Jon Meacham

Stories by Jon Meacham

  • ‘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...
  • THE EDITOR'S DESK

    To the end, he was true to the words he spoke in the beginning. On Sunday, Oct. 22, 1978, at his inaugural mass as the 264th Bishop of Rome, John Paul II prayed: "Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no eventide." To reassure the oppressed, the poor and the lonely, the new pope evoked the words of Jesus: "Be not afraid!"Fearless and serene, John Paul II died last week after years of overt suffering--his last eloquent testimony to the sanctity of life--taking his leave with characteristic grace in his apartments above St. Peter's Square.He was a mirror and a maker of modern times. On Sept. 1, 1939, when the Luftwaffe began bombing Cracow, young Karol Wojtyla was serving as an altar boy at Friday morning mass. (Despite the attack, Wojtyla and the priest finished the eucharist.) He survived Nazism and communism, always bearing witness to the power of freedom. A confounding figure by the...
  • From Jesus to Christ

    HOW DID A JEWISH PROPHET COME TO BE SEEN AS THE CHRISTIAN SAVIOR? THE EPIC STORY OF THE EMPTY TOMB, THE EARLY BATTLES AND THE MAKING OF A GREAT FAITH.
  • George H.W. Bush

    Sitting in his office in Houston, still on an anti-malarial pill regimen from his trip to tsunami-ravaged Southeast Asia, former president George H.W. Bush turned from his desk to his credenza to find a note that had just come in. "Here's a fellow who wants to give us $2 million," Bush said. "This cause has really hit people's hearts." With former president Bill Clinton--the two traveled together to the region--Bush 41 has led fund-raising efforts for the victims; private donations for relief currently total about $1 billion. In an interview with NEWSWEEK's Jon Meacham last week, Bush talked about the tsunami, Clinton, Jeb Bush's future and the news from the Mideast. Excerpts: ...
  • Interview: 'People Are More Hopeful'

    In his office in Houston, still on an antimalarial- pill regimen from his trip to tsunami-ravaged Southeast Asia, former president George H.W. Bush turned from his desk to his credenza to find a note that had just come in. "Here's a fellow who wants to give us $2 million," Bush says. "This cause has really hit people's hearts." With former president Bill Clinton--the two traveled together to the region last month--Bush 41 has led fund-raising efforts for the victims; private donations now total about $1 billion. In an interview with NEWSWEEK's Jon Meacham last week, Bush talked about the tsunami, Clinton, Jeb Bush's future and the news from the Mideast.What was the trip like? Were you surprised by what you saw?Well, it was very emotional for me, very moving. The most moving part was to see the children of families that had been wiped out. I saw one guy standing with his hand on a kid's shoulder, and I said to the translator, "Ask him his story." And the man said, "This is my...
  • AN OLD LION'S LAST ROAR

    On the day he turned 50, a week before Americans went to the polls to choose his successor as president, Theodore Roosevelt claimed he had no regrets. "When I am through with anything," he said, "I am through with it, and am under no temptation to snatch at the fringes of departed glory."For all Roosevelt's many virtues, self-awareness was not among them: he was never through with anything, much less the pursuit of power. In her splendid new account of TR's unhappy post-presidency, "When Trumpets Call," Patricia O'Toole brings eloquence and keen psychological insight to a familiar subject; the result is a lovely, unpretentiously learned tale of a great man who could never master his own ambition. Like Winston Churchill (whom he did not like), Roosevelt was a soldier, a man of letters (38 books and a syndicated column), a mighty orator and the creator of his own imaginative universe. Yet he was also, as Woodrow Wilson said, "a great big boy," who loved rowing, safaris, uniforms, old...
  • A ROAD MAP TO MAKING HISTORY

    The inauguration was a quiet affair. Sixty years ago this week, on Jan. 20, 1945, Europe had been at war for nearly six years, America for just over three. Three months away from death, Franklin Roosevelt decided the fewer the festivities, the better. After taking the oath on the South Portico of the White House, FDR delivered what has become an unjustly obscure fourth Inaugural Address, one long overshadowed by the majestic 1933 speech in which he told America that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."To understand the 21st century, however, Roosevelt's 1945 Inaugural is essential reading, an encapsulation of his conviction that politics and leadership are not clinical but human enterprises, America an unfinished experiment, the world a neighborhood with friends and foes close at hand. Engagement, not isolation or hesitancy, was the right road ahead, he said that day. "We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent upon the well...
  • THE RIGHT STUFF

    He was, as he put it, "a nervous, out-of-control dad." By Election Eve 2004, George H.W. Bush, a friend said, had turned into a "nervous wreck." To calm himself the 41st president of the United States first tried to give up caffeine and then his nightly cocktail, but he failed, and on the morning of the voting Bush was so anxious that he was reduced to eating saltine crackers to soothe his churning stomach. "We live in interesting and difficult times," he told me on the telephone that day. "I look at the world now first as a father; people find that hard to believe, but it's true." It was not always so: when the first President Bush was about to strike Saddam Hussein's Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990-91, he sent a touching letter to his children. "My mind goes back to history," Bush wrote on New Year's Eve 1990. "How many lives might have been saved if appeasement had given way to force earlier on in the late '30s or earliest '40s? How many Jews might have been spared the...
  • EDITOR'S DESK

