Penguins stand on a rock near station Bernardo O'Higgins, Antarctica, 2015. Photo: AP
Jack El-Hai | Longreads | April 2017 | 6 minutes (1,500 words)
Last year was the hottest on record for the third consecutive pass of the calendar. Glaciers and polar ice melt, plant and animal species go extinct at a rapid rate, and sea levels rise. Clearly the consequences of climate change are immense.
Does anyone out there think we’re at the dawn of a new ice age?
If we had asked that question just 40 years ago, an astonishing number of people — including some climatologists — would have answered yes. On April 28, 1975, Newsweek published a provocative article, “The Cooling World,” in which writer and science editor Peter Gwynne described a significant chilling of the world’s climate, with evidence accumulating “so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.” He raised the possibility of shorter growing seasons and poor crop yields, famine, and shipping lanes blocked by ice, perhaps to begin as soon as the mid-1980s. Meteorologists, he wrote, were “almost unanimous” in the opinion that our planet was getting colder. Over the years that followed, Gwynne’s article became one of the most-cited stories in Newsweek’s history. Read more…
The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg reflects on his early career working as a correspondent for Newsweek in San Francisco, covering Jefferson Airplane, Ronald Reagan and hippies:
“If the S.F. music scene (I quickly learned that ‘Frisco’ was a no-no) was scarcely known outside the Bay Area, and neither was the larger cultural phenomenon it drew strength from. The word ‘hippie’—derived from ‘hipster,’ the nineteen-forties bebop sobriquet revived sixty years later in Brooklyn, Portland, and food co-ops in between—had been coined only a few months earlier, by Herb Caen, the Chronicle’s inimitable gossip columnist. (At the time, as often as not, people spelled it ‘hippy.’) Ralph J. Gleason, the Chron’s jazz critic, was the scene’s Dr. Johnson. (Pushing fifty, he was too old to be its Boswell.) Gleason’s protégé was the pop-music critic for the U.C. Berkeley’s student paper, the Daily Californian, Jann Wenner. But the national press had not taken much notice, if any. So getting something into Newsweek was a coup.”
Resuscitating a battered newsweekly in 2011 is a tough bit of business. Last year, The Daily Beast and Newsweek lost a combined $30 million. Ad page numbers tell how difficult it is, too: Newsweek’s ad page performance between April to September was down 18 percent, according to the Publishers Information Bureau quarterly report. This is easy to dismiss (what isn’t down these days!) — but Time is up 4 percent for the year, The Economist is flat and Newsweek is competing, year-over-year, against a version of itself that had an ownership change, a lame duck editor and a very uncertain future.
On May 28, Justice Clarence Thomas issued an eyebrow-raising opinion. It concurred with the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold an Indiana law that requires abortion providers to follow a certain protocol to dispose of fetal remains and prohibits abortions on the sole basis of a fetus’s sex, race, or disability. It wasn’t the justice’s position that caught attention, but rather his method. In speaking to the law’s second provision on selective abortions, Thomas launched into a history of eugenics, the debunked science of racial improvement that gained popularity in the early decades of the 20th century.
Arguing that abortion is “an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation,” the justice offered a lengthy discussion of the origins of the birth-control movement in the United States. In this discussion, written for the benefit of other courts considering abortion laws, Thomas explains how Planned Parenthood grew in tandem with state-sterilization campaigns, providing the foundation for the legalized abortion movement. (As historians corrected, legal abortion preceded birth control, as it was not regulated until the 19th century.) The justice cites the disturbing rhetoric of Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, who wrote in The Pivot of Civilization that birth control was a means of reducing the “ever increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.” While conceding that Sanger did not support abortion, Thomas nonetheless argues that “Sanger’s arguments about the eugenic value of birth control in securing ‘the elimination of the unfit’ apply with even greater force to abortion, making it significantly more effective as a tool of eugenics.”
Thomas does not offer concrete evidence that American women actually abort fetuses solely because of sex, race, or disability. Nor does he explore the possible reasons for abortions related to these criteria, such as financial hardship or the lack of societal support for individuals with chronic conditions. His grievance with abortion boils down to this point: the practice is ill-borne. This claim is inaccurate, for reasons that historians swiftly noted; it also obscures the fact that eugenics did in fact initiate many traditions in this country, not all of which are perceived to be heinous today. Thomas’s incautious opinion, which echoes other voices in the abortion debate, unwittingly invites a more nuanced discussion of eugenics’ legacies.
In October 2014 Bill Cosby was in the middle of a career resurgence. His biography by former Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker had just come out to rave reviews and was climbing the bestseller list. He had a comedy special coming up on Netflix and was in development with NBC to star in a family sitcom. He was about to embark on another comedy tour based on a special that had aired on Comedy Central the year before. The special, Far from Finished, was Cosby’s first stand-up TV special in three decades, and it attracted two million viewers.
It was as if the scandal in 2005 had never happened, as if fourteen women hadn’t accused him of heinous offenses. The book didn’t even mention Andrea Constand’s allegations, let alone her civil suit or any of the other accusers. And no one in the media was asking Whitaker or Cosby why.
The situation was clear: Cosby had successfully repaired what little damage there was to his reputation after Andrea’s case made the news. He slipped right back into his revered status as public moralist and children’s advocate, chalking up even more awards and honors, including his entrée into the NAACP’s Image Awards Hall of Fame in 2006 for being a “true humanitarian and role model.” Read more…