can tell. But if you did, Melville would have justified it. Leyner just spouts."

"Hard-edged irrelevance" that spouts instead of explains is a pretty good definition for where the news magazines are headed in our current truth-spurning age.

-- Tim Graham




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