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Rolling Stone and Jann Wenner Jump the Shark

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At the helm of a once relevant, thought-provoking and edgy magazine is a man who is oblivious to his own uselessness. Jann Wenner — a grasping, preening, simpering, disingenuous aging pseudo-hippy — has clung to his publisher’s post at Rolling Stone as though it were the last life vest on the Titanic.

I have subscribed to Rolling Stone on and off for the last 20 years. I realize of course that the magazine was past its prime even then, but to the young and impressionable, the stories, covers and glossy texture were the fumes that fueled my burning desire to become a journalist; a dream I cleaved to in lieu of any real talent, opportunity, or connection to reality.

Despite RS’s continued slide into obscurity and irrelevance, I have tried to remain loyal with the hope that eventually the magazine would find its voice, direction, passion for journalism. But instead I find silly insipid writing that is childish, biased, and uninsightful.

RS The latest issue, featuring a caricature of our country’s leader wearing a dunce cap on the cover, looking more like a chimp than a world leader, really offends my journalistic sensibilities. Not to put too fine a point on it, but who do they think they are fooling with that kind of cover?

Don’t get me wrong — there are times when I am sure that President Bush is Captain of the Crazy Ship, steering us down the river of doom — but RS’s depiction is beyond the pale, and I didn’t even vote for Bush.

The piece, “The Worst President in History?” by historian Sean Wilentz, is a diatribe on how Bush has mismanaged the presidency, a claim in and of itself I don’t necessarily disagree with; but it tries to disguise itself as an objective analysis of his policies, his leadership, his character, his vision in the context of the greatest and worst presidents of all time.

Wilentz’ central pillar for basing his all-too-obvious feelings is poll results “conducted by those perceived as conservative as well as liberals.” He cautions us that “lopsided decisions of historians should give everyone pause” and that “historians do tend, as a group to be far more liberal than the citizenry as a whole,” but we shouldn’t let that distract us from the overall ineptitude and incompetence of the President.

Truly what bothers me at the core of this piece is the deceptiveness at work, and that’s merely a symptom of the fever-pitched infection of hypocrisy at RS. The collegiate twenty-somethings who read RS are most likely blissfully unaware that the “progressive magazine” they are absorbing, is nothing more that propaganda pamphlet of liberal bias at its most stereotypical – one-sided, cartoonish propaganda in the guise of objective analysis. These are surely not the same people reading the Wall Street Journal or even the New York Times. Their exposure to political analysis is limited to occasional puff pieces sandwiched between pictures of Jessica Alba and the latest rapsheet on Pete Doherty.

A perfect example of fact versus fiction in Wilentz piece is his assertions about the economy. He writes, “Bush crowed in triumph in February 2004, ‘We cut taxes, which basically meant people had more money in their pocket.’ The claim is bogus for the majority of Americans, as are claims that tax cuts have led to impressive new private investment and job growth.”

Interestingly, the New York Times states the economy sets fastest pace since summer of 2003. Of course the economists warn this won’t last, but we’ve heard that before. The economy’s growth is one area that has given pause even to Bush detractors. Despite predications to the contrary, the economy has chugged along at a steady pace regardless of the devastating calamities of 9/11, the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina. Blogcritics David Nalle provides more comprehensive detail on the economic upswing here.

Again my point of contention isn’t any one misrepresentation of the truth, but more so the extremely biased nature of a piece being paraded around as a well-researched, fact-laden epitome of veracity.

For a “historian,” Wilenz is ignoring one simple fact: all Presidents are criticized harshly in the short-term.

No one will really know how the policies and performance of George W. Bush will be regarded historically for decades or even centuries to come. It is entirely possible that he will be regarded as a genius, a visionary. Or not.

That’s my point.

The mainstream media as a whole has done the American psyche a disservice by trying to scare the living shit out of us. And Jann Wenner is the big bully stomping on the obvious bandwagon.

Almost as offensive as the cover story on the president is the “Road Rage” hatchet piece on disgraced and retiring Republican congressman Tom DeLay written by trough-slopping sewer-dweller Matt Taibbi. Of COURSE Tom DeLay is a complete freaking dicknob, but that’s shooting fish in a barrel.

