The New Republic, Aug. 16 & 23 The magazine sees the arrest of Al-Qaida member Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on July 29 as proof of the “July Surprise” they reported last month. That story claimed the administration pressured Pakistanis to announce the capture of a “high-value target” during the Democratic Convention. Even though Ghailani’s arrest wasn’t huge news, the authors argue that the announcement was still politically motivated and potentially dangerous: Broadcasting news of the capture around the world could diminish the value of Ghailani’s intelligence.… The cover review examines Renaissance-themed novels like The DaVinci Code and The Rule of Four, and asserts that their popularity is due to the period’s “shining image” of Western civilization. But the piece never really expands on that thesis, choosing instead to dissect the historical flaws in both books.… Details from Ryan Lizza’s typically excellent “Campaign Journal”: John Edwards travels in a noticeably cheaper bus than Kerry’s, and, most alarmingly, at least one person at every campaign stop suffers heat exhaustion.—S.M.
The Economist, Aug. 7 Are performance-enhancing drugs harmful to athletes and against the spirit of sport? Not necessarily, says the cover report. Most steroids are less physically damaging than smoking or consuming alcohol, and athletes have long used unusual methods to improve their performance. Each sport, not a single international body like the World Anti-Doping Agency, should decide if there is an acceptable level of performance enhancement, the piece says.… A story on Arab foreign policy contends that overriding suspicion of the West has made Arab regimes indecisive and uncooperative. Some Arab governments clearly want to address problems in Iraq and Sudan, but they are hamstrung by public desire to resist anything associated with the United States.… An article says Central Europeans are ditching Russian, German, and French in favor of English. The rise of the European Union means knowledge of English has become a “basic skill of modern life.”—S.M.
Entertainment Weekly, Aug. 13 The magazine’s story on why Hollywood has stopped producing megastars—the media overhypes young talents, actors are interchangeable these days, and all today’s thespian wants is art-house cred—is overshadowed by the creepy cover collage of America’s sweetheart, Julia Roberts. Careful observers will note that the would’ve-been-cool-if-it-was-1998 photo montage includes many repeat images. The right side of Roberts’ face, for example, is composed almost entirely of mini-photos of Jamie Foxx and Bernie Mac. Roberts’ left iris has a lot of Foxx and Mac as well—and one shot of an over-tanned Lindsay Lohan.—J.L.
New York Times Magazine, Aug. 8 The cover story profile of swimming superstar Michael Phelps is superbly written; the magazine far outdoes Time and Sports Illustrated, whose covers he’s graced as well. Phelps’ amazing ability stems from not only natural skill and grueling training, but the fact that he has an aquatic body—one that seems better suited for water than land. He has a “bizarrely” long torso (at 6’-feet-4-inches, he has an inseam of only 32 inches) and a wingspan 3 inches greater than his height (for most people, the two are identical). Although Phelps has an ambitious Olympic goal (eight gold medals, the most ever) and substantial promotional agreements (worth at least $5 million so far), he comes across as a shy 19-year-old who just happens to have been born to swim. … Other U.S. swimmers are going to Athens as well, of course, and the magazine has a gorgeous photo spread of them, shot underwater.—A.B.D.
The Nation, Aug. 16 & 23 The magazine has an exhaustive account of problems with the new touch-screen voting machines. These high-tech “solutions” to hanging chad are plagued by design flaws and technical glitches. First, all-digital balloting produces no paper receipt for voters to verify (or for election officials to recount). Perhaps more important, however, the machines are poorly secured and thus highly vulnerable to fraud. Manufacturers are unwilling to explain how digital ballots are protected and seem oblivious to those who note that blindly trusting a computer is “not the way democracy is supposed to work.” For all its well-reported detail, however, this plodding cover story is plagued by the heavy-handed implication that Republican-leaning executives who control voting-machine manufacturers will rig elections. Author Ronnie Dugger wrote a more solemn (and surprisingly prescient) New Yorker piece on the same subject 15 years ago.—A.B.D.
New York, Aug. 9 Norman Mailer, who graces the cover, has not mellowed much with age. Now 80, he does counsel anti-Bush protestors to moderate their rage, but he also indulges in Sept. 11 conspiracies and claims “America could be approaching a pre-fascistic condition.” Still, in a conversation with his son, High Times editor John Buffalo Mailer, the iconoclast comes across as downright ordinary. The younger Mailer seems desperate to relive his father’s Armies of the Night glory and offers such precious pronouncements as “we’re fighting a spiritual war against the corporation.”… The modest proposal that New York City form an independent republic could have been hilarious if written in true Swiftian fashion. After a promising beginning, however, the piece devolves into a self-loving meditation on the city’s unique culture and a self-righteous argument about its tax burden. Still, there are excellent pictures of the proposed nation’s proposed currency, the york, which features Woody Allen.—A.B.D.
