Jon Meacham

Stories by Jon Meacham

  • 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...
  • The Editor's Desk

    It was 1988, and the governor of Arkansas and his wife were in Atlanta for the Democratic National Convention that nominated Michael Dukakis. One day that week, Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton came to lunch with NEWSWEEK reporters and editors, and Jonathan Alter met her for the first time. "She was already a formidable political player," Jon recalls, "and even then people were saying that maybe the governor's wife would go into politics herself." Beginning in 1992, Jon got to know her better--they are both from Chicago, which always gives them something to talk about--and he happened to speak with her on one of the most embarrassing days in the history of the American presidency, when her husband's videotaped deposition about sex and the definition of "is" was playing on television.Around the same time, in the late 1990s, Jon met a young Illinois state senator, Barack Obama, while visiting a cousin in Chicago. "Even then he was obviously someone with a big future if he could...
  • The Editor's Desk

    Raised in a secular Jewish household in Connecticut, Lisa Miller rarely went to temple as a child, but she remembers savoring the great stories of the Hebrew Bible. "I loved them," she recalls. "They were so full of magic and adventure and families and inexplicable events." Later, in college at Oberlin, she took a course with the scholar L. Michael White entitled "The Life and Teachings of Jesus." It was, she says, "revelatory"--she found, as readers who spend time with Scripture in an analytical way do, that "each Gospel author had a slightly different purpose in telling his story, a different audience, came from at least a slightly different time."Later, as a religion reporter at The Wall Street Journal, Lisa learned, too, that faith, like politics, is often shaped early on. "Everybody has a story about religion, and their stories are, for the most part, about their families," says Lisa, who is now our religion editor. "They're either moving toward or away from the religion of...
  • The Editor's Desk

    As he tells it, James A. Baker III was as surprised as anyone when George W. Bush became president. "I always liked him," Baker writes in his new memoir, "but I wouldn't have taken a bet in the late fifties or early sixties that he might ever be a governor, much less a candidate for president." Baker was not invited to be part of the younger Bush's presidential bid in 2000 until the campaign needed a good lawyer in Florida. "The reason you didn't see him in my campaign was not because of a family feud or anything," Baker quotes Bush as saying. "It was more that we were trying to give the indication that we were moving forward in a way, away from my father's generation and into my own." The move was made, but as the years passed and Bush 43 became mired in Iraq, Baker again found himself called to service.This week, he, along with his Democratic co-chairman, Lee Hamilton, will deliver the Iraq Study Group's report to the 43rd president. As Evan Thomas writes in this week's cover,...
  • The Editor's Desk

    There was a time, in the spring of 2003, when a relatively smooth transition from tyranny to democracy in Iraq did not seem an outlandish prospect. Baghdad had fallen; Saddam Hussein was on the run; soon the president of the United States would announce the end of "major combat operations." A new era was at hand.Even in those early days, however, the reality on the ground could feel very different. NEWSWEEK's Babak Dehghanpisheh remembers Friday prayers in eastern Baghdad in the weeks after Saddam's overthrow. Organized by followers of the young Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the service drew thousands. Many spilled out of the mosque into dusty streets and fields, where young men armed with AK-47s patrolled the perimeter. "All other clerics, whether Shia or Sunni, were holding civilized prayer sessions inside mosques," Babak recalls. "And here was this upstart young cleric with a crowd of thousands willing to pray outside under a brutal sun." The message that day, delivered by a Sadr...
  • The Editor's Desk

    For a time, Susan and Jeff Hudkins thought they knew what they were up against. First in 1997 and again in 2000, their two little boys were diagnosed with very different forms of autism. The parents understood then that their children would spend their early years in ways the Hudkinses had never imagined--emotionally troubled, developmentally challenged, veering from treatment to treatment. The Hudkinses' goal was to give the kids as safe and secure a childhood as possible in their Chicago suburb. Then, about two years ago, the world turned over yet again as the Hudkinses began contemplating the future. "When your kid turns 10 or 11, something changes in your focus," Susan told our Julie Scelfo . "I'm all of a sudden focused on: what is his life going to be like in five or seven years when he is an adult, or when I'm not here? When he is an adult with autism, what is life going to be like for him? That comes pretty quickly as a parent."Tragically, answers to the Hudkinses' questions...
  • The Editor's Desk

    On an April morning earlier this year, sitting in an armchair in his office on the campus of Texas A&M, George H.W. Bush was drinking coffee and talking--reluctantly, but still talking--about history. Billy Graham was in town (staying at the nearby Marriott), and the evangelist's visit brought pieces of the past back to the former president's mind, particularly memories of Graham staying with the Bushes in the White House on the eve of the first gulf war. A visitor suggested that history would probably remember the 41st president's policy toward Iraq more kindly than it would the 43rd's. "Iraq could still turn around," Bush said, quickly, even sharply. "We just don't know yet."The words were an instinctive defense of a son he loves and respects, and the former president is right: a change in Iraq--something between "stay the course" and "cut and run"--could in fact stabilize the chaos. But if there is resolution, it may come in large measure not from Bush 43's world but from his...
  • The Prodigal Returns

