Tina Brown wanted to create a big splash with the first issue of the "new" Newsweek -- the magazine Sidney Harmon bought for a dollar and put her in charge of returning it to relevance. What could be more original than putting a fresh face on the cover? So here's Hillary Clinton, 11 years older than the last time Tina Brown launched a magazine, called Talk, and put her there.
You've come a long way, baby. Talk magazine was all about Bill Clinton's infidelities. The new Newsweek shows how the former first lady has risen on the world stage and has become a formidable presence on her own. It's Women's History Month, after all, and this year's theme is "Our History Is Our Strength." Hillary is one of 150 famous females "who shake the world."
The secretary of state is a symbolic choice for Newsweek, which as Brown reminds us has had a long, hard "journey through tough times." From the looks of the first issue, tough times remain ahead. Most of the featured American women suffer from liberal fatigue. There's Nancy Pelosi, but no Sarah Palin. We get complaints that fewer women serve in the new Congress, but there's no mention of the tea party winners.
The foreigners featured are worth a cover for overcoming great obstacles. But the Americans described as shaking the world, such as Meryl Streep, Oprah and Gloria Steinem, dowager achievers all, fall far behind the curve in a newsmagazine that wants to be as up to date as Kansas City. A readout in bold print in one column even contradicts the theme of the issue: "Until women are equal partners in the human race, we are less secure and surely less interesting."
Typical of the tone is a page-and-a-half photo spread of the lusting French President Nicolas Sarkozy ogling Carla Bruni, his glamorous wife, at a state dinner, while the president of South Africa stands between them making a speech. The photograph needs only a comic-strip dialog balloon over his head: "Just wait 'til I get you home."
A short article on Speaker John Boehner's ability to persuade Democrats in the House to slash $4 billion from the federal budget has neither insight nor analysis, but flashes a huge photograph and the lede paragraph: "John Boener licks his chops."
An interview with Larry Summers, former economic adviser to the president, focuses on such trivia as whether he beats Tim Geithner at tennis or liked his cameo portrait in the movie "The Social Network." This is stuff a serious editor would have spiked (to use a word from the days when newsrooms were populated by grown-ups).