Of course, the big Newsweek news this week is Sarah Palin's cover photo, apparently filched from Runner's World magazine without their permission. You can see it here - quite unsurprisingly it's stirred up cries of sexism, and not just from the (suddenly sensitive) right. Frankly, I'm as scornful of the pathetic ex-governor as the next sensible person, but I don't think Newsweek's cover is doing the anti-Palin cause any favors. Actually, I see it as part and parcel of Newsweek's increasing tendency to take too strident, crusading, and misguided a tone with its journalism: see also "The Case for Killing Granny," Newsweek's boneheaded cover from several months ago which attempted to discredit the "death panel" crowd by, um, making their case for them (?!). Sold a lot of magazines I'm sure, but I highly doubt it won many fence-sitters to the side of Obamacare (and should that even have been Newsweek's mission in the first place?). Editor Jon Meachum's introductions to each issue also seem to take a frequently holier-than-thou tone, and this is by my count the second Palin cover issue to rather hysterically warn the country against her. If you wanted to turn her fans and quasi-fans even further against the mainstream media and the "liberal elite" (and throw in a few previously sympathetic feminists to boot) you couldn't do a better job if you were a GOP operative.
Well, that's more than enough on that - I only mention it because I went to the site for another link and wound up with a lot of articles on Palin and Newsweek's homemade controversy. The article I was digging for is actually a small piece in an issue from a few weeks ago, which I just read tonight. It's called "Lights! Camera! Revolución!" and it details, with a snide tone, Hugo Chávez's attempts to create a Bolivarian Hollywood, replete with propagandistic entertainments, empty studios, and censorial government boards.
Look, I'm not one who will eagerly step up to Chávez's defense. Despite his egalitarian promises, he seems to be a colossal boor with strong authoritarian tendencies, one too scatterbrained and egotistical to lead his country to the promised land which he himself has promised them. In addition, he's alleged to have decimated Venezuala's cultural scene in a philistinic quest to stamp out "elitism" in the arts.
But - and this is a huge but - he is not a "totalitarian"; not even close. He remains hugely popular and has won several elections. Say what you will about him, note his repression of the press and opposition, and affinity for Castro and Ahmadinejad, but implying he's a dictator is stepping way out of line. Yet this is what Mac Margolis does repeatedly in the Newsweek piece, casually comparing Chávez's homegrown film industry to that of Stalin, Franco, and in the author's words "other 20th-century autocrats he emulates."
This kind of careless language is no light matter given the U.S.'s history in the region. Think the toppling of Guatemalan democracy in the 50s (at the behest of United Fruit), the CIA-fueled bloody coup and violent reign of Pinochet in Chile in the 70s, the illegally-funded war against the Sandinistas (who also won an internationally-monitored election) and the devastating support for a government which facilitated nun-raping, priest-assassinating death squads in El Salvador in the 80s. With that kind of history (to name just a few examples) government and media labelling of an admittedly flawed ruler as dictatorial and now even "totalitarian" are to be regarded with extreme suspicion. How interesting that Newsweek, and the rest of the media, lets loose a lot of excessive liberal yapping on a cultural issue like Sarah Palin's presidential ambitions (despite the fact that even conservatives think - and probably hope - she hasn't a chance) yet they unquestioningly go along with the neoconservative line that Chávez is a "dictator" in the same category as other anti-American despots like Castro, Mussolini, and even Hitler, despite the verifiable fact that he is not.
(This is not the first time I've found a Newsweek article so wrongheaded I had to air my objections. Last winter I criticized Newsweek for another article - this one a tone-deaf, yet highly indicative, piece of cultural criticism looking back on art in the Bush years. Here is my response.)