    George Herbert Walker Bush is a proud father; tears easily come to his eyes when he thinks of his children, all of them, and there is gracious deference in his tone when he talks about the son he calls, with emphasis, " The President." He is not given to boasting about or bragging on his family; he still hears his mother's voice warning him to avoid "the Great I Am," but several times over the past few years the 41st president has mentioned to visitors that the 43rd president has read the Bible in its entirety--not once, the father says, but twice, sticking two fingers in the air. If so, then the incumbent may recall the Song of Moses: "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee." ...
  • The Editor's Desk

    Thirty years ago, almost to the week, NEWSWEEK published a cover story calling 1976 "the year of the evangelical." In the presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter's born-again faith was bringing new attention to theologically conservative Christians. At the time, evangelical political engagement was rarer than it is now, partly because of an old religious tradition that eschewed the pursuit of temporal power. "Put not thy trust in princes," the Psalmist had said, and, much later, Jesus told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world."In the middle of the 1970s, however, many American evangelicals decided the world required their attention. In 1965, after Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala., Jerry Falwell advised ministers to stay away from civil-rights marches, but he soon came to see things differently. "I preached in my early ministry that involvement should be shunned, and urged the pastors not to march, just to preach the Gospel, because that is what I was taught in an evangelical college,"...
  • The Editor's Desk

    On a Saturday in mid-October, Air Force Airman 1/c Lee Bernard Emmanuel Chavis--he was Lee to friends, and "Nard" to family--was on patrol with the 824th Security Forces Squadron in Iraq. It was Chavis's second tour of duty; his unit was tasked with training Iraqi police officers. A lead turret gunner, Chavis was manning a .50-caliber machine gun atop an armored truck when a sniper killed him in western Baghdad.On a windy, overcast day last week, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where the sounds of the 21-gun salute and the bugler's taps broke the solemn silence. It was a noble farewell for a noble man: the son of a Vietnam veteran, Chavis was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for valor. The son his parents left in the ground was 21 years old. "Arlington was just so final, it was really it," his mother, Jacquelin, said. "It is really an honor to have him laid among so many other heroes, but he is my son and he is gone."Now in its 44th month, the war...
  • The Editor's Desk

    The way Harold Ford Jr. tells the story, our Jonathan Darman was walking alongside the Memphis congressman in the annual Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tenn., interviewing him about his prospects as an African-American Democrat running for the U.S. Senate in a Southern state. An ancient custom in middle Tennessee (the first was held in 1840), Mule Day is a festival dedicated to--well, mules. This year, as Ford was campaigning with Darman in tow, the two came within sight of a group of Sons of Confederate Veterans dressed in battle gray. Ford grew nervous: he did not think it would look good for him to be hanging out with a reporter from a national magazine. "Hey," Ford recalled saying to Darman, "you've got to walk a little bit behind me. These guys already think I'm a little crazy. I got enough problems on my own." Ever gentlemanly, Jon agreed.As Jon, the author of this week's cover story, slowed down, Ford worked the Confederate caucus with hugs and high-fives--an interesting...
  • The Editor's Desk

    On a Wednesday afternoon 67 Octobers ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to see Alexander Sachs, a New York economist and occasional adviser. The topic: weapons of mass destruction. The meeting, which took place at the White House on Oct. 11, 1939, was, Richard Rhodes wrote in the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Making of the Atomic Bomb," "the first authoritative report to a head of state of the possibility of using nuclear energy to make a weapon of war." Sachs handed the president a cautionary letter from Albert Einstein and quoted a British scientist: "Personally, I think there is no doubt that sub-atomic energy is available all around us, and that one day man will release and control its almost infinite power. We cannot prevent him from doing so and can only hope that he will not use it exclusively to blow up his next door neighbor."That hope--and hope is an elusive but essential element in international affairs--has been tested anew inside the "Hermit Kingdom" of North Korea. Kim...
  • The Editor's Desk

    A decade ago, my wife and I spent a long, lovely--and, if memory serves, rather liquid--evening in Atlanta with Bill Emerson, a charming bear of a man who had covered the civil-rights movement for NEWSWEEK. Emerson was full of war stories--tales of the age of King and Wallace, of Birmingham and Little Rock. The mission for reporters, Emerson said, had been clear. "We knew we had to just tell the damn truth," Emerson said. "The truth may be plenty good or plenty bad, but believe me, it's always plenty." ...