The story of the making of this week's cover story is a fairly common one at NEWSWEEK. There was careful planning for months—and then, with the deadline approaching, we got excited about a new angle and quickly changed course. This happens all the time; it is one of the many reasons that those of us who work in journalism may not always be happy, but we are never bored.
Four times a year we collaborate with the Harvard Medical School on Health for Life, and the addition of another institution to the mix necessarily means a good deal of planning. In preparation for this installment called "What's Next in Medicine," Alexis Gelber and David Noonan went up to Boston in July to meet with Dr. Anthony Komaroff, editor in chief of Harvard Health Publications, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and our main contact for all things Harvard. Working with Tony, Alexis and David came up with an initial list of story ideas, which we refined as the months went by. Everything was cruising along.
Then, early in November, while much of the magazine was consumed with politics and Pakistan, David heard about a new book due out from Harvard and McGraw-Hill called "The Fertility Diet." (Those are what we sometimes call "good cover words," since they appeal to a broad swath of readers about a serious subject.) David immediately called Tony, who sent him a copy by overnight mail.
Reading the book, David and Alexis realized right away that it was something new and important. Dr. Walter Willett, one of the authors, is chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health; he is also an old NEWSWEEK hand, having contributed to past Health for Life installments. The previous cover subject on what's next—the science of genes—became the second story in the package, and we had a new approach.
Beyond fertility and diet, the package covers a lot of ground, and Mary Carmichael's genes piece offers a portrait of the changing understanding of DNA—an understanding that is changing so rapidly it is hard even for doctors to keep up. "One of the things I've always loved about science is how every time it answers a question it creates 10 new ones," Mary says. "The researchers I talked to are some of the smartest people in the country, yet there are so many fundamental things they still don't know. But that doesn't seem to upset them. It excites them; I think they're all a little awed by what they've learned so far. And I can see why. The body is such an immensely complex thing, and here they are, telling us that it's built and controlled by these very simple chemicals—a methyl group, a kind of chemical switch that turns genes on or off, doesn't even constitute its own molecule, yet it can cancel out information in a comparatively enormous molecule of DNA. No wonder the scientists are in awe."
In another unplanned moment last week, Evel Knievel died—there was some of the inevitable "isn't he dead already?" muttering around the magazine—and Steve Tuttle went to work. Steve's obituary is a classic of the genre, a grown-up fan's remembrance of a childhood hero, written with affection but also with an appreciation of the old showman's kitschy appeal.
Elsewhere in this issue, Michael Isikoff explores Rudy Giuliani's business ties (see Anna Quindlen's THE LAST WORD column for a tough perspective on the former mayor) and also takes on Bill Clinton and Karl Rove's revisions of history on Iraq. Dan Ephron, Michael Hirsh and Evan Thomas reconstruct how Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—the pragmatist called in to replace Donald Rumsfeld after the 2006 midterms—has worked to avoid military conflict with Iran. Jonathan Alter breaks off from the top-tier pack to write about Joe Biden and Chris Dodd. With Iowa roughly 30 days away, in the coming months you will be reading much more about politics in our pages and online. That much, at least, we can plan on.