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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday June 8, 1999 (Vol. One; No. 2)

Time Celebrates Left-Wing "Heroes and Icons"; Newsweek Likes Hillary's Chances

1. With its last installment on the 20th century on "Heroes and Icons," Time celebrates the Kennedys, Che Guevara, and murdered gay politician Harvey Milk. Billy Graham is honored for breaking with the religious right. Anti-communists may have been right, but they were jerks.

2. Newsweek's Howard Fineman and Eleanor Clift trod a familiar path in reporting on Hillary for Senate: like the President, she has the luck to have ineffective enemies.

3. U.S. News & World Report portrayed social conservatives as screaming fire-breathers, but Democrats were sensible in their campaign strategies and Medicare proposals.

In their June 14 issues, the three magazines all led their Washington coverage with the uncertain Kosovo peace deal, but only U.S. News put it on the cover. Newsweek made "Stress" the cover story, while Time delivered the last of its Century salutes on "Heroes and Icons."


Time may have been preparing their readers for the rumored selection of Franklin Roosevelt as Man of the Century with their selection of "Heroes and Icons." They gushed: "They thrilled us and brought tears to our eyes. And we shapes our lives with the lessons of their fervor and folly, their tragedies and triumphs." The list was unexceptional in selecting heroes and icons in sports (Muhammad Ali, Pele, Jackie Robinson) or entertainment (Marilyn Monroe, Bruce Lee). They also honored Anne Frank, Helen Keller, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, and Princess Diana. But its contemporary political selections were decidedly to the left: the Kennedys, Che Guevara, and murdered gay politician Harvey Milk. No conservatives qualified as "heroes or icons" who "thrilled us and brought tears to our eyes." Billy Graham was profiled, but celebrated for his distance from the unseemly religious right. Anti-communists were reviled as perhaps right, but jerks.

-- The Kennedys. As in the other issues, the profiles were written by outside writers with an interest in the subject, not Time staffers. An exception came with the Kennedys, where long-time Time writer Hugh Sidey provided the typically treacly look at the Kennedy family, from the "young Adonis" John F. Kennedy Jr. to the "exuberant duchess" Ethel Kennedy. Sidey noted that after JFK's death "suddenly Camelot would be tarnished with tawdry revelations about John Kennedy's reckless sexual indulgences. But oddly, the legend of the Kennedy clan would soar above it all. There was enough honest devotion to the American ideal; there was enough honor and courage to carry it beyond the failures."(How "odd" is it considering press coverage like this?)

Sidey concluded by noting there was "just plain dysfunction in the families of Old Joe's grandchildren," but "beyond these titillating interludes of scandal is the fact that most of the 87 surviving members of the Kennedy clan live worthy lives, the number of their family and personal debacles far below the national average." Despite their inheritances, the young Kennedys' trust funds "does not put any of them in today's ranks of the superwealthy, the superindolent, the superarrogant. The adventure of public service still is the clan's most powerful impulse."

-- Che Guevara. The tribute by Chilean leftist Ariel Dorfman was headlined, "Though communism may have lost its fire, he remains the potent symbol of rebellion and the alluring zeal of revolution." This talk of "potent rebellion" runs headlong into Dorfman's admission of a "darker, more turbulent Che who signed orders to execute prisoners in Cuban jails without a fair trial." Despite leading many a "left-wing death squad" for the cause of brutal communist dictatorships, beginning with Castro's, Dorfman claims the "invariably gigantic" images of Che included "Che the moral guru, proclaiming that a New Man, no ego and all ferocious love for the other, had to be forcibly created out of the ruins of the old one. Che the romantic mysteriously leaving the revolution to continue, sick though he might be with asthma, the struggle against oppression and tyranny." Dorfman also added that Che was a "Christ-like figure" at his death, and is now a "secular saint."

-- Harvey Milk. Time allowed current political writer John Cloud to tout Milk, the San Francisco supervisor gunned down in 1978. Cloud presented the two sides of the debate over homosexuality as the forces of hope versus the forces of violent hatred. He began: "After Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man elected to any substantial political office in the history of the planet, thousands of astounded people wrote to him. 'I thank God,' wrote a 68-year-old lesbian, 'I have lived long enough to see my kind emerge from the shadows and join the human race.' Sputtered another writer: 'Maybe, just maybe, some of the most hostile in the district may take some potshots at you -- we hope!!!'" Cloud concluded "he remains frozen in time, a symbol of what gays can accomplish and the dangers they face in doing so." Time also tipped their hat to gays by including Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in their "five romances that, for better or worse, captured our imagination this century."