“Delay is a total zero, a loser, 200-odd pounds of the world’s purest pussy repellent… a short guy with a paunch and an asscrack face who spent most of his pre-congressional life cutting rat bait and growing the state of Texas’ silliest set of sideburns. He was ugly outside and in.”

Wow, and people think I am a ruthless bitch.

How does leveling childish insults and sophomoric analogies at a man whose only legacy is being the biggest ballbuster in Washington make me a better informed citizen? It doesn’t. That’s what bloggers are for.

Honestly, I would be the last person to complain about vicious articles attacking political figures, but can we at least spread the love. How come that whackjob from Georgia, Cynthia Mckinney doesn’t get some love? What, aren’t her antics worthy of mocking?

If Jann Wenner and the angry misfits at Rolling Stone really wanted to make an impact and pump the vital blood of truth into the American mind, they would profile the real threats facing us as a global community: dwindling resources, terrorism, viral pandemics and Britney Spears.

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About Dawn Olsen

  • Thanks for reminding me why I let my RS subscription run out months ago.

  • Dawn

    Yeah, if only I had been so smart I could have saved myself the anguish.

  • RS jumped the shark years ago, back when they put a Billy Joel song on a “Greatest Singles of All Time” list just because Joel is a friend of Wenner’s. Anyone who takes the magazine seriously–or even reads it–should, by now, already know what’s in store. Calling Bush names, however juvenile the writing might be, is certainly not the “last straw” you make it out to be.

  • Dawn

    Well, I guess it was the last straw for me. If you can suggest an alternative music magazine that I can read, please feel free to do so.

  • Scott Butki

    Oh I think RS jumped the shark long ago.

    I prefer Spin but even that has sucked lately.

    Other than that, good piece, Dawn.

    Hi Mike.
    Dawn, what type of music do you like? Part of the problem RS and Spin is they try to appeal to too many markets when the best music magazines these days are more specialized, with some for rap, some for punk, etc.

  • Dawn

    I like electronic/industrial, punk, british alterna-pop. It’s really an eclectic mix. I am willing to like and listen to anything done well and that is tuneful.

    I don’t want to hate Rolling Stone, because there just isn’t that much out there to choose from. Culturally speaking RS is still the standard for rock and culture, which is why I was so offended by their abusing the privilege of my readership.

  • Hunter

    Rolling Stone lost it for me when they gave like five stars to Mick Jagger’s last solo album, just because he and Rolling Stone are BFF.

    Me, I agree entirely with the Bush article, but I ask the question: “Yes, I agree, but what the f’ does that have to do with music?”

    Paste Magazine is pretty good, as an alternative, it’s bimonthly, and it comes with a CD, and it provides a good overview of a lot of different music, with good pop culture coverage, without being snotty like Pitchfork Media.

  • As far as rock journalism is concerned, Spin sucks worse than Rolling Stone does. Spin reads like an ultra trendy, hipper than thou rag sheet written by college kids constantly trying to one up each other as to who can write about the most obscure band.

    The state of music journalism in general jumped the shark quite some time ago. This is not a situation unique to Rolling Stone at all.

    Today’s so called “critics” seem to have lost all sense of integrity…instead whoring themselves out for the most part for the “perks” that come with the job…the promo CDs and concert tickets…(and let’s face it, writing insightful stories about music never has paid particularly well).

    Ninety percent of what I read in music magazines these days reads like a glorified press release from the band’s PR guy.

    Personally I long for magazines like Trouser Press and Musician Magazine. These days I settle for the most part for British mags like Uncut and Mojo…who cover the American scene surprisingly well, in addition to the British stuff.

    The last time I trusted a record review enough to try out a new CD…in Rolling Stone interestingly enough…was after reading one critic pee his pants over Sufjan Stevens vastly overated “Illinoise”.

    Big mistake. I returned the CD the same day I bought it.

    So no, the decline of music journalism is nothing new. That goes back to the mid-nineties (and even, some would argue, the eighties)…when rock music itself began it’s artistic decline.

    Both forms of expression basically exist in a state of life support today.

    Good piece Dawn.

