Jon Meacham

Stories by Jon Meacham

  • 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." ...
  • ‘The Essence of Tragedy’

    On the publication of “State of Denial,” Bob Woodward spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Jon Meacham about the new book, the perils of wartime leadership, and the lessons of history. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: What surprised you the most in reporting the new book?Bob Woodward: That there’s a theme that goes back to the beginning, and theme is the element of denial. It runs not just from after the invasion to today, but it began prewar. There were people telling [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld in December 2002, four months before the war, that ‘you’re going to lose the election for George Bush if you don’t get the postwar fixed because it’s screwed up now.’ So the warnings were emphatic and very, very specific and well before the war.You have watched many of the people involved in the Bush administration for decades—Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger. What do you think was in their minds as the past few years unfolded?There is a lot of idealism driving this. It may be mismanaged; as...
  • The Pope's 'Holy War'

    The setting was familiar, the occasion, the speaker thought, fitting. At 3 in the afternoon last Tuesday, after a quick ride from lunch in the Popemobile, Benedict XVI began a lecture in the Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg in Germany. As Joseph Ratzinger, the pope spent much of his life in the country's academic milieu; as he spoke to a gathering of scientists in the hall, he reminisced about his teaching days at the University of Bonn. "There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists ... " Benedict said early in an address on faith and reason. Citing a conversation between a 14th- century Christian Byzantine emperor and an Islamic Persian, Benedict quoted Manuel II: "'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'"Within days Benedict found the globe engaged in a "lively exchange," but it was not, one suspects, the exchange...
  • An Eternal Story

    It was September 1934, and a skinny 29-year-old former Rhodes Scholar from tiny Guthrie, Kentucky—a little fellow, blind in his left eye (the legacy of a childhood accident) and strikingly red hair—was driving a green 1931 Studebaker south from Tennessee to Louisiana. The car had cost Robert Penn Warren $50, a steep sum for a young college professor and aspiring writer in those Depression days; he had gotten off to a late start on this trip to take up a new teaching job at Gov. Huey Long’s Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge because a brother-in-law had stuck him with a debt at a gas station that took some time to straighten out.Warren was moving fast, but, he later recalled, “fate gave me a passenger.” On the second day of the trip to Baton Rouge, somewhere in northern Louisiana, Warren picked up a poor stranger on the roadside. “He was a somewhat aging fellow, unshaven, missing a tooth or two, with tobacco juice oozing from the place where a tooth had been, not quite as...
  • The Editor's Desk

    Early in the 20th century, scientists were on the hunt for a theoretical "Planet X," which they believed lay beyond the known boundaries of the solar system. In fact, "X" didn't exist, but in 1930 they did find a planet, more than 3 billion miles away, and dubbed it "Pluto." The discovery was a cheery note in the bleak months after the stock-market crash (The New York Times hailed the new planet as "A Drama of the Skies") and our tiny, if distant, neighbor has long been a kind of beloved bookend to Earth's nine-planet solar system. Last week, however, the International Astronomical Union voted to kill Pluto's planetary status, relegating it to the rank of--this is the scientists' term, not ours--"dwarf planet."Pluto's fate provided us with a chance to check in on what science is learning about the universe--which is a lot, and at a very rapid rate. In a cover story by Jerry Adler, reported by Mary Carmichael,A. Christian Jean and Nomi Morris, we explain how astronomers are...
  • The Editor's Desk

    History has a way of happening in August. It is the month World War I began, Richard Nixon resigned, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the Soviet Union began its slide into oblivion and Katrina struck. Last week was no exception: the discovery of an epic plot to blow up as many as 10 airliners traveling from Britain to the United States was a landmark in the war on terror--news that gave us a grim occasion to assess America's five-year-old post-9/11 struggle against Islamic terrorism. ...
  • Pilgrim's Progress

    In the twilight, Billy Graham shares what he's learned in reflecting on politics and Scripture, old age and death, mysteries and moderation. A NEWSWEEK exclusive.
  • The Editor's Desk

