This week, Newsweek came under an onslaught of criticism for publishing a cover story titled: "Hit the road, Barack: Why we need a new president." (See an image at right and below.) Written by conservative historian Niall Ferguson, a Harvard professor who served as an adviser to the John McCain campaign in 2008, the story is a litany of complaints against Obama, blasting him for his poor economic stewardship, fiscal irresponsibility, broken promises, and foreign policy weakness. The problem? The article is riddled with so many errors and misrepresentations that it prompted scores of corrections and complaints from other publications. Rival magazine The Atlantic even conducted a full fact-check of the article — an embarrassment for a venerable magazine like Newsweek. Indeed, the struggling weekly all but admitted that it no longer has a fact-checking department, saying, "We, like other news organizations today, rely on our writers to submit factually accurate material." Ferguson's piece is the latest attention-grabbing cover to emerge from Newsweek under the editorship of Tina Brown (who also runs Newsweek's online partner The Daily Beast), and she was also criticized for a recent piece slamming Mitt Romney as a "wimp." Has Newsweek lost its credibility?
No. Newsweek is simply publishing a diversity of opinion: As a mainstream magazine that recently published a "pretty aggressive anti-Romney" story, Newsweek "should publish anti-Obama cover stories, too," says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast. "We should cultivate, and cater to, Republican readers as well as Democratic ones." There is "something fun and vibrant about a publication wherein the principal voices have at one another." But of course, "the attacks ought to be factual."
"On Niall Ferguson"
Yes. The article is plain wrong: Ferguson is perfectly within his rights to oppose Obama's re-election, but he's "deliberately misleading readers," says Paul Krugman at The New York Times. In an egregious example, he suggests that Obama's health care overhaul added $1.2 trillion to the deficit, when the Congressional Budget Office clearly shows that ObamaCare reduces the deficit. "We're not talking about ideology or even economic analysis here — just a plain misrepresentation of the facts, with an august publication letting itself be used to misinform readers." Newsweek should issue an "abject correction."
"Unethical commentary, Newsweek edition"
Newsweek has sacrificed integrity for clicks: "If Newsweek's goal was to spark some conversation," then Ferguson's cover story "is a smashing success," says Steve Benen at The Maddow Blog. The article is "generating far more interest than the magazine's pieces usually do," and is probably getting a lot of clicks. "If, however, Newsweek's goal is to strengthen its reputation, and gain new respect as a major news outlet, Ferguson's cover story marks an ignominious low for the once-great magazine, tarnishing the publication's reputation in ways likely to do lasting, irreparable harm." Newsweek's latest article "isn't journalism; it's a joke."
"Where political journalism must not go"
Full disclosure: Sir Harold Evans, editor-at-large of The Week, is married to Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of Newsweek and The Daily Beast.