This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
The differences in the two lists are not necessarily odd. Nor should the changes from one list to another suggest that the correspondents are relying on papers they do not trust. A correspondent may, for example, rely upon three newspapers and think well of their fairness and reliability, but decide that three others that he does not consider as useful rank ahead of them in judgments of fairness and reliability. It should nonetheless be obvious that a newspaper that has been used by a correspondent has had a full opportunity to prove to him that it should be given the highest marks for fairness and reliability.
It is not surprising that the three general news magazines—Time, U.S. News & World Report, and Newsweek rank at the top of the list of periodicals the correspondents rely upon in their work. They appear every week, and they are made up in large part of reports on national and international affairs. But it is surprising that even as at group the general news magazines do not dominate this list (see earlier table) as the Times dominates the newspaper list.
The reason for the comparatively small reliance on the news magazines may become clear in the judgments of their fairness and reliability. S0 many of the correspondents had mentioned during interviews that none of the news magazines could be trusted that it was decided to split these publications off from the other periodicals and try to determine which, if any, were considered trustworthy. The correspondents were asked to name the one news magazine they considered the fairest and most reliable.
It was a revealing exercise. Not only did 24.1 percent of the correspondents fail to list any news magazine, but 16.9 per cent wrote “None” and some of them decorated the margins of the questionnaire with such comments as “Are you kidding?” and “No such animal.” Newsweek, with 75 votes, led the list. It was followed by U.S. News & World Report, with 66. Time, which had been first on the “relied upon” list, received only nine votes for fairness and reliability. In addition, several correspondents listed publications that are not considered news magazines.
It should be mentioned that there is nothing necessarily strange about relying upon a news magazine without trusting it. A magazine, as well as a newspaper, can provide leads to stories.
The case of Time, however, offers a special insight into the Washington press corps. Time is widely read by the correspondents, it seems clear, because of its crisp cleverness. Two of the correspondents who wrote “None” in the space available for listing the fairest and most reliable news magazine added, “But Time’s the only one worth reading,” and “Time has the only literate writers.” One correspondent who dislikes Time intensely confessed that he could not bear to miss an issue. He paid for a subscription to it, then discovered that he could get each issue a day earlier by buying it at a newsstand. Unable to wait for his subscription copy, he began picking it up at the newsstand. “Then,” he said, “I cuss my way through it.”
Many of the correspondents also balked at judging the fairness and reliability of the magazines of politics and opinion. Thirty-four percent did not list a magazine in that category, and nearly l5 percent wrote “None.” Considering the number who wrote in comments like “These magazines deal in opinion” and “These aren’t supposed to be objective,” it is clear that many of the correspondents do not consider it possible for magazines of opinion to be fair and reliable. Of those who did offer judgments, however, a majority—ninety—listed The Reporter. The New Republic was second with nineteen. No other received more than seven.