Alan Bisbort: How Time Magazine Gets Everything Wrong

Late last year, I bought a subscription to Time magazine with the idea that I would use it to study the news habits of middle-class, middle-brow Americans in the age of Obama. I also had in mind a year-long art project called “Re-Covering Time” (a portion of which will be on display at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in September). Not a bad investment for a few pennies per issue, I reasoned.

Alas, even for pennies, Time is no bargain. There are reasons the magazine is practically giving away subscriptions now, as well as why its weekly contents are as thin as a wafer. The reasons have little to do with that catch-all scapegoat: the Internet. With each issue, the reasons become more obvious. The most recent one to arrive, a “Special Report: The End of Bin Laden” (5/20/11), is a case in point.

Take Peter Bergen's lengthy summation of bin Laden's career, for example. In it, Bergen portentously claims the al-Qaida leader's downfall began at the moment of his greatest triumph, with the destruction unleashed on 9/11. Say what?! In Bergen's fantasy world of punditry, the terror attacks merely “bloodied our nose.” This is a curious locution, and would certainly come as a shock to friends and families of the 3,000 killed on 9/11, most of whose bloodied noses, arms, legs, torsos and hearts were never even found amidst the incinerated rubble. Bergen's frat-boy locution recalls the Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove, a perfectly prescient piece of Cold War satire highlighted by the wacked-out performances of Sterling Hayden and George C. Scott as saber-rattling members of the military brass. Scott's General Buck Turgidson, like Bergen in his essay, downplays the tragedy of mass murder. In this case, Turgidson proposes an all-out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union “to catch them with their pants down.” When apprised by the president, played by a brilliantly muted Peter Sellers, that “that isn't war, General, that's mass murder,” Turgidson responds in a manner that recalls both Donald Rumsfeld and Glenn Beck: “Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed … but I do say no more than 10 to 20 million would be killed, tops”).

And then there's Joe Klein who sets up a scorecard between the president and “his near namesake”: “Obama 1, Osama 0.” Joe Klein, it should be added, is Time's version of a respectable “liberal,” which only means that he sports a beard and spends more time berating liberals than the conservative pundits (Joe Klein is widely known to real liberals on the Internet as “Joke Line”). Following Klein's turgid musings is a multi-page photo spread of people waving American flags. Then, the “Culture” section at the back of the magazine rehashes the plot Fox's Bush-era propaganda show, “24,” featuring Jack Bauer “counterterrorism ace.” Finally, this issue of Time closes with a “Second Thoughts” column by Nancy Gibbs, who insists that bin Laden's death showed that our “victory” was “in all the ways he failed to change us.”

Each week, this same crew of pundits prove that they live in a parallel universe that bears only a passing resemblance to the one the rest of us inhabit. The ugly truth of the matter is that as vile and heinous as Osama bin Laden was, he did succeed at what he set out to do. He was able, with only 18 men with box cutters, to bring America to a screeching halt, set in motion a series of events that eroded our civil liberties and continues to chip away at our Constitution (see Pulitzer-winning journalist David Shipler's new book, The Rights of the People, for the grim details). We've since been led through an illegal preemptive wild goose chase of a war in Iraq and we're embedded semi-permanently in Central Asia. The sum total of financial investments that all this post-9/11 craziness required has grievously harmed America's economy and turned us into the biggest credit scofflaw on the planet.

That is considerably more than bloodying our nose.

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