1. After eight years of minimizing, rationalizing and excusing the scandalous conduct of a Democratic administration, Time joyously hyped the "growing links" between the Bush administration and bankrupt Enron.
2. "A cancer on capitalism." Newsweek was less interested than Time in the political aspects of Enron, but not Senior Editor Jonathan Alter. He insisted "the story’s only getting hotter."
3. Although Time’s Notebook section flippantly compared the outdoor holding cells at Guantanamo Bay to "chain-link dog kennels," the magazine showcased a professor of international law who refuted media horror stories about America’s alleged violations of the Geneva Convention.
While U.S. News kept its printers and postage machines idle to save a few dollars, Time and Newsweek had drastically different cover stories. Time’s February 4 issue tried to superglue President Bush to the "Enron mess," emblazoning its cover with a picture of the White House at night along with the leading question, "How Sticky Will It Get?" Newsweek, which featured AOL’s Richard Parsons on their last cover, focused on the philanthropic efforts of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, whose $24.2 billion foundation (with wife Melinda) is the largest in the world.
Time included a mea culpa column by MSNBC’s resident presidential historian and "Camelot" enthusiast Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose decade-old plagiarism recently came to light thanks to the Weekly Standard. Goodwin’s version is that innocent mistakes led to her inadvertent plagiarism in The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, but she revealed no details of the out-of-court settlement she reached with the author she copied, Lynne
After eight years of minimizing, rationalizing and excusing the scandalous conduct of a Democratic administration, Time joyously hyped the "growing links" between the Bush administration and bankrupt Enron.
The cover story by Michael Duffy and John F. Dickerson packaged every known link between the White House and Enron into a single guilt-by-association manifesto, slathering suspicion on each point of contact between the Bushies and the
"By mid-January, Fleischer and other senior officials assumed they had put the Enron problem behind them. They were mistaken," Duffy and Dickerson breathlessly wrote. "Over the last year, the Bush team had quietly performed a host of political sacraments for the Texas company before it began to go bust, and vice versa: there was the $1.76 million in contributions that Enron executives sent to the G.O.P. during the 2000 campaign; there was the energy policy Vice President Dick Cheney drafted in 2001 after meetings with Enron officials, portions of which seem to have sprung directly from Enron’s wish list; there were ex-Enron chiefs and consultants salted around the Bush Administration, from the Army Secretary Thomas White to the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. And last summer Bush chose Pat Wood — a man strongly backed by Lay — to be his top energy-price regulator."
Not yet convinced that Bush is personally responsible for the financial losses of each and every Enron shareholder? Well, Time’s got more: "None of these plot twists brought the story into the West Wing until the New York Times reported last week that conservative strategist Ralph Reed had received a $10,000-a-month consulting contract from Enron in 1997 with a little push from Rove, who was political adviser to then-Governor Bush. Like so much about Enron’s business practices, it is unlikely that such an arrangement would have been illegal. But the timing of Reed’s Enron work had people who know about the finances of fledgling presidential campaigns clucking."
How could giving Reed a positive referral be scandalous? Duffy and Dickerson theorize that the Enron job was a bribe to keep Reed from endorsing one of Bush’s rivals: "A powerful force among Christian conservatives in the late 1990s, Reed was hired by Enron to bang the drum for energy deregulation in Pennsylvania at a time when the Bush team in Austin would have appreciated a low-cost, low-profile way of keeping Reed on their side, off their payroll and yet far from the crowd gathering around Steve Forbes and other conservative rivals." Reed told Time that charge "is not only untrue, it’s insulting," but the magazine shunted his quote to a sidebar.
Time’s reporting indicated that with the handsomely-paid Reed as its lobbyist, "Enron got much of what it wanted from the state" of Pennsylvania. So the work was real, or as real as lobbying ever gets. Contrast that with former Clintonista Webster Hubbell who, as Duffy himself reported in the February 17, 1997 issue, was being investigated for a cozy little deal he got with a number of companies, including Time Warner, owner of Time magazine. "Republicans have wondered aloud whether these jobs were part of a ‘hush-money’ campaign directed by the White House to keep Hubbell happy and dissuade him from telling investigators what he knows about the Whitewater affair."
Five years ago, there was no exaggerated language about plot twists leading right into the West Wing, mainly because the Clinton-era scandals started in the West Wing and moved outward. As far as Time Warner’s deal, "The company hired Hubbell after one of its outside lobbyists, longtime Democratic consultant Michael Berman, approached Hubbell about doing some legal work in the antitrust area," Duffy wrote. "He attended two meetings in New York but did not contact anyone in the government on the company’s behalf, according to a Time Warner executive." Hubbell was on the payroll for only a month, and brought home — Duffy used the word "earned" — $5,000. Not bad for two meetings.
More than a year later, Hubbell bragged that he would not cooperate with Ken Starr’s probe even if the independent counsel were to indict his cat and his dog. But Time didn’t investigate to see how much silence their own corporation’s money may have bought.
"A cancer on capitalism." Newsweek was far less interested than Time in the political aspects of Enron, but not Senior Editor Jonathan Alter. He insisted "the story’s only getting hotter."
Hyperbole abounded — "Enron is the September 11 of financial security," Alter decried. "Enron is not just another juicy scandal. Enron is a cancer on capitalism, and the big question is how far it has already spread." He speculated that Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that tended Enron’s books, may have "offered a few of its other clients the same tips for scamming the IRS, the SEC and the average investor." So all of Andersen’s clients are now guilty until proven innocent?
Alter tried to refocus the media machine on Bush’s links to Enron: "Much has been made of the fact that the Bush administration was not corrupted by Enron. No one tried to bail out the company. Of course, if anyone had intervened, a true political scandal would have detonated, and the Bush folks knew this. But the absence so far of high-level White House malfeasance hardly exhausts the political angles on either side of the aisle," he insisted. But it’s that lack of "a true political scandal" that has all but the die-hard Bush haters yawning at the details of a big business news story.
Oh, wait. While the existence of irrational and obsessive "Clinton haters" was widely chronicled by Newsweek and others, there are officially no "Bush haters" in the land. Just fine journalists who’ve suddenly become interested in protecting the public from self-interested politicians and their cronies.
Although Time’s Notebook section flippantly compared the outdoor holding cells at Guantanamo Bay to "chain-link dog kennels," the magazine showcased a professor of international law who refuted media horror stories about America’s alleged violations of the Geneva Convention.
Time’s February 4 issue included a "Viewpoint" column by Ruth Wedgwood, who teaches international law Yale and Johns Hopkins Universities. In contrast to media handwringing of recent days, Wedgwood explained that the Guantanamo Bay detainees are being confined in a "safe, secure and hygienic" environment, complete with "hot showers, prayer mats...medical care...[and] visits from the International Red Cross." Hardly the Hanoi Hilton.
But, Professor Wedgwood warned, it degrades international law to classify terrorists as soldiers: "Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters flunk the plain requirements for status as Geneva POWs. Lawful combatants must: have a commander responsible for their conduct, wear a uniform or visible insignia, carry their weapons openly and generally conduct their operations ‘in accordance with the laws and customs of war.’" Indeed, she noted, the Geneva rules are part of "an incentive system to protect soldiers and civilians from war’s cruelties by demanding reciprocity in performance and forbidding a soldier to mimic a civilian."
Good point, and one missing from too much of the media’s recent coverage.
– Ken Shepherd and Rich Noyes