Jon Meacham

Stories by Jon Meacham

  • 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...
  • The Editor's Desk

    Kathy Deveny is big enough to admit it: "I have been a closet Paris addict for years, and I can't read enough about these chicks--Paris, Britney, Lindsay Lohan," she says. "They're young, beautiful and do whatever the hell they want. I've always had a soft spot for good-time girls."And then came parenthood. Kathy, an assistant managing editor and the author, with Raina Kelley, of this week's cover story, is the mother of Jing Jing, a 6-year-old who, like many young girls, is fascinated by the Lindsay-Paris-Britney celebrity axis. "One morning I was mocking Lindsay and Jing Jing got upset," Kathy says. "I said in an offhand way that Lindsay, Paris and Britney are kind of bad girls. 'They are not ,' Jing Jing said. She was very indignant, took it very personally. All of a sudden I could imagine her teen-age rebellion, and it scared the hell out of me. I realized that I want her to someday have the beauty and independence of those girls, but still dress and behave the way I think she...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Skepticism—not cynicism, but a healthy wariness—is a reasonable reaction when you hear journalists engage in hyperbolitis ("more than ever before" is a good signal phrase of the affliction). Sometimes, though, a superlative is empirically justified. There are such things as genuine firsts, and the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency would be just that: an authentically unprecedented event in American history.While this is our third annual cover focused on Women & Leadership, the issue you are reading has a special resonance in the context of the Clinton campaign. We have long struggled with whether discussing "women and leadership" is anachronistic. (We would probably not, for instance, undertake a series on "Men & Leadership.") Our reporting has consistently shown, however, that many women at the highest levels of political, corporate, professional and academic life have unique stories to tell, lessons to teach and issues to face that raise questions about the nature...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Mitt Romney wants to make clear—respectfully but unmistakably—that he is not George W. Bush. Aboard his campaign plane last week in California, en route from Redding to Hayward, Jonathan Darman and Lisa Miller asked Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, what distinguishes him from the incumbent president. "Our life experience is quite different in terms of the kinds of enterprises we were involved in," Romney said. "I was 10 years in the consulting business. That means I tend to be highly analytical, data-driven, analysis-driven, so I follow a process for decision making."Point taken, Governor. Another different life experience, one that separates Romney from the other major presidential contenders, is his particular faith. Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religion established in the 19th century in America by Joseph Smith, who Mormons believe received a new revelation from the risen Son of God. Known as Mormonism because the angel...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    It did not take long. Only 4 months old, Jennifer Mansua has already been infected by the malaria parasite. Her mother, Cecilia Nakabu, brought her child to the Kintampo Health Research Centre in central Ghana, where Shaul Schwarz took the picture of mother and daughter that appears on our cover this week. Jennifer underwent a blood transfusion that the doctors and nurses at the clinic believe will save her. Meanwhile, Dr. Fred Binka, who is working at Kintampo, is helping with a pioneering study to develop a malaria vaccine in the hopes that children like Jennifer may one day be immunized before the disease can strike at all.Binka's work is emblematic of a renewed global effort to discover and safely disseminate vaccines and other treatments across the planet. It is work that Bill Gates knows well. In the 1990s, Gates and his wife, Melinda, began traveling to countries in which it was assumed that, as Gates writes in an essay for us, "millions of poor people would die each year...
  • A Candid Conversation with Greenspan

    Did the Fed cause the real-estate bubble to burst? Are we entering a recession? And who should be our next president? A candid conversation.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    For two decades, from his appointment by President Reagan in 1987 to his retirement from the Federal Reserve in 2006, Alan Greenspan communicated in what even he calls "Fedspeak"—a separate language that is opaque, technical and nearly always cryptic. (In the land of Fedspeak, "irrational exuberance" was a model of clear expression.) It was with more than a little trepidation, then, that I began to read the manuscript pages of Greenspan's new memoir, "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World."My trepidation was short-lived. Long an enigmatic, purposely placid figure in the public imagination, Greenspan emerges from the book as a vivid and engaging man. An adviser to presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, he has, in a way, been hiding in plain sight for 40 years, and is only now, at 81, really able to speak his mind to a broad audience.In person he has a quiet charm, and his smile can be surprisingly delightful (Nigel Parry captured such a moment for our cover). His...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    The interview had just begun when Hillary Clinton got to the heart of the matter. For our cover on how a new President Clinton might govern, Jonathan Darman asked her: "As someone who's watched a president up close, what do you understand that the rest of us can't know?" Clinton's answer was straightforward. She spoke of seeking a diversity of views, of weighing all options—but, she said, "at the end of the day, I have to make decisions. I feel very comfortable, once I have decided, taking responsibility for that decision. It's not anybody else's decision once I've made it. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong."Her plain speaking on the subject is reminiscent of Andrew Jackson (who loved to say, "I take the responsibility!" when he was under siege), Harry Truman ("The buck stops here") and, in a way, of George W. Bush (who has referred to himself as "the decider"). As with so much else about Clinton, her views on decision making are likely to be interpreted differently depending on where one...
  • The Editor's Desk: Aug. 20-27, 2007 issue

