Jon Meacham

Stories by Jon Meacham

  • Q&A: Laura and Jenna Bush Talk Reading

    Laura and Jenna Bush talk reading, teaching and their new book, 'Read All About It'—along with how time flies in the White House.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Political campaigns are fascinating for the same reasons great novels are: both feature characters driven and buffeted by ambition, love and pride. And as in literature, scope is important in politics, for the higher the stakes, the more pitched the story. All of which makes a presidential race the grandest of spectacles.Yet statecraft is not only about the spectacular. Politics, while entertaining, is not—or at least should not be—entertainment. Despite the way we go about deciding who gets it, the presidency is more than a popularity contest, though winning the popular vote is (usually) key. We are not electing someone to room with, drink with or play tennis with but someone to keep the nation safe and direct the affairs of the most powerful country on earth.It is also true, however, that politics is about people, about their passions and their hopes and their fears. Anyone who would lead us has to be able to win—and winning, to state the obvious, requires getting more votes than...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Last September, American-led troops discovered a trove of documents in an insurgent headquarters in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar. The papers cataloged 606 militants who had come to Iraq from abroad. The largest number were from Saudi Arabia, but the highest percentage per capita (almost 19 percent, or 112) were Libyan. And of the 112 Libyans, 52 listed Darnah, a small city of 50,000 on the Mediterranean coast.Reading news accounts of the document find, our foreign editor, Nisid Hajari, was intrigued, and called Kevin Peraino, our Middle East correspondent. The mission sounded simple—answer the question, why Darnah?—but Libya is, well, Libya. As Kevin, who wrote our cover this week, says: "One of the frustrating things about covering the Middle East wars is that, for security reasons, it's often so difficult to tell a richly reported story about America's enemies in the region. I knew it would be tough to gain access to the people we wanted to see in a police state like Libya. I...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    A few months ago, Julia Baird, the editor who oversees our science and family coverage, kept coming across stories about Americans (and Brits) going to India to look for surrogates—stories that were prompting angry online debates about the ethics of outsourcing childbearing to the developing world. It was all very interesting, Julia says, "but I kept wondering why no one was talking about the women in this country who enter commercial arrangements to carry other people's babies. The thought of going through childbirth and nine months of pregnancy for someone else seems astonishing for anyone who has been through it themselves. Sure, it's a joyful, miraculous process—but it is not easy. It can be uncomfortable, painful, restricting and traumatic as well as uplifting and curiously magical. So I was puzzled: who would do this? And why?"The great thing about journalism is that we get paid to go in search of answers to the questions that interest us. And so we launched a reporting...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Last Wednesday, after Ohio and Texas, we were confronting a perennial question: what to do to make the new issue add to the sum of human knowledge—or at least to illuminate a subject, the presidential campaign, in which our readers are immersed. Before arriving at the office, I had worked out what I thought was a strong cover conceit about whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama stood the best chance of defeating John McCain in November—essentially testing, through historical data and on-the-ground reporting in key counties in swing states, which candidate could most plausibly improve on Al Gore's and John Kerry's numbers.It was a perfectly fine idea, but hardly startling. As the day went on, a persistent theme emerged in both passing and more-formal conversations. Many of our writers and editors, particularly but not exclusively women, believed Senator Clinton's victories in Ohio and Texas were the most vivid expressions yet of a female backlash against what they believe to be a...
  • Golly, Madison

