And so, months before the winner was announced, Harman was acting as owner, suggesting ideas for cover stories—how about one on creativity? Steven Pinker could write it—stepping into the role of Newsweek’s new father figure, one for which he’s sure life has prepared him. “It’s the culmination of everything I’ve done,” he explained to me, which, in a leap of logic, he believes qualifies him to lead the magazine. “Do I have doubt about whether I can be the guide, the inspiration for the reinvention of Newsweek?” he asked me. “I’ve spent the last 40 minutes making the case that I’m the guy, if not uniquely equipped, damned well equipped.”
His first task was to recruit an editor, and in June, he set his sights on columnist Fareed Zakaria. An Indian-born Muslim educated at Yale and Harvard, Zakaria is perfectly positioned to explain a threatening world to the increasingly insecure Sunday-morning talk-show set. Moreover, he was one of “the big boys,” as Harman sometimes calls movers and shakers—an intellectual celebrity who glides through the media-power circles where sources, friends, and fixers are one and the same.
Zakaria was the magazine’s franchise player, and Harman shared his vision for the magazine with him. “What is Newsweek’s appropriate mission? Clearly it’s not to tell you what happened in Greece or Indiana. The opportunity for Newsweek is to weekly make sense of it all. To connect the dots: There’s a phrase that resonates not just for the American public but for world,” was the way he explained it to me. (He wants to trademark the phrase “Connect the dots.”) Zakaria wasn’t swayed. Harman was restating the obvious—the old Newsweek also aspired to connect the dots—and was thinking out loud as to how to fix a broken Internet business.
Zakaria, though, didn’t immediately turn Harman down—which nicely served the Graham family, who didn’t want a key asset off the table. But as Zakaria considered the offer, Newsweek’s situation was deteriorating. It turned out the band of brothers had divided loyalties and practical heads. They had to make a living, and no one knew if Newsweek had a viable future. The magazine became a poacher’s paradise. Twenty-three name-brand editorial employees have left since June, by one recent count. Fineman was among the prominent departures, taking a job at the HuffingtonPost, along with columnist Evan Thomas and investigative reporter Michael Isikoff.
In mid-August, a couple of weeks after theWashingtonPostCompanygave Newsweek to Harman for $1, Zakaria finally told him he wasn’t interested. “I thought Sidney was delightful,” Zakaria explained to me, “but I wanted to write and do my TV show. I’d run Newsweek International for ten years. I didn’t want to be an editor in a period when the business model is collapsing and I would have to focus my energies on a turnaround.” Zakaria’s first loyalty is to his own brand, now considerably more robust than Newsweek’s. Since 2008, he’s had his own Sunday-morning TV show on CNN, part of Time Warner, parent of Time magazine. He signed on as a columnist for Time, which, among other advantages, is financially healthy.
Zakaria agreed to do Harman one favor; he wouldn’t mention the editorship offer, according to a source close to Harman, permitting Harman to put a positive spin on the high-profile defection. “Fareed has done us a great favor by leaving,” he told people inside Newsweek, “so we can start fresh,” though he insisted on holding Zakaria to his contract and not a single column less. Harman soon began to talk about the excitement of finding a new generation of talent. “He is constitutionally incapable of disappointment. He reimagines reality to be what he wants it to be,” explained a person who has worked with Harman. “He reframes the moment as the best of times. It’s probably a key to his success.”
Harman even seemed to enjoy the delay, delighting in the press’s fervor to know his every thought. Reporters now ask Jane about him—turnabout, at long last.
Fineman had cautioned Harman, “Don’t buy Newsweek and then figure out what to do with it later.” Have a plan. “Sidney said, ‘That’s wrong.’ ” He’d figure something out once he owned it. He thought back to his days of entrepreneurship; he’d always been able to solve problems on the fly.
“You’ve never had a setback,” I mentioned in his office.
“Not yet,” he answered sheepishly.
Harman had negotiated hard with the Washington Post Company. He paid $1—a sixth of the price of a single copy—and assumed liabilities of $47 million, mostly in unfulfilled subscriptions, which isn’t money out of his pocket. His up-front investment is $25 million in working capital; the Washington Post Company kicked in another $20 million. With cost cuts—there was another round of layoffs on September 24—Newsweek might lose less than $15 million next year, according to projections. And it will likely lose millions this quarter, which is Harman’s responsibility; he will almost certainly have to put in more money, perhaps a lot more. Not that he cares. “It’s an amount I can afford to blow,” he says. (Forbes estimates his fortune at about $500 million.) More important than money, the project invigorates him, one reason he seems to drive it all by himself, shuttling from coast to coast, phoning executives from his homes, his operational headquarters. “Why in the world would I invest, engage in something like this, and be hands-off?” he asks me.