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November 17, 2008

In Praise of Newsweek's Election-End Opus


It is, to me, one of the things I look forward to most every election cycle: Newsweek magazine's 50-plus page mega-opus on the heretofore unrevealed behind-the-scenes stories from the campaign.


The long article is comprised largely of material that staffers and other figures gave them off the record, at least until after the election. Indeed, I can't even tell you how many times throughout the campaign I thought to myself, "I can't wait to read about this in Newsweek."


This year's "Special Election Project," called "How He Did It” doesn't disappoint. The only disappointing part, for me anyway, was that I could barely find a copy.


On the issue's release date, last Monday, I went around to a few bookstores and newsstands in my hometown of Philadelphia, but all were sold out. I resolved to get a copy to read on the train to a business trip in New York Tuesday, but the train station was out of copies as well, as were pretty much all the newsstands in New York's Penn Station – as well as about 30 more that I went to throughout Manhattan, including a couple right outside the magazine's offices.


Were the thousands of issues scooped up by people just looking for an election keepsake, or were they mostly political junkies who had eagerly awaited the long article? Who knows, but I can tell you that Time, as well as most other weeklies, were still there at most of the places I looked.


In these days of struggling big media, when "no one reads newspapers anymore," it's good to see people scooping dead-tree media for once. If only America could elect its first black president every week . . .


Anyway, too impatient to read the whole thing on the web, I finally read the issue after a friend sent me the PDF, and I once again wasn't disappointed. A few of the highlights:


–      Newsweek's 2004 edition made clear that the John Kerry campaign was plagued by infighting, constant shake-ups and internal turmoil from start to finish, while the Bush campaign was both drama-free and more fun than summer camp. The situation, Newsweek makes clear, reversed itself in '08, as both the Hillary and McCain camps were full of discord, while the Obama campaign enjoyed exemplary message discipline and general harmony throughout.


–      To wit, the magazine reported that on some Clinton conference calls, there were seven participants, “all of whom were trying to get someone else on the call fired.”


–      Bill Clinton compiled an 81-page list of “all the unfair and nasty things that the Obama campaign had said” – and that was only after New Hampshire.


–      After Hillary dropped out, she supposedly told Obama that if he wasn't serious about picking her as vice president, he shouldn't put her through the vetting process. After she wasn't picked, the Clinton camp immediately leaked word that she had never been vetted.


–      When asked if she would stab Karl Rove in the back if he walked past her, Cindy McCain replied “No, I'd stab him in the front.”


–      In October, McCain staffers weighed whether to confront their candidate with the news that he couldn't win. They ultimately decided against it, but concluded his chances of winning were “10 to 15 percent.” The McCain staffers, clearly, had been reading FiveThirtyEight.com.


–      Both the Obama and McCain campaigns, in the summer, had their internal computers breached, with numerous data stolen, and the FBI and Secret Service believe the hackers were “Russian or Chinese.” This relatively major piece of news, somehow, never appeared in any newspaper or anywhere else until now.


–      Newsweek's revelations about Sarah Palin, her clothes-buying sprees, the towel episode and much else have been well-documented already. But my favorite anecdote was that when Joe Biden was told Palin was McCain's veep pick, he replied, “Who's Palin?”


–      The story was 53 pages in the magazine, but I get the sense they had enough material for about 10 times that. Among campaign topics either completely omitted or barely touched: The Michigan/Florida delegates controversy, the "PUMA" non-phenomenon, the joke that was "lipstick on a pig," the ACORN accusations, Tina Fey's Palin impression and the vice-presidential debate.


As I've said before, great books will likely be written about this most extraordinary of elections. The Newsweek take is a good first taste.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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