    Faith, the Founding Fathers and the unlikely rise of religious freedom.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    The note was unexpected, brief and witty. A few years ago, in The New York Times Book Review, I wrote about a book of William F. Buckley Jr.'s (one of his 50), a "literary autobiography" titled "Miles Gone By." I had found the book charming, and said so. From its pages emerged a portrait of a cheerful cultural and political warrior, a man who loved the clash of ideas, the hurly-burly of the arena—as well as wine, sailing, the Latin mass, John Kenneth Galbraith, Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan.A few days after the piece was published, a National Review envelope arrived in the mail at home. It was a letter from Buckley, whom I did not know. He thanked me for the review, and added that he would endeavor to do nothing in his dotage to embarrass me.He kept his word. His death last week at age 82—he was found at his desk at his country house in Sharon, Conn.—marked the passing of an influential public intellectual and further depressed an already melancholy American right....
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Addiction knows no social or geographic boundaries: what John Cheever called "The Sorrows of Gin" are democratic in their destructiveness. I know few people who have not been affected in some way by addiction—in the world where I grew up, the drug of choice was usually alcohol, with a large side of nicotine—and I suspect the same is true for many of you.It has long been unfashionable to think of addiction as a failure of character or of willpower. More than 50 years ago, in 1956, the American Medical Association recognized addiction as a disease, and we now speak of it in the vernacular of treatment and therapy. But only recently have scientists started making progress in understanding, and possibly treating, the underlying biological factors. When we began hearing about new advances in the search for pharmaceutical solutions for common addictions, we were curious. If addiction is in fact a disease, then could it be treated in the way, say, diabetes is with insulin?As Jeneen...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Politicians' marriages are not very different from yours or mine: ultimately mysterious to everyone on the outside, and probably somewhat mysterious to the two people on the inside. But there is at least one critical distinction. The marriage of a presidential candidate, and of a president, has wider implications than virtually any other marriage, for the forces that shape the personal worlds of those in power also inevitably play a role in shaping the political one as well. Abigail and John Adams, Dolley and James Madison, Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln, Edith and Woodrow Wilson, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Hillary and Bill Clinton: with them, the marital has mattered to the rest of us.Understanding the spouses of those who would be president, then, is both interesting and important. This week Richard Wolffe profiles Michelle Obama, the formidable Princeton- and Harvard-trained lawyer from Chicago who is emerging as one of the most intriguing characters...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    No one I know really likes being criticized. At our best we acknowledge the utility of differing views, but hearing about our shortcomings is still emotionally taxing. To be reviewed and second-guessed is part of life, and a test of maturity is how well we manage the inevitable feelings of frustration and annoyance that creep in when the criticism starts.John McCain is being tested mightily—and not by the Democrats. The most passionate criticism of McCain is coming from conservative celebrities (and semi-celebrities) who believe he is a sleeper liberal. The ferocity of the remarks from Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and others, Holly Bailey reports, has McCain watching his own words with care."He's still the straight talker, the guy who seems to take some enjoyment in mixing it up with voters at town halls over, for example, immigration reform," says Holly, a coauthor of our cover this week. "But you can also tell he's trying to be very...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    "Rebels often make good warriors," Evan Thomas was saying to John McCain late last week in Los Angeles. "What is it about that rebellious streak that makes good fighters?""I think if you can channel it—and it took me a long time to channel it, as you well know—and mature with it, then I think it's an attribute," McCain replied. You have to get past "self-glory—that 'it's all me' and 'it's my gratification' " and "make the transition" to what he called "a cause greater than myself."Like many people, particularly many politicians, John Sidney McCain III is a complex figure. His wit can be charming or searing; his temper stoic or volcanic. Unlike virtually anyone else in America other than his comrades in captivity, though, he has endured the unimaginable, and lived not only to tell the tale but to rise from his broken bones and teeth, from years of torture and pain, to become a congressman, a senator and now the front runner to become the Republican nominee for president of the United...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Wandering around the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Daniel Gross noticed that things felt different—especially for Americans. "In normal times, Davos—which attracts Type A's the way Florida attracts retirees—isn't very relaxing," Daniel said. "But this year, it was particularly not relaxing because of the turmoil in the global markets all week. Tuesday, pre-opening, is a good time for private-equity types to get in some skiing. The mountain was closed, though, due to poor visibility. Just as well, since most were too busy on the phone with brokers, portfolio managers and colleagues, following the market's gyrations, to ski."Understood as widespread contractions in economic activity, recessions are officially defined only in retrospect, when financial data is later analyzed. But with the subprime-mortgage effect still rippling through the economy—leading to defaults, foreclosures and ultimately tens of billions in write-downs for big firms like Citigroup and Merrill...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    For many, the rise of Ronald Reagan happened the day before yesterday. But it has, in fact, been a long while: the Battle of Britain and Tet Offensive are as proximate in time as we are to 1980. For a great spell, then, American politics has been shaped, directly and indirectly, by the coalition of voters and interests Reagan brought together: fiscal conservatives, foreign-policy hawks and politically conservative evangelicals. The Republican Party he built held competitive primaries, but the seasons were short and the GOP instinct for orderliness tended to assert itself early on, which meant that George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole and George W. Bush won the nomination fairly quickly.Not so in 2008, and one reason for the chaotic nature of the Republican primary race is that the party of Reagan is now divided in ways it has not been in more than a generation. This view, which informs our lead essay by Evan Thomas, is not the unsurprising opinion of what many people think of as the liberal...
  • Letting Hillary Be Hillary

