Jon Meacham

Stories by Jon Meacham

  • Who Killed Jesus?

    MEL GIBSON'S POWERFUL BUT TROUBLING NEW MOVIE, 'THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST,' IS REVIVING ONE OF THE MOST EXPLOSIVE QUESTIONS EVER. WHAT HISTORY TELLS US ABOUT JESUS' LAST HOURS, THE WORLD IN WHICH HE LIVED, ANTI-SEMITISM, SCRIPTURE AND THE NATURE OF FAITH ITSELF.
  • Reagan: Why We've Deified The Gipper

    He always loved superlatives--being the lifeguard who saved the most swimmers back home in Illinois, pushing for the lead parts in his beloved Westerns, driving himself from a fading career hosting TV shows to the presidency of the United States. It seems likely, then, that Ronald Reagan would have loved knowing that, tucked away in his hushed house in Bel Air last Feb. 6, he marked his 92d birthday, adding to his record as the longest-living former president in American history.Battling Alzheimer's disease, Reagan has not been seen in public for years; the last photographs circulated in 2000. As the shadows lengthen in what the Reagan circle wistfully calls "the long goodbye," Reagan's flame has never burned brighter beyond the walls of his California enclave. George W. Bush models his presidency more on Reagan's than on his own father's; admirers are trying to establish monuments to the 40th president in every county in the nation; there is serious talk of trying to put Reagan on...
  • Race: Southern Family Values

    The American South, where I come from, has long been a region of secrets and contradictions. Defenders of freedom, we protected and perpetuated slavery; deeply religious, we are prone to violence. Down the years we have learned to live in an enduring moral twilight in which prayer and anger and cruelty and kindness and grace and rage are intermingled.And so it was not entirely surprising to white or black Southerners when news came that Strom Thurmond--segregationist, Dixiecrat, race-baiter--had a daughter by his family's African-American maid, a daughter with whom he maintained cordial ties until his death this year. Essie Mae Washington-Williams met her father when she was 16; he gave her money, visited with her, wrote her cards and encouraged her to attend college. They rarely discussed politics, Williams recalled, but in one conversation with his daughter, Thurmond attributed his segregationist creed to habit and inertia: "Well, that's the way things have always been," he told...
  • The Lost Lucy Letter

    Roosevelt and Churchill first met, very briefly, in the summer of 1918. FDR was assistant secretary of the Navy, on a tour of England and the European front; Churchill was minister of munitions. On Roosevelt's return, his wife, Eleanor, discovered letters between her husband and her social secretary, Lucy Mercer. FDR and Lucy were in love. Facing the defining crisis of his marriage, Franklin chose Eleanor (and his career), and Lucy went on to marry the wealthy Winthrop Rutherfurd.Historians have long known Lucy was in occasional touch with the president and returned to FDR's circle late in the war; she was with him when he died. But a hitherto unpublished letter of Lucy's to the president--found in FDR's daughter's papers at Hyde Park--now reveals much closer ties between the two than has been previously understood. Apparently written in 1941, the note is practical, emotional, chatty, and sad. Lucy jokes about catching a cold when he has one because they talk on the telephone and...
  • Empty Title

    The light was fading. late on the afternoon of Sunday, February 4, 1945, in the Crimean coastal town of Yalta, the three most powerful men in the world--Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin--were meeting in a former summer house of the Russian Czars. There were huge questions to be decided about World War II's final act and its aftermath--questions which required American leadership--but Churchill's circle was horrified at the 63-year-old Roosevelt's condition. "He is very thin & his face is drawn & deeply lined & he looks weary all the time and as if he might be in bad pain," British Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal wrote home to Pamela Churchill, then the prime minister's daughter-in-law. "Also, his brain is obviously not what it was. Altogether he looks as if Truman might be in for a job of work..."Portal had it right; though it was a closely held secret, FDR was suffering from congestive heart failure and high blood pressure. Churchill, however,...
  • Ask Tip Sheet

    Since we will soon mark the 40th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, what book would you recommend as the best and most insightful about that day in Dallas?There are two essential works on the assassination. The first is William Manchester's 1967 narrative "The Death of a President," which movingly chronicles JFK's murder moment by moment; the second is Gerald Posner's 1993 "Case Closed," a convincing assessment of the conspiracy theories surrounding Dallas. Posner's conclusion: Lee Harvey Oswald almost certainly acted alone.
  • The Editor's Desk