The New Yorker, Aug. 9 & 16 The magazine explores a slice of the comedic universe unfamiliar to devotees of Lenny Bruce: Christian standup. Brad Stine, an edgy comic who also happens to be a devout Christian and a political conservative, has become a star on an evangelical circuit long dominated by more dowdy performers. The magazine follows Stine as he’s courted by the Promise Keepers, Pat Robertson, and the Republican Party—all of whom hope he will spread their message. The piece is notable for its sympathetic tone, which stands in contrast to the anthropological condescension of similar articles by David Kirkpatrick, the New York Times’ “conservative culture” beat reporter.… Another article offers an extraordinary look at the solemn rituals the military performs for fallen soldiers. The author traces two soldiers’ journeys to their final resting places.… A music review offers an excellent profile of the Streets and Dizzee Rascal, two artists advancing Britain’s answer to hip-hop, grime.—A.B.D.
Weekly Standard, Aug. 9 The magazine dissects the Democratic Convention and argues that despite President Bush’s low poll numbers, the election is not John Kerry’s to lose—it’s “Bush’s to win.” Kerry has chosen to make the race about the war on terror, which the magazine thinks plays to Bush’s strengths. The president’s campaign already has prepared a lineup of ads that contrast Bush’s get-tough presidency to Kerry’s dovish Senate career. Editor Bill Kristol believes Bush now has an “open field” to push his case.… A movie review pillories the remade Manchurian Candidate as a left-leaning fantasy that indulges in all the liberal critiques of the war on terror.… The magazine does its best to paint would-be first lady Teresa Heinz Kerry as another wacky, leftist political wife. The author can’t work himself up enough to draw a direct comparison to Hillary, however, and ends up being oddly sympathetic to THK.—A.B.D.
Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report, Aug. 9
Going for the gold: Time reports that Athens is almost as unprepared for the Olympics as naysayers feared it would be. Despite the Greeks’ Herculean efforts to modernize their ancient infrastructure, the country is still plagued by what one security consultant calls “holy s___!” problems. The magazine also features a photo essay of U.S. athletes and a cover story on swimming phenom Michael Phelps.… U.S. News warns that the games may not be much fun for American Olympians: Most spectators will be rooting against the United States, and many expect judges to look on U.S. competitors with an especially harsh eye. One former coach predicts the former Soviet states of Eastern Europe will engage in the “bloc voting” that plagued the games during the Cold War… Newsweek writes that the games were plagued by corruption even in their pre-modern days.
Terror south of the border: Newsweek reports on a secret Pentagon memo uncovered by the 9/11 commission. In the wake of the attacks, a senior Defense Department official argued that the United States should catch terrorists off guard by striking targets in South America or Southeast Asia. Although the memo is unsigned, it was probably written by Under Secretary for Defense Doug Feith. The magazine also breaks the news that Colin Powell was called before the grand jury investigating the Plame leak case, indicating that the investigation is broader and more active than previously thought. … Time writes that al-Qaida has teamed up with Afghan drug traffickers to finance its operations. One U.N. official warns that the opium trade may undo all American progress in Afghanistan. … U.S. News notes that Pakistan nabbed a top al-Qaida terrorist, but does not mention that that the arrest was announced during the Democratic National Convention—a scenario similar to one predicted by a New Republic article.
Summer fun: Time examines the latest installments of two of the most popular computer game franchises of the ‘90s, Doom and Myst. Both released in 1993, the two games offered vastly different experiences. Myst stressed methodical puzzle solving and attracted new female players while Doom emphasized hair-trigger shooting and redefined violent gaming. Doom’s style won out, and now a new, hyper-realistic edition is about to be released to a market dominated by hardcore shoot-’em-ups. Is there a place for Myst? …Newsweek asks what happens when aging rock stars can’t perform because of health reasons—and fans are left holding the expensive tickets. Apparently business for concert-cancellation insurers is soaring. …U.S. News catches up with Craig Newmark (of Craigslist.org fame) and reports on the expansion of his eponymous classified ad Web site.—A.B.D.