The Editor's Desk

When we assembled six of our Giving Back Award winners for a cover shoot in Los Angeles, we expected the movie star, Brad Pitt, to be the center of attention. But Ruby Jones, a heroic hospice nurse from New Orleans, was more excited to meet Rick Warren, the preacher and author of "The Purpose Driven Life." Benita Singh and Ruth DeGolia, two Yale students who help impoverished Guatemalans market their crafts abroad, had initially thought classmates were punking them when we invited them to pose for the cover. But there they were, smiling and chatting before taking a red-eye back to New Haven. And as it turned out, our photographer, Michael O'Neill, had an inspirational story of his own: he had just returned from Tibet, where he was so moved by a group of sick schoolchildren that he offered to pay for their medical care for an entire year.

For most of the year, our job involves reporting on war, terror, hardball politics and social and cultural trends that we cover from a dry-eyed remove. But as the Fourth of July approached, we decided to devote this special double issue to an avowedly admiring tribute to Americans--rich and poor, young and old--who use their talents and fortune to benefit others. Every reporter who worked on the project was moved by the people they met: When Peg Tyre interviewed Margaret Ross, a Good Samaritan from rural Mississippi, about 35 neighbors showed up to welcome her with lemonade. Claudia Kalb wept after she saw the kids whom Dr. Fred Kaplan treats for a rare childhood disease. And as you'll see on a pullout gatefold, we discovered more worthy candidates after inviting readers to submit nominations at "It has been so much fun to work on this project--an antidote to bad news and New York cynicism," says Lisa Miller, who oversaw the cover package. I think she speaks for all of us.

In the rest of the issue, Jonathan Darman , Jonathan Alter and George Will weigh in with different perspectives on how the war in Iraq is rippling through American politics, dividing Democrats as it bedevils the Bush administration. Ellis Cose meditates on how Latino power is complicating relations between blacks and Hispanics. Devin Gordon takes you on a 160-mile-an-hour ride through the wild world of NASCAR broadcasting. And Sean Smith talks to Bryan Singer, the latest director to take on the Superman epic. Here's hoping that your Independence Day is full of fun and generosity, and we'll see you in two weeks.