1. All three news magazines featured stories highlighting George W. Bush’s handling of the death penalty in Texas and the growing movement supporting DNA testing to prove innocence or guilt.
Newsweek had a cover-story crusade, with Jonathan Alter concluding, "if we can't do it right, then we must ask ourselves if it's worth doing at all."
2. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff explored how the no-controlling-legal-authority Justice Department fought over whether to appoint an independent counsel in the fundraising scandal: "Just how close did Gore come to an investigation that might have hurt his presidential chances? Perilously close, it turns out." One staffer thought Gore’s actions presented "a classic white-collar [crime] scenario."
3. Newsweek promoted a "knowledgeable expert" who thinks the current missile-defense system is a "fraud." But they also promoted the fraud that Ted Postol is "not ideologically against" the idea of missile defense.
4. U.S. News owner Mort Zuckerman diverted his usual loving gaze at Bill Clinton and criticized his Israel policy.
5. Don’t think Time always disparages negative campaigning. Jack E. White lamented the demise of a liberal magazine which portrayed "ultraconservative" Clarence Thomas a hanky-headed Uncle Tom.
On the covers of this week’s news magazines: Newsweek pushed America into "Rethinking the Death Penalty," while U.S. News & World Report featured "Beating Pain" and Time touted "How to Improve your Memory." From Newsweek’s "Conventional Wisdom Watch," this little item on the appeals court ruling in favor of Elian’s father. In it, Juan Miguel receives an up arrow followed by this caption, "Court puts him closer to Cuba parade; has class to thank ‘the American people.’" Isn’t it sweet for a putatively earnest communist to thank public opinion poll respondents? More surprising was Newsweek’s "Perspectives" selection of quotes, which contained Juanita Broaddrick’s post-IRS-audit remark: "I do not think this was a coincidence. I do not think our number just came up."
All three news magazines featured stories highlighting George W. Bush’s handling of the death penalty in Texas and the growing movement supporting DNA testing to prove innocence or guilt. The only major political story of this week was Bush granting a reprieve for a death row inmate, Ricky McGinn, facing imminent execution for raping and murdering his stepdaughter.
In U.S. News, Dan McGraw concluded: "His reprieve allowed him to show his "compassionate" side without compromising his "conservative" credentials. That may help the candidate. It remains to be seen whether it will help Ricky
In their Time article titled "The Texas Death Machine," Matthew Cooper and Viveca Novak began with a glaring error: that Clinton in 1992 oversaw "the death of a brain-damaged prisoner convicted of murder." Newsweek was more precise: cop-killer Rickey Ray Rector had shot himself in the head after his crime.
Like McGraw, Cooper and Novak find time for needling a Bush slogan: "Some may see Bush's move as the best evidence that he too will do whatever it takes to get elected, others as a sign the Texas Governor puts the compassionate into ‘compassionate conservatism.’"
Cooper and Novak concluded with another focus on Bush: "This month Bush will face another questionable case, and it could be a tougher call for the Governor. That's because, like the vast majority of criminal cases, it does not involve DNA evidence. Convicted murderer Gary Graham is scheduled to be executed, largely on the basis of a sole eyewitness in a case where there was no physical evidence tying Graham to the crime. Does Bush let the man die on such slim proof? Bush may be able to grant a stay, but when it comes to the shifting politics of the death penalty, there's no reprieve."
Newsweek produced the most heavily slanted coverage, chronicling what they called "the American way of death." Jonathan Alter led the cover-story crusade, frequently applying negative labels to death penalty backers. "When the local judge surprised observers by recommending that the testing be done, it caught Bush's attention. The hard-line higher state court and board of pardons both said no to the DNA tests -- with no public explanation. This time, though, the eyes of the nation were on Texas, and Bush stepped in."
Like Cooper and Novak, Alter publicized conservatives who are reevaluating their position on the death penalty, and again could not help using the hard-line label. "The recent news has prompted even many conservative hard-liners to rethink their position. ‘There seems to be growing awareness that the death penalty is just another government program that doesn't work very well,’ says Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights." (That might imply that Mr. Bright is a conservative, when actually he is a staunch opponent of what he calls "legalized lynching.")
