Time for a Change

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 18, 2006 8:24 AM

When Rick Stengel was named Time's managing editor in May, he talked about hiring more "star writers" who would help push the magazine toward "a stronger point of view."

Stengel also had to make do with less, since Time Inc. executives were already cutting 550 jobs and have now warned that more reductions are on the way.

Now Stengel is signing several big-name journalists who will bring some glitter to a newsweekly that didn't even use bylines until 1980. Michael Kinsley, the former editor of Slate and the New Republic, will write a biweekly column. Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol will be a part-time columnist, and former Time managing editor Walter Isaacson will contribute essays on foreign affairs. David Von Drehle, a longtime Washington Post reporter and editor, will be a political correspondent.

Stengel is abandoning the old Henry Luce approach -- a small army of faceless reporters and researchers feeding tidbits into a Cuisinart in New York -- in part because that may no longer be economically viable. In the age of blogging, it isn't easy to keep a weekly magazine fresh.

"We're going from a 19th-century factory model to a 21st-century Internet model," Stengel says. "Some of the things we were doing were anachronistic," he says, and often produced a "monolithic" tone.

"One great writer-reporter who has a point of view about a subject important to our lives -- what's better than that?"

The new structure will clearly mean fewer original facts and more massaging of old facts. The question is whether that provides more value for readers or defaults on the core mission of newsgathering.

"They're not going to be doing the familiar Time-ese journalism by committee that they've done for the last 75 years," Von Drehle says. "It will be built around writer-reporters with their own voice. It's like a magazine startup with one of the great brands of American journalism."

Von Drehle, who may relocate to Kansas City, will produce a regular "American Journal" feature that he calls an attempt to "get away from the pieces that are shaped at New York and Washington cocktail parties."

Kinsley, a longtime Time contributor who will drop his Washington Post op-ed column, called a biweekly column in the magazine "an offer I can't refuse." He says Stengel has "interesting ideas" and that writing for Time "has a bigger bounce than you would expect. They're also paying me well and it's secure."

Kristol says his essays will provide a chance "to reach the few lost souls who read Timewho don't read the Weekly Standard."

Time has already beefed up its Web site by importing such prominent bloggers as Andrew Sullivan and Ana Marie Cox, the former Wonkette. On the print side, though, Time has let go the Pulitzer-winning investigative duo of Donald Barlett and James Steele, saying the pair had become an unaffordable luxury. Time Inc., which has McKinsey & Co. doing an efficiency study, recently shut Teen People and is selling 18 of its magazines, including Popular Science, Parenting and Field & Stream.

Time, which shifts to Friday publication next month, is shrinking in another way. The magazine is cutting its rate base -- the weekly circulation guaranteed to advertisers -- from 4 million to 3.25 million, and raising the newsstand price by a buck, to $4.95. Newsweek, published by The Washington Post Co., sells 3.1 million copies, and U.S. News & World Report, 2 million.

Anxiety is running high at Time, with insiders saying that numerous staffers could be laid off as early as next month. Some worry that Time could become too much of an opinion magazine rather than one that breaks important stories. But Stengel is promising "our usual mix of reported pieces, reported analysis and opinion."

Same-Sex Sniping

James Dobson, who heads Focus on the Family, cited the work of two veteran researchers this month in a Time column arguing that Mary Cheney's pregnancy is wrong. Now the researchers are crying foul.

The conservative religious leader argued that Cheney and her lesbian partner will fall short as parents because children need a father.

"I was mortified to learn that you had distorted my work," New York University professor Carol Gilligan wrote Dobson. She said he had taken her research out of context "to support discriminatory goals that I do not agree with."

Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School wrote that he was "startled and disappointed" that Dobson had "cherry-picked a phrase to shore up highly (in my view) discriminatory purposes."

A Focus on the Family statement says that Pruett is trying "to distance himself politically from the use of his scientific conclusions" and that Dobson did not represent Gilligan as opposing same-sex parenting. "The question is not, 'Did Dr. Dobson apply their research only to political stands they agree with?' but rather, 'Is the essay true to what these individuals have written?' We believe that it is."

Time spokeswoman Ali Zelenko says the magazine's role is "to moderate the debates on today's most controversial subjects and present a wide spectrum of views we believe are worth listening to whether we agree with them or not."

Faith-Based Journalism

When New York Times reporter Diana Henriques launched a series on government regulation of religious programs, the paper's Web site posted a bio that described her professional qualifications.

There was also this: "Throughout her life, she has been an active member of various Protestant congregations, serving for several years as an elder at a suburban Presbyterian church and currently serving as the senior warden at an urban Episcopal church in New Jersey."

Henriques says that "it seemed appropriate to be candid about that. I have no reason to hide my religious faith," especially when tackling "a topic that people don't instantly think the New York Times has any expertise in." She says the passage was not offered "with the purpose of inoculating me from criticism from religious groups."

When she was writing about problems with military insurance in 2004, Henriques says, "the tone changed" when she told interview subjects, after being asked, that her father, mother and husband have served in the Army. On the latest series, she says, many people asked whether she had religious experience.