    Fighting for her political life, she has found her voice. How the historic Clinton-Obama contest is raising questions of race, gender and power.
  • ‘I Get a Little Wonky’

    It was not a smart assumption, the senator says in an interview, for her or her staff to think voters knew the real Hillary Clinton from her Senate campaigns.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    After a NEWSWEEK cover shoot directed by Simon Barnett at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles on Friday, Hillary Clinton was on her way to a nearby union event. One of the questions she fielded there was a fairly common one for Clinton. Do you feel any pressure running to be the first woman president? She replied: "It is truly a great honor. My 88-year-old mother lives with us. She was born before women could vote. If you think about our daughters, of the options and opportunities they have, it's very exciting … [but] I'm not running for president because I am a woman, I'm running because I think I'm the best qualified." It is an argument we'll hear more of as the primaries proceed.Will Senator Clinton win this week, or in the contests after that, or on Feb. 5 or even beyond? We do not know, and we do not pretend to know. In our view, Clinton is the most consuming story of the moment for many of the same reasons Barack Obama was the story coming out of Iowa: she made not only news but...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    There was broken glass on the floor and garbage bags of shredded documents in the stairwells. On a sunny day in Beijing in 1999—dusty, of course, but still bright—Melinda Liu and I were being given a tour of the ravaged American Embassy in the Chinese capital. Our host was Ambassador Jim Sasser, who had just emerged from four days of siege in the compound. His captors? Protesters enraged by the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. It was, Sasser said, "anything goes. Rocks, Molotov cocktails, paint. The first night I tried to sleep, but all I could hear was the sound of rocks hitting the embassy."It had been an odd kind of protest—but then, China is an odd kind of superpower. As Melinda reported at the time, "Beijing leaders quickly seized control of the demonstrations, allowing protesters to let off steam—but not actually to overrun U.S. installations. The government provided permits and buses for the Beijing demonstrators … Officials put up metal signs pointing out the...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    John Edwards had just changed his shirt—blue for blue—and opened a Diet Sunkist orange soda. It was a hot New Hampshire day late in the summer, and Jonathan Darman and I had gone up to check in on Edwards's retail political performances. After a sweaty speech in the sun in front of a public school, the Democratic candidate climbed back aboard his bus for a conversation about the campaign. Then as now, the preponderance of coverage of the race seemed to focus on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and I asked Edwards how he felt about that. "I have been through this before," he said, referring to his 2004 bid. "And in Iowa and New Hampshire, you just have to go look people in the eye, and you never really know what is going to happen until late in the game." Four years ago, Howard Dean had been all the rage—and then Iowans actually caucused. Edwards remembered the season the shift began. "In '04, it was December before I started getting a really telling question: 'Tell us why you would...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    The story of the making of this week's cover story is a fairly common one at NEWSWEEK. There was careful planning for months—and then, with the deadline approaching, we got excited about a new angle and quickly changed course. This happens all the time; it is one of the many reasons that those of us who work in journalism may not always be happy, but we are never bored.Four times a year we collaborate with the Harvard Medical School on Health for Life, and the addition of another institution to the mix necessarily means a good deal of planning. In preparation for this installment called "What's Next in Medicine," Alexis Gelber and David Noonan went up to Boston in July to meet with Dr. Anthony Komaroff, editor in chief of Harvard Health Publications, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and our main contact for all things Harvard. Working with Tony, Alexis and David came up with an initial list of story ideas, which we refined as the months went by. Everything was...
  • The Editor's Desk

