Sunday, February 27, 2011

Biased From The Outset, The American Legion Magazine Does Little Service To Its Readers.

The Good: Inexpensive, Provides a publication for members of the American Legion (?, I'm stretching here!)
The Bad: Biased, Not terribly thorough, Incredibly addy
The Basics: Disappointing for its lack of depth, the unabashedly biased The American Legion is a conservative magazine that is mired with advertisements and oversimplifications.

Because I am bound to be accused of bias right off the bat, it makes sense to admit up front that I am a happy, proud Liberal and that I have been, in the past, a subscriber to The Nation (reviewed here! ). It might seem odd, then, to some readers, that I would pick up The American Legion Magazine for review. The truth is, though, that I read a lot of conservative publications because opposing viewpoints do not scare me and I find value in looking at the world from other perspectives. In fact, I was the only reviewer on the site I used to write for to read and review all of Ann Coulter's works. So, when I picked up The American Legion, with its cheerful by-line of "The magazine for a strong America," I knew that this was a publication aimed at a very different demographic than I am.

Ironically, my problems with The American Legion are less philosophical and much more based on the lack of quality in the publication. I have serious issues with any publication that devotes a large percentage of its space to advertisements and that gloss over issues. As well, I am a fan of publications that have a high level of diction and present their ideas and issues clearly and without - whenever possible - logical fallacies. Unfortunately, the June 2009 issue of The American Legion, which I picked up for the purpose of reviewing, is riddled with problems.

First off, the sixty-nine page magazine is packed with advertisements, most of which pander to the clear editorial bias of the magazine. With thirty pages of advertisements, there is little value for those who purchase the magazine at its $2.50 cover price. With all of the advertisements, one wonders why the magazine has to charge at all! The glossy publication is a monthly publication intended to provide news and opinions (or talking points at least) to members of the American Legion, who are wartime veterans. The military bent of the magazine is obvious; a "strong America" in this publication's view refers solely to military strength and the prevalence of "traditional American" (read: Christian) values.

After a couple of advertisements - for lawsuits against the asbestos industry and for U.S. gold, in case one was wondering - there is a table of contents with blurbs on the six main articles of the publication as well as regular columns. On the table of contents, there is also a featured American Legion veteran, featuring a big picture and his accomplishment that makes him noteworthy (in this issue, it was a Legionnaire who recruited a record number of members).

After more advertisements come the letters to the editor ("Vet Voice") pages where readers respond to prior articles. The surprise for some might be that while the highlighted letter clearly agreed with an article on a missile defense shield, the editors included three opposing viewpoints. Of course, the supporting letter was articulate and parroted the viewpoint of the original article, whereas the opposition letters all used the most emotional and biased language, in essence discounting the arguments the writers were making by presenting far more emotional language that makes it appear they are simply whining or attacking the original article. The second page of "Vet Voice" letters all thank the magazine for bringing attention to other issues and personas.

Then comes the National Commander of the American Legion's message to readers. This is a call to action for the readers of The American Legion to urge them to attempt to get an issue pushed through Congress, in this case supporting the flag desecration Amendment to the Constitution. The message is a call to arms as opposed to an in-depth article. The letter is riddled with emotional language and logical fallacies like pandering to the audience. The letter is intended to make American Legion members feel like they are part of an elite group whose moral duty it is to save the world and that they have the power to do just that. On the plus side, the letter is well-organized, describes a clear course of action (without, ironically, providing the details - like numbers for the Congressional switchboard or the methods of e-mailing one's Senator or Representative), and does so in a way that shows a clear understanding for and appreciation of the political process.