This small exercise in transparency raises some intriguing questions. Would it be useful for readers to know, depending on the subject matter, that a reporter is black, or gay, or married, or Jewish, or a registered Democrat? And where would editors draw the line?

"Maybe we should do it more often," says Times Assistant Managing Editor Glenn Kramon, noting that readers might benefit from knowing Adam Liptak is a lawyer and C.J. Chivers, now in Iraq, is a former Marine. Lawrence Altman, he adds, is identified as an M.D. in his "Doctor's World" column. In Henriques's case, says Kramon, "we thought some readers might ask, 'What does she know about religion?' "

Snow Sorry

As mentioned in this space last week, White House spokesman Tony Snow delivered a pretty hard shot to NBC's David Gregory during a contentious briefing on the Iraq Study Group.

After paraphrasing the group's report and chairmen, Gregory asked: "Can this report be seen as anything other than a rejection of this president's handling of the war?" Snow promptly accused him of "trying to frame it in a partisan way."

Snow told Gregory at a briefing Thursday that he had concluded he was "wrong . . . so I want to apologize and tell you I'm sorry for it." The spokesman told Washington Post Radio he decided it was "unfair" to suggest Gregory is "deliberately doing work on behalf of Democrats."

Gregory is taking the high road: "I appreciated his apology."

More Time . . .

Speaking of Time, some folks are saying that its Person of the Year--"You"--is a bit of a copout. But it gets at something about the digital revolution. Here's why Rick Stengel says the empowering of the individual is important:

"There are lots of people in my line of work who believe that this phenomenon is dangerous because it undermines the traditional authority of media institutions like TIME. Some have called it an 'amateur hour.' And it often is. But America was founded by amateurs."

NBC's Brian Williams, who suggested the idea, says: "Americans have decided the most important person in their lives is . . . them, and our culture is now built upon that idea. It's the User-Generated Generation."

Nora Ephron's reaction: "It never crossed my mind that when I was finally named Person of the Year by Time Magazine, which I seem to have been, I would find it out by reading the morning newspaper on the actual day Time Magazine appeared. It never occurred to me that they would be able to assemble an entire article about me without even calling.

"I was busy this week, it's true, I had a lot of Christmas shopping, but I could have squeezed them in. But I realize now that this was just part of how brilliant it all is on the part of Time, how fantastically cutting-edge and New Media! Do an article about someone and don't even call them! It's so now! It's so bloggy! . . .

"Still, I can't quite believe it. I'm easy to reach. I so have things to say about being Person of the Year. Time might want to know how I manage to Do It All, which I do. They might want my favorite new recipe, for leek bread pudding (although they could copy it out of the December Martha Stewart, where I got it). They might want to know about my favorite new ice cream flavor (Haagen-Dazs caramel cone), although I already mentioned it in a recent blog, God forbid there should be any fact about me that isn't known to just about everyone. I mean, that's how it is here in the new digital democracy, we tell everyone everything."

Newsweek's cover is Obama & Hillary: Is America ready for either one of them? Here's the best single-sentence argument I've seen in the affirmative:

"The record of white males in high places has not exactly been stellar of late, and voters might be in the mood to try something historic and possibly redemptive."

I raised this issue of Barack Obama's land deal with a Chicagoan named Tony Rezko last week, and The Post's print edition got to it yesterday. Obama calls his mistake "boneheaded." Will it hurt him? Slate's John Dickerson doesn't think so:

"There's no evidence that the senator is fibbing or that the indicted fund-raiser asked anything in return for his neighborly behavior (though that might have been just a matter of time). Obama hasn't tried to change his story, even though Rezko is now talking to investigators.

"What about Obama's judgment? Chicago politicians with national aspirations have to think a little harder about appearances than their colleagues from other cities that don't have reputations for corruption. Shouldn't Obama have known not to get anywhere near a sketchy character like Rezko?

"When Obama bought his house, Rezko was not as radioactive as he is today. Newspaper accounts contained allegations about his business practices, but he was regarded as a typical power broker who cannily cultivates politicians. But by the time that Obama bought the strip of land, Rezko was glowing. The papers were reporting that he was under investigation by federal prosecutors. In October, he was charged in a 24-count indictment with trying to obtain kickbacks from companies seeking state business.

"Obama presents himself as a squeaky-clean politician, so the dubious association with Rezko has caused him more trouble that it would, say, anyone else in the history of Chicago or Illinois politics. To diffuse the issue, the junior senator has done a good John McCain imitation: swamping critics with apologies, admissions, and candor . . .

"The Rezko business is also not likely to hurt him, because his principal rival will probably be Hillary Clinton, and she's not going to bring up the topic of questionable land deals."

One possible distraction Hillary won't be able to ignore: Bill Clinton.

Why did Evan Bayh drop out 13 days after forming his exploratory committee? (It came, it explored, it gave up.) Dick Polman attributes it to the two politicians on Newsweek's cover:

"Apparently he decided to take a bye on '08 after realizing that he would not be able to compete for money and media buzz -- not just with Hillary, but with the rapidly ascendant Barack Obama.

