By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The war may actually be the salvation of the weekly news magazines. On September 11, the whole country suddenly realized that it didn’t know anything about the world. By September 12, everyone wanted to know everything — it felt like a matter of life and death. But over the next weeks, most of us grasped the impossibility of catching up with Osama, Islamic history, Afghan ethnicities, Iraq’s ultimate intentions, antidotes for various biochemical weapons, and the Koranic implications of bombing on Ramadan — not to mention the ties between our Middle East policies and Bush-Cheney oil interests. No matter how dutifully you watched TV, scoured the papers and scanned the Net, you soon felt like some desolate Borgesian loner who, each time he finished a book, found two more sitting in its place. People began needing someone to do their homework for them.
Although U.S. News looks like a goner, Time and Newsweek now bristle with a renewed sense of purpose. After years of being little more than pretentious lifestyle magazines, they’ve gone back to doing what made them successful in the first place — synthesis. Using their vast resources, they take the week’s news, weed out the irrelevancies, add some fresh reporting and bring it all together in a readable package with charts and nifty photos. It would take days to learn as much about Al Qaeda as you get in Time’s current cover story on “The Hate Club,” which draws from sources, familiar and not, and packages their pictures in formats previously reserved for analyzing Friends. And I can’t remember the last time Newsweek ran a cover story as strong as Fareed Zakaria’s superb essay on “Why They Hate Us.”
Despite a few silly lapses like Newsweek’s “Generation 9-11” trend piece, the news weeklies have become essential reading for the first time in a decade. It’s a delicious irony that Walter Isaacson — who in recent years helped mash Time into squishy piffle — was recently dispatched over to sister company CNN to make that network more like the soft-minded magazine that Time stopped being on September 11.
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Judging from all those belated Emmys handed out to The West Wing, Hollywood dreams of a White House filled with battle-scarred liberals who struggle eloquently to preserve some vestiges of idealism. What we actually have is an administration in which people talk like management gurus. Under CEO Bush, it’s all about marketing. Discussing our new head of Homeland Security, a White House aide said simply, “We want to brand Tom Ridge. When people see him, we want them to think, ‘My babies are safe.’”
The U.S. is about to launch a new, improved propaganda war designed to win over the Muslim world. It’s being designed by Charlotte Beers, the State Department’s brand-new undersecretary for diplomacy and public relations, who takes office uncorrupted by any experience in diplomacy or politics. But she was the chairman of the J. Walter Thompson Worldwide ad agency and created commercials for, among other products, Head & Shoulders. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if she had more street smarts than most of her superiors — she’ll know that white guys talking about “evildoers” won’t exactly fly with the Al Jazeera audience — I like to imagine her advertisement for the war in Afghanistan: “Enduring Freedom will get rid of all those itchy, scaly terrorists and leave your Islam healthier, shinier and softer than ever before.”