    Faith, wrote the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Yet the stories of the three great monotheistic religions--Judaism, Christianity and Islam--unfolded in real time, in real places, and there is much evidence about ancient civilizations buried in the sand and soil of the Middle East. For centuries archeologists have traveled there in search of clues about the lost worlds of Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad, wondering: Are the different faiths' canonical texts really accurate? What did the hanging gardens of Babylon look like? Was there actually a King David? How, exactly, was Jesus crucified?There will always be tension between sacred history and temporal history; for most believers, the "truth" of scripture is a given, whatever archeologists may say. Still, the quest to learn what we can about the milieu that formed so many faiths is fascinating--and becoming ever more difficult. As Melinda Liu and Christopher...
  • THE EDITOR'S DESK

    "The real causes of obesity," Jerry Adler presciently wrote in NEWSWEEK 22 years ago, "may be locked away deep in the chemical infrastructure of the body." Adler, our science writer, was right, and in this week's cover story he and Anne Underwood take an original look at an American obsession: fat. We've all read countless stories about the latest fashionable diet, but this project is different, explaining science's evolving understanding of fat cells, the cells' relationship to the brain and how these insights may help us find treatments for obesity and a range of other health problems.That should be encouraging news for the two thirds of Americans who are overweight. Relentless and resilient, fat cells turn out to be savvy survivors, able to multiply and thrive. They are active entities, not static globs, and produce chemicals that cause inflammation--a chronic condition linked to heart disease, diabetes and some kinds of cancer. If we can figure out how to intercept the signals...
  • THE EDITOR'S DESK

    In the grim months after Pearl Harbor, when the Allied war effort was going badly, Winston Churchill faced a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. After the prime minister dictated and delivered a 10,000-word speech defending himself, the attacks evaporated. Grumbling afterward, Churchill noted that critics seemed to spin "round with the alacrity of squirrels."President Bush and his national-security team probably think they are surrounded by such squirrels. When Tom Ridge announced that the government had uncovered information about five specific targets in New York, Washington and New Jersey, he came under attack for saluting Bush's "leadership" and for not revealing that the terrorists' surveillance had taken place about four years ago. (Critics apparently overlooked the fact that long-term planning is a Qaeda hallmark.)And so it goes in a divided America. Ridge was wrong to plug the president in what should have been a straightforward security briefing, and Bush can only...
  • THE EDITOR'S DESK

    She was grace itself, smoothing the flag that draped her husband's coffin, whispering a few words over the remains of the man she loved so well and so long, and, as the sun set on Friday, weeping, surrounded by her children. "I can't imagine life without her," Ronald Reagan once remarked of his wife, and, blessedly, he never had to. Nancy Reagan was there for him to the very end.Ancient words and old hymns echoed through the services in Washington and, at last, in the California dusk--images from Isaiah, St. Matthew, St. Paul and John Winthrop. There was the rousing "Hail to the Chief," the martial "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the bittersweet "Amazing Grace." This week we commemorate the Reagan farewell in pictures, including memorable images taken by Khue Bui and David Hume Kennerly, and in remembrances for NEWSWEEK from former Presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.Reagan's death, though, was not only about pageantry and the past. Amid the grandeur, many...
  • American Dreamer

    A CAPTIVATING AND ELUSIVE MAN, RONALD REAGAN ROSE FROM LIFEGUARDING IN ILLINOIS TO HOLLYWOOD--AND BECAME ONE OF OUR GREATEST PRESIDENTS. AN INTIMATE LOOK AT HOW HE PLAYED THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME.
  • D-Day's Real Lessons

    In the first days of the Bush Restoration in 2001, Karl Rove, the new president's senior adviser and in-house history buff, was dining at the British Embassy in Washington with the then ambassador, Christopher Meyer. In the grand building up on Massachusetts Avenue, Rove mentioned George W. Bush's fascination with Churchill. "He was a man who saved the world," Rove said of Churchill, "a wartime leader who charted his own course, and did it with wit and personal morality and courage." Meyer called Rove a few days later. "The P.M. has a spare bust or two of Churchill," Meyer said. Would the president like one? Absolutely, came the reply. Bush, who tells Oval Office visitors that he works at a desk once used by Franklin D. Roosevelt, loved the idea of adding the Churchill.And so there the Last Lion sits, in bronze, next to the fireplace beneath a West Texas painting. Bush likes the juxtaposition. Churchill, the president said in accepting the bust, "knew what he believed, and he really...
  • The Editor's Desk

    Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins are not exactly household names in New York City, where much of the national press lives and works. Given the cultural influence these two men have over a huge part of the country, however, they should be, which is one reason we decided to profile the authors of the wildly best-selling novels about the Apocalypse, the "Left Behind" series. ("Left Behind" refers to the people who many Christians think will remain on earth after born-again believers are summoned to heaven in the Rapture; those "left behind" will then face years of tribulations and Armageddon, with a shot at salvation once the smoke's cleared.)But LaHaye and Jenkins are on the cover this week not just because of the scope of their success (62 million copies sold, which is better than Stephen King or John Grisham are currently doing). As David Gates's piece makes clear, LaHaye and Jenkins's contrasting sensibilities tell a larger story about the complexities of evangelical Christianity--and...