Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The liberal Newsweek.

For the last few months I've been subscribing to Newsweek for two reasons: 1) to get non-British news reporting and 2) the student subscription rates are very favourable. I've subscribed to Newsweek before and I knew that what I was getting was a cut down version of US edition with a couple of international articles added.

What has surprised me, however, is how right wing and anti-Continental European Newsweek is. With columnist like Fareed Zakaria, Jeffrey E. Garten and Robert J Samuelson, Newsweek is remarkable in favour of radical free-market economics and US interventionalsim based on the moral superiority of the US. News from Continental European countries is reported with an air of superiority and contempt. The reporting on particular Germany and France is unnuanced and constantly repeat the simple line that all both countries need is the destruction social welfare.

I'm not against strong editorial lines of newspapers, on the contrary. The historian E.H. Carr wrote in his classic "What is History?"*: "When you read a work of history always listen out for the buzzing. If you can detect none, either you are tone deaf or your historian is a dull dog." The buzzing E.H. Carr writes about is the historians philosophical approach to history and his interpretation of sources and events. Because "History means interpretation" the good historian will give himself away in his writing. I believe the same is true for news reporting and Newsweek has a clear ideological approach to international news.

What disturbs me, however, is that Newsweek is generally considered to be left leaning and liberal. Of course Newsweek is liberal compared to Fox News and may be liberal on social issues. But, if Newsweek is liberal, then the mainstream US media is, contravy to conventional wisdom, very conservative and right wing.

Carr, E.H. What is History? (London, Macmillan, 1961).


At 24 January, 2007 18:20, Anonymous Kenneth Birch said...

I have been a subscriber since 99 and am still very happy with Newsweek.

I mostly agree with your diagnosis, but I'm not sure I would actually call it right-wing. It's a matter of perspective, really. According to the CW, on many issues, the Democrats in the US would be more right-leaning than many centre-right parties in Europe. The same with Newsweek. I wouldn't call it 'very conservative'.

Yes, Robert J Samuelson is in favour of free-market economics, and has had few kind words for Germany and France over the last few years. But mostly I do agree with him - look at the remarkably different results in the UK and the Nordic countries. The Danish government may be right-leaning on immigration, but I wouldn't exactly call their economic policy radical. Plus, free-market reforms were carried out also by the Social Democrat-led governments.

Fareed Zakaria is one my favourite columnists, with often very refreshing views on world politics, and I have agreed with him on many occasions. I suspect he could have a very successful career ahead of him as a Democrat politician or adviser, if he wanted to. But I cannot recognise your allegations of believing in the moral superiority of the US. This is not the picture I get from Zakaria's writings, or from Newsweek in general.

At 25 January, 2007 00:48, Blogger Torsten Pedersen said...


I probably went far when I accused Zakaria of believing in the moral superiority of the United States. In doing this I attributed to him the messianic vision of America's role in the world, which is a prevalent narrative in American political discourse. Yet, in the articles I've of read, he does seem to believe in the virtue of using America's military might to not only combat threats to America, but also promote peace and freedom.

You are right about perspective. I am so entrenched in a center-left European worldview, that Newsweek seems downright reactionary.

I will, however, stick with the 'right wing' label. Of course such a label is relative, but I use it to describe the belief in:
- market capitalism with minimum regulation,
- minimum state welfare and low level government spending.
- the use of criminal law and policing to solve problems of crime and social disorder.
- the aggressive use of military force to combat foreign threats.
Newsweek's articles are, in my opinion, 'abuzz' with these standpoints.

NB. Conservatism, in my definition, usually shares the above 'right-wing' beliefs, but is more concerned with maintaining the established social order.


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