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MediaWatch: August 10, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 13

Pushing U.S. News Left

A feud has broken out between former U.S. News & World Report Editor James Fallows and owner Mortimer Zuckerman, with each accusing the other of contaminating the magazine with their personal views. Fallows announced his own firing in June, blaming it on editorial clashes with Zuckerman. That angered Zuckerman and his deputy, Editorial Director Harold Evans. The two sides have been haggling since over severance for Fallows.

Fallows and Zuckerman are outspoken liberals and in telling the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz about the flaws the other inflicted on the magazine, their examples demonstrated how each tried to use the magazine to push his liberal views. In his July 28 story Kurtz described how Zuckerman complained that "last fall...Fallows was considering a cover story in which a disgruntled doctor blasted the practices of health maintenance organizations. Working title: ‘The Patient Is the Enemy.’ Zuckerman thought the piece was terribly one-sided, part of a pattern of editorials masquerading as news stories. He ordered up a more balanced article that ran with the headline: ‘Are HMOs the Right Prescription?’"

Matching what the July 29 MediaWatch Study documented, Kurtz relayed how Zuckerman "criticized the magazine’s coverage of the Monica Lewinsky investigation as ‘slow off the mark and weak initially.’"

Partisans for Fallows countered that Zuckerman and Evans pushed articles by their friends, who just happened to be liberal crusaders. "One was liberal columnist Joe Conason," Kurtz reported, "whom Evans wanted to profile Clinton-bashing publisher Richard Mellon Scaife; Fallows was wary of Conason’s politics, and while Conason was paid for the piece, it still hasn’t run." In another incident, Kurtz highlighted how "U.S. News staffers still hoot about Zuckerman trying to assign a story on Hispanic culture to his friend, socialite Bianca Jagger. Zuckerman says reports that he dated Jagger are false and that he asked only that she be consulted on the story."

In the rush to replace Fallows might Zuckerman have stumbled upon a conservative? An August 3 New York Times profile of new Editor Steve Smith relayed how "Smith describes himself politically as somewhat right of center. ‘I am not an ideological guy,’ he said. ‘I got into journalism not to save the world but to do good stories.’"

Will Zuckerman, who has strong liberal views, let him? In the June 29 issue, the next to last edited by Fallows, Zuckerman declared that Ken Starr is causing the Founding Fathers to spin in their graves: "When they wrote the First Amendment, they imagined a press corps as a curb on power. They did not anticipate an independent counsel free from checks and balances. They had no role for a chief inquisitor. Nor should we."