Newsmags Push Democratic Wave in 2006, But Fought Rising GOP Tide in 1994
Both Time and Newsweek are out with another set of “bad news for Republicans” covers this week, as Tim Graham pointed out earlier this morning. In her magazine’s cover story, Time’s Karen Tumulty suggests that Republican are about to lose control of Congress. “It took 40 years for the House Democrats to exhaust their goodwill. It may take only 12 years for the Republicans to get there.”
For millions who will only notice Time, Newsweek, or U.S. News & World Report as they’re waiting to check out at the grocery store, the picture and headline on the cover will convey the news magazine’s editorial summary of the week’s important news. This week, Time showcases a huge shot of an elephant’s rump, symbolizing the end of the GOP’s control of Congress. Newsweek has a huge close-up of the disgraced Mark Foley’s face, an image that dwarfs a picture of President Bush.Newsweek’s caption: “Foley’s Secret Life: How a Predator’s E-mail Sex Scandal Could Cost Bush Congress.” (U.S. News has one of its evergreen covers, this one on new trends in education: “E-Learning Explodes,” but three weeks ago featured an investigative report on the old Duke Cunningham scandal: “Capitol Crime: How a New Washington Scandal Could Bring Congress to Its Knees.”)
As the media elite tell it, 2006 will be for Democrats what 1994 was for Republicans, with angry voters tossing out a tired, scandal-plagued majority party and handing the keys to the Congress over to opposition. If that scenario does come to pass, one key difference will be that while the media have so far largely helped the insurgents of 2006, liberal journalists looked askance at the “angry” voters of 1994.
Wading into the MRC’s archive of 1994 news magazine covers (Time posts its collection online, if you want to look for yourself), the last pre-election political cover that depicted Democrats on the ropes was seven months before the election: Time’s April 4, 1994 “Deep Water: How the President’s Men Tried to Hinder the Whitewater Investigation,” with a black and white photo of beleaguered-looking Bill Clinton and George Stephanopoulos in the Oval Office.
For their part, Newsweek and U.S. News never once gave Whitewater a full cover in 1994, although U.S. News began the year with a January 31 cover showing a smiling First Couple: “Year One: Bill and Hillary’s Excellent Adventure (Or is it?)”Other major Democratic debacles of 1994 also never popped up on a magazine cover: the collapse of Hillary’s socialistic health care plan; Paula Jones’ sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton; Hillary Clinton’s suspicious $100,000 profit in cattle futures trading; or the indictment of the powerful Democratic Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dan Rostenkowski, for corruption.
The worst the Democrats faced in the fall was an October 3 Newsweek cover that featured a caricature of a giant Jimmy Carter eclipsing a midget Bill Clinton at the presidential podium, with the headline “Crisis in Haiti: Who’s in Charge Here?” Carter, Colin Powell and Georgia Senator Sam Nunn had flown to Haiti in a last-minute venture to pre-empt a threatened U.S. invasion to restore leftist President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power; U.S. troops ultimately gained a “permissive entry” into Haiti to guarantee Aristide’s return.
The other mags featured the Haiti deployment as well, but with politically neutral headlines — Time’s “Taking Over Haiti” and U.S. News’s “Uncle Sam, Supercop.”
The magazines’ 1994 election covers put all of the onus on Republican challengers. Time’s November 7 cover featured a red-faced Newt Gingrich with the headline “Mad as Hell: The G.O.P.’s Newt Gingrich Has Perfected the Politics of Anger.” Time’s Richard Lacayo argued that the GOP’s Contract with America was a blunder: “Democrats say the Contract was the first major misstep the Republicans have made in this year’s campaign. Even many Republicans have been shying away from it. For one thing, by promising tax cuts without explaining how they fit into deficit reduction, they seemed like practitioners of the feel-good foolery that made voters cynical in the first place.”
That week’s Newsweek previewed the election as “Down & Dirty,” with a photo of Virginia Republican Senate candidate Oliver North on the cover. Going to press a bit more than a week before the election, correspondent Howard Fineman suggested the GOP tide had ebbed: “Republicans, once sure of winning the Senate and hoping for a dramatic sweep elsewhere, were lowering their expectations a bit. They may undermine their cause with bickering....The intramural feuds left the GOP’s chief spokesman — Rush Limbaugh — nearly speechless on his talk show last week.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Flip the same magazine a few pages, and you’ll find a headline asking “How ‘Normal’ Is Newt?” Reporter Mark Hosenball dumped the Democrats’ anti-Gingrich opposition research: “The answer is just as normal as many Americans — at least the ones who see their marriages fail, change their views and don't always practice their professed beliefs."
Over at U.S. News, the cover asked voters: “Why Are You So Angry?” Reporter Steve Roberts blamed Democrats for failing to deliver on their 1992 promises, but also repudiated the Reagan-Bush years: “Democrats also inherited an underlying set of problems that were plaguing the economy long before Clinton’s election: sluggish incomes, global competition, corporate downsizing, defense cutbacks. These trends helped defeat George Bush two years ago, and they are undermining the Democrats today.”
Of course, twelve years ago the revolt of “angry” voters was as much against an out-of-touch media elite that was already seen as biased against the concerns of ordinary conservatives. After the GOP landslide, journalists weren’t just surprised by the election results; they were stunned at talk radio’s clout at mobilizing voters.
Twelve years later, the media elite say a Democratic wave is building across the country. Is that because journalists have figured out how to connect with the American mainstream, or are they still parroting the wishful thinking of liberal strategists?