"No doubt Bayh realized this last weekend, when he found himself stumping in New Hampshire at the same time as Obama, and drew roughly as much attention as a panhandler in midtown Manhattan.

"He could probably have dealt with one rock star celebrity rival. But two? Forget about it."

Peggy Noonan is the latest to try to decipher the Obama puzzle:

"He is uncompromised by a past, it is true. He is also unburdened by a record, unworn by achievement, unwearied by long labors.

"What does he believe? What does he stand for? This is, after all, the central question. When it is pointed out that he has had almost--almost--two years in the U.S. Senate, and before that was an obscure state legislator in Illinois, his supporters compare him to Lincoln. But Lincoln had become a national voice on the great issue of the day, slavery. He rose with a reason. Sen. Obama's rise is not about a stand or an issue or a question; it is about Sen. Obama. People project their hopes on him, he says.

"He's exactly right. Just so we all know it's projection.

"He doesn't have an issue, he has a thousand issues, which is the same as having none, in the sense that a speech about everything is a speech about nothing . . .

"But again, what does he believe? From reading his book, I would say he believes in his destiny. He believes in his charisma. He has the confidence of the anointed. He has faith in the magic of the man who meets his moment."

He's met his media moment, to say the least.

The Boston Globe dissects Mitt Romney's move to the right and finds discrepancies.

Is John McCain acting out of principle on Iraq? American Prospect's Greg Sargent doesn't think so:

"You know, the more you unpack John McCain's call for an increase in troops to Iraq, the more cynical, self-contradictory, and self-serving it becomes.

"Check out what McCain said at his big press conference yesterday with Joe Li[e]berman, where McCain got to play at being Commander in Chief (he left the press conference in a helicopter!) and reiterated his call for more troops. From the [New York] Times:

" ' The American people are disappointed and frustrated with the Iraq war, but they want us to succeed if there is any way to do that,' Mr. McCain told a news conference. Unlike some American military commanders who have said any troop increase should be temporary, he said any increase should last 'until we can get the situation under control, or until it becomes clear that we can't.' "So, McCain says Americans support success in Iraq if there is 'any way' of achieving it. In other words, Americans would support an increase in troops if it came packaged with victory, as he's suggesting it can.

"Yet later in the same press conference, McCain acknowledges that he's advocating a plan supported by a tiny minority of Americans, and presents that as a sign of his own heroism:

" 'I take the position I'm taking with the full knowledge that only 15 to 18 percent of the American people agree with my position that we need more troops,' he said.

" Even Mr. McCain, a decorated Vietnam hero, acknowledged the perils of his approach. He described a troop increase as 'the least bad option' and said it could cost him his shot at the presidency . 'I happen to feel that I have to do what my many years of life involved in the military dictate to me,' he said. As if to emphasize his military credentials, he and other members of the delegation left Baghdad by helicopter after the news conference to fly to an embattled Marine base at Ramadi, 85 miles west of the capital, which is considered one of Iraq's deadliest places.'

"Get the ruse? McCain is offering Americans what they want -- victory -- yet somehow at the same time he's also bravely swimming against an overwhelming tide of majority opinion. In doing this McCain is so brave and selfless that he's willing to risk losing the biggest prize in politics -- the presidency. His position really is a thing of beauty, in a perverse and cynical way."

But why is that a ruse? Why not accept that McCain really believes this and is taking a political risk? Maybe his position is dumb and maybe it isn't, but it certainly doesn't appear to be safe.

The New Republic's Eve Fairbanks spies a more emotional side of Congress changing hands, such as outgoing Ways and Means chairman Bill Thomas weeping during his farewell speech:

"There are two ways to leave Washington after an electoral rout: graciously, with emphasis on your accomplishments; or mournfully and in great confusion, as Virgil describes the ruling elites abandoning Troy, wailing angrily and clutching at the doors of their lost palace. This generation of Republicans came here in 1994 claiming they would never be seduced by power; but, after twelve years in Washington, the wailing-and-clutching mood is the prevailing one. New York Representative John Sweeney, who watched his safe seat implode in the weeks leading up to November 7, has not even been able to show up for votes. According to his friend Representative Pete Sessions, he is in shock and has become physically ill from the experience of losing.

"It's hard not to get the impression that what the Republicans need as they leave the Hill is not fresh leadership or new ideas but a big, long hug."

Don't you sometimes wish you could delete your previous musings from cyberspace? Atrios finds this not-so-golden oldie from Jonah Goldberg:

"Let's make a bet. I predict that Iraq won't have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I'll bet $1,000."

What finally prompted Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins to dump O.J.-enabler Judith Regan? The L.A. Times says it was an offensive phone call, and her next big book project: a salacious "reimagining" of Mickey Mantle's life. Ugh. And the N.Y. Times says Murdoch ordered her ouster after learning that she made anti-Semitic comments in the call.

Finally, Wonkette has the goods on a uniquely Washington dynamic: the green room flirtation.

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