    Late last Tuesday afternoon, Joshua Hammer had just returned to our bureau in Baghdad from a visit to a power plant--he had been reporting on Iraq's electrical problems--when the telephone rang. "I think a bomb just went off at the U.N.," one of our photographers, Geert van Kesteren, told Hammer, NEWSWEEK's Jerusalem bureau chief on assignment in Iraq. Racing across the city, Hammer thought it seemed like a normal day in Baghdad, with the usual traffic patterns. Maybe the report was wrong; maybe nothing had happened.Soon, however, Hammer saw hovering military choppers and then smoke rising from the U.N. building. Ditching his car, he hurried across a field to get within a quarter mile of the blast site as the first survivors were making their way out of the compound. It had been the largest attack on the U.N. ever, forcing Americans (and the world) to confront a new reality: the intersection of carefully calibrated terrorism with the chaos of occupied Iraq.What to do now is the...
  • From the Editor

    Acting and politics have always been intimately linked. "You know, Orson," Franklin Roosevelt once said to Orson Welles, "you and I are the two best actors in America." Watching himself in a newsreel one day, FDR proudly remarked: "That was the Garbo in me." Ronald Reagan was asked late in his presidency whether his years in Hollywood had helped him in politics. "There have been times in this office," Reagan answered, "when I've wondered how you could do the job if you hadn't been an actor." But neither man believed that a sense of theater was all there was to politics: both brought to office bedrock beliefs and years of pondering public affairs.Now that the Terminator is trying to follow the Gipper to the California governorship, voters in America's largest state must decide whether Arnold Schwarzenegger has more to offer than just star power. That's an open, important question, Jonathan Alter and San Francisco bureau chief Karen Breslau write in this week's cover, and it would be...
  • Transition

    The new mayor wanted the COLORED and WHITE signs to come down--immediately. It was 1962, the beginning, really, of the worst of the violence in the South over civil rights, but in Atlanta a white businessman, incoming Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., thought it was time to move beyond Jim Crow. Allen had beaten the segregationist Lester Maddox (who would become governor in 1967) in a primary; Allen retired in 1969, and Maynard Jackson became the city's first black mayor in 1973. Both Maddox and Jackson died two weeks ago, and Allen, 92, passed away last week. Allen was the descendant of a Confederate cavalryman; Jackson the great-grandson of a slave. "Atlanta is a city of black hope and white pragmatism," said Gary M. Pomerantz, author of "Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn," a biography of the two families, "and Jackson embodied the hope, Allen the pragmatism." Allen's enlightened leadership in the 1960s helped Atlanta thrive when the rest of the South, particularly Alabama and Mississippi,...
  • Transition: Two Men Of Fear, And One Of Hope

    An exasperated Walker Percy once said that he thought he would leave the country if people kept asking him about his native South. "I'm sick and tired of talking about the South and hearing about the South," the novelist remarked. Should anyone bring it up again, Percy added, "I'm moving to Manaus, Brazil, to join the South Carolinians who emigrated after Appomattox and whose descendants speak no English and have such names as Senhor Carlos Calhoun."Even there, then, Percy would not have been able to escape the ghosts of Dixie--and he knew it. Last week brought fresh reminders of that old truth with the deaths of three men: Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Lester Maddox of Georgia and Maynard Jackson of Atlanta. Thurmond and Maddox represented the worst of the midcentury South, in both simple and complicated ways; Jackson was an emblem and an architect of the best of the post-civil-rights era. Their lives shed light on some of the nation's darkest hours, on the complexities of race...
  • A Man Out Of Time

    It was just a quick stop, at a store on a campaign trip through the Northeast more than a dozen years ago. Trent Lott, then a Mississippi congressman about to make his move for the Senate, was visiting a state for a Republican candidate. When Lott walked in, he asked: "Why aren't there any black people here?" a source who has spent time with him in unguarded moments tells NEWSWEEK. Nervously, someone explained that this was not the most diverse of regions. "Not even behind the counter?" Lott said. Warming to his punch line, Lott added: "We'd be happy to send you up some if you need any"--and then chuckled. Asked about the incident last week, Lott told NEWSWEEK: "I can't imagine when I would have done that. I don't believe I did that. I deny that I did that, but you know I can't deny every word or that I may have been in the area." If anything "close to that was uttered, that would have been totally out of order," Lott said.He appeared to sense that the remark would belong to a world...
  • The Greatest Men