    On a humid afternoon in Manhattan earlier this summer, a group of NEWSWEEK editors and writers had just finished an early screening of Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center." With characteristic cinematic skill, Stone re-created the crash of the planes, the rain of rubble and the gloom that enveloped those trapped in the debris. The story he told was inspiring--the two heroes, Port Authority cops John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Peña)--ultimately survived. But the film was draining too, for it brought back, in the vivid way a well-crafted movie can, the shock of the slaughter.As we left the screening room, we noticed a couple in the lobby, awaiting another showing of the new movie: the real-life John McLoughlin with his wife, Donna. Charmingly diffident, the McLoughlins wanted to make sure we understood they were not seeking glory. The true heroes, McLoughlin said, were the rescuers who dug them out. In an interview later with our Jeff Giles, Jimeno echoed the...
  • God and the Founders

    America's first fight was over faith. As the Founding Fathers gathered for the inaugural session of the Continental Congress on Tuesday, September 6, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Thomas Cushing, a lawyer from Boston, moved that the delegates begin with a prayer. Both John Jay of New York and John Rutledge, a rich lawyer-planter from South Carolina, objected. Their reasoning, John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, was that "because we were so divided in religious sentiments"--the Congress included Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and others--"we could not join in the same act of worship." The objection had the power to set a secular tone in public life at the outset of the American political experience.Things could have gone either way. Samuel Adams of Boston spoke up. "Mr. S. Adams arose and said he was no bigot, and could hear a prayer from a gentleman of piety and virtue who was at the same time a friend to his country," wrote John Adams. "He was a...
  • God, Satan, and Katrina

    In New Orleans to preach to 1,000 clergy gathered at the First Baptist Church there--his first sermon in eight months--the Rev. Billy Graham toured the hard-hit city last week. Afterward, the 87-year-old Graham, who has also just published a new book, "The Journey: How to Live by Faith in an Uncertain World," spoke to NEWSWEEK by telephone. Edited excerpts:This is your first trip to the coast after Katrina. What are your impressions?This is the greatest disaster that I have ever seen, and I've seen many, all over the world. Mile after mile after mile, and not a house standing, not a thing that has been left untouched by Katrina. It's overwhelming to me. After my first tour, in fact, I was so emotional that I could not even talk to my wife for a while.What do you tell people who ask how a loving God could let something like this happen?Well, I spoke yesterday to the clergy and I asked myself why, and I told them don't know why. There is no way I can know. I think of Job, who suffered...
  • The Editor's Desk

    The book Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was working on as Watergate began to unfold in 1972-73 was tentatively called "The Royal Presidency," but Schlesinger had a persistent feeling that the title was not quite right. Now 88, he recalls the moment he hit on the perfect phrase. "For something to be 'royal' means it is inherited, or passive," Schlesinger said last week from his apartment overlooking the East River in New York. "But 'The Imperial Presidency' suggests an active acquisition of power, a series of conquests. And so that became the name of the book."It also became an enduring term in America's political lexicon. In reaction to the abuses of the Nixon years, the country diverted more authority to Capitol Hill (and, unofficially, to the investigative press) in order to check the kind of kingly presidential ambitions Schlesinger had been writing about.As the new year begins, we find ourselves arguing about old conundrums. In our cover story, Evan Thomas and Daniel Klaidman explore...
  • 'Solid, Strong, True'

    As current prophet of the LDS Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, 95, guides the religion that Joseph Smith established 175 years ago. Recently he talked with NEWSWEEK's Elise Soukup and Jon Meacham about the experience of "revelation," Smith's legacy and the appeal of the church. ...
  • The Editor's Desk

    For Catharine Skipp, the moment with the baby was one of the worst. Catharine, a Miami-based reporter of ours who spent last week in New Orleans, was watching a bus fill with refugees. A woman carrying an infant had handed the child to someone on the bus, but then the doors closed and it pulled away, leaving the woman behind, frantic with tears. Apart from what Catharine called "the whack whack whack" of helicopters, crying was the most persistent sound in the city.Families torn apart, a search for the living in a sea of death: these were the scenes from America's Gulf Coast after Katrina struck. The loss of life and damage in Mississippi, Alabama and elsewhere in Louisiana was heartbreaking, but New Orleans's disintegration was the most dramatic. Catharine was our first reporter in the city; later, Joseph Contreras arrived by boat. T. Trent Gegax and Jonathan Darman slept in their cars on the Gulf Coast.As the days went by, it was apparent that the rescue and relief efforts were...
  • THE EDITOR'S DESK

