To celebrate the release of his new 24,000-word Time cover story “Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” the writer Steven Brill is picking a fight with a former suitor. The article, the single longest one-author piece in the magazine’s history, was originally slated to lead the debut issue of the redesigned New Republic, but was booted when TNR landed a sitdown with Barack Obama. Today Brill told the Huffington Post that young TNR owner and editor-in-chief Chris Hughes is “just a liar” for how he handled the situation, making a few valid (and colorful!) points along the way, but ultimately missing the larger one: An exclusive interview with the president, for a publication desperate for attention and new eyeballs, trumps everything.
While Brill’s story was pushed off the cover for the presidential Q&A, he made sure to note that he didn’t like what they were planning for his anyway, telling HuffPo that the TNR cover art was “ridiculous”: “He said it featured an underwear-clad young man strapped to a desk chair with ‘duct tape wrapped around him and IV tubes coming out of him.’ … ‘It was something you would do if you were really drunk and ran the college newspaper.’” (Hughes is 29.)
But back to Obama! Brill insinuates that the interview, conducted by Hughes and the magazine’s editor Franklin Foer, was only granted because Hughes once worked for the president’s campaign and the PR firm run by Obama’s former communications person, Anita Dunn, was also handling press for the TNR re-launch. (Foer insisted they applied for access through the normal White House channels.)
Brill is right to say that Hughes’s closeness with Obama and his own byline on the story may have undermined it a bit — and that was certainly discussed when the issue was released — but the criticism was easily outweighed by the attention that comes with putting the freaking president, especially one who’s notoriously stingy with print interviews, on the front of your new magazine. It’s a no-brainer. Besides, HuffPo reports “Hughes offered to put the health care story on the cover of the next issue, but Brill declined.”
Speaking of publicity, by starting media beef, Brill not only got to settle a score, but he draws more attention to his article, not unlike a rapper releasing a dis track to drum up press for a new project. That said, when it comes to getting people to read a 36-page article about health-care policy, the amusing bickering might also overshadow the whole thing.