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Broad Appeal

Newsweek learns about European sophistication.

11:00 PM, Jan 20, 2003 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
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EUROPE'S GREATEST NEWSWEEKLY, Hamburg-based Der Spiegel, is also one of its biggest-selling. Since the European appetite for in-depth news analysis is unlikely to be much larger than ours, you have to assume the magazine has a secret formula for attracting such a wide readership. And it does: The editors at Der Spiegel never pass up an opportunity to carry a nude photograph. They'll run an article on crime in Brazil with a photo of two people copulating on a sandy beach, over the caption: "Rio: Not All Love and Romance." They'll run an article on Poland's economic troubles showing a bare-breasted courtesan with her arms flung over a leather sofa. ("Losing Their Shirts in Warsaw?") The arts coverage--which is almost uniformly excellent--includes essays on painting illustrated with nudes, and even rawer stuff when possible. ("Scene from 'Deep Throat': Is American Cinema Running Out of Energy?") I'm making these examples up, but if anything, they understate the technique. This sort of nudge-wink porn, one always assumed, is something American newsmagazines would do if they could.

The January 13 issue of Newsweek is an indication that perhaps they can. On page 48 we have an article on France's Raelian cult and its attempt to clone a human. No pictures of test tubes, though. The piece is illustrated with the photo of a bunch of topless women sitting in a field in central France in 1991, captioned, "Followers attend seminars in the nude and 'experiment' in sensuality, but the Raelians deny these events are orgies." Then there's the nicely illustrated "Health" section on page 65, with the lead feature "New Year, New Breasts?" (You might think this wouldn't interest those readers who lack breasts. But you'd be wrong.) Six pages later we get to the "tribute" to the late photographer Herb Ritts. This consists of a photo of five nude young women clutching one another. The page after that has Anna Quindlen urging repeal of America's sodomy laws. The column is remarkable in its own way, as perhaps the most unselfconscious example of I'm-so-smart-and-my-ancestors-were-so-stupid p.c. self-congratulation that any magazine has run in many a year. Mercifully, it is not illustrated.

Now that the Spiegel technique has conquered American magazine publishing, prudish souls will require a pretext to read Newsweek. Perhaps a variant of the old Playboy excuse will do: "Oh, I don't get it for the pictures. I get it to read Anna Quindlen on sodomy."

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.