The piece de resistance, though is Alter applying the "hard-line" label to liberal Democrats: "Politics, for once, seems to be in the background, largely because views of the death penalty don't break down strictly along party lines. Ryan of Illinois is a Republican; Gray Davis, the hard-line governor of California, a Democrat."
Alter concluded that perhaps the best solution is killing the death penalty: "Whether you're for or against the death penalty, it's hard to argue that it doesn't need a fresh look. From America's earliest days, when Benjamin Franklin helped develop the notion of degrees of culpability for murder, this country has been willing to reassess its assumptions about justice. If we're going to keep the death penalty, the public seems to be saying, let's be damn sure we're doing it right. DNA testing will help. So will other fixes. But if, over time, we can't do it right, then we must ask ourselves if it's worth doing at all."
Howard Fineman, pressed Bush with another quiz, this one about the death "industry" in Texas: "Reviewing death-penalty cases, Bush says, is his ‘most profound’ duty as governor, his ‘worst nightmare’ the death of an innocent convict. But while executions are practically an industry in Texas, Bush doesn't think he needs to scrutinize the innards of the system he oversees. In a Newsweek interview last week he didn't know how much the state pays attorneys to represent defendants on appeal -- a figure reform groups have loudly complained is far too low. Nor did Bush think he should assume the likelihood of error or injustice. ‘I trust the juries,’ he said. He denied that the sheer volume of executions raised the risk of a nightmare mistake."
Newsweek sees the death-penalty debate as a fight between "hardliners" and "reform groups."
Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff explored how the no-controlling-legal-authority Justice Department fought over whether to appoint an independent counsel in the fundraising scandal: "Just how close did Gore come to an investigation that might have hurt his presidential chances? Perilously close, it turns out. More than 100 pages of internal Justice Department memos, reviewed by Newsweek, shed new light on a largely invisible but fierce intramural fight in 1998 that played out as the country was transfixed by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The issue: did Gore lie to the FBI about the kind of political money he had been trying to raise? The record shows prosecutors infuriated by evasive and implausible answers from the vice president and other officials. ‘This is a classic white-collar [crime] scenario,’ wrote Justice attorney Judy
While Janet Reno cleared Gore on the distinction that he’s been only raising "soft money," not "hard money," a memo released in July 1998 suggested Gore-prompted funds would be "65% soft/35% hard." Isikoff reported: "The memo touched off a new flurry of investigation -- and infighting. Bradley Marshall, a DNC official who attended the 1995 meeting, confirmed an earlier statement by former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta: that hard money had been discussed -- with Gore listening. Gore told the FBI that he drank too much iced tea during the meeting and may have been in the bathroom. This was too much for Feigin, LaBella's deputy. ‘We now have Panetta, Marshall and the contemporaneous Strauss notes,’ she wrote in August 1998. ‘On the other side is a group of people who basically "don't recall"'. Feigin also suggested that a visit to the grand jury might ‘jog’ failing memories. Others still vehemently opposed pursuing Gore. Lee Radek, chief of Justice's public-integrity section, charged that Panetta had changed his statement ‘three times.’" Isikoff didn’t mention new testimony suggesting Radek told other officials that Janet Reno’s job depended on quashing an independent counsel for the fundraising matter.
Newsweek promoted a "knowledgeable expert" who thinks the current missile-defense system is a "fraud." But they also promoted the fraud that Ted Postol is "not ideologically against" the idea of missile defense.
John Barry and Evan Thomas began: "Most Americans thought that arms-control talks ended with the cold war and that Star Wars, a missileproof umbrella over the United States, was a fantasy of Ronald Reagan's. But the worldwide debate over NMD raises a host of difficult questions about nuclear security in a volatile world in which terrorists can obtain weapons of mass destruction. In the presidential race, Al Gore and George W. Bush will battle over who has the better plan. The first question, somewhat overlooked last week in the diplomatic sparring, is pretty basic: will the NMD currently planned by the United States actually work?"
