Newsweek Tries to Narrow Its Subscriber Base

I’ve subscribed to Newsweek for more than 30 years. I started subscribing in the 1970s, partly because I wanted a magazine that summarized the week’s news (plenty of choices there) and partly because Newsweek ran a monthly column by Milton Friedman.

When I started subscribing I didn’t notice what some might call a liberal bias in Newsweek, though I do recall in the early 1980s thinking that often the magazine’s reporting didn’t appear to have a sound grasp of economics. Shortly after Reagan was elected, for example, I recall a cover story claiming that energy prices were going to go sky-high due to Reagan’s deregulation.

As the years went by, I became increasingly aware of a liberal bias in Newsweek’s reporting, maybe because the bias grew, maybe because I’ve become more perceptive, or maybe because I’m one of those right-wing wackos who tend to see liberal biases where they don’t really exist. Even perceiving a liberal bias, I still liked reading Newsweek because it gave me some insights into the thinking of people who didn’t have the same views I did. Understanding a bit about other people’s views isn’t a bad thing.

Recently, Newsweek quit reporting the news. They claimed that by the time the magazine arrived, everybody already knew it anyway, so they’re now focused on commentary, and their liberal bias appears to show through even more. This week’s issue, which showed up in my mailbox yesterday, takes the magazine’s liberal bias out of the closet and puts it right on the cover.

The cover shows a photo of Al Gore with an apple falling on his head, apparently to draw a parallel between Gore and Sir Isaac Newton, although the parallel falls short because while Sir Isaac was a great scientist, he never won a Nobel Prize.


I can’t tell you how many ways I am offended by this. First of all, as a skeptic of central planning, I am automatically suspicious of any “plan for the planet.” Beyond that, why would Newsweek think that Al Gore would have any standing to undertake global planning? Yes, yes, I know he’s won a Nobel Prize, but outside of that, isn’t he just one of the billions of citizens of Planet Earth, with no more standing to concoct a plan for the rest of us than anyone else? And then, to be told he’s “the thinking man’s thinking man” causes me to stop and consider whether, in that case, I want to be included in the category of thinking men.

Some of you might be thinking that my rant here is just a case of sour grapes, and that I have Al Gore envy. I will admit to some of that. Al Gore lives in a big mansion and flies a private jet to his various speaking engagements. I confess that for a while now one of my ambitions in life has been to have a carbon footprint as big as Al Gore’s, although I don’t think I’ll ever manage that. Al Gore is a famous author, and while I’ve written some books, nobody knows about them. More envy. And then there’s that Nobel Prize. Despite the fact that there’s one awarded in my field of economics, I realize it’s out of my reach. Yes, maybe part of my reaction to this week’s Newsweek cover story is due to envy.

In years past the media’s liberal bias would have been presented under the guise of presenting the news. Here’s a new book by Al Gore. We’re going to report to you what it says. Clearly, Newsweek knows Gore is a controversial figure, yet the cover proclaims him “the thinking man’s thinking man,” and the title of the story about his book is “The Evolution of an Eco-Prophet.” Rather than presenting itself as doing objective reporting, Newsweek is clearly broadcasting its liberal bias to its readers. “Yes, we have a liberal bias, and we’re proud of it!”

Newsweek doesn’t report the news anymore, and hasn’t run Milton Friedman’s column in decades. I suppose I can let my subscription lapse.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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