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).
Alas, in the era of Facebook, twitters and blogs, a weekly newsmagazine is an anachronism. Visit any dentist's waiting room, and you're more likely to find patients reading smartphones or watching cable news than reading a magazine. If you're looking for a breakthrough story, you won't find it. After focusing on all those women, there should be a take on the way men reacted to women's changes by becoming "the second sex."
Kay Hymowitz puts it plaintively, "Where have the good men gone?" In her new book, "Manning Up," she writes about how men who should be adults are instead flourishing in a limbo of extended post-puberty frat boys, dudes, geeks and hipsters. She gives voice to what I hear single women from their 20s through their 50s lament in a repetitious refrain: Men are panicked about taking on responsibility.
The birth control pill, freeing sexual restraint, along with feminism and expanded opportunities for women, are cited as some of the reasons. The knowledge and service industries favor the female sensibility, so men have become the Rodney Dangerfields of the culture who can only complain, accurately, "I don't get no respect."
Unfortunately, many don't deserve respect. Having tasted independence and reveling in the fact that they aren't the ones biologically programmed to have children before 40, they're wait-listed for adulthood.
Young women are not only getting better grades in high school and more degrees in college than men, they seek role models among the energetically ambitious. Young men prefer their beer, electronic games, "South Park" and finding a role model in Adam Sandler movies. The recession hasn't helped.
Where women have moved up, provider husbands have become endangered. Fifteen years ago, Newsweek lamented the paranoia of the white male as multiculturalism and feminism moved into the ascendancy. He was mocked as the dumbest person in the room.
It wasn't fair, but Newsweek was onto a trend. The story that the new Newsweek missed is that until men are equal partners in the human race again, they're less secure and less interesting. That's something for Tina and her editors to talk about.