Howard Kurtz and the ‘Liberal’ Weeklies

On Monday (1/19/09), Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz took a look at the health of Time and Newsweek, and almost immediately rendered a political judgment:

The rival editors are turning out weeklies that are smaller, more serious, more opinionated and, though they are loath to admit it, more liberal. They are pursuing a more elite audience, in print and on the Web, abandoning the old Henry Luce notion of catering to the masses. It is nothing less than a survival strategy.

Hmm. Maybe those magazine editors are “loath to admit” they publish liberal magazines because, well, they don’t? Kurtz sure doesn’t offer much evidence to that effect. Hereis how he makes hiscase:

One answer is to jettison the old straddle-the-center formula in which the newsweeklies spoke with an institutional voice rather than publish bylines. Each magazine’s lead columnist — Time‘s Joe Klein, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter — is liberal. Newsweek has been running columns by Jacob Weisberg, the liberal editor of Slate, another Post Co. property. Newsweek also ran a controversial cover last month headlined “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage” — “one of the last great civil rights issues,” Meacham says. And its top writers appear regularly on liberal talkshows on MSNBC, with which it has a news partnership.

Time‘s Joe Klein is not what one would consider a liberal. Alter might be, though he’s clearly of the torture-approving, bash-the-teachers-unions, move-the-Democrats-to-the-right model. Newsweek also publishes regular pieces from the likes of Fareed Zakaria, George Will and Robert Samuelson–none of whom could be called liberal.

Kurtz played up the recent pro-gay marriage cover story, but later recalled that the magazine also turned in cover stories about Obama’s supposed elitism and the (misguided) notion that the United States remained a center-right nation even after Obama’s victory. Kurtz could have also mentioned the magazine’s recent attempt to rehabilitate Dick Cheney and torture.

About Time, Kurtz wrote:

Time ran a column last week by liberal academic Jeffrey Sachs titled “The Case for Bigger Government.” This week’s issue features Obama, Time‘s Person of the Year, yet again, and the cover headline “Great Expectations,” plus a piece on his wife as “America’s Next Top Model.”

Wait–Time put Obama on its cover? This week? Well, that is curious news judgment.

Kurtz adds:

Stengel’s ideal staffer is Mark Halperin, whom he hired from ABC. Halperin created the political tip sheet the Page for Time.com and the magazine, and often appears on television. Both newsweeklies now realize they are competing on the Web as much as on the newsstand.

Halperin is well-known for attacking supposed liberal bias in the media, denounced the supposed pro-Obama media bias as “disgusting,” and even advocated getting liberals out of newsrooms.This guy is the “ideal staffer” at a magazine Kurtz sees as moving left? Please explain.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.