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The latest furor over the Boston bomber is his picture on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, or rather the reaction of some retail businesses, refusing to sell this issue. It is a classical, visceral response triggered by the association of the alternative media reputation of the magazine with the attractive picture of the young man, as if it were some kind of endorsement of his deeply anti-social act.

Of course, it is and it isn’t. The cover copy describes him as a “monster.” And the same photo has appeared elsewhere, including in the New York Times. But, the combination of the appealing photo on the cover of this infamous alternative media publication seems to imply to some that he is being treated as some sort of rock star.

I have my own reasons for disliking the style of Rolling Stone, having once been personally attacked in its pages, and quite inappropriately so. But I suppose Bill McCrystal thinks the same thing about himself.

Anyway, that some companies like Walgreen drug stores refuse to sell this issue of the magazine is their own business, in my view. After all, companies are made up of people, just like magazines, and they have a right to their own views. The bomber is repugnant, and on this most agree. How we choose to treat him in the court of public opinion is up to each of us, and the private sector organizations to which we give our fealty. But what the courts do is a matter of law, not just of taste. And the taste we have in our mouths is a pretty awful one.
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With today’s announcement that the print edition of NewsWeek will soon be no more, I lament the chance to hold it in my hand, take it to breakfast, and change out each week’s issue in my coffee table magazine piles (I guess I’ll have a lot more room soon on that coffee table).

Here’s what I wrote about Newsweek, which has been with me for 53 years, a while back on this blog:

Newsweek Should Stay

June 18, 2010 in Magazines, News Media | Tags: Literature, News Media (Edit)

As a high school civics student, I subscribed to Newsweek, and checked off every story, every week, as I read them all, from my most to least favorites. Maybe that had something to do with my getting interested in journalism; that, and liking to write and being a reporter for the school paper. But that, my friend, was 50 years ago this past spring.

I’ve subscribed to Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/)most of the time since, except during a short stint in Vietnam as an Army press officer (no magazines received there). I was just reading it over lunch today, and enjoying the good and relevant stories as much as ever. Now, the Washington Post has Newsweek for sale, and they say there have been some 70 bidders, including a Chinese news agency rumored to be associated with the Chinese government. Newsweek is losing editors and writers, and losing money more than anything. If the magazine itself were any thinner, it could be used for stuffing shoes.

But I think it’s still terrific, and a must-read up there for me with The Economist, Fortune, Wired and Popular Science. Editor John Meacham, a frequent guest on Morning Joe and other topical political shows, is one bright, articulate guy, even if he seems a little sad lately. I may be a loyal old softy, but in my book, Newsweek deserves to continue, in print, digitally or otherwise, but continue it should. It still informs, enlightens and stimulates, and that’s more than you can say for a lot of so-called news media.

Founded in 1968, and editorially grounded in the anti-war, music culture of the 60s and 70s, Rolling Stone magazine today succeeded in perhaps putting a big nail in the coffin of the war in Afghanistan. America’s most trusted man, Walter Cronkite, famously characterized the Vietnam war as a “stalemate” in 1968, putting a nail in that coffin, though it took 7 years more to end it. Let’s hope this one ends more quickly.

But funny thing, why did it take a feature story in a magazine, much less this flimsy magazine, to bring down a commanding general, and draw America’s attention to a war gone badly wrong? Because a reporter got a lucky break when a volcano left him holed up in Paris with McChrystal and his top team, and that team sort of bonded with the outsider, and trusted him to share their angst. Why didn’t Washington know what the McChrystal-ites were saying before the Rolling Stone published it? Why did it take a crummy, sensationalist music magazine to blow the top off? I suspect Washington knew well what the complaints of the McChrystal team were, but it was the light of day they feared. The public just couldn’t handle the truth; the troops just couldn’t handle the truth, the politicos quickly surmised.

Support for the war in Afghanistan is being held together with bailing wire, and is so fragile that a feature story by a freelancer in a magazine known as an anti-war rock’n-roll sheet could tip it over and bring down one of the country’s most respected military leaders. Who says Washington is not all about optics? The only rationale for staying in Afghanistan with the intensity we do is maintaining the optics of competence of the leadership that keeps us there. The Rolling Stone didn’t portray distorted optics, they spoke the truth. The truth that everyone except millions of our troops and citizens hadn’t yet seen. McChrystal had to go, to put those optics back together and restore the view through rose-colored glasses, a view of a strategic, well-planned and unified U.S. military mission in Afghanistan.

But the crummy magazine has done what the nation’s leading press and elected leadership can’t — they have exposed the chaos of our failed national strategy in Afghanistan.

As a high school civics student, I subscribed to Newsweek, and checked off every story, every week, as I read them all, from my most to least favorites. Maybe that had something to do with my getting interested in journalism; that, and liking to write and being a reporter for the school paper. But that, my friend, was 50 years ago this past spring.

I’ve subscribed to Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/)most of the time since, except during a short stint in Vietnam as an Army press officer (no magazines received there). I was just reading it over lunch today, and enjoying the good and relevant stories as much as ever. Now, the Washington Post has Newsweek for sale, and they say there have been some 70 bidders, including a Chinese news agency rumored to be associated with the Chinese government. Newsweek is losing editors and writers, and losing money more than anything. If the magazine itself were any thinner, it could be used for stuffing shoes.

But I think it’s still terrific, and a must-read up there for me with The Economist, Fortune, Wired and Popular Science. Editor John Meacham, a frequent guest on Morning Joe and other topical political shows, is one bright, articulate guy, even if he seems a little sad lately. I may be a loyal old softy, but in my book, Newsweek deserves to continue, in print, digitally or otherwise, but continue it should. It still informs, enlightens and stimulates, and that’s more than you can say for a lot of so-called news media.

Yesterday morning, I took the train into Chicago to help oversee some plumbing at our apartment, so my wife could go to her office. With time to kill, I picked up the week’s worth of Chicago Tribune’s from the kitchen table, and soon had a revelation. I was enjoying scanning the full range of news and opinion, as I once had done every day, until I retired and began spending most of my time at our place in the woods in Wisconsin, where the nearest store with newspapers is 2 miles down the road.

So I’d open my laptop every am and real Google News or go to various websites and blogs where I knew I’d find things that interest me. But I was missing the full gamut of the news and opinion– what you find in a good-to-great daily newspaper. Lesson learned! From now on, whenever I get to the grocery or gas station, I’ll pick up a major market newspaper to scan, broaden my perspective, and enjoy doing it. Newspapers are back in my life!

P.S. And magazines, too. Save Newsweek — it’s better quality content than ever. And I still subscribe to Fortune, the Economist, The New Yorker and Popular Science. My wife likes Mother Jones, too, and I think she’s got a point. As for news on the web — of course!

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