-- The religious right drew no tributes. Author Harold Bloom praised Billy Graham this way: "No one has accused Graham of intellectualism, profound spirtuality, or social compassion, but he is free of any association with the Christian right of Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and all the other advocates of a God whose prime concerns are abolishing the graduated income tax and a woman's right to choose abortion (which Graham also opposes.)"

-- Anti-communists were left to articles on anti-heroes. In an article on dubious influences ("the century had its minor villains and anti-heroes who caused no little bit of havoc"), Time writer Richard Stengel attacked a former Time star: "Whittaker Chambers was mostly right about communism and Alger Hiss, but he was a nasty piece of work and nobody likes a snitch. Even Joe McCarthy may have been on to something, but he was a crude and cruel man who ruined people's lives for 48-point type. You might call this the When Bad People Spoil Good Things school of history."


Newsweek's coverage of Kosovo wouldn't have been complete without a little horse-race scorecard. A section titled "War Scores" gave Clinton an up arrow ("Bungled the ground-war issue, but still fortunate in his enemies") and Gore an up arrow ("Off the hook on the war. Now if only Hillary would forget N.Y."), but gave a down arrow to the Republicans ("Hail to the commander in chief? Look for another issue.")

Newsweek's Howard Fineman and Eleanor Clift trod a familiar path in reporting on Hillary for Senate: like the President, she has the luck to have ineffective enemies. The headline echoed Fineman's recent mantra: "With Foes Like These..." Fineman and Clift were encouraged by the prospect: "While she's lost her first-blush lead in the polls, there's something encouragingly Clintonian about her political situation: she may share her husband's luck in enemies." Most of the story reported the potential GOP bloodbath between New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Rick Lazio, presented as a stalking horse for ex-Sen Al D'Amato. Unlike his who-me-Whitewater campaign poses of 1996 and 1998, D'Amato told Newsweek "She's the one who made this personal. She's still going to have to explain what happened to those law-firm billing records."

Fineman and Clift predictably reply: "But dwelling on scandals of the past could backfire. At least Hillary's allies think so." One Democrat replied "Her answer will be simple: they just want to talk about my past, but I just want to talk about your future." Fineman and Clift concluded, "Her husband used it to great effect as the Comeback Kid in New Hampshire." Perhaps Clinton's luck isn't in his enemies, but in his media friends.


U.S. News portrayed social conservatives as screaming fire-breathers, but Democrats were sensible in their campaign strategies and Medicare proposals. In the "Washington Whispers" section, a brief titled "Screaming Eagles" noted Phyllis Schlafly "head of the influential and conservative Eagle Forum, is ripping into Republican congressional leaders." New Gore campaign chief Tony Coelho's brief was headlined "Magic Touch," and for the second week in a row, the magazine bowed before his organizational prowess: "It has taken just one month for Tony Coelho to seize control of the listing Gore 2000 campaign, where he's now viewed as an operational wizard, insiders say."

In the U.S. News section, Joe Holley covered a story headlined: "A genuine witch hunt: Georgia Congressman Bob Barr targets the Army's approval of pagan religious groups." Holley began cheekily: "When fire-breathing Rep. Bob Barr called President Clinton's impeachment before anyone had even heard of Monica Lewinsky, critics called it a witch hunt. But this time, Barr's targets really are witches."

On the other hand, Democrats' plans to staple on a new entitlement to Medicare was headlined "The Medicare plan everyone's waiting for: Drug coverage leads Clinton's wish list." Kenneth Walsh and Joseph Shapiro touted the arguments of White House aides that now that the war in Kosovo is effectively over, Clinton will move to cover prescription drugs for Medicare recipients.

Cost estimate? Near the end, Walsh and Shapiro mention in passing "Any drug plan would cost billions in a program that is already facing insolvency by 2015." But it's not about costs, apparently, but what Democrats can make Republicans pass. A White House aide claimed: "This is about the only big idea on the horizon they can latch on to. If we put a credible proposal on the table, there's a good chance it will actually move this year."

Walsh and Shapiro agreed: "They have a point, especially when it comes to the House, where GOP leaders are eager to preserve the modest inroads they made among elderly voters in the last election as they struggle to hold their slim majority. In the Senate, GOP sources say Majority Leader Trent Lott will accede to pressure to increase benefits for prescription drugs."

So Republicans are in the majority, but are prodded by reporters to pass campaign gag rules, minimum wage hikes, and new Medicare entitlements. Well, that would be a way to avoid media labels like "fire-breathers."

-- Tim Graham


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