  • Paul Roy

    Well put Dawn. Rolling Stone has long been the admiral of the liberal fleet, so that issue doesn’t suprise me. They don’t even attempt to provide opposing points of view. A few years ago I accepted a lifetime subscription offer to this rag and now I almost dread getting each issue in the mail. A man can only take so many four and five star rap album reviews too.

  • I haven’t read Rolling Stone in…I don’t even remember how long. If it hadn’t lost me long before, it would have when did a Britney Spears photo shoot around, what, ’99?

    And Glen,

    Spin reads like an ultra trendy, hipper than thou rag sheet written by college kids constantly trying to one up each other as to who can write about the most obscure band.

    As an ultra-trendy, hipper than thou former-college-radio-DJ, I wouldn’t touch Spin with a ten-foot pole. It’s not nearly so much a hipster rag as a rag done by fortysomethings who were “alternative” kids in the mid-80s and want desperately to prove that they are still hip. And assume that the only bands worth a shit are from Manhattan. You don’t really think that anyone but that niche would give a shit about the Strokes, do you?

  • Dawn

    I like the idea of the free cd overview thing – I wonder how much the cost of providing that is? I found this really interesting site – Norwegian or maybe Icelandic – that had a yearly round up of the best new music/bands. That was the last time I felt truly exposed to new music that was worth listening to.

    Maybe I just don’t fit the target demographic and therefore the pandering of the RS piece just struck me wrong.

    Honestly, I feel completely betrayed by mainstream media. I am a moderate/centrist with conservative views on some things, and liberal views on others. I have to think their are people like me who want to know what’s happening in music, culture and politics, without all the friggin’ bullshit brainwashing.

    Doesn’t anyone just tell the truth?

    I can handle the truth. I think.

  • Oh, and I back Hunter’s assertion. Who the fuck gets Rolling Stone to read about politics? If I want to read about how Bush is the worst president ever, I can read the paper. There’s plenty of evidence there.

    But it’s still bullshit (and, if I may, really funny) when Bill O’Reilly refers to RS as “an ultra-left publication.”

  • Dawn

    ps. thanks for the nice comments. I hardly ever have time to really work hard on a post, and I did try to put some real effort into this one, so thanks for all your input.

  • If it hadn’t lost me long before, it would have when did a Britney Spears photo shoot around, what, ’99?

    Ah, come one. That’s the only reason I kept my subscription go for so long. I mean they didn’t give out free cds of her crappy music, just took nice pictures of her mostly naked.

    And that’s a mag worth subscribing to.

  • “The collegiate twenty-somethings who read RS are most likely blissfully unaware that the ‘progressive magazine’ they are absorbing, is nothing more that propaganda pamphlet of liberal bias at its most stereotypical – one-sided, cartoonish propaganda in the guise of objective analysis. These are surely not the same people reading the Wall Street Journal…”

    Criticizing RS … from the right?

    “Not the same people reading the WSJ”?

    Do recall RS legitimized itself by criticizing Nixon early and with more force than every other mag back in the day. Fear and Loathing was something to behold. What’s sad about RS now – since ’74, really – isn’t its liberal bias (that was its original selling point) but that it’s so MOR. (As Abbie Hoffman said, “Wenner is the Benedict Arnold of the Sixties.”) Articles like the one you criticize are worth criticizing primarily because they are such a pale imitation of the great days; you, on the other hand, seem to expect ‘unbiased’ reportage a la Time mag – and that’s a pointless critique. If you want to criticize RS – I know I do – please do it from the left, that’s where it counts.

  • Glen, As music goes, you have a hair-trigger temper: if a CD doesn’t lick your ass clean in the first ten seconds, you throw it in the trash. That Sufjan record is super multi-layered, and it isn’t problem-free, but if you didn’t stick around long enough to get the depths of the disc, it’s hardly the critic’s fault.

    By the way, while just about everyone else loved Illinoise, the Rolling Stone review of that record was actually rather even-handed praise.

    It reads in part:

    “For a musician like Stevens, going too far and trying too hard is the point, the way to get beyond where a more austere songwriter could get with a more naturalistic pose. So the most pleasurable music here is the most ambitious.”

