Evan Thomas

Stories by Evan Thomas

  • War Film: The Politics and Drama of '300'

    The New York Times and the government of Iran agree: the movie "300" has no redeeming social value. The movie, which depicts the brave stand of 300 Spartans against a marauding army of hundreds of thousands of Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C., "is about as violent as 'Apocalypto' and twice as stupid," according to A. O. Scott, the Times' movie critic. The Iranians, who presumably don't screen many Mel Gibson movies, were nonetheless even more offended. The movie is aimed at "humiliating" Iranians, who are descendants of the ancient Persians, said Javad Shamghardi, cultural adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "300" is "part of a comprehensive U.S. psychological warfare aimed at Iranian culture." And this was the headline in the Ayan No newspaper: HOLLYWOOD DECLARES WAR ON IRANIANS.To most moviegoers, "300" may or may not evoke the Clash of Civilizations, but it certainly is popular among young American men. The R-rated film grossed more than $70 million its opening...
  • Is Hillary Afraid of Being Embarrassed by Bill?

    Last December, a NEWSWEEK reporter tentatively broached a delicate subject with a longstanding adviser to Hillary Clinton: was there a concern in the Hillary camp that her husband might somehow embarrass her in the campaign ahead? The reaction was swift and fierce. "If that's what you want to talk about, I'm hanging up right now," said the adviser, who did not wish to be identified even entertaining such a question.But it is the elephant in the room. Senator Clinton's presidential campaign can ill afford another scandal swirling around her husband, whose second term in the White House was badly disrupted by the Monica Lewinsky affair. Perhaps the Clintonites are understandably worried that the Republican right will try to create a scandal where there is none or dredge up old history. They doubtless anticipate an assault from Clinton's old foes, but they may have been caught unawares by the attack from one of Bill's old friends. In an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen...
  • Schlesinger on Reagan's Faults and Virtues

    When I was writing a biography of Robert Kennedy in the late '90s, I had lunch with Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the author of the then—and probably still—definitive biography of RFK. Schlesinger, whom I knew slightly, might have brushed me off, but he was gracious and even eager to talk about our mutual subject. Though he was then nearly 80, he knocked back two martinis and tucked into a large steak at New York's Century Club. Then he launched off on cheerful, gossipy tour of the 20th-century horizon, which he had lived as fully as the great leaders he wrote about.Schlesinger was, in some ways, a walking reproach to modern academic historians. He believed in writing from experience, and he argued that individuals—and not just broad social and economic movements—shaped history.Though he won two Pulitzer Prizes and a basket of lesser awards, and though he was regarded at times as the reigning authority on Presidents Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, he was never a...
  • Ties Of Blood And History

    The last time the United States and Britain threatened to go to war against each other was in 1895. As European powers raced to expand their empires, Britain coveted a mineral-rich slice of Venezuela along the border of its colony British Guiana. Invoking the Monroe Doctrine, President Grover Cleveland vowed to "resist by every means" British adventuring in the Caribbean. The prospect of taking on Britain thrilled some jingoistic Americans, including Theodore Roosevelt, who was at the time a New York City police commissioner. "Let the fight come if it must," he wrote to his friend Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge. "I don't care whether the seacoast cities are bombarded or not; we would take Canada."Fighting a war with England, whose Navy floated 55 battleships against America's three, because of a border dispute in Venezuela was a preposterous idea. (TR was still going through the Sturm und Drang period of adolescence, explained philosopher William James.) Both governments calmed down when...
  • Anna Nicole's Tabloid Odyssey

    Anna Nicole Smith, born Vickie Lynn Hogan, said she wanted to be Marilyn Monroe. She became instead a kind of bombshell circus freak, a star in the lewd carnival of American pop culture. Smith always seemed to be spilling out of her dress in front of a camera, or coming and going from a court of law, or both. Her apogee, or nadir, may have come last May, when, dressed in body-clinging black, she sashayed past the paparazzi up the marble steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to pursue her right to claim half the fortune of a billionaire husband she had married when she was 26 and he was 89. There was grittiness and pathos in her pursuit of celebrity; she was an underdog some cheered for. But her death last week of unexplained causes seemed more tawdry than sad. Her psyche did not appear all that complicated. In her guileless way, she explained that she loved photographers because they gave her the attention she had missed as a child. More interesting and revealing is the way the tabloid...
  • Spycraft as Thespianage

