Originally at: http://skepolitical.com/?p=895

This week’s cover story represents the culmination of Newsweek’s decade-long descent from a respected establishment-news source to a tabloid rag.


My family had a subscription to Newsweek when I was a kid, and I had my own subscription until just a year or two ago. Even after I had shifted my focus mainly to alternative news sources, I kept my subscription because I liked some of Newsweek’s features and I felt there was some value in keeping in touch with “mainstream” news, for the sake of perspective. As I mentioned in my recent links post, it was my weekly horror at the writings of Niall Ferguson that finally forced me to end my subscription.

If I were writing for Newsweek, I might have tolerated writing alongside Ferguson’s columns, which, though sloppy, misleading, and repulsive, did not sink to the level of being unpublishable. I can’t see the value in giving his ideas a platform, but their publication merely represented poor taste and judgment on the part of the Newsweek editors, not an outright dereliction of their duty to their readers. If we consider that duty to be putting at least attempting to give its readers a true depiction of reality, this cover story reveals that the editors are have neglected this responsibility.

The problem isn’t just that the conclusions in the story are wrong, it’s that the editors must have known the story was problematic, but decided to go ahead and publish it anyway. The author of the story is so incredibly naive that someone at Newsweek should have had some qualms about it, and one phone call to a skeptic could have revealed the utter nonsense of the author’s claims. They decided to run with the story anyway because stories about Heaven being real probably sell well to our simple-minded populace. When that rationale wins the day in the front office of a publication, what you have on your hands is no longer a news magazine but a tabloid.

If the Newsweek editors wanted to preserve its status as a news magazine and also wanted to go with this story about Dr Alexander’s experience, the story should have been about how easy it is even for a doctor like Eben Alexander to be confused into thinking he had seen heaven, and then it should have described what was really happening inside his brain. That would be what I call “informing the reader”. Instead, the Newsweek editors opted to mislead readers and treat them to a fanciful story of make-believe. That Newsweek opted to go with the most credulous and misleading version of this story reveals that either editorial board is completely broken, or that this is simply not a news magazine anymore. If I were writing for Newsweek, I may have tolerated Niall Ferguson. This week’s story would have demanded a resignation. We will soon learn if any of their current staff agrees with me.

For more, read Sam Harris’Steven Novella’s, and Hemant Mehta’s takes on this Newsweek story. (1)