They continued: "At least one knowledgeable expert has some serious doubts. From his cluttered office overlooking the MIT campus, Prof. Ted Postol watched Clinton's pitch for NMD with disbelief. ‘I don't know what the president thinks -- or if he thinks -- about missile defenses. [Italics theirs.] My guess is that he's just repeating what he's told by his staff. And they don't want to acknowledge that the whole thing is a fraud.’ Strong words, but Postol's credentials give him credibility. As scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations in the early '80s, he helped develop the Trident-2 missile. After the gulf war, he singlehandedly demolished the Pentagon's exaggerated claims for the success rate of the Patriot antimissile system against Iraqi Scuds. Now the MIT physicist has closely studied the military's own tests of NMD. His conclusion: ‘This system has no chance of working.’"
Barry and Thomas claimed: "Postol himself, unlike some critics of NMD, is not ideologically against building a missile-defense system." That’s not the impression one gets from a brief Internet search. A laudatory Boston magazine profile noted, "In 1979, the editor of The Progressive asked him to write an affidavit supporting the magazine's attempt to publish an article that they claimed contained information on the design of a hydrogen bomb. He did, but then found out that opposing affidavits were signed by Cabinet-level officials like James Schlesinger, Harold Brown, and Cyrus Vance." So Postol’s helping a far-left magazine publicize defense secrets, opposed by liberals like Cyrus Vance, but he’s not ideological?
Maybe’s that too antique, so consider the Web site of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies, which previewed his joint byline with Anatoli Diakov in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a die-hard arms control outlet. Postol sounds exactly like most reporters, who warn missile-defense is a threat to arms control: "The Clinton administration may soon make a decision to deploy a national missile defense that could well end whatever momentum is left in the U.S.-Russian strategic arms reduction process. The truth is that domestic politics in the US has led to false claims about the promise of missile defense technology as well as fantastic claims about ‘emerging threats.’ Both the Republicans and the Democrats have been involved in a charade trying to make each look less concerned about national defense while they together drive the US toward a disaster of historic proportions."
U.S. News owner Mort Zuckerman diverted his usual loving gaze at Bill Clinton and criticized his Israel policy. Zuckerman found the Oslo agreements ceding Israeli land for peace have prouced only "unending litany of Arab and Palestinian hate," with Jews labeled as "the disease of the century" and "the seed of Satan."
Zuckerman added: "More recently, the Arabs now have indulged in Holocaust denial, claiming that the mass murder of the Jews was a myth. This, very simply, is an attack on the moral foundation of Israel. These rantings intensify Arab antisemitism in the minds of the next generation and give fresh impetus to the next wave of terrorists who seek to destroy Israel. A recent poll , with 1,600 respondents, by an Arab political scientist, found that Arabs, by a margin of more than 4 to 1, denied the Holocaust; rejected the idea of doing business with the Israelis, even after a total peace; rejected learning about Israel; and supported the attacks by Islamic groups against Israel. No wonder the Israelis fear that words of incitement are sure to be followed by acts of belligerence."
Zuckerman concluded: "The Clinton administration responds to the Arab's incendiary rhetoric and treaty violations with humiliating silence. Instead of condemning the violence, and the threat of more violence, the Clinton administration uses Arab intransigence to put additional pressure on the Israelis to make even more concessions."
Does this mean Mort won’t vote for Hillary, who kissed Mrs. Yasser Arafat after a blistering speech with wild claims about Israeli gassing of Palestinian children?
Don’t think Time always disparages negative campaigning. Jack E. White lamented "A Militant Voice Silenced" -- the demise of Emerge, a liberal black monthly being discontinued by a partnership including BET, which bought it from Time Inc. "No matter what George Curry accomplishes during the remainder of his journalistic career, he will be remembered for one thing: he was the editor who slapped a portrait of Clarence Thomas wearing an Aunt Jemima-style handkerchief on a 1993 cover of Emerge magazine. That shocking image outraged Thomas supporters, of course, but it crystallized the disgust that many African Americans had begun to feel about the ultraconservative legal philosophy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s only black member." White wrote "That’s the uncompromising voice that made Emerge the nation’s best black newsmagazine for the past seven years."
That same politics of personal destruction against "ultraconservatives" seems to be White’s model for his Time magazine columns.
-- Paul Smith and Tim Graham