Newsmag Double Standard: Two Cover Stories and 15 Pages vs. 160 Tiny Words
Published: 6/8/2011 7:58 PM ET
As Brent Bozell reminded readers of his column, the broadcast networks piled on 152 stories about Rep. Mark Foley in the story's first 12 days in the fall of 2006, but they weren't the only ones with a vast left-wing disparity. Time and Newsweek each devoted cover stories and multiple pages to the Foley scandal. Time put an elephant's rear end on the cover with the words "What a Mess...Why a tawdry Washington sex scandal may spell the end of the Republican revolution". Newsweek had a huge picture of Foley (with a small President Bush in front of his face) with the huge headline "Off Message" and the subhead "Foley's Secret Life: How a Predator's E-mail Sex Scandal Could Cost Bush Congress."
Obviously, there were no Anthony Weiner cover stories this week (dated June 13): Time had Dr. Oz, and Newsweek mocked Mitt Romney's Mormonism as they promoted the vulgar South Park musical "The Book of Mormon." How many Weinergate pages inside? Do you have to guess? There's not a "page" at all.
Time magazine was funnier: try reading the whole issue for any mention of Weiner. There's no news story, no funny quote from Weiner about "certitude" in the "Verbatim" feature. Then on page 83, in tiny six-point type in the "Pop Chart" feature, there are these tiny words: "A college student received a lewd picture from his allegedly hacked Twitter account."
Thirteen words and an tiny, upside-down picture.
What a contrast: In 2006, Time's table of contents page highlighted the cover story: "Whatever happened to the Republican revolution? The reformers who took Congress in 1994 are gone, replaced by pols who seem willing to do anything to hold power - even overlook a Congressman's improprieties with teens." Time devoted eight precious pages to the Foley scandal, including two hostile one-page columns from Time staffers answering the question "Mark Foley's Real Sin Was..."
TV columnist James Poniewozik compared Foley's situation to Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" series. Gay activist/reporter John Cloud naturally insisted Foley's sin was "Not Being True to Himself" as a gay man.
Time also paid for a poll asking "Do you think Republican leaders in Congress handled the Foley situation properly or do you think they tried to cover it up?" It was 16 to 64 for a coverup.
And: "Did the disclosure about Foley's sexually explicit instant messages to teenage congressional pages and the h andling of this situation by the House Republican leadership make you less likely to vote for the Republican candidate in your district, more likely, or did it really have no effect on how you will vote?" (25 percent less likely, 4 for more, 68 no effect.)
And: "Do you think Dennis Hastert should resign as Speaker because of his handling of the Foley case?" (39 yes, 38 no, 23 percent don't know.)
Perhaps these last two polling results convinced Time they'd succeeded at selling a coverup, but had to keep hammering away at Hastert on Foley before the voters went to the polls.
In 2006, Foley was not only the Newsweek cover story - his story somehow required a team of eleven Newsweek staffers to handle this enormous scandal. Flood the zone! Newsweek added eight pages of coverage to Time's seven.
Editor Jon Meacham boasted up front: "As Michael Isikoff, Mark Hosenball, Holly Bailey, Debra Rosenberg, Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Darman, Arian Campo-Flores, Catharine Skipp and Catherine Gentile report in a story written by Evan Thomas, the revelation of Foley's secret life - one that included instant messages to young House pages - sheds light on the larger culture of Washington and raises questions about the Republican leadership's competence and accountability. And in the debut of his new reported column, Howard Fineman explores another GOP dilemma: unease within the party among politically conservative evangelicals."
Newsweek's table of contents was blunt: "Fall of a Predator." The Evan Thomas piece carried the subtitle "Mark Foley's explicit e-mails could bring down the GOP. His story, and the fallout." Next to that was a huge picture of Foley and President Bush.
There were two items in the "Conventional Wisdom Watch" box: a down arrow for Bush ("Only good thing about Foley scandal is it keeps spotlight off Iraq fiasco. Gulp.") and a down arrow for Hastert ("Won't resign over page scandal - but will get fired as House speaker if Dems gake over in Nov.") On the "Perspectives" quote page, they quoted Hastert saying "Ultimately...the buck stops here."
In 2011, Newsweek's "coverage" of Weiner didn't take eight pages or 11 reporters. It was only granted 148 words. There was no Democratic "fallout." Newsweek was practicing "fallout containment."
There were eight tiny words in "Conventional Wisdom" on page 25, just "Junk shot puts House member in a pickle." There was a dismissive 63-word paragraph in a Roger Ailes profile on page 10, and a few words on page 4 on "Perspectives." They summarized: "The New York Congressman faced a PR nightmare after a lewd image was sent from his Twitter account, which Weiner clamed was hacked. Here's how the story played out on thedailybeast.com." Three sentences from three articles (two of them skeptical of Weiner's behavior) followed, but Dan Lyons argued "Breaking into someone's social networking account can be relatively easy to do."
The introduction and the quotes were 77 words.
What did Time and Newsweek devote major pages to this week instead? Time had a huge cover package on cancer, but also eight pages on the decline of the African rhinoceros. (That hardly needed to be done before next week.) Newsweek devoted eight pages to its Mormon cover story (including a two-page photo of the "Book of Mormon" Broadway cast) and six pages to "White House rebel" Michelle Obama.
But this is the most precious article: even while they downplayed Weiner, Newsweek published a skeezy four-pager on "Hotel Confidential: It's the dirty secret about business travel. Many married men expect sex along with their room service, according to a Newsweek poll. But will the Strauss-Kahn scandal change the rules of the game?"
- Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.