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 Magazine Watch

Wednesday January 3, 2001 (Vol. 3; No. 1)

"Far Right" Ashcroft; Gore Still Relevant?; Hurray for Hillary's House

1. The news magazines found the new Bush cabinet picks to be a mix of acceptable pragmatists and questionable conservatives. Unlike many TV reporters, some writers find "liberal" groups will fight conservative picks, but they also added Ashcroft’s pick warmed the "far right."

2. Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report insisted there was still news from the Gore campaign, as news outlets plan Florida recounts, and Clinton and Gore vie for Bush-era Democratic dominance.

3. In that section that could be called Feminist Corner, Newsweek "contributing editor" Susan Faludi wrote on how commercialism threatens to ruin feminism, which clashed a bit with Time's Margaret Carlson touting Hillary's new $2.8 million dollar Washington manse.

The January 8 news magazines herald a return to post-Tallahassle normalcy. Time offered advice on "How to Survive the Slump." U.S. News & World Report took another look at history with "The Year One A.D." Newsweek pursued the female readers with the cover story "The Age of Oprah: She's Changing More Lives Than Ever. Even Her Own." Time and Newsweek didn't look much like competitors in their arts coverage, with both magazines unloading wagons of praise for PBS darling Ken Burns and film director Steven Soderbergh.


The news magazines found the new Bush cabinet picks to be a mix of acceptable pragmatists and questionable conservatives. Ever snarky, Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" kept up the bashing one-liners on the new administration. Bush drew a sideways arrow: "New theme song for antique cabinet: ‘Don't Stop Thinking About Yesterday.'" Dick Cheney's arrow was up: "Old: Gore most-active No. 2 guy ever. New: W. will be most-active No. 2 guy ever." So was John Ashcroft ("After losing to dead man, right-winger rises from dead to be AG-designate") and Donald Rumsfeld ("Bush retreat won't do? Try a used Ford. New use for surplus: unworkable missile defense."). Clinton attracted an up arrow for tossing a "Hail Mary in [the] Holy Land."

Newsweek's Evan Thomas and John Barry found Bush wants loyalty first and foremost, and theorized that "the establishment, or at least the Bush-Ford wing of it, is back." Still, "Bush's cabinet is more conservative than moderate. Liberal-interest groups will bitterly oppose the nominations of Ashcroft and [Interior Secretary pick Gail] Norton." But they explained that "accommodating the right has long been a burden of the Bushes. "Thomas and Barry presented Norton as particularly scary to the greens. "Norton worked with Jim Watt at the Mountain States Legal Foundation in 1979 and then followed Watt to Washington to work in the Interior Department from 1985 to 1987." (Readers might mistakenly conclude that Watt came to Washington in 1985, when in fact he was appointed in 1981 and was dumped by 1985.) Norton foes disputed the media caricature: "‘There's all this talk about James Watt in a skirt,' says Pam Eaton, a regional director of the Wilderness Society based in Colorado, Norton's home state. ‘No, no. She’s not going to make outrageous statements and blunders. She's going to do it in a way that's much more friendly.'" Thomas and Barry warned "To environmentalists, Norton's amiability makes her that much more dangerous," since she'll "pose" as an environmentalist and "move to exploit the wilderness for oil and gas."

In U.S. News, reporter Kenneth Walsh declared that "Bush is also eager to placate the right as he considers whether to quickly roll back a number of unilateral decisions by President Clinton that circumvented Congress....Conservatives are also pressuring Bush to reverse eight years of Democratic policymaking in other ways, such as taking hard-line positions on everything from rescinding tough new emission standards on trucks to discouraging abortion and opposing affirmative action through the Justice Department under Ashcroft." He added the proposed tax cut, which regularly comes with "big" adjectives or decade-long revenue estimates: "Most important, conservatives insist that Bush must not retreat from his campaign pledge to fight for a $1.3 trillion, across-the-board tax cut through 2010."

Walsh's colleague Chitra Ragavan pondered "Is Ashcroft Unsinkable?" She suggested: "In picking the anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, gospel-singing, piano-playing, Bible-quoting Pentecostal Missouri Senator to be Attorney General, Bush could not have awarded the far right a bigger prize." But Ragavan at least used two liberal labels, noting conservatives found it "especially painful to watch Reno place the Clinton activist, liberal stamp on the biggest flashpoints straddling the ideological divide. Just to name a few: affirmative action, abortion, guns, school prayer, and drugs." She also noted Ashcroft would be fought by "liberal advocacy groups such as the National Organization for Women and the League for Conservation Voters."

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Bill Turque also acknowledge that "Ashcroft faces a fight from the left." They begin by recalling Ashcroft rallying South Carolina Republicans in 1998 by holding up sonograms and pictures of his grandson to applause, pledging "Americans must protect unborn children under the law." (Reporters shudder here.) The reporters acknowledge that "Ashcroft's resume is hardly that of a bomb-thrower....But he has always been a man of deeply held – and deeply conservative – convictions. He opposes gun control and affirmative action; he's long supported term limits, prayer in schools, and direct funding of churches to fund social-service programs."

But wait, it gets worse, they wrote: "Ashcroft tacked even farther to the right when he tested the waters for a 2000 presidential run [in 1998]. His exploratory campaign brought him close to the most ardently conservative elements of the GOP, including [Pat] Robertson and philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife." While People for the American Way and NARAL drew no direct labeling, Isikoff and Turque took exception to Ashcroft's support from "the militant American Life League, whose members picket abortion clinics. Last year the group gave him a Courage and Integrity Award, an honor previously bestowed on Pat Buchanan and Sen. Jesse Helms."