    THE EDITOR'S DESKIf Thomas Jefferson was wrong, a 19th-century biographer wrote, then America is wrong--an overstatement, perhaps, but close to the mark when we consider religion and public life. Of the Founders, Jefferson was the most eloquent advocate of keeping faith safe from the state and of protecting freedom of conscience--a formula that has made America a haven for believer and nonbeliever alike. Complex, contradictory, endlessly curious, Jefferson once observed that "it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god." From the Founding to our own day, tolerance has set the United States apart from the Old World, creating and sustaining a culture that celebrates pluralism in politics and in the pew.From Salem to the Scopes trial, of course, we have had our low moments, and religion can be more divisive than unifying. Today, in fact, people tend to talk about faith in terms of conflict--right vs. left, Red vs. Blue, evangelical vs. secular. In...
  • THE EDITOR'S DESK

    Twenty-four summers ago, when Ronald Reagan--still recovering from his gunshot wound and only weeks away from signing his historic tax cut into law--made Sandra Day O'Connor the nation's first female Supreme Court justice, the appointment split the conservative movement Reagan had used to win the presidency the year before. How, the religious right asked, could their leader choose a moderate? The more libertarian wing of the GOP, though, saw O'Connor as a frontier champion of personal liberty. When Jerry Falwell attacked the new nominee, Sen. Barry Goldwater, who knew O'Connor from Arizona, said: "I think that every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."As Evan Thomas and Stuart Taylor Jr. write in our cover story this week marking O'Connor's retirement, her years on the court would not always provoke such colorful commentary, but she remained controversial, a pivotal swing vote on essential matters ranging from abortion to religion. Her personal history is...
  • PEACE AT THE LAST

    As the shadows lengthened, he grew ever brighter. In a wooden pulpit adorned by a single, simple cross, Billy Graham--older, slower, unmistakably weakened in body--stood illuminated by a mass of stage lights in the gathering darkness of a New York night. Now 86, he has prostate cancer, suffers from symptoms of Parkinson's and has broken a hip and his pelvis; there are shunts in his brain to fight hydrocephalus, and not too long ago, on an operating table at the Mayo Clinic, he believed he was dying.Yet when he began to speak to a massive outdoor audience last Friday in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in the New York borough of Queens, the years fell away and his voice hit the old familiar notes. "You must be born again," Graham said during what he is calling his last American crusade. "Jesus said it's possible to start life all over again." As Graham preached from the third chapter of the Gospel of John, his great mane of white hair and piercing blue eyes looming before the 60,000...
  • A Prophet in Winter

    Even seated he seems to be standing. With a great mane of white hair and piercing blue eyes, the Rev. Billy Graham is waiting in a quiet room atop Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan, moments away from meeting the press. Apologizing for not rising to greet his guests, Dr. Graham--he is a simple, unaffected "Mr. Graham" to his aides--speaks just above a whisper. "I am glad to know you," he says in his rich Southern tones, "and I am sorry for sitting, but when you are 86-years-old, it is harder to do everything you want to do."Harder, yes, but with Billy Graham, as with the God he has served all his life, nothing is impossible. And this weekend, in New York, he summons his strength and his spirit to preach one more American crusade.More pastor than partisan, Graham is the most influential Protestant evangelist of the modern age; only the late John Paul II brought the message of the Christian gospel to a comparable number of human beings around the globe. Now in the twilight of his...
  • Rethinking Washington

    A POWERFUL NEW BOOK BRINGS AMERICA'S MOST REMOTE FOUNDER BACK TO VIVID LIFE.
  • HISTORY: A ROOSEVELT MYSTERY

    Sixty years ago this week, when Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away in Warm Springs, Ga., his doctors attributed his death to a cerebral hemorrhage linked to high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. There have, however, long been rumors about Roosevelt's health--rumors that began during the last year of his life. In a 1998 book, "The Dying President," the historian Robert H. Ferrell wrote of "talk that Roosevelt suffered from stomach cancer."Since FDR's medical chart has disappeared--his doctor, Adm. Ross T. McIntire, apparently destroyed it--Ferrell noted that historians knew of only one document that could shed light on whether FDR had such a cancer: an unpublished memo dictated by Dr. Frank Lahey, the head of the Lahey Clinic in Boston and a consultant to McIntire. Lahey, who died in 1953, left the memo to his assistant. It became the subject of litigation, with the clinic unsuccessfully arguing that releasing it would compromise doctor-patient privilege. For the past 15...