Ladies' Home Journal Channels Bush Propaganda


At first glance, Peggy Noonan's interview with President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush in the October Ladies' Home Journal seems like a fluff piece about the first family.

At one point, Noonan describes Bush as "a loyal son who told us that his relationship with his father has undergone change. He is a man in love with his wife. He is a father bemused by the strength and independence of his daughters." This may not sound like objective writing exactly, but it's the kind of harmless personal-life homage that could appear in a "shelter" category magazine about a first family named Reagan or Clinton.

At another point, Noonan inanely asks Laura Bush, "When your husband is the leader of the Free World, is it still possible for you to get irritated with him and yell at him over stuff?" The question, straight out of a 1950s homemakers' magazine, assumes that today's women don't have any political concerns and implies that the readers of Ladies' Home Journal are only interested in learning whether the leader of the world's superpower remembers to pick up his towels or put the top back on the salsa jar.

Still, while this kind of thing might make you cringe, it doesn't necessarily look like a serious subversion of editorial objectivity. But look again. Watch how a one-sided endorsement of the president and his policies -- just as the White House's political standing is sinking and women's support could be oh so helpful -- surges forth on the article's current of gushing sentimentality.

"His palpable faith in our country, and his insistence that it could do any good thing it set its mind to, help ignite a new wave of patriotism. It has become chic to love America again," writes Noonan, a Republican insider made out to be an impartial scholar by the magazine's editor-in-chief, Diane Salvatore, who describes the accomplished practitioner of political spin "as an astute and respected observer of the American presidency."

In this interview -- penned by the chief speechwriter to Vice President George Bush during his first campaign for the presidency -- the younger Bush emerges as a masterful messiah who emerged in our nation's darkest hours to shepherd his flock into safety. It's clear that the 13 million readers of the magazine are expected to respond warmly to the idea of a strong, male leader taking care of the national family.

As a wife, mother and a subscriber to Ladies' Home Journal, I am usually only mildly annoyed by the way glossy women's magazines focus on fluff rather than serious issues. I was rather outraged and shocked, however, that Ladies' Home Journal allowed Noonan to usurp their pages for her own agenda and that a national women's magazine set up its readers for a warm and cuddly, feel-good, family values feature and then allowed such a raw act of political manipulation be perpetrated upon them.

The October issue of Ladies' Home Journal paid special tribute to the heroes of September 11 and extolled the virtues of American patriotism. But President Bush and Noonan rather shamefully exploited the horrors of that day by once again using it as an opportunity to boost the President's popular image.

"The President tapped directly into the primal patriotic urge that rose like smoke from September 11th," Noonan writes, in a blatant attempt to position Bush as a celebrity icon, above the political fray. "He reminded us through his leadership that our principles are worth fighting for, and dying for."

Noonan is good at what she does. She was, after all, the woman responsible for creating the infamous sound bites -- "1,000 points of light" and "read my lips, no new taxes" -- for the senior Bush. The point is that this interview was conducted by the best there is in creating modern Republican mythology.

What's unnerving about the interview is that it came out just as opinion polls show that the U.S. people are starting to suspect that Bush may have fabricated -- or at least exaggerated -- the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, in order to win approval for a war that perhaps never should have been launched. So what does a handsome, eloquent president do when public opinion begins to turn on him? He starts kissing babies to appear more human and humane. He tries to endear himself to female readers when they're flipping through a relaxing "lifestyle" magazine and their political guard is down.

Editor in chief Diane Salvatore seemed ready to oblige. In her monthly letter to her readers, she gleefully admits that this was her own first meeting with any U.S. president. She says that she felt "suspended between two realities: one in which you feel the rush of our proud history at your back; the other, in which you experience the First Couple as the flesh-and-blood married pair, who enjoy and tease each other, who are warm and down-to-earth."

Salvatore, it would seem, was so star-struck that Noonan was able to take complete editorial control. Most celebrity interviewers try to observe their subjects from a certain distance. They usually present divergent views and let readers draw their own conclusions. But Noonan -- a best-selling author, a contributor to The Wall Street Journal and a primetime contributor for MSNBC -- is the slickest of political editorialists. She isn't about to let the readers of Ladies' Home Journal make their own assessments. Instead, she delivers a rather elaborate ode to Saint George II; perfect husband, adoring father and tireless crusader against evil.

The October issue of Ladies' Home Journal hit the stands at the same time that the lingering Iraqi war was beginning to tarnish Bush's public image. So far, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. The National Organization for Women says the administration "has mismanaged the situation in Iraq and misled the public."

Therefore, Noonan's love fest with the Bushes couldn't have better timing. Positioned as a heartfelt interview, it gives ample opportunity for the president to win over readers to his political agenda. Bush even takes the opportunity to describe himself as a "peacemaker," who is "reluctant to use military force."

In light of the president's actions, this is at least an arguable statement. One would expect a truly "astute observer of the presidency" to confront the president with his actual deeds, rather than just praise his words and promises. Perhaps, Ladies' Home Journal needs to be reminded that our president is not a celebrity, but a public servant seeking re-election.

All U.S. women -- Democrats or Republican, subscribers of the magazine or not -- should be deeply insulted, and a bit scared, that a national women's magazine tried to feed its readers political propaganda between the fashion tips and recipes.

Lizbeth Finn-Arnold is a mother, freelance writer, and independent short-film producer who lives and works in New Jersey. Her articles have appeared in The Independent (Film and Video Monthly), Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, Welcome Home, Pregnancy magazine, Americas, and The Imperfect Parent. She also publishes an independent webzine, The Philosophical Mother, where she often comments on motherhood and pop culture.

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