    Moral ambiguity is the none-too-subtle point of two new movies about the creation of Pax Americana after World War II. In "The Good German," an antihero war correspondent (played by George Clooney) is caught up in a tangle of lies as the Americans cover up the war crimes of a Nazi rocket scientist. In "The Good Shepherd," a once pure Yale boy loses his soul by becoming a spymaster for the CIA. Both movies aim to evoke the dark trade-offs of empire building. They seek to capture the existential gloom of true believers who must do wicked things in a righteous cause. They may even make you nostalgic for an era when U.S. intelligence officers seemed to know what they were doing.But for all their faithful attention to period detail, the two films miss an essential point. The early days of the cold war--at least for those Ivy Leaguers who held top jobs at State and CIA--were not dire with dread and anguish. For many of those Ivy League spies, the time was heady, even giddy. The work was a...
  • The 38th President: More Than Met the Eye

    On the morning of Sunday, Sept. 8, 1974, after he had been president for about a month, Gerald Ford took communion at St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square, across from the White House. He prayed alone in the presidential pew. On the way out the church door, he sloughed off reporters who were badgering him about his plans for the day--"You'll find out soon enough," he said. Back in the Oval Office, he telephoned Sen. Barry Goldwater, the fabled conservative, to tell him he was pardoning Richard Nixon for whatever crimes the disgraced president might have committed in office. Goldwater, whose voice had been critical in forcing Nixon's resignation, was dumbfounded. "It doesn't make any sense," he protested. Ford answered, "The public has the right to know that, in the eyes of the president, Nixon is clear." Goldwater responded: "He may be clear in your eyes, but he's not clear in mine."Next, Ford called his old congressional adversary, the then House Majority Leader Thomas P...
  • Decline and Fall

    This is how a revolution ends. Not with a bang, or a "thumping," as President George W. Bush called the 2006 Republican defeat at the polls, but with a misdirected phone call and a certain sinking feeling that even the most well-intentioned politicians can grow weary of rectitude and sell out their principles for the right price.The scene happened almost 10 years ago, when the GOP revolution in the House of Representatives was still fresh, less than three years after Newt Gingrich and his promise of a Republican "Contract With America" had swept aside four decades of Democratic rule in the House. The House in that summer of 1997 was considering passage of its annual transportation bill, routinely a fat pork sausage of legislation, larded with goodies--bridges, tunnels, exit ramps, highway extensions--for individual congressmen to take home to their districts. A band of a dozen true believers from the Class of '94, the congressmen first elected under the Gingrich banner of reform,...
  • Pres. Bush: Looking for a Way Out of Iraq

    With Congress lost, George W. Bush is looking for a way out of Iraq, and his father's men, led by Jim Baker, are riding in to help. Untangling the rivalries and loyalties that link two generations.
  • Dead In the Water

    During the Second World War, it was very unusual to be standing on the deck of an American warship and actually see a Japanese vessel. Most sea battles in the Pacific War were fought at night or from great distances--by carrier-based planes flying many miles from their ships. But shortly after dawn on the morning of October 25, 1944, the men of the USS Johnston, a destroyer patrolling near Leyte Gulf in the Philippine Islands, saw something the survivors would never forget.There, rising over the horizon out of the morning mist, were the distinctive pagoda-shaped superstructures of a dozen battleships and cruisers of Emperor Hirohito's Imperial Japanese Navy. The men on the Johnston could see the great guns of the Japanese warships flashing in the distance, and see and hear the giant shells tumbling towards them. The shells made a sound, some recalled, like a passing freight train. On the bridge of the Johnston , one sailor ducked. "Don't duck, son," said the destroyer's captain,...
  • Mark Foley's Secret Life

    Mark Foley's explicit e-mails could bring down the GOP. His story, and the fallout.
  • Stopping the Census Clock

