The Good: Inexpensive, Great interviews, Interesting analysis of news from the leading liberals of the day!
The Bad: Not the most cutting-edge, Does not pack as much information in.
The Basics: In a razor decision, I opt not to recommend The Progressive as the columns from it tend to end up on-line and I can't justify the expense for just the amazing interviews.
I was preparing myself to write a review of The Progressive, one of the few magazines in the last few years I have had a subscription to (at any point) and I was trying to think of why I had let my subscription lapse. For sure, I am busy, but whenever I tried to analyze the magazine, my mind kept coming back to the old joke "By the time the magazine arrives, I've already been told what to think!" For sure, The Progressive is an undeniably liberal magazine and I was a proud supporter of it for the years that I subscribed. I was not looking to the magazine to tell me how to think as a good liberal (the nice thing about fighting for freedom is that we are encouraged to make up our own minds!).
Still, as I look over the stack of fifty-four page magazines I know that the most serious reason I let my subscription to The Progressive lapse eventually was that the news segments in it - the Features, which tend to comprise about six pages of the magazine - tended to be providing information I had already received in other sources. As well, a number of the liberal columnists in The Progressive contribute their articles on-line or to other publications and I would discover when my magazine arrived that I had already read columns that were in it. In fact, the liberal digest site, "Common Dreams" often reprints columns by Ruth Conniff, Nat Hentoff and others from The Progressive.
So, what is The Progressive? This is a monthly magazine that features left-wing commentary on the state of the world, current events and legal issues. In addition to the standard pages for letters and a note from the editor on the current state of prominent people in the liberal world, there is a comment section which offers analysis of a trend or issue, like an analysis on "The Surge" in Iraq and how it continued a trend of Bush Administration policies that were all stick and no carrot. After a thorough comment section on an issue, there is a page of issues that are mentioned that might not have been covered in the mainstream media well, like a quote from Bill O'Reilly demanding the FBI go arrest the on-air talent at Air America (one supposes that's one way to keep Al Franken from going to the Senate!).
Each issue contains regular columns by people like Ruth Conniff, who is the political editor with a decidedly feminist leaning, Barbara Ehrenreich, a writer with a keen analysis on labor issues and the decline of unions, Nat Hentoff, a brilliant legal analyst who spent the last eight years weighing in on the constitutionality of federal initiatives (not a man who is very fond of the Bush Administration's worming around "torture"). As well, the magazine always tries to close with a humor column from Molly Ivins, Will Durst or others with both a leftist sense of politics and genuine wit to communicate the foibles of any administration through comedy.
The past few years, there has been a section between the regular columns and the features that collects photographs of liberal gatherings, protests and events. When soldiers stood up to resist military service in the Iraq War, The Progressive printed their pictures and offered ways for those who agreed to support their causes.
Each issue tends to have two big issues that several pages are devoted to. One issue, for example, was a thorough analysis of the potential repercussions of pulling out of Iraq, another featured an extensive biography of a leading Evangelical minister who stood against most of the Conservative Right when it co-opted the concept of "moral values" in prior election cycles. Features have investigated Laura Bush's continuing work in ending gang violence in the cities and how it might criminalize lesser offenders in a more harsh way. The Progressive followed the 2008 Democratic and Republican primaries and the election and was one of the magazines that was enthusiastically celebrating the victory of Barack Obama and the sense of hope over the politics of fear.
Features in The Progressive tend to be a decent mix of well-documented facts and analysis of them. Even the analysis tends to be backed up with statistical analysis, comparisons to similar historical initiatives to those being discussed in the magazine, and examples that many might consider the exception to the rule. So, for example, one issue of The Progressive featured "LEAP" (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), an organization of law enforcement professionals who have taken a stand toward legalizing marijuana in order to allow the police forces around the country to be utilized more efficiently. The article makes several salient points (whether one agrees with the police involved or not) about the ineffective nature of prohibition versus regulation and compares the current War On Drugs to the Prohibition Era messes. One supposes that is not an article Time will be covering any time soon!
Each issue includes an interview with a notable liberal that spans several pages. These interviews ask in-depth, clever and worthwhile questions of liberals who have a viewpoint they are willing and able to share. I still recall how reading the interview of Chuck D inspired me to go listen to some old Public Enemy c.d.s because of how articulate he was about the intent and vision of classic rap music versus the garbage spewing on the radio now! The Progressive interviews Nobel Prize winners, actors (like Vigo Mortenssen!), former Cabinet members, diplomats and even ex-presidents! The Progressive is one magazine one may honestly say they are reading for the interviews!
In fact, more than any other section, the interviews in The Progressive are what I miss having let my subscription expire. The interviewers always had the uncommon questions and they were never afraid (at least in print) of rephrasing questions to get a more focused answer or to ask necessary follow-up questions to their subjects for clarification or further analysis. Each and every interview I read in The Progressive made me feel like I was in the room with the person being interviewed and I always - each and every time - learned something from the interview I was reading.
The Progressive devotes its back pages to the arts, including book reports on books by prominent liberals or about liberal issues. Often there is a note on a movie or play and The Progressive publishes a political poem once a month.
As odd as it seems, I have stopped supporting The Progressive, even though it was one of the few news sources I trusted during the turbulent (for liberals and poor people anyway) Bush Administration. I miss some of the columnists and the interviews (more than anything!) but because of liberal commentary digest sites, I find I am generally able to keep up and that I have one less magazine to recycle.
For all my appreciation of The Progressive, it is not an indispensable magazine and as an adult with limited time and money, this was one magazine I let fall by the wayside, though writing about it now I find myself wishing I had more time, because the interviews truly were that good!
For other magazines reviewed by me, please check out my take on:
The New Yorker
For other magazine reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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