Newsweek editor-in-chief Jon Meacham was worried. For three-quarters of a century, the magazine had been a bastion of undiluted, uncompromising journalism, faithfully reporting, since 1933, everything from the fall of the Hindenburg to the rise of Hitler—from the beginning of the Vietnam War to the ending of the Soviet Union. But now, at the turn of the millennium, straight news had gone out of style. News—heavily seasoned with opinion and slant—had gone instant. Online platforms, Meacham feared, were formidable opponents. And so, by executive fiat in 2009, he transformed that venerable periodical from a source of news to a platform for useless opinion.
Meacham later delicately described the catastrophic move as “counterintuitive.” But there was no soft-pedaling the result: subscriptions fell 50 percent in one year while subscription prices doubled. Staff were laid off, advertising income shrank by 37 percent and the once-profitable newsmagazine reported an operating loss of $29.3 million in that tattered year of 2009. In the first quarter of 2010, the magazine went $11 million further in the red. Newsweek was ultimately sold in August 2010 for exactly one dollar. Meacham himself was not included in the purchase price, and left once the deal was consummated.
Newsweek has since regained some measure of financial standing, but not its soul. Award-winning Newsweek alum Jonathan Alter, writing for The Atlantic in 2018, called the magazine “a painful embarrassment to anyone who toiled there in its golden age.”
And the grimy garden grows as the news magazine continues its precipitous descent into darkness.
“I’ve never seen more reckless leadership.”
Called out for factual errors on a routine basis, accused of sexism and condemned by the Southern Poverty Law Center for “buoying extremists” and hiring non-journalists with bigoted views, any relationship between Newsweek and news—much less truth—has become purely coincidental.
It should come as no surprise that a publication that trades in hearsay, clickbait and half-truths might have an occasional run-in with the law, and that is precisely what happened. On January 18, 2018, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office raided Newsweek as part of an investigation into the magazine’s finances.
Newsweek’s response? It fired the editors and reporters covering the story. No reason was given for the sudden purge. Acting editor-in-chief (now current editor-in-chief) Nancy Cooper was mute, leaving emails on the subject unanswered. The sole response that media was accorded was a terse statement from the communications department that “the company does not comment on personnel matters.”
The only conclusion: coverup?
We’ll never know for sure, but the depths to which Newsweek had fallen were precisely gauged by senior writer Matthew Cooper who resigned in protest as a consequence of the scandal. In his resignation letter, Mr. Cooper wrote, “I’ve been a journalist for over 30 years including as a correspondent for Newsweek in the 1990s and since 2014. I’ve never seen more reckless leadership.” Cooper referred to the magazine’s “string of scandals and missteps” and condemned the hiring of editors “who recklessly sought clicks at the expense of accuracy, retweets over fairness,” saying that he was “most despondent not only for Newsweek but for other publications that don’t heed the lessons of this publication’s fall.”
Reckless leadership. Scandals and missteps. But Newsweek had not yet hit bottom.
Bottom was achieved with the unholy marriage between the magazine and obsessed bigot, Leah Remini.
What magazine would ever give credence to a rapist and his chief bigot and defender—in this day and age?
Remini’s is quite the resumé. A self-described “crappy, has-been actress who’s trying to make a dollar off my church,” she occupies her time as advertised. Her gig is hate, and she wallows in it.
Her ranting podcast had the distinction of being canceled not from one, but two platforms—where her anti-Scientology hate speech was abandoned by disgusted advertisers. Earlier, her poison-tongued canards on A&E likewise led to her first hate show’s demise, canceled after inspiring over 600 threats and acts of violence against Scientologists and their families. Fittingly, international media reported that Remini had blood on her hands.
Remini lives by the maxim, “if you lie down with dogs…” She supports and even testified on behalf of serial sexual predator Paul Haggis. A “gentleman and humanitarian” is how she describes the thug who has a rape judgment on his rap sheet, all while passionately shaming his victims.
How should a media institution treat individuals like Remini and Haggis? Would a responsible publication take Remini’s word at face value—a person already reviled by media as having blood on her hands, whose everlasting legacy begins with being the sole woman in Hollywood to reject the #MeToo movement and who—by her own admission—is making a living off of attacking her former church?
And what about Haggis? Would a serious media platform with even a teaspoon of journalistic self-respect even deign to glance in the direction of an unrepentant rapist like him?
What magazine would do this? What magazine would ever give credence to a rapist and his chief bigot and defender—in this day and age?
Newsweek would and Newsweek did. “Reporter” Shannon Power accepted a rapist’s hogwash as gospel and passed it on to Nancy Cooper, who just as readily embraced it—thus completing the transformation begun by a desperate editor eager for readers at any cost back in 2009.
And so a once-great magazine is now a common third-rate tabloid—with journalistic standards so low they make the National Enquirer look like the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. (At least the Enquirer had the sense to slam Haggis and Remini as the rapist and rapist defender they are.)
Stripped of any credibility it may have clung to from its long-gone glory days, outcast from a profession it once served, a pariah to any journalist with a drop of self-respect, Newsweek is out in the cold.
But it’s not suffering out there alone. It’s coddling a rapist and a bigot—and all three have egg on their faces.