    The White House, Christmas Eve 1941. In the twilight, thousands gathered for the lighting of the Christmas tree on the South Lawn. America had been at war for a little more than three weeks, pulled into a global struggle by the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Franklin D. Roosevelt, his legs locked in steel braces, was silhouetted against the mansion; to his right stood his houseguest, Winston Churchill. "Against enemies who preach the principles of hate and advertise them," FDR said, "we set our faith in human love and in God's care for us and for all men everywhere." The president then asked his "old and good friend" the prime minister to say a few words. C. S. Lewis defined friendship as shared passions, noting that "... we picture lovers face to face but friends side by side; their eyes look ahead." On this night Churchill and Roosevelt were forming one of the great friendships in history, their common goal the defeat of the Axis."Let the children have their night of fun and...
  • The Big Mules Of Birmingham

    In the downstairs grill of the Mountain Brook Club in Birmingham, Ala.--a room, Diane McWhorter writes in "Carry Me Home," "soothingly dark, as if it had been designed with the hangover in mind"--the white elite of Birmingham were tucking into their luncheon buffet on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963. Ninety minutes earlier, downtown, an explosion had ripped through the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls. ...
  • In The Arena

    A scene from mid century new York: Arthur Schlesinger Jr. is giving a book party for a friend, who asks the historian to invite Alger Hiss. As it happened, Richard Nixon was then living in a house behind Schlesinger's on Manhattan's East Side. On the morning of the gathering, Schlesinger was getting ready for work, and "The last sight I had from our bedroom window before departing for the university was Nixon prowling restlessly around his garden," he writes in his delightful new memoir, "A Life in the 20th Century." "The first sight that greeted me on my return to a bustling party was Alger Hiss. The circularity of life!"That is, if you've been lucky enough (and smart enough) to live the life Schlesinger has. He's known just about everybody, and done monumental work: "The Age of Jackson," "The Age of Roosevelt," "A Thousand Days," "Robert Kennedy and His Times." Schlesinger's story is intertwined with the drama of the century, from a "twilight year" he spent in England between...
  • The New Face of Race

    Every Day, In Every Corner Of America, We Are Redrawing The Color Lines And Redefining What Race Really Means. It's Not Just A Matter Of Black And White Anymore; The Nuances Of Brown And Yellow And Red Mean More-- And Less--Than Ever. The Promise And Perils Ahead.
  • The Book On Reagan

    He seemed placid, even becalmed, but Ronald Reagan swept over the nation like a wave. Was he, as so many of his detractors believed, an amiable dunce? If so, how did he change the course of history? As president, he restored national confidence, launched an economic boom, and, with Mikhail Gorbachev, ended the cold war. Reagan led the West (and much of the rest of the world) away from Big Government to an era of Free Markets. Republicans pine for him; even many Democrats grudgingly grant Reagan the president's greatness. Yet to friends and foes alike Reagan the man seemed familiar yet enigmatic--elusive, mysterious, just out of reach.He flummoxed his authorized biographer, too. In 1985, Edmund Morris, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt," was given complete access to President Reagan, his papers, his aides, his friends and his family--and a $3 million contract from Random House. Seven years later, Morris was, by his own account, "desperate. I wrote a...
  • George Bush Off The Record

    Dad was worried. In the summer of 1998, he had sons running in two of the most important governors' elections in the country--George W., seeking re-election in Texas, and Jeb, heading for victory in Florida. "Your mother tells me," Bush wrote them in a letter on Aug. 1, "that both of you have mentioned to her your concerns about some of the political stories--the ones that seem to put me down and make me seem irrelevant--that contrast you favorably to a father who had no vision... I have been reluctant to pass along advice. Both of you are charting your own course, spelling out what direction you want to take your State... But the advice is this. Do not worry when you see the stories that compare you favorably to a Dad for whom English was a second language and for whom the word destiny meant nothing."Kind, generous words--but the former president's book of letters suggests that he is in fact both a master of the language and a man of uncommon ambition. Bush understands that ...
  • Why Mccain Voted For A 'Junk' Bill, Home Remedy,