By comparison, Time magazine's coverage was mostly mellow. Michael Duffy found Treasury Secretary designate Paul O'Neill wasn't one of those undesirable ideologues: "There's no sign that O'Neill is an ardent supply-sider. Zarb, the NASDAQ chief who also served with O'Neill in the Nixon White House, said ‘Paul's not an ideologue by any stretch of the imagination.' But even those who know him well can only guess at O'Neill's views on the big, trillion-dollar tax cut Bush campaigned on last year."

For Ashcroft-bashing, Time turned over a page to black columnist Jack E. White, who began: "What was President-Elect George W. Bush thinking when he selected John Ashcroft as his nominee for Attorney General? That since he was designating three superbly qualified African Americans for high-level positions....blacks would somehow overlook Ashcroft’s horrendous record on race?" (A month ago, White beseeched Bush not to pick any conservative – read inauthentic – blacks to his administration with the headline "No Toms Need Apply.")

White then suggested Ashcroft was picked out of pity: "Or that it was compassionately conservative for Bush to hire a man who had lost re-election as Missouri’s junior U.S. Senator to a dead man?... It certainly couldn’t have been that appointing Ashcroft would enhance Bush’s image as a uniter, not a divider. Ashcroft’s positions on civil rights issues are about as sensitive as a hammer blow to the head."

White called Ashcroft an "extremist" and found a "leading GOP strategist to declare in large letters: "Every six months...they will open their papers at the White House and say, ‘What the hell is he doing?'" White concluded: "This is one nomination that, pardon the pun, should be consigned to the Ashcroft of history."


Newsweek and U.S. News insisted there was still news from the Gore campaign. In "Revenge of the Chads?" Mark Hosenball reported that in addition to a count of 60,000 "undervotes" (with no clear preference for President) by The Miami Herald, a consortium of news organizations (The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and perhaps even Newsweek) is planning a recount of 110,000 "overvotes," where voters voted for more than one presidential candidate. Hosenball included the opinion of GOP strategists that this is nothing more than "a media-Democrat plan" to "delegitimize the result of the election."

In U.S. News, Terence Samuel projected the future for Al Gore and the Democrats: "As long as Clinton stays within a circumscribed role as party-builder and fundraiser, Gore remains the odds-on favorite for the 2004 nomination." Since the Democrats are one plane crash or heart attack away from a Senate majority and are within nine votes in the House, races in 2002 "put great significance on Clinton's decision to anoint close friend and superfundraiser Terry McAuliffe to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee...McAuliffe's DNC chairmanship is already being read by many as a Clinton power play, even though Gore and the congressional Democratic leadership have endorsed McAuliffe for the job." Samuel didn't notice that "superfundraiser" McAuliffe is also the subject of several ongoing Justice Department investigations, including his role in former Teamsters president Ron Carey's illegal swap of campaign contributions with the DNC. Is that not "super" enough to mention?


In that section that could be called Feminist Corner, Newsweek "contributing editor" Susan Faludi wrapped up the Oprah section of the magazine with an essay on how commercialism threatens to ruin feminism: "The women's movements of the last two centuries sought women's equality and independence not so women could be happy shoppers, but so they could be responsible public citizens, so that they could remake social forces instead of surrendering to commercial siren calls." Loading up on feminist writers and activists from Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan to Susan Douglas and Linda Tarr-Whelan, Faludi sees the threats everywhere in the marketplace: "Clairol and Lemon Pledge were the consumer culture's Trojan horse." Eek!

Faludi clashed a bit with Time's Margaret Carlson touting Hillary's new $2.8 million dollar Washington manse. The perpetual Hillary Clinton toenail-polisher followed up her televised endorsement of Hillary's ritzy new lifestyle and $8 million book deal with a print endorsement, titled "Living Well Is Her Best Revenge." Readers would love that new house: "Secluded and quietly elegant, it has a spectacular garden in the back, with a pool tucked in amid hundred-year-old trees...Hillary wanted an instant Washington salon, as grand as her health care plan, with as many rooms as her ambition. There will be no cramped weekday experience for her, like the members who live large in their home states but modestly in D.C."

Oh, Margaret included a perfunctory paragraph that puts a little lemon underneath all that meringue: "Each Clinton has a character flaw that gets in the other's way. His is a sloppy self-indulgence. Hers is a haughty grandiosity – the tendency to think that because she is devoted to doing good, she is also entitled to do well. Biographer David Maraniss reports how she complained about not having a pool at the Governor's house in Little Rock. There wasn't a lot of surprise in Arkansas over the disclosure of her shady cattle-futures investment or their Whitewater deal."

Still, she concluded by wishing, and hoping: "For the Clintons, just because something isn't done doesn't mean it can't be. for them there will be no retreat to a Santa Barbara ranch, no exile to Saddle River, N.J. – in fact, no leaving. Staying will make it all the easier when, and if, in the next grandiose leap, Hillary leads the Clinton restoration to follow the Bush one. She'll be just a zip code away."

Can’t you just see Margaret throwing off her glasses and singing "The sun will come out tomorrow...."?

Tim Graham




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