The Incredible Shrinking Magazine

In addition to reading The Columbus Dispatch during my morning break, I often look through the current issue of Newsweek at the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation library.  Over the last year, I’ve noticed how wafer-thin it’s become.  There seem to be more and more graphics, less and less text, and long-running features seem to be disappearing, like slats from a picket fence.  I haven’t seen “The Periscope” in years, and “My Turn” rarely runs anymore.  There is maybe half a page devoted to editorial cartoons, when they used to be interspersed throughout the entire magazine, running alongside the news items they caricatured.

During Watergate, I awaited the arrival of the next Newsweek just as urgently as a letter from my pen pal.  I think it was the first time I ever started watching or following the news.  (Below is the best Watergate-related cover that any publication ever printed.)

Newsweek cover, July 30, 1973

In addition to drastically slimming down their format, it would seem that Newsweek has either done away with, or greatly reduced, their research and fact-checking department.  In the past, they’ve always seemed (at least to me) to be a magazine conscientious enough to step up to the plate and admit an error they’d made, no matter how grievous.  Now, they don’t seem to have the space or the integrity to do this.

Most of the January 24 issue last month dealt with the bloodshed in Arizona, with about equal parts armchair psychotherapy, hand-wringing, objective news, and finger-pointing.  The writer cited the October 1868 assassination of Rep. James Hinds (R-Ark.), murdered by Klansman George Clark, and said that Hinds’ assassination was the only murder of a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

I knew right away this was not true.  If you read my blog entry from the weekend of the Tucson shooting, you’ll see my reference to Leo Ryan (D-Calif.), the U.S. Representative murdered in Guyana in 1978 by members of Jim Jones’ cult while Ryan was on a fact-finding mission.  I got on Gmail and immediately began a letter to Newsweek.  (Just to be sure, I ran this by my friend Robert Nedelkoff, fellow Robert Lowry scholar and researcher and fact-finder par excellence.  Not only did he confirm to me that Hinds and Ryan were the only U.S. Representatives slain while in office, he reminded me that only two Senators–Huey Long (D-La.) and Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) were the only Senators assassinated while in office.

When I forwarded the email to Robert, I mentioned that other former House members had been assassinated, since all four assassinated U.S. Presidents (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy) had served in the House at one time or another.  He then added Allard Lowenstein to the list.  He had served one term as a U.S. Representative, but was not in office at the time of his murder in 1980.

I am vain enough to have hoped that Newsweek would have printed my letter pointing out their error.  They seem to have done away with the “Letters” feature altogether.  Nonetheless, I was hoping for a little box correcting the mistake about James Hinds and mentioning Leo Ryan.  Nothing.  Even The Boston Herald mentioned, however mutedly, that they were wrong about the Hitler diaries.  (In 1983, news about the “discovery” of Adolf Hitler’s heretofore unknown diaries dominated The Herald‘s front page for days that spring.  They were going to start printing excerpts beginning Sunday.  When document examiners established beyond doubt that the diaries were forgeries, the notice retracting the excerpt announcement ran in a very small box in classified ad-sized type.)