    Hardly a “pee his pants” rave.

    Your friends at Trouser Press, interestingly, liked it about as well.

  • I’ve been a subscriber of RS’s for about twenty years now. It’s the non-music articles that I enjoy the most. Sure, they have a constant lefty perspective, but I don’t limit myself to one point of view before making up my own mind about what to believe. RS ties to appeal to everyone, but they often leave me cold with their coverage of hip-hop , and the shallow celebrities they have on the cover disappoints me. I wonder if they are seeing a slide in readership, in this increasingly “multi-channel” universe? I really wonder if putting Brittney on the cover so often really helps sales?

    I subscribe to Paste, which also gives you a dvd with short films, trailers and videos, in addition to their free sampler cd. Uncut, Word, New Music Monthly are monthlies I purchase or subscribe to that have samplers, as well. Magnet is bi-monthly and covers more obscure indie music but I sometimes discover great music from their sampler cds.

    As flawed as RS is, I like the mix of entertainment and current affairs coverage. I follow plenty of other media outlets to gain a broad enough perspective on the issues that I’m interested in, so RS’s biased perspective doesn’t bug me as much.

  • Micheal…your comment about the Strokes…too freaking funny.

    When SPIN was first started by porn peddler Bob Guccione’s kid, it was actually a pretty decent mag. I actually wrote a few things for them back then, including a lead review of Public Enemy’s “It Takes A Nation of Millions” that actually got me a phone call from Chuck D himself.

    Still I have to admit reading about “200 pounds of pure pussy repellent” gave me a pretty damn good laugh.

    But anyway…before I totally digress into blowing my own horn here…what I liked about SPIN back then was the way they championed artists no one else would touch. And by that, I don’t just mean the most obscure band on the block or the flavor of the minute. Guccione was one of the first guys to give John Mellencamp a break for example…and this was at a time when other rock journalists dismissed him as a third rate Springsteen.

    SPIN these days…as you correctly point out Micheal…is more concerned with it’s own pseudo-hipness than it is with anything having to do with the music itself.

    And that’s regardless of who writes the crap in the magazine…be it ultra trendy, hipper than thou college kids, or aging forty something hacks trying to pass themselves off as one and the same.

    As for RS, about the only stuff I do read from them is actually the political stuff. As biased as it is…and I’m a card carrying Democrat myself…that kind of voice from the left is sorely needed to balance out all of the crap you hear from the likes of FOX news and right wing talk radio.

    Back to the point Dawn makes in her article though…the name calling does get pretty tiresome. From both sides.

    Rock journalism is in a very sorry state these days, no doubt about it.

  • Big error in my comment above.

    That sentence about the “pussy repellent” giving me a laugh should have gone at the very end.

    So how does one edit a comment once it’s been posted anyway?

  • nugget

    hasn’t “rock journalism” always been in a sorry state, glen? ya know, cause it’s “rock journalism” and all?

  • Not back in my day it wasn’t Nugget. No sir, by gum!

    (Sorry, showing my age here…LOL)


  • Rodney,

    Contrary to what you may think, I’m usually more than willing to give a new CD more than one chance to “lick my ass clean” as you put it.

    As I recall, (and I no longer have the actual review at my disposal as you do) the RS reviewer made me want to check out Sufjan Stevens precisely because he made it sound like this wildly adventurous record from a brilliant new songwriter.

    Now maybe I’m confusing that review with the dozens of others I later read from writers who indeed were basically peeing their pants and falling all over themselves over this guy.

    Well there is “adventurous” and then there is that which is merely ponderous and meandering.

    The record, at least to my ears, was virtually unlistenable…and I wanted to give the guy a chance, I really did. I actually had it playing that afternoon when a friend came over for a barbeque.

    His first question to me upon arrival was “Glen what in the holy fuck are you listening to”?

    Like I said, it went back to the CD store that same day.

  • Well, in that case, I guess we’re poles apart on every fucking issue on the planet.

  • Aw come on Rodney…we both like Neil Young right?

