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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday December 14, 1999 (Vol. 1; No. 29)

Defending Another Columbine Cover; "Yammering" About Tax Cuts;" Topless Bauble for a "Global Healer"?

1. Time boss Walter Isaacson defended another Columbine cover story (the fifth related cover since April) in the same issue his magazine's reporters highlighted the teen killers' thirst for fame.

2. Time's political reporters beg Bradley to go negative on Gore. Steve Lopez groused that "so many candidates are yammering about tax relief. Greed is in. People are driving to the store in $40,000 vehicles that look like Panzers."

3. Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom Watch" praised Clinton for his press-conference mastery and faulted George W. Bush for his intellect.

4. Newsweek lamented the role of "Cuban-American hardliners" in the ongoing custody battle of Elian Gonzalez.

5. In U.S. News, Warren Cohen dismissed Mayor Rudy Giuliani's efforts to deal with New York City's homeless problem, suggesting no one is generating "bright ideas."

6. U.S. News & World Report's Kenneth T. Walsh looked at President Clinton in Turkey pining to be seen in the history books as a "global healer" atoning for "his personal sins." But he also was busy "inspecting a small painted box depicting two topless women in a harem."

On the covers of the December 20 issues of the three news weeklies: Time led with "The Columbine Tapes," U.S. News featured the rise of workaholics and Newsweek led with the impact of average Americans upon the century. In his Newsweek column, George Will's grab bag of year-end thoughts included: "The majestic constitutional machinery of impeachment seemed simply too large to employ against someone as small as Bill Clinton. Elsewhere, the annals of romance were enriched: Romeo and Juliet, Abelard and Heloise, John McCain and the national media."


Time's Nancy Gibbs and Timothy Roche reported that Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were desperate to be famous and wanted Quentin Tarantino to make a movie about them. In the same issue Managing Editor Walter Isaacson defended "running a chilling cover photo and stories about killers we would rather forget."

Isaacson declared, "it would be nice if we could always avoid showing evil people on our covers. 'It's not our tendency to sensationalize crime or do covers on the crime of the week,' says editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine. 'Sometimes, however, a shocking picture -- of a wartime execution, a brutality, a kid with a gun -- along with an analysis of the tale behind it serves to focus our eyes on things we would prefer to ignore but instead should try to understand. I think it is worth the pain if it forces us to confront the issues of guns and violence and hidden anger in our schools, communities and families.'" Isaacson added: "This story is not so much about kids seeking glory as it is about grownups not looking and seeing, about people who preferred to sugarcoat rather than confront reality."

The reality is that Time has published five Columbine-related covers this year, and as for abhorring "crime of the week" covers, they also gave Atlanta day-trading killer Mark Barton a cover.

Isaacson wrote: "Klebold and Harris say on the tapes that they did not want to be seen as copycats and that they were planning their own horror before other school shootings made news. Nevertheless, we had to wrestle with whether running a picture of them might seem, perversely, to glorify them to other twisted minds or give them the publicity they wanted, even though they are dead."

On one of tapes viewed by Time, Klebold boasted, "Directors will be fighting over this story." Unfortunately, both movie directors and news editors continue to fight over this story.


Time's political reporters beg Bill Bradley to go negative on Al Gore. Eric Pooley concluded his article by suggesting Bradley shouldn't be "just another noble failure" like Adlai Stevenson: "Perhaps Bradley should ask himself, What would Adlai do? And then do the exact opposite."

Steve Lopez groused that Gore is getting away with unanswered attacks: "But Bradley has no appetite for following any script from the manual of conventional wisdom. At times you find yourself watching in amazement, if not admiration. Last week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he walked into a Rotary luncheon where the faces were paler than the chicken and urged people to find 'the courage to stand up' to evils such as bigotry." Like he did with Al Sharpton?

Lopez added: "Since the time of the first Neanderthal primary, rule No. 1 in politics has been to tell people what they want to hear. That's why, despite unprecedented prosperity, so many candidates are yammering about tax relief. Greed is in. People are driving to the store in $40,000 vehicles that look like Panzers. But Bradley goes around talking about the shame of child poverty and the medically uninsured as if the TV show everyone's yapping about were called Who Wants to Be a Humanitarian?"


Newsweek praised Bill Clinton for his recent press conference and ridiculed George W. Bush in its "Conventional Wisdom Watch." On Clinton: "Masterful press conference shows why, for all his sleaze, we'll miss the big guy." On Bush, the CW had this to say: "Brags he read Acheson bio, but can't answer questions. How do you spell potato?" Time also labeled Bush a "loser" in its copycat "Winners & Losers" feature, suggesting Bush may be "Quayled."


Newsweek bemoaned the role "Cuban-American hardliners" are playing in the political tug of war involving six year old Elian Gonzalez. Joseph Contreras and Russell Watson noted, "Castro claimed that the boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, had been offered $2 million by the 'extremist Cuban-American mafia' if he would move to Miami and live there with Elian."

They added: "In Florida Elian was swamped with gifts, and Cuban-American hard-liners mounted a campaign to keep him in the country. 'The boy will have far greater opportunities here than in Cuba,' said Lazaro Gonzalez, 49, the great-uncle who took him in." Newsweek quoted John McCain opposing a trip back to "slavery" in Cuba, but they ended by quoting a supportive President Clinton, and a Florida relative: "'Only one person can decide the boy's fate, and that is the father,' said Manuel Gonzalez, 59, another of Elian's great-uncles in Florida. He said Juan Miguel, a parking attendant at a beach resort, is 'a hardworking, responsible and irreproachable young man, and no one can take that away from him.' But Elian's mother did take his son away, and now it may require a temporary ceasefire between Castro and Clinton to reunite a little boy with his Poppy."


Warren Cohen's "No Shelter from the Homeless Problem" examined how various urban areas in the country are dealing with the issue and found ideas to be lacking: "[Hillary] Clinton, who knows a bright line when she sees one, said the mayor was 'punishing the poor.' Other critics said Giuliani was springing a cruel trap: If the homeless can't secure work and are evicted from the shelters, then they'll be arrested for being on the street. Last week, a state court seemed to agree, placing a temporary restraining order on the plan until at least mid-January. Bright lines, but so far, no bright ideas."


In "Bill Clinton's Final Days," U.S. News & World Report writer Kenneth T. Walsh presented a picture of a president hoping for a legacy beyond disgrace and impeachment: "He has tentatively targeted regions where he has been actively involved, confidants say, such as Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Chechnya, India, Pakistan, and the Mideast. Some insiders suggest that he's eager to cast himself as a global healer in part to atone for his personal sins."

On a lighter note, Walsh also touched upon Clinton's recent trip to Turkey with this touching anecdote: "Still, he hasn't lost the earthy qualities that are charming to some and uncomfortably bawdy to others. After a series of official meetings in Istanbul last month, Clinton detoured to the shopping arcade of his hotel for some impromptu purchases, apparently without realizing that a reporter was looking on. As his security detail and other aides waited outside a crafts store, the president was initially drawn to the brightly colored plates and other ceramics. But he quickly leaned over a glass case and spent several minutes inspecting a small painted box depicting two topless women in a harem. The clerk, who identified himself as 'Bulent,' later said the president expressed considerable admiration for the item but didn't buy it. 'Too many people see,' Bulent explained."

-- Mark H. Drake


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