    The first book I can remember holding—holding, not reading—was a copy of "Treasure Island," which had been inscribed to me by an overly enthusiastic grandfather on the occasion of my turning a month old. I still have it, and have now, as an overly enthusiastic father myself, tried reading it to my own children, whose interest thus far has been limited to a scary Norman Price image of Pew, whom they associate with a pirate-themed episode of "The Backyardigans." And so it goes.Like many of you, I adore books. I have tested the bounds of domestic felicity by fighting any efforts to prune the rising number of volumes at home. (For some reason, a copy of Matthew Arnold's "Literature and Dogma," which I confess I have never read, has often been used as Exhibit A in my wife's occasional attempts to argue that perhaps it is time to clear out some shelf space. I have thus far resisted, but it is touch-and-go.) I know that a lot of my colleagues share this weakness of mine, and I suspect that...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    In 1966, Tom Brokaw moved to Los Angeles to work for NBC News. Born in 1940, "a child of the 1950s, with a foot in the '60s," he found himself face to face with the contradictory cultural forces that would shape the next four decades. At work he covered Ronald Reagan's campaign for governor; at night he was, as he writes in his new book, "Boom! Voices of the Sixties," still part of "the cocktail generation, but marijuana had started showing up around the edges of our circle." At a dinner at the house of a physician in West Los Angeles, pot was served for dessert. "One thing led to another, and before long the pool was full of naked swimmers, including a draft-resistance lawyer who came headfirst down the slide with a spliff the size of a Havana cigar clenched firmly in his toothy smile." On Monday morning, Brokaw was back in a coat and tie, reporting on the roots of what would become the Reagan Revolution.The complexities of the era have long fascinated Brokaw, and helped give rise...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    He is always in motion. Last Thursday evening, in Washington's ornate Union Station on Capitol Hill, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg spoke to a dinner for Conservation International on how to address climate change. The glittery crowd—it included Queen Noor and Harrison Ford—loved him, and, Washington being Washington, the question of whether Bloomberg might make an independent run for the White House was an implicit Topic A. At cocktails, a top Democrat told me he just did not see how a Bloomberg campaign would work. After Bloomberg's rousing talk about common-sense solutions and candor, the Democrat stopped me. "I want to revise my remarks," he said.Bloomberg, meanwhile, was already on to the next event—a late-night flight across the country to the other Washington. "C'mon," he said. "Let's go to Seattle." He swept out, piled his entourage into black Suburbans and was soon aboard one of his three jets. In the air, after exchanging his pinstripes for faded blue jeans and an...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    With the possible exceptions of who assigns the arrows in the Conventional Wisdom Watch and where to send My Turn submissions, the question we are asked most frequently is how we decide what goes on the cover. Like politics, editing is an art, not a science, and these calls are driven by multiple factors, many of which were in play in pulling together the issue you are now reading.One of our perennial dilemmas is when to go with news on the cover (in this case, the California fires) and when to showcase enterprise reporting (in this case, the spread of food allergies in children).The honest answer is that it depends. (Not a stunning revelation, I know, but, in a phrase attributed to Henry Kissinger, it has the virtue of being true.) Here is how we came to decide this time. A news story—the fires—broke early in the week. Television, the Web (including Newsweek.com) and the papers provided saturation coverage, which raised a question for us: What could we offer our print readers next...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Two months ago, we launched a reporting project to test the hypothesis that Pakistan—not Iran, not Iraq, not North Korea—is now the most dangerous nation in the world. Such hypotheses are obviously subjective, but our question was prompted by the objective reality we found in reporting our late-August cover on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. That story clearly showed how important the tribal region along the Afghan-Pak border is to the jihadists who take refuge in its mountainous terrain. From the Soviet invasion to the Taliban to the war that began six Octobers ago, Afghanistan can seem more familiar, Pakistan more of a riddle.This week's cover should help many of us understand the place better. The question of Pakistan and its relationship to Al Qaeda and the Taliban was given new urgency last Thursday when terrorist bombs killed at least 134 people in Karachi in an apparent attempt on the life of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who had just arrived back in the country...
  • Jon Meacham: The Editor's Desk

    We have two pieces of news close to home: a redesign of the magazine and of NEWSWEEK.com. Our renovations come at an interesting time for journalism. As the number of news outlets expands, it is said, attention spans shrink; only the fast and the pithy will survive. Some people in our business believe print should emulate the Internet, filling pages with short, Weblike bites of information.We disagree. There is a simple idea behind the changes in the issue of NEWSWEEK you are holding: we are betting that you want to read more, not less. Other media outlets believe you just want things quick and easy. We think you will make the time to read pieces that repay the effort.Led by Amid Capeci (the legendary Roger Black consulted with us, and Dan Revitte and Bonnie Scranton were instrumental), the redesign is more about refinement than revolution; many changes are subtle. The most important shift is a cleaner visual presentation that gives our writers more words and creates a better...