    On a recent bus trip through South Carolina, GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain said privately that he was leaning toward voting against the GOP pet $800 billion tax-cut bill. "The thing is full of special-interest outrages," he said. "Junk." The worst provision, he said, was a tax credit for turning chicken manure into energy. "So we're paying for chickens--t and giving chickens--t to the working middle class... " But on the morning of the Senate vote, Majority Leader Trent Lott and Sen. Phil Gramm cornered McCain. The three went nose-to-nose, with Lott and Gramm arguing that if the deal collapsed, the GOP would lose what little leverage it had in bargaining with President Clinton, who opposes the size of the cuts. "The White House would say we can't get our act together, and declare victory forever," Lott reportedly told McCain.With Lott and Gramm staring at him as he took the floor during debate, McCain called the bill "seriously skewed," but said he would vote for it....
  • The Private Churchills

    They may not have always been entirely happy, but they were never bored. Early in the courtship of Winston Churchill and Clementine Hozier, the future prime minister was staying at a country house that caught fire. Terrified about Churchill's safety, Clementine was relieved at word he had survived, and wired him. His boisterous reply: "The fire was great fun & we all enjoyed it thoroughly... It is a strange thing to be locked in deadly grapple with that cruel element. I had no conception--except from reading--of the power and majesty of a great conflagration. Whole rooms sprang into flame as by enchantment. Chairs & tables burnt up like matches. Floors collapsed & ceilings crashed down. The roof descended in a molten shower."There it all was, even in the beginning: her generous concern, and his delight in danger. There would be many more conflagrations in their 56 years together, from Gallipoli to the Blitz. Theirs was one of the great marriages of the 20th century,...
  • Life In The Shadows

    IT WAS QUITE A PLACE, MIDCENTURY Washington. That's difficult to understand now, long after the struggles against Hitler and communism. The capital seems somehow sterile, its downtown hotels anonymous and its suburbs clogged with tract houses. But you can still glimpse what used to be: along the red-brick sidewalks of Georgetown, maids sweep the stoops of houses where Kennedys and Bundys and Alsops once lived at the center of a world in which America had common enemies and a coherent cadre of warriors to fight them. The most romantic battles unfolded in the shadows--in what CIA mole-hunter James Angleton called "the wilderness of mirrors." ...
  • Where Have All The Causes Gone?

    BARRING UNFORESEEN CIRCUMSTANCES, I WILL HAVE just turned 30 as the next millennium begins. When my grandfather was that age, he had lived through the Depression in the South, enlisted in the navy and spent four years at war in the Pacific; the day the bomb was dropped, he was aboard the USS St. George preparing for the invasion of Japan. One of the first things he did when he returned home to Tennessee was to sire my father, who was born in July 1946. By the time he had hit 30, he had watched the civil-rights movement unfold around him and had fought in Vietnam, carrying a 12-gauge shotgun in search-and-destroy missions as part of the Fourth Infantry Division in Pleiku. The toughest combat decision I've ever faced was whether to watch the networks or CNN cover the gulf war.This is a fairly common story. People my age--those born between 1965 and 1976 (there are 40 million of us)--face a history gap. All the Big Causes seem to be settled. The country beat the Depression, defeated...
  • Just A Boy From Little Rock

    FAULKNER, AS USUAL, HAD IT right. In the South, the Mississippian once wrote, the past is never dead.It isn't even past." Bill Clinton is the quintessential Southerner: a former El Camino owner, the president leers and preaches with equal agility. Now Clinton is learning Faulkner's lesson anew. The president should be spending the holidays celebrating. Already the worst of his generation to win the White House, Clinton is only the third Democrat in this century to capture a second term. Instead of gloating, however, he finds himself borne back into a murky world of cash, connections and charges of wrongdoing. And all roads, strangely, lead home to Little Rock. ...
  • Now More Than Ever

    ISHED control. In the White House and in exile, he would spend hours stewing over yellow legal pads, war-gaming geostrategy, memorizing his dinner guests' alma maters -and forever plotting the next campaign. None of his many comebacks was more successful than his last, in the 1980s and early '90s, from disgrace to resurrection as a presidential elder. He wanted it all to look effortless, as though Nixon in winter-hosting neighborhood Halloween parties in his New Jersey suburb, taking in the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall, writing foreign-policy tomes had finally reached what his Quaker grandmother called "peace at the center." ...
  • Southern Discomfort

