A Newsweek Story Gets ‘Better’ for Scarborough–With a Little Help From a Friend

The website Gawker (6/9/09) caught Newsweek making some sneaky changes in an online article–changes that were ordered by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, and which just happened to favor the host of a show that Meacham appears on regularly.

On the afternoon of Friday, June 5, Newsweek‘s website put up an interview with Joe Scarborough, the conservative host of MSNBC‘s Morning Joe program. The introduction pointed out that Scarborough had once been the defense attorney for an anti-abortion terrorist who murdered a doctor, and noted that the host had been criticized for giving insufficient attention to the murder of Dr. George Tiller, which occurred less than a week before the interview appeared.

By Friday night, though, the introduction to the interview had been completely rewritten. Gone was any reference in the lead to abortion shootings, replaced instead by rather bland observations about “the rise of partisan media outlets” and “how conservatives lost their way.” What happened? Jon Meacham happened, that’s what. The Newsweek editor, a frequent guest on Morning Joe, told Gawker he was contacted about the interview by “a member of Scarborough’s team,” and after looking at the item he decided that “it was better to include that material in the flow of the interview.”

Journalists don’t usually think it’s “better” to make the lead of a story less newsworthy by taking out references to current events. But then newsworthiness might not be the first thing you think of when you’re editing a story about your friend–especially a friend who routinely gives you valuable national TV exposure. Which is why the better thing to do would have been for Meacham to tell the member of Scarborough’s team that he couldn’t second-guess the Web editor’s decision-making.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.