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« David Cameron May Assume PM-ship Pre-Insulted By Obama | Main | Fat Dudes Hacking Beef With Two-Handed Swords »
May 07, 2010

Oh the Irony: "America is Back!," Baby, But The Magazine Proclaiming This Just Might Go Out of Business

Remember this? Of course you do. It was like three weeks ago. You're morons, not retards.

Well, Newsweek's on the auction block, and the Washington Post Company's sales brochure for it advertises the fact that it's losing money hand over fist!

Well, who wouldn't want to buy into that?

Actually, they might just find a buyer, because some magazines are basically vanity presses for a rich guy who wants to get his opinions out there.

But then again, Newsweek isn't exactly a good brand, so it's questionable why you'd pay for the Newsweek name when you could start your own Vanity Publisher's Opinion Magazine for less.

And if they don't find a seller, they might just fold up, forever.

JPod thinks this is largely because they won't admit they're liberal:

For years, Newsweek was a liberal journal of opinion masquerading as a news publication that attempted to sell itself to a mass readership with a lot of health-care, entertainment, and lifestyle fluff. As a vehicle for news analysis, it was entirely conventional; as a purveyor of sociological fluff, it was kind of fun, though often enragingly so; as a journal of opinion, it was to actual journals of opinion as tofutti is to gelato, flavorless and bland and mock. Last year, Meacham and Co. ditched much of the news analysis and sociological fluff in favor of more and more opinion.

It will not surprise you to know that much of the opinion dealt with the ways in which Barack Obama was right and noble and good and strong and tough and resourceful and a good symbol and an agent of change and so is his wife, by the way — and when it was not about that, it was primarily about how the right is at war with itself and torn and in conflict and dominated by anger and full of rage and presumptively racist and anti-gay and anti-women and anti-media. That was to be expected. But there was really almost nothing else in there, and what was there as a matter of ideological coloration wasn’t especially tough or good or interesting or novel.

But in describing his redesign, there were two words that Meacham did not use, and they were “liberal” and “opinion.” Instead, he promised “complexity” and the publication of “the argued essay — a piece, grounded in reason and supported by evidence, that makes the case for something.” Even with the decision to jettison news from a magazine called Newsweek, its leaders could not bring themselves to acknowledge what the magazine actually was.

And the public beheld it, and like the child in the classic New Yorker cartoon, the public said, “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”

(By th way, the below is not the long essay I was writing -- this sort of just happened. Apologies, as always, for the length of it-- as one letter writer once wrote, "I'm sorry to write you such a lengthy correspondence; I didn't have time to write you a shorter one.")_

I'm not sure what JPod means here. Yes, I see he's saying Newsweek failed because it did not acknowledge the obvious fact that it was a liberal publication, which is to say, its first introduction to its readers as a news publication each issue was a lie. Not the best way to begin a relationship, I think.

But he could mean either of the following, or both:

1) Newsweek failed to acknowledge it was a liberal magazine, thus dooming it with perceptive centrists and conservatives, who recognized it immediately as a leftist journal, thus destroying its credibility with a wide audience from the outset.


2) Newsweek failed to acknowledge it was a liberal magazine, and thus failed to properly target and pander to its intended liberal audience, who thus did not bother to read it, as their are a lot of out "out and proud" liberal magazines out there which will deliver them the full-on cocoon and full-on pander without bothering with any pretense of being "fair." This means that Newsweek's sin was not pandering enough to liberals because it was still kinda-sorta trying to pretend it wasn't liberal while in fact being liberal. But Newsweek's actual honesty in admitting this point is irrelevant -- liberals want to be pandered to, full stop. It doesn't matter a lot to them if you're confessing your liberalism as you do so.

If he meant 1, I think he's wrong. If he meant 2, I think he's right.

Here's why Critique 1 is wrong:

For liberals, lying about one's liberalism is a feature, not a bug.

Liberals love outrageously liberal publications which pretend to be neutral. The New York Times. CNN. The Washington Post (in the main; here and there it departs from orthodoxy).

The entire MFM is premised upon this lie.

And liberals love it.

Liberals love being instructed that their opinions are not liberal at all, because if their opinions are liberal, that implies a choice has been made, and if there ever was in fact a choice, that implies (though it does not prove) that another choice was possible and even legitimate, and liberals are not fond of acknowledging that opinions contrary to their own have some merit.

They prefer being instructed that their opinions are not opinions at all, but facts and/or simple common sense and/or the manifestly just and right way to view the world.

They do not usually acknowledge their politics as matters of ethics, in which one's responsibilities, duties, and rights depend upon one's starting assumptions about what is to be more or less highly valued, which is, in itself, largely an arbitrary (or at least highly arguable) choice.

People can debate ethics.

They prefer to view their politics as a matter of strict black and white morality in which their view is not arguably the more ethical or sound one, but in which their view is Good (capital G optional), and the opposite politics are Evil (capital E required.)