    At 11:03 on the morning of Nov. 20, 1967, a giant “census clock” in the U.S. Department of Commerce building in Washington marked the moment when the population of the United States reached the 200-million mark. The crowd in the lobby interrupted a speech by President Lyndon Johnson on American “greatness” to burst into applause. “’The bigger the better’ is almost an article of faith, as American as turkey on the Thanksgiving table,” wrote NEWSWEEK in its Nov. 27, 1967 issue.When the population of the United States passes 300 million, probably some time later this week, there will be no elaborate official celebrations staged by the White House. At a time when about half the 1.5 million immigrants entering the United States are illegal, the Bush administration is not eager to call attention to America’s out-of-control borders. Many conservatives believe that unbridled immigration threatens to ruin the country. “This is an invasion, the greatest invasion in history,” writes Patrick J....
  • The Woodward War

    Another book, another political blow. How the Bush team is handling the rain of bad news on Iraq, and what it means for Secretary Rumsfeld's future.
  • Transition: Ann Richards, 73

    An ardent feminist who could make the most unrepentant male chauvinist laugh out loud, Richards seized the national stage with her keynote address to the 1988 Democratic convention. "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did," she drawled. "She just did it backwards in high heels." With perfect timing, she skewered the GOP nominee, then Vice President George H.W. Bush. "Poor George." [ Pause; crowd laughter ] "He can't help it." [ Pause; more laughter ] "He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." [ Crowd roars ] Richards was elected governor of Texas in 1990, upsetting the good-ole-boy incumbent, Clayton Williams. Proclaiming a "New Texas," she opened up state government to women and minorities. She was in turn upset by George W. Bush in 1994. Democrats complained that Bush's message boiled down to "gays will take away your guns," but Richards may have underestimated Bush, who ran a tight campaign. Divorced, a recovering alcoholic, she had empathy as well as humor. Meeting...
  • ‘24’ Versus the Real World

    It’s probably not too farfetched to say that what most Americans know about torture comes from watching the TV show “24.” (There is even a Web site called The Jack Bauer Torture Report.) Jack and his comrades and enemies have at various moments on the Fox television program used electrical wires, heart defibrillators, old-fashioned bone breaking and chemical injections to wrest information from their captives. In one episode, Agent Bauer forced a terrorist to watch streaming video—staged—of his child’s execution. The terrorist talked.But how does it really work? The current debate over torture, specifically President Bush’s efforts to gain congressional approval for certain interrogation techniques, is a confusing morass of stonewalling, half-truths and moral posturing wrapped up in politics and legalisms. The whole truth remains concealed behind a veil of government secrecy. Nonetheless, it is possible to piece together a picture of the how torture is actually used by the United...
  • Bold. But Risky.

    Harvard's decision to end early admissions has created an interesting dilemma—and a tempting opportunity—for its rival schools. Students admitted to Harvard as well as another school tend to choose Harvard in overwhelming numbers. This mismatch is particularly galling to its chief competitors, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. Though I don't like to admit it as a Harvard graduate, these schools argue pretty convincingly that they do a better job of focusing on undergraduate education. But the Harvard brand remains powerful, and year after year, Harvard enjoys the highest yield of acceptances—about 80 percent, compared to 70 percent for the other three—and, nationwide, wins head-to-head competitions against each of the three other top-rated schools by comfortable margins.Now Harvard's competitors have a chance to steal a march on their ancient foe. Standout high school students will be sorely tempted to apply early to, say, Yale, rather than wait to apply to Harvard. On Friday, the...
  • Reading Lessons

    According to the White House, President Bush has read more than 60 books in the last year. This is a remarkable accomplishment, even if his motivation was competitive. Reportedly, he was challenged by Karl Rove to match his political adviser in a contest to read a book a week. Bush, who loves games, apparently decided to outdo Rove. The most scholarly president ever was probably Theodore Roosevelt, an autodidact who wrote more than 30 books. But even TR required two years to read as many as 60 books.Bush is more intellectually curious than he is generally given credit for, especially by the mocking press. But he made a remark last night in his address to the nation that calls into question how closely he is reading history. He stated that when FDR began a two-ocean war, he could not have foreseen D-Day or Iwo Jima, and that when Truman promised to liberate people enslaved by Soviet aggression, he could not have imagined the Berlin Wall.Bush's larger point is true enough: that both...
  • The New Age of Terror

    Soldiers in the war on terror have learned much since 9/11. So, too, has the enemy. How the London plot was foiled--and where we are in the five-year struggle.
  • Death of a Terrorist