    THE ATLANTA PITCH WAS A BOLD one: part Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing, part Chamber of Commerce flackery. In Tokyo in 1990, the Atlanta city fathers sold the International Olympic Committee on the proposition that the city Sherman burned was now a model of racial harmony. They laid it on thick. ""The Atlanta Olympiad,'' the city said in its bid for the Games, ""will stress the justice and equality inherent in fair play.'' It worked. ""The City Too Busy to Hate,'' which had quickly integrated and avoided most of the violence that roiled the South in the '50s and '60s, won the bid, and the world will soon be whipping along Atlanta's 16-lane interstates and humidly basking in the glow of its downtown towers. ...
  • Trials And Troubles In Happy Valley

    On a quiet street in Columbia River valley, 180 miles east of Seattle, Pastor Robert (Roby) Roberson's East Wenatchee Pentecostal Church of God House of Prayer sits back from the road, its yard cluttered with old buses and vans. At one end of the low-slung building stands a food bank for the poor; makeshift slides and swings are out back. It seems to be just what it looks Like: a hardscrabble church doing God's work. And it looked just this way on the recent spring afternoon when police raided the church to arrest Roberson and his wife, "Sister Connie," on 22 counts of allegedly raping and molesting children--both at the pastor's house and during Friday-night Bible classes. ...
  • Mr. Wamp Goes To Washington

    JOHN KASICH WAS NEARly in tears. At a pep rally of GOP House freshmen last week, the deficit-hawk House Budget Committee chairman elicited the kind of cheers this crowd usually reserves for Speaker Newt Gingrich. "This is about saving the country," Kasich said, choking up. "This is about changing the culture of spending." Standing to his left, Rep. Zach Wamp, a freshman from Tennessee, also turned weepy, thinking, too, about the difficult budget cuts that lie ahead. "What's coming," says Wamp, "is going to be the worst." Everybody, of course, is saying the hard part is yet to come, but nobody understands it better than Wamp, who professes conservative principles in a district deeply dependent on the federal government. ...
  • Arianna, The Queen Bee Wanna-Be

    Dessert -- a hockey-puck-size cappuccino torte in Grand Marnier sauce -- had just been served. As Newt Gingrich and 18 others at last week's $50,000-a-couple dinner for National Empowerment Television started in on the sweet, their hostess, Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, raised her glass to propose holding another supper for the right-wing TV channel and other conservative causes -- at 10 times the price. "It started out as kind of a joke -- a $500,000-a-couple fund-raiser," one guest, Bradley Keena, recounted. "But Arianna was serious." ...
  • A Hip Dole Gets Out Of The Gate

    When Bob Dole went on "David Letterman" last Friday night, things went so smoothly that the senator looked as if he'd been dropping by the Ed Sullivan Theater for years. He came ready with one-liners (Dole said he had given Clinton 8250 to build a White House jogging track: "I didn't want him running out in the street scaring people") and had his own "Top Seven" ways to cut the budget. Explaining why he hadn't brought a traditional Top 10 list, Dole deadpanned: "Republicans are cutting everything 30 percent." Suggestions included "Stop paying Clinton speechwriters by the word" and "Arkansas? Sell it." ...
  • Surfing On Newt's Network

    IN A SMALL CAPITOL HILL studio, on a set that looks like what you'd get if "The McLaughlin Group" did its thing in the "Wayne's World" basement. 6 twentysomethings are playing pundit. This is "Youngbloods," National Empowerment Television's Generation X answer to mainstream talk shows. At the moment, one of the program's liberal foils, Chris Murphy, is getting pummeled by his conservative costars -- Washington has failed, they shout, and it's time to pass a balanced-budget amendment to prevent the government from spending money, even in emergencies. "Wait a minute," Murphy sputters. "How do you think we got out of the Depression?" ...
  • A Defiant South Secedes Again

    Last week, while republicans bustled about on Capitol Hill, no freshman seemed busier than Tennessee's Sen. Fred Thompson, the folksy lawyer-actor who won Al Gore's old seat. Thompson, who ran a strong cut-government campaign, dashed from interviews to presiding over the Senate to a press conference on term limits. At the weekend, as Thompson managed legislation on the floor, the man he thrashed last November, former Democratic representative Jim Cooper, was storing his belongings in the family garage back in Shelbyville, Tenn. Along with the books and files went an oldphotograph of Cooper's father, a governor of Tennessee in the 1940s, riding with FDR at the opening of the historic Chickamauga Dam, which brought electricity to the Southern hills. "The voters don't realize yet," said Cooper, "that the Republicans are going to preserve a lot of Democratic programs. Now that they are the majority, they will find out how hard it is to really deliver." ...