One can debate such ethical dilemmas such as whether it's better to see your kid go hungry or steal a loaf of bread from another family.

One can't argue, really, whether or not it's better to do Good than it is to do Evil.

Liberals favor the latter formulation. And because they've had 60 year of stultifying reinforcement of their prejudices by a lockstep MFM and academy, they've gotten quite accustomed to that formulation, and actually tend to get emotionally angry when it's suggested they've not really chosen Good over Evil so much as their idiosyncratic and arbitrary preference for one good (no capital g) over another, arguably just-as-valuable good.

They don't like hearing, for example, that by choosing Equality as the paramount good, they have decided that Freedom is a far less important good, and always to be compromised and diminished in order to expand Equality. They will insist, until their dying breath, that by choosing Equality over all else, they are actually also creating the most Freedom, too.

All upside, no downside. Nothing lost for everything gained. Straight Good versus straight-up Evil.

The MFM coddles them with this messaging. It tells them, every single day, that they have not chosen one good over another just-as-valuable good -- a choice which would then be a questionable one, a debatable one, a not-clearly-superior one -- but Good over Evil itself, and that's no choice at all, really.

And they like that. They like that lots.

Those liberals who do in fact realize the MFM is liberal like it too, in the main, because even while they may recognize that stance as dishonest, they recognize it as an incredibly useful bit of dishonesty.

There are partisans. There are ideologues. There are strong adherents of a political philosophy. Such people have thought a fair amount about politics, and have made some choices along the way, and tend to be hard to influence, in terms of general tendencies.

And then there are a lot of people who don't think much about politics, and for whom politics are simply a chore. They're not interested in politics itself -- and to the extent they're interested in politics at all, it is chiefly for personal reasons. Fitting in, not looking stupid and uninformed. Doing the least amount of political work for the greatest amount of social benefit.

There are many soft-liberals for precisely that reason. Because a soft-liberalism -- a vague and guazy feel-goodery, a brainless parroting of "nice" sentiments, an adherence to political correctness -- causes you few if any problems in social situations or work. It gets you a little cheaply-earned assent and praise, because so many other people are apathetic and soft-liberal and are similarly disposed to agreeing with nonsense.

And meanwhile, departing from that soft-liberal line takes not only work -- you have to read up a bit on the conventional wisdom if you wish to dispute it, while it takes no reading at all to merely repeat the conventional wisdom -- but exposes you to social penalties, too. No one has to really "choose" to be a soft-liberal; it's the default setting, as it were, the industry standard for people who really don't care all that much.

Choosing to be a communist is Decision. And, similarly, choosing to be a conservative is a Decision. Choosing to be a strident, partisan liberal ideologue is also a decision (but an easier one, too, because it's only a few degrees removed from soft-liberal feel-goodery).

But choosing to be a soft-liberal and mouth empty platitudes? Easy as pie, and not one in 20 people is going to bother challenging you on those platitudes.

Saying anything else just might get you into an argument. Now, some people like arguments (us lot, for example) but most do not. Most people are adverse to confrontation and react emotionally, not intellectually, to disagreement.

Plus, if you don't really know much at all about politics, such arguments will almost certainly result in that fact being exposed, and then you'll look uninformed and stupid -- and who the hell wants that? No one, that's who.

So, all else being equal, it makes perfect sense for the 15-20% of our population that barely knows anything at all to politics to stick to the safe harbor of the default script.

This is the MFM's greatest achievement -- that for this 15-20% of the population that has no serious, structure political beliefs at all, an adherence to the general basics of liberalism is the default setting. All ties go to the liberals, in other words, and that's big thing, isn't it?

And that's why we're so outraged at the MFM. This isn't just about their smug arrogance or corrupt pretense of being the fair-and-objective Deciders. It's a personal thing -- our personal revulsion at a set of know-nothing inexpert, unprofessional clowns arrogating to themselves the power to decide what is and is not permitted in polite, enlightened discourse -- but it's not just personal.

This has enormous implications for the trajectory of our politics -- if the MFM can establish that soft-liberalism is the cost-free, work-free, choice-free, information-free path of least resistance for such a big chunk of our population, the MFM basically gets to choose the nation's path.

Which... they largely have, of course. And that is why I fluctuate between treating the Democratic Party and the MFM as our top opponents in politics. Yes, it's the Democratic Party on the ballot every two years.

But, as Andrew Breitbart rages in his stump speech, it's actually the MFM which props the Democratic Party up by delivering unto them 15-20% of the public they never had to convince or fight for. 15-20% of the vote is delivered to the liberal camp every election simply because the media has established that's the way nice people who just want what's good -- and want the least hassle over politics -- vote.

