Today, Time magazine published “Bitter Pill,” Steven Brill’s 36 page cover story on America’s health care system. But the 24,000 word piece, which is the longest article by one writer ever published in the magazine, was originally going to be the cover of last month’s relaunched The New Republic, reports Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone. And Mr. Brill has no kind words to say about TNR‘s editor in chief and Facebook billionaire Chris Hughes, who bought the magazine last year, or his decision to put an interview with President Barack Obama on the cover of the relaunch instead of his story.
Here is what we learned from the juicy HuffPo piece:
The New Republic was dabbling in the “buzzy” cover game:
Otherwise, Brill said the process was ‘going wonderfully’ until he saw the planned cover art on Jan. 15. Brill described the cover to The Huffington Post as “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.”
Mr. Brill really knows how to insult a man:
“It was something you would do if you were really drunk and ran the college newspaper,” Mr Brill said about the cover.
They didn’t tell Mr. Brill that they were going to put the Obama interview on the cover until January 15, they same day they showed him the aforementioned cover:
But later that day another problem arose… [Mr.] Hughes — who worked for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and has attracted criticism for participating in the oval office sit-down along with Mr. Foer -– told Mr. Brill that the interview would be running on the cover of the relaunch issue instead of his piece.
But Mr. Hughes offered Mr. Brill the silver prize–the cover of the next issue:
Hughes offered to put the health care story on the cover of the next issue, but Brill declined.
Even though Mr. Hughes worked for the 2008 Obama campaign, Mr. Brill said that Mr. Hughes told him that they used their publicist to help land the interview:
Anita Dunn, Obama’s former communications official whose firm, SKD Knickerbocker, was doing publicity for the magazine’s relaunch, had helped them land the interview with Obama in the Oval Office.
TNR denies that they needed help landing the interview:
[Mr.] Foer dismissed the suggestion that Dunn had played a role in brokering the interview with Obama. “Chris and I applied for our interview through the White House communications shop,” [Mr.] Foer said. “They were instantly interested. We didn’t need external help nabbing the interview. Anita Dunn’s firm, SKD Knickerbocker, did help with publicity for the relaunch.’”
Mr. Brill didn’t anticipate the skeet shooting story:
[Mr.]Brill said he told Hughes that Obama wouldn’t say anything particularly newsworthy, but the editor-in-chief was determined to make the Obama interview the cover story.
But Mr. Brill did anticipate that people were going to call Mr. Hughes out on his White House connection:
He said he suggested it was foolish to put the Obama interview on the cover, given Hughes’ ties to the president.
It’s always good to get your story straight when you tell a writer that you are bumping their cover story:
In addition, [Mr.] Brill said that [Mr.] Hughes informed him that The New Republic had put in a request to interview Obama in July, even though he was assigned to report and write the cover story for the relaunch issue. For that reason, [Mr.] Brill said he believed Hughes had not been forthright about his stated commitment to run the health care piece on the cover.
Mr. Brill won’t work with a liar, even if that liar is a billionaire:
“There isn’t any amount of money that would let me do business with that guy,” Brill added. “He’s just a liar.”
Mr. Brill turned down other magazines for Time:
“He discussed publishing it with The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker, both of which he has written for in the past, before deciding to go with Time, according to magazine sources.”
And the big lesson in all of this? Picking a fight with The New Republic on the day your cover story comes out in Time is guaranteed publicity.