Idea Of The Day

War and the Home Front

Those of you who are convinced that people in the media often act as an independent species may find your opinion confirmed by an article published in this week’s edition of New York magazine. The author is the magazine’s media columnist, Michael Wolff, and mostly his piece is an assessment of how Sept. 11 changed newspapers, magazines, and television for the good. Wolff writes:

Disaster, and the shift from the banal to the epochal, has had a thrilling, revivifying effect on [the news magazines]. “It will be a major decision to go back to a health cover at this point,” said a Time editor, referring to the soft-news, lifestyle approach the magazine had taken in the nineties, as he told me about young staff members and their incredible enthusiasm in this changed world. Everywhere in the news business, there has been the sense of being saved from the purgatory of soft news—and from tabloid hell.

Health care coverage is soft news? Well, for some in the media that may be so—perhaps this independent species never gets sick, injured, or laid off—but as Jonathan Cohnreminds us in this week’s New Republic, victory in Afghanistan is hardly a remedy for a burgeoning health care crisis—whatever a Time editor may say.

This month, as Congress debated whether to include health insurance benefits in an economic stimulus package, advocates proposed only modest, short-term initiatives intended to get the newly unemployed through the next several months. But that could all soon change. With premiums and unemployment on the rise once more, millions of people are losing their insurance, while millions more are starting to worry about it again.

Health care may not be as thrilling as witnessing a 15,000-pound Daisy-cutter bomb exploding in Tora Bora, and it may be a purgatorial subject for weekly magazines to cover, but that doesn’t make it soft news.