The $1 sale of Newsweek magazine to billionaire Sidney Harman, who is married to a member of Congress, is raising questions about the struggling magazine’s new connections to partisan politics.
Harman, husband of California Democrat Rep. Jane Harman, has long financially supported Democratic candidates and has been associated with numerous center-left groups over the past decades. According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, Harman has donated more than $150,000 to Democratic candidates and committees over the past twenty years. (He also gave $6,000 to independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2005-2006, $4,600 to Maine Sen. Susan Collins and $2,000 to then-Colorado Rep. Scott McInnis in 2001, both Republican).
Harman has never been a man who simply lets his money do the talking. In the 1970s, he served under President Carter in the Commerce Department where he worked to impose barriers on foreign shoe manufacturers who wanted to enter the American market, according to a 2003 New York Times profile. Today, he is a trustee emeritus at the Carter Center and sits on the board of the Aspen Institute.
Harman, like most anyone involved in politics and media, is not without his critics.
In November, his wife will face a challenge to her long-held congressional seat. Her opponent, Republican Mattie Fein, sent an open letter to then-Newsweek editor Jon Meacham before the magazine deal was announced that warned that Harman’s wife could use her power in the House to quell certain stories. (Meacham has since resigned.)
“Harman would be likely to exert her ownership leverage to divert Newsweek’s investigative reporting away from government wrongdoing that could be politically embarrassing to her,” the July 8 letter read. “As managing editor of a preeminent news magazine, you are saddled with a special responsibility to keep Newsweek from a hijacking to advance Congresswoman Harman’s personal and political agenda.”
Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center and long-time critic of the magazine, criticized the move, calling Newsweek a “dying magazine.”
“A left-winger pretending to be centrist sold it to another left-winger pretending to be centrist,” he said in a statement. “Newsweek is a dying magazine because no one wants to read their left-wing propaganda masquerading as ‘news.’ The $1 price tag, then, is probably just about right.”
Other news organizations had voiced interest in bidding on the magazine, but the Washington Post Company chose to sell it to Harman, who company chairman and CEO Donald E. Graham said “feels as strongly as we do about the importance of quality journalism.” But by purchasing the magazine, Harman faces an uphill battle in bringing the magazine back to profitability. In the last two years, Newsweek has lost $71.5 million. The former owners have retained the pension cost of certain employees, but the rest is Harman’s to shoulder.
A spokesman for The Washington Post Company declined to comment on the tax implications involved in the sale beyond the company’s official release.
CONNIE MARIANO: THE WHITE HOUSE DOCTOR