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." ...

‘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...

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