In the "Big Issues" section that follows, two Representatives present differing views on stem-cell research and here the magazine is troubling in the subtle way it pushes a political agenda over substance. The Democratic viewpoint is presented by a Representative from Colorado - one whose seat the Republicans are eager to reclaim - whose position is presented as very middle-of-the-road, but in support of President Barack Obama's executive order to lift the ban on stem-cell research. The opposition view is from a conservative Republican Representative from a conservative section of Michigan and by his second line, he has entirely disregarded the mealy-mouthed rhetoric the other Representative presented (here it's amusing to note that the Opposition's statements are not true based on any level of scientific fact or certainty, but the declarative nature of them does a decent job of cutting to the chase where the "Support" statement tries to straddle the fence). The problematic aspect here - other than the "Oppose" Representative being pictured in front of the American flag to subtly signal to readers which Representative the magazine supports - is that the Representatives chosen are ones who both neglect big arguments - i.e. the value of U.S. research patenting technologies based upon stem-cell research before any other nation can - and are there for very much political purposes. The Opposition gains strength in a section of the nation where he needs to pander to the needs of his conservative base while the "Support" column will no doubt be the stuff of innumerable 527 direct mailings to try to oust her. Either way, there are clear political reasons for the Representatives involved or the publication itself to utilize these particular politicians.

After that comes the "Living Well" section, which are three pages of healthy living advice right before a pharmaceutical advertisement. These articles are almost laughable in their simplicity with one focusing on reducing stress and another touting a "new" study associating the consumption of soda pop with type-2 diabetes. Hold the presses, 1991! We learned that back in high school twenty years ago! Seriously, reading this mini-article on health and well-being made me check the front cover. Yes, this is the June 2009 issue. The last regular column before the feature articles is "Veterans Update," which explored the proposal to keep an electronic record of all veterans' records. The article is just deep enough to describe the past roadblocks to just such a system and it is one of the least-biased columns, as it does mention some benefits to the potential new system.

The articles that follow then feature viewpoints supported by the magazine in profiles of personas notable to The American Legion. So, for example, one focuses on a Harvard law professor who is for the anti-flag-burning Amendment. Having read plenty of conservative works before, here I was unsurprised by the bias. Academics are referred to - by the magazine, not the interviewee - as elitist and the interviewee is classified as an honorable rebel in the face of liberal oppression. I was similarly unsurprised when the interviewer for the article did not ask the professor if there currently was a rash of flag-burnings anywhere in the U.S. The article was remarkably soft on fact, including zero statistics on flag burning over the years and the number of flags burned in "morally questionable" ways for any length of time.

Other articles included an expose on Mexican drug cartels, the first in a three-part investigation on Veterans Affairs hospital claim backlogs, an American Legion fundraising drive that is being planned, an interview with Ben Stein and a quick expose on a first-generation American Legion member. Articles like the drug cartel article illustrate a sophisticated sense of geography and illustrated a strong "law and order" sensibility likely to appeal to the target audience of The American Legion. The article included a sidebar about punishments around the world for drug trafficking. The interviews are fairly drab, but the consistency of the magazine is laudable in that it clearly establishes a respect for veterans and a desire to keep veterans active and healthy after they return home.

The "Rapid Fire" column spotlights a book on Korean War Veterans as well as presenting blurbs on a forthcoming D-Day concert and new Army vehicles. "Active Duty" blurbs focus on the current state of the military, while "Memorials" explores events at military monuments and further blurbs focus on American Legion scholarship winners and education, economics and politics. The closest to pages dealing with culture are photographs of 9/11 memorial artwork and a mention that USA Today won the American Legion journalism award. The back pages of the magazine focus on reunion opportunities (classified ads for veteran get-togethers) and humor. The humor is wholesome and inoffensive (like a comic of a picnicking family encountering a field with army ants, illustrated by tiny army tents on the ground).

Ultimately, The American Legion is a magazine plagued by simplicity. The lack of culture pages illustrates a fundamental editorial belief that the only strength that matters is strength of arms and not of the mind. The diction is simple and outside the advanced knowledge of geography and mention of specific drugs, there are no words in this magazine that the average fourth grade student in the United States could not read and understand. The substance of the magazine is still mired with bias that is almost absolute in favor of protecting a very narrow view of what patriotism is. This is a magazine without enough detail to be truly informative and therefore it mostly reinforces the viewpoints spread throughout the American Legion . . .or FOX News.

For other magazine reviews, please visit my takes on:
The Madison County Eagle
Non-Sport Update
Playboy: Women Of Starbucks


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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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