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