    Stories from the world of technology about the latest man or machine that will forever alter the way we live now (such is the hyperbolic language journalists can fall back on when contemplating a newly minted Silicon Valley gazillionaire or a shiny gadget) are fairly familiar. Internet-driven fads come and go at, well, Internet speed, and businesses that seem indestructible one day can fall apart the next.It is to Mark Zuckerberg's credit that he hates hype, and understands that building a sustainable business is the work of years, if not decades. At 23, he is the founder of Facebook.com, the social-networking site that is an online home to about 30 million Americans. If you do not know Facebook, then Steven Levy's cover story this week will take you inside a vast network of "friends"; if you do know it, and know it well, you will find out how Zuckerberg is struggling to preserve the milieu you have come to love (by expanding the site's reach) without losing the coolness at its core...
  • Global Literacy: What You Need to Know Now

    Twenty summers ago, in 1987, as the shadows fell on the Reagan years, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, E. D. Hirsch, published a surprise best seller: "Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know." (It was No. 2 on The New York Times hardcover nonfiction list in June 1987.) Hirsch's basic argument: that every reader needs to be conversant with certain terms and facts in order to make sense of what is written and discussed in the public sphere.The book was not even in stores before it provoked a debate over diversity and multiculturalism. A clever publicist from Houghton Mifflin, the book's publisher, had arranged for Hirsch to appear at a gathering of education writers in San Francisco, where Hirsch laid out his case, including his 63-page list of terms ranging from "abolitionism" to "Zurich."A reporter from the Associated Press asked Hirsch, "Why isn't 'Cinco de Mayo' on the list?" Hirsch apologized and admitted he did not know what the phrase meant. ...
  • The Editor's Desk: July 2-9, 2007 issue

    I was reminded of one of the joys of this job one afternoon last week. The sun was sinking over the West Side of Manhattan when I sat down to read the essays that make up the Special Report on "What You Need to Know" in this issue. I found myself, as I hope you will be, absorbed in David Gates's analysis of the enduring appeal of Jane Austen (she still outsells Ann Coulter and Alice Walker). Minutes later, Sharon Begley was taking me on a tour of the intricacies and unfolding mysteries of the brain. Fareed Zakaria soon challenged my thinking with his essay on Islamic radicalism. Then Howard Fineman shook up the conventional wisdom about which states will really matter in the 2008 race, and Bob Samuelson convinced me that the worst thing that could happen to the economy would be if we started strenuously building our savings.Provocative, witty, counterintuitive and, above all, deeply reported and illuminating: this week's project has led me to break my usual rule against using...
  • Dickey: Halberstam's Lessons About Quagmires

    It was the spring of 1955, a year after Brown vs. Board of Education, and David Halberstam wanted to be where the action was.  Fresh from Harvard College, he set out for the Deep South, for a reporter’s job on the paper in tiny West Point, Miss.  The South did not get any deeper, nor newspapers any tinier, than in West Point.  But the story did not get any bigger, either.  Halberstam, who had grown up in New York, understood that a war was under way in the streets of the South and in the hearts of Americans on the perennial question of race.  He believed, he said later, that Mississippi “was the best place to apprentice as a journalist,” and the stories of that time, including the Emmett Till trial in Sumner, brought him face to face with the complexities of the American character-the violence and the passion, the rage and the grace, the cruelty and the kindness.  Flush from victory in World War II, embarked on the cold war against Soviet totalitarianism, the nation was struggling...
  • Schlesinger on Reagan's Faults and Virtues

    On a Saturday evening in Georgetown in late 1946, the columnist Joe Alsop was giving a dinner at his house in the 2700 block of Dumbarton. The guests were predictably drawn from the glamorous and the powerful; Supreme Court justices, ambassadors and influential journalists frequently came to Alsop's table. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., not yet 30 and already a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, was there, as were the Henry Cabot Lodges. Mrs. Lodge, Schlesinger noted in a letter to his parents, was "exceedingly attractive." There was one other guest of interest: a congressman-elect from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. "Kennedy seemed very sincere and not unintelligent," Schlesinger wrote, "but kind of on the conservative side."The scene is classic Schlesinger: there he is, at once a historian of the past and a player in the politics of the moment, savoring a good dinner with good company, surveying the table with an astute eye—by turns generous, pitiless and politically incisive....
  • The Editor's Desk