And I think a fair number of partisan liberals understand this (far more than would be willing to admit it) and that accounts for their rage at FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh and any other contrary voice. If the Democrats' advantage among soft-liberal apathetics declined to 15-20% to 10% or 5% or (God Forbid!) no advantage at all, they could start seriously losing elections.

So: I think that liberals either tend to think of themselves as not liberal at all, just Virtuous, in which case they prefer liberal magazines which claim too that they're not liberal at all, just Virtuous.

Or, some liberals realize the enormous advantage they have secured in promoting a monolithically liberal media which establishes a default setting for soft-liberalism and appreciate the hard work of daily dishonesty that the MFM engages in to continue this advantage.

It's hard work rising each day to write up a pack of damnable lies. And then repeating them dutifully on Hardball each night, and then getting drunk and falling asleep, and then waking in the morn to lie again.

So I don't think that that's really the problem with Newsweek. As far as I know, no liberal periodical ever suffered all that much from dishonesty.

Here's what I think the problem really is:

Newsweek was alway the fluffiest, puffiest "news" magazine. Even Time -- which certainly contended with it in Big Glossy Pictures and politics reduced to a (boring) soap opera of competing personalities -- manged to maintain more credibility as a news publication than Newsweek did.

Newsweek, I always thought, was a political magazine for people who wanted to pretend they read politics.

Newsweek's most famous innovation is the oft-parodied "conventional wisdom watch," which is perfectly emblamatic, because, like that little colored box of up and down arrows, Newsweek itself was simplistic, fluffy, light-on-substance and uncritically reflective of standard-issue first-impulse soft-liberal conventional wisdom.

It wasn't real politics. It certainly wasn't serious-minded, or wonkish, or challenging, or inventive, or daring, or contrarian.

Newsweek, in short, was the "news" magazine you read (or looked at the pictures of, at least) when you were at the chriopractor's waiting to have your lumbar realigned and someone else had snagged the Star with Jessica Simpson's boobs on the cover.

People have changed their habits. People are doing less pretense than they used to. And when I say that, I don't mean that's all a good thing. Pretense has its uses.

I don't know when the tendency began, or why, but I do think it's been greatly accelerated by the internet. There used to be a whole raft of pretenses that people would put themselves through -- like keeping up with the latest "important" bestsellers on the fiction list, even if one only read the reviews in the NYT, or going to stage plays once in a while, even if one didn't think much of Broadway.

People did this, even if they didn't have great interest in such things, because it was expected of them. To be a well-rounded person, you did X, Y, and Z, even if you didn't really want to.

At some point in the last thirty years, I think, people's lives became too busy to bother with keeping up with stuff they weren't really enjoying -- they had enough homework from actual work or raising their kids to easily take on non-required homework in the form of keeping up with news or culture. Or it was due to something else. Either way, it happened.

And the internet threw gasoline on to that fire, because it gave people a way to seek out only the stuff they really cared about. Our culture became less "push" (stuff pushed on you by the sometimes well-meaning guardians of the conventional cultural establishment) and much more "pull" (you decide yourself today that you don't feel like reading a novel, but watching an old episode of Greatest American Hero on Hulu).

The internet did not start that -- it was already well-underway for a long time -- but it has greatly quickened the pace of that tendency.

If you look at television -- the days of general interest programming are almost gone entirely. TV shows tend to skew, harder and harder, to one specific demographic and less effort to appeal to anyone other than that demographic.

At any rate -- to be brief (ahem) -- I think that is what has doomed Newsweek. Not really its liberalism, or its lying about it.

But the simple fact that Newsweek always existed for people who didn't like or care about politics, but simply wanted to make some token gesture of being a well-informed citizen concerned about such matters. It was never read by people who seriously cared about these matters, but in fact played almost exclusively to those who precisely did not care.

It was pretend politics for the pretense of it.

But people are getting out of that habit. If someone is not interested in politics anymore, they feel less and less an obligation to even pretend to keep up with it with a fake news magazine like Newsweek.

If you really care about politics, you can read any one of a dozen magazines that give you a more substantive look at the news.

If you don't really care about politics, you can read Newsweek, but then again, why the hell should you?

Rather than faking an interest in ugly fake celebrities, why not indulge in your real interest in pretty real celebrities? Why not just read Perez Hilton and stop pretending to care about the ugly gray people depicted in Newsweek?

And that's what I think is going on. We're seeing less and less gestural media, and less and less general-interest media, in favor of media that is specifically targeted to a much smaller audience's precise preferences.

Everyone feels less and less obligated to pretend we're interested in stuff we're actually not interested in. We're becoming more atomistic and less influenced by a common culture. We're less interested in "keeping up" with such things.

And Newsweek was a manner of "keeping up" with politics for someone who would rather be reading celebrity gossip.

Newsweek's chief competitor wasn't The Economist.

Newsweek's chief competitor was actually People Magazine.

People won.

digg this
posted by Ace at 05:23 PM

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