How to kill your circulation: Newsweek style

When the economy is struggling, and your industry is on a steady decline, what is your next move? Well, in the case of Newsweek, you decide to become something totally different and, in the process, spit at a good deal of your subscriber base. Is it working? If is if you want to shed circulation and jobs, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

Newsweek could subtract anywhere from 500,000 to one million copies from its current guarantee of 2.6 million, according to people familiar with the magazine’s thinking. That Newsweek is exploring a rate-base cut was first reported by the trade publication Folio.

Newsweeks highly controversial cover story comes as it is dropping subscribers and guarantees to advertisers.
Newsweek's highly controversial cover story comes as it is dropping subscribers and guarantees to advertisers.

The WSJ reported Newsweek “has emphasized commentary on hot-button issues, such as gay marriage, by big-name journalists like editor Jon Meacham and international editor Fareed Zakaria, as well as contributions from political operatives and academics like Michael Beschloss and Sean Wilentz.” And while looking at these issues is not in itself something to be up in arms about, it’s the way Newsweek has been going about it that has driven — or about to — subscribers and advertisers away:

Mr. Meacham said recently that Newsweek has never been an objective summarizer of the week’s events, or “AP on nicer paper,” though he acknowledged a greater emphasis lately on editorializing. “We are trying to be more provocative,” he said.

This week’s cover story, “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage,” is a case in point. The story spawned an organized campaign to get readers to cancel their subscriptions and elicited so many angry emails that Newsweek Chief Executive Tom Ascheim had to open a new email account to handle the added volume, a company spokesman said.

For those who subscribed thinking they were getting “AP on nicer paper,” the shift to provocation was jarring and, mostly, unwelcome. Without any rebuttal or guidance from a theologian, lines like this are tossed out by religion editor Lisa Miller in her piece “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage” (emphasis mine):

The Bible does condemn gay male sex in a handful of passages. Twice Leviticus refers to sex between men as “an abomination” (King James version), but these are throwaway lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world, a text that devotes verse after verse to treatments for leprosy, cleanliness rituals for menstruating women and the correct way to sacrifice a goat—or a lamb or a turtle dove. Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?

Of course, this kind of writing did not go unnoticed. MZ Hemingway at gives a lengthy excoriation of Miller and her work:

When I started looking at the media coverage of this hot topic, I had to do just that. As a libertarian, I was unfamiliar with why people thought the state should define marriage, much less why it should be defined in such a way as to limit it to a certain number or sex of people. And what I found is that there is an unbelievable wealth of argument in favor of traditional marriage. And most of it is based (no, not in the fevered imaginations of what Hollywood and the media elite think religious conservatives believe) but in Natural Law. In this way of thinking, society defines marriage as a sexual union between a husband and wife, based around the ideas that babies are created via intercourse, that procreation is necessary for the survival of society and that babies need fathers as well as mothers. So the entire premise of this article is wrong, if you look at it that way.

But if you are going to pretend that opposition to same-sex marriage is based Sola Scriptura, could we at least get our Scripture right?

This is such hackery that it’s offensive. Abraham and Sarah, while certainly noted for their eventual trust in God were basically poster children for marital disobedience when they didn’t trust God to provide them with children. Even though he promised them they would have offspring. Sarah was a jealous and cruel slavemaster and Abraham was pliant and cowardly during their Hagar offensive. In fact, if you are reading the Old Testament as a self-improvement book based on anything other than the commandments from God, you are an idiot. God’s chosen people, some of them with great and abiding faith, are sinful disasters — the lot of them.

I hold sacred the New Testament model of marriage and find Miller’s comments to be beneath contempt. I also wonder what, if anything, she has read from the New Testament.

When my husband read the opening graph of this train wreck of a hit piece, he wondered if these words of Jesus, found in the Gospel of Matthew, indicated indifference to family:

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Would that be the indifference that Miller is referring to? Because it really just doesn’t sound indifferent to me. This quote from Jesus comes in a larger section on, well, earthly attachments. One part notes that only those who have the gift of celibacy are to be celibate. I have no doubt that my elementary school-age nieces know these things. Shouldn’t Lisa Miller?

And, in more circles than religious conservatives, the journalistic effort in “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage” was not only questioned but panned. Terry Mattingly writes in an open letter to Newsweek’s Kurt Soller, who oversees the Readback blog, where comments have been turned off:

I know it must be comforting to believe that all of the reaction to the Lisa Miller’s doctrinal essay on your recent cover is about a clash between premodern and modern religious believers. I know that it is comforting to see conservative religious groups post the email addresses of editors, resulting in a barrage of often hateful missives from the straw people who probably stopped reading your magazine a decade or so ago.

But you also need to know that many of your readers would have welcomed a journalistic cover story that provided a lively discussion of this issue, featuring the views of liberal Christian scholars (a variety of them, since their views are not always the same) and traditional Christian scholars from a variety of viewpoints — mainline Protestant, evangelical, Orthodox, Catholic and the like. The views of traditional Jews, Muslims and others would have made a wonderful sidebar.

Stop for a minute and think about this in terms of journalism.

Of course, that’s not “edgy” or “provocative.” And it’s also the reason that people are dumping their subcriptions in droves and Newsweek is joining scores of newsgatherers who are groping wildly for an answer that is obvious in the words of Mattingly: It’s the journalism, stupid.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s