    She remembered the sound of splashing, then the shot. It was the early 1920s, and my grandmother, then a small girl, was being given a bath by an aunt who had come to stay with the family while my great-grandmother battled what was called "melancholia." As the little girl played in the tub, her mother slipped away to another part of the house, took a pistol and killed herself.I was told the story in the way of warning: depression ran in the family. And as Julie Scelfo writes in our cover this week, men need all the warnings about mental health they can get. As remarkable as it seems in the age of Oprah and Dr. Phil, we remain reluctant to confront the possibility that our irritability, dark moments and even despondency are not random feelings but may be symptoms of clinical depression, and are thus treatable if diagnosed. What William James called "a positive and active anguish" is yielding, slowly but in significant ways, to scientific analysis and medical treatment.For many...
  • The Editor's Desk

    Our history with Iran is, to say the least, a checkered one. In the 1950s, under President Eisenhower, a CIA operation restored a pro-American shah to power; in the 1960s, the Ayatollah Khomeini was exiled; in the 1970s, the Islamic Revolution toppled the shah, Khomeini took control of the country and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days, helping elect Ronald Reagan and George Bush (an event that made the presidency of George W. Bush a possibility), and in the 1980s, the United States supported Saddam Hussein in his long war against Iran. For a generation, the mention of Iran tended to evoke images of protesters chanting "Death to America!"As the new century began, then, Tehran and Washington did not enjoy the cheeriest of connections. When Osama bin Laden struck America, however, Iran saw a chance to build up some good will by reaching out. For a few months in the autumn of 2001, we were allies in the war against the Taliban. But by January 2002, when President Bush decided to...
  • Editor's Desk

    It was, apparently, a grim session. As Michael Hirsh and Richard Wolffe report this week, President Bush asked some GOP senators to come to the White House to talk about the deployment of 21,000 more troops to Baghdad. Skeptical and worried--as is much of the country; according to the new NEWSWEEK Poll, only 26 percent approve of Bush's "surge" plan--the lawmakers told the president they were particularly concerned about Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Any resolution in Iraq--anything approaching resolution--depends on strong Iraqi leadership. There is, however, a growing fear that Maliki, a Shiite with ties to the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, may not be able to quell the country's devastating sectarian violence.The debate over the war is intense and heartfelt, but for those of us far removed from combat and who do not have family engaged in the conflict, Iraq can seem abstract--a source of sincere but somewhat clinical concern.At NEWSWEEK, however, the war felt...
  • The Editor's Desk

    He is just 14, but already sounds like someone who has seen much, and feels much, and resents much. A soldier in the Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by the Shiite strongman Moq-tada al-Sadr, Ali Sadkhan lives in the Shia holy city of Karbala. Ali comes from a poor but proud family; he idolizes not only Sadr but Sadr's martyred father, a revered Shia cleric whom Saddam Hussein murdered in 1999. For Ali, the political and the personal have always been linked; in 2003, when America toppled Saddam's regime, he went to a Hawza seminary in Najaf, a center of Shia doctrine. Two years later, as the war dragged on, Ali joined the militia. "I should learn how to fight thieves and foreigners who would think to steal our rights," Ali recently told a NEWSWEEK stringer in Karbala. "I want to be like Sayeed Moqtada and his father, who never felt afraid of anything. His father stood against Saddam, and he stood against the evil of America." Americans, Ali said, "want to make a new Middle East, a...
  • The Editor's Desk

    In the Spring of 1986, Pat Wingert joined NEWSWEEK's Washington bureau after nearly a decade of reporting for two Chicago newspapers. Her first assignment was to work with a new writer in New York, Barbara Kantrowitz, on a story about how more American families were reacting to fears about airline terrorism by taking old-fashioned car vacations. In those days, writers in New York, where we are headquartered, were largely enveloped in an Olympian mist, spending much of the week awaiting what were called "files" of actual reporting from our bureaus. But Pat did a radical thing: she picked up the phone and called Barbara, herself a veteran big-city newspaper reporter, to talk about the story. They hit it off from the start. At the end of that opening conversation, Barbara said, "We're going to get along just fine."And how. In the ensuing 20 years, Pat and Barbara have worked together on hundreds of NEWSWEEK stories, including dozens of covers. Their first such outing, in 1986, was "No...
  • The Editor's Desk

    It was nearly noon on an over-cast August day in Beaver Creek, Colo., in 1998, and former president Gerald R. Ford, wearing a pressed golf shirt and seated on a flowered sofa, was revisiting the past. He had kindly granted NEWSWEEK an interview for an oral-history project, and we had covered a lot of ground, from his service in the Pacific during World War II to his brief (eight-month) vice presidency. Then, just before lunch, I asked, inevitably, how he felt about the criticism of his pardon of Richard Nixon.Without hesitating, Ford scooted forward on the sofa, pulled his wallet from his pocket and took out a small card that read: Burdick v. the United States, a 1915 decision that held there was "a confession of guilt implicit in the acceptance of a pardon." "The Supreme Court ruled that," Ford said, and left the matter there, his gaze steady. His face projected sure and certain confidence in his decision; the fact that he carried a card around to justify it revealed a lingering...