    (Living With War is starting to grow on me by the way)


  • Also, Dawn you said,

    “The collegiate twenty-somethings who read RS are most likely blissfully unaware that the “progressive magazine” they are absorbing, is nothing more that propaganda pamphlet of liberal bias at its most stereotypical – one-sided, cartoonish propaganda in the guise of objective analysis.”

    If that’s truly the case, then surely you will agree that this is symtomatic of bigger problems among the college and twenty-somethings, beginning with our educational institutions. These are precisely the people who should be learning to intelligently filter the media and think for themselves. RS is not the problem here.

  • Dawn

    RS is as much the problem as media as whole is. There’s just not that many reliable, respectable resources with which to filter one’s views.

    I find myself questioning the motives of ALL of the news input I receive on a daily basis. I find it very difficult to have a definitive opinion on just about ANYTHING these days.

    But I do know when my chain in being yanked. I can’t say that was true ten years ago when I was twenty something.

  • Hunter

    There is no such thing as an objective news source. That’s my opinion. If you get your news from FoxNews, you know that you’re getting your news from a right-wing spin, if you get your news from liberal blogs, you’re getting your news from a left-wing spin. If you’re getting your news from the mainstream media, you’re getting it from whatever spin at that point will give them advertising money (sometimes it’s left-wing, and sometimes it’s right-wing, but it’s never extreme unless that will buy some ads).

  • It’s not a bad magazine. I’m about as conservative as they come and I won’t be cancelling my subcription anytime soon.

    More than the lefty politics though, what bothers me is the shitty bands they jack off to every issue. None of their Top 10 new bands ever go anywhere, Pete Doherty? who actually listens to him?


    Between Paste and AP, I get a broad series of reviews: too bad Spin was once so good, now the aarticles are no deeper than People’s.RS has been irrelevant for years, in my opinion.

  • Well said. Bantering may be entertaining but it provides nothing, no information which is what journalism is all about. But sadly todays college audience seems more preoccupied with who dating who in Hollywood and the latest iPod gadget.

    I sometimes miss the 90s when most of college kids were world savy and involved.

  • If the day ever comes where pot is legalized in America, Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone will truly have no reason left to exist.

    Dawn, thank you for saying what has needed to be said. What putrid bullshit that magazine truly is.

  • Guppusmaximus

    When did “Dropping the ball” on covering decent music lend any credibility for them to start covering politics??
    I think if RS spent more time filling their pages with the TON of great underground music that’s out there then they wouldn’t have the time to offend anyone of either political stance.

    Plus, bashing Bush and trying to showcase the so-called,”Poor Job” he has done, is old news… So much for RS being refreshing!

  • start covering politics? yer kidding, right?

    they’ve been doing it for decades.

    haven’t read RS in years. i sure do like to think about their glory days, but covering nick lachey? geezuz!

  • Dawn–you’re so on target with this. After over twenty years as a subscriber, RS jumped an ocean of sharks for me and I let my subsription laspse about a year ago. I can get CD reviews elsewhere.

  • Scott Butki

    While their writing and reviews have long been crap – they play favorites way too much – the one reason I read it for a while was their political coverage. William Greider did some great pieces.

    But PJ O Rourke didnt thrill me and gradually – especially with the advent of the Internet – the magazine became more and more pointless.

    Here’s an interesting
    piece in the Washington Post
    on the publication

  • Scott Butki

    II’d check out Pitchfork, which is profiled with this article.

  • The Post has it right:

    Rebounding from a period frequently described as “all Britney all the time,” Rolling Stone is enjoying a renaissance. The biweekly’s circulation is up to a record 1.4 million — far above such rivals as Blender and Spin — and in the past few months, it has published a long exposé on Scientology, plus excellent articles on Iraq, Congress, Hurricane Katrina and, of course, pop culture.

    In 2004 it won a National Magazine Award for its Iraq coverage, which the judges called “brilliant down to the last detail.” This year, it’s been nominated for three more of the awards, which will be announced Tuesday.

    There’s a lot of ephemera in the magazine, but who cares? Every issue generally has something meaty and interesting.

  • McFarland

    My girlfriend gets free RS mags from her job and often brings them home. I often find them on the stand next to the toilet. After reading a few pages of this months rolling stone I decided that it would make better toilet paper than charmin would.