    The Americans had come close to killing him before, but he'd managed to escape. Not this time.
  • Transition

    Weinberger was called "Cap the Knife" for slashing social programs in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He became "Cap the Shovel" as Ronald Reagan's secretary of Defense, raising the defense budget by some $2 trillion. Intensely loyal, he refused to turn on Reagan when indicted in the Iran-contra scandal. George H.W. Bush pardoned him in 1992, calling him "a true American patriot."Nofziger liked to play the role of gruff-tough political hatchet man, with an edge of whimsy. The ex-newsman had a key role in Reagan's political ascendancy and then became a well-known consultant. He was found guilty of lobbying violations in 1988, but his conviction was later overturned.
  • The Shot Heard Round the World

    He peppered a man in the face, but didn't tell his boss. Inside Dick Cheney's dark, secretive mind-set--and the forces that made it that way.
  • O'Connor's Rightful Heir?

    When conservative Washington lawyers who argue before the Supreme Court talk about "the Greenhouse Effect," they don't mean global warming. The Greenhouse in question is Linda Greenhouse, the longtime and esteemed Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times. The "effect" is to subtly push Supreme Court justices to the left. Unless a jurist comes to the court with very strongly held, or even fixed, conservative views, there is a tendency to be seduced by the liberal legal establishment that dominates at elite law schools like Harvard and Yale. Those schools produce a disproportionate number of the law clerks who generally draft opinions for the justices, as well as the sort of professor routinely tapped as a source by Greenhouse, who is regarded as a legal scholar in her own right.That, at least, is the view of conservatives like U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman, who popularized the term some years ago. The chief "victim" of the Greenhouse Effect is usually said to be...
  • Full Speed Ahead

    After 9/11, Bush and Cheney pressed for more power--and got it. Now, predictably, the questions begin. Behind the NSA spying furor.
  • Taken by Storm

    Hurricane Katrina was less than 24 hours away. The Category 5 hurricane threatened to overwhelm the dikes surrounding the city, much of which sits below sea level. The mayor had ordered a mandatory evacuation. Who would choose to stick around? ...
  • Michael Chertoff: 'What The Hell Is Going On?'

    The lowest moment, Michael Chertoff recalls, came at about 2 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1, three days after Katrina struck. An NPR interviewer asked the secretary of Homeland Security what he was doing about the thousands of people stranded at the Convention Center. Chertoff had no good answer. Hanging up from the interview, he turned and said to an aide, "What the hell is going on with the Convention Center?" Chertoff called his beleaguered FEMA chief, Mike Brown, and was told that there were only 1,500 people there. He ordered Homeland Security's Operations Center to "get some eyeballs" on the situation. Still, the answer came back: only 1,500 people. On the third go-round, Chertoff asked the head of the Federal Protection Service to take a look personally. This time the reported number shot up, to 10,000 to 15,000. Why the discrepancy? The earlier inspectors had failed to look in rooms "deep inside the building," says Chertoff.It may seem remarkable that the secretary of Homeland...
  • Bush in the Bubble

    He has a tight circle of trust, and he likes it that way. But members of both parties are urging Bush to reach beyond the White House walls. How he governs--and how his M.O. stacks up historically.
  • Top Gun's Tailspin

    Randall (Duke) Cunningham has never been shy about his exploits. When he first ran for Congress in 1990, the former naval aviator wore his leather bomber jacket to campaign rallies and referred to his opponent as a "MiG." Cunningham told audiences that the "Maverick" character played by Tom Cruise in "Top Gun" was based on him, claiming credit for the "hit the brakes and he'll fly by" maneuver depicted in the movie and the scene in which Cruise flies upside down over a Soviet fighter. His campaign brochures showed Cruise posing with him on the set, until Cruise's agent objected.When Cunningham arrived in Congress on the eve of the first gulf war, he found that other politicians basked in his glow. Staffers called him "Ace" and "the Dukester," and his colleagues would ask questions like "Duke, why is it so hard to knock out a concrete bunker?" He was booked on the "Today" show and profiled in the Los Angeles Times (which wrote, in 1991, "the 49-year-old Cunningham has approached his...
  • The Debate Over Torture

    Right after 9/11, Cheney said, 'we have to work...the dark side if you will. '