The cover of Newsweek screams from the mailbox and the magazine rack: "BUSH'S $87 BILLION MESS." In case that rhetorical punch isn't strong enough, it adds the promise of uncovering "Waste, Chaos and Cronyism." Today's task for deniers of liberal media bias is set. Please find a Newsweek from the Clinton era with the words "mess" or "cronyism" next to a picture of that president.
Since the Clinton foreign policy team rarely risked top-of-the-news foreign policy initiatives (and certainly never wanted to risk an American casualty), the typical foreign-policy cover story of the second Clinton term read: "Mad About Madeleine: Washington Loves Her. Will the Rest of the World?" Team Clinton's infamous diplomacy-for-donors schedule of foreign trips and its shameless milking of foreign donors for campaign soft money, including cocaine kings and Beijing-connected "businessmen," were never newsworthy enough to be considered cover-story material, apparently, and never mind a "mess."
"Clinton" and "mess" didn't even merge on the Newsweek cover when he made a hash of his presidency with the Monica Lewinsky mess. Instead, the "news" magazine employed headlines like "The Secret Sex Wars." Or, after the April 1998 dismissal of the Paula Jones case, the cover announced: "Clinton Wins a Big One. Now It's Starr's Turn to PUT UP OR SHUT UP." In case you weren't sure how Newsweek felt about Clinton and his opponents, the first edition after the Republicans flopped in the 1998 midterms carried a photo of Newt Gingrich and just these words, bold and taunting: "THE LOSER."
President Clinton could have faced tough questions and embarrassment in October of 2000, after two terrorists in a tiny boat blew up the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, killing 17 sailors. But Newsweek's cover read simply "Target America." Inside, Jonathan Alter had no tough words about a Clinton "mess," that a great power could be so humiliated by a small band of thugs, the way reporters now view the Fedayeen insurgency. He made excuses: "Clinton was no doubt making contingency plans for retaliation" -- which did not materialize. In another story, the magazine sympathetically recounted how Clinton noted the irony to aides that Americans would now have to experience "the same anger, frustration and powerlessness felt by those in the Middle East." There's a campaign slogan for you: Vote for The New Powerlessness.