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Sad to say, but our mass news media obviously have something more important to fixate on than a slimy congressman and the disappearance of a Washington intern.

War.

It’s going to be a long, grim autumn for America. Saturation coverage of Tuesday’s terrorism and its aftermath – including the nasty U.S. military retaliation sure to come soon – has only started on television and cable.

Meanwhile, as occasionally happens when big news strikes, the Big Three news magazines were caught with irrelevant issues sitting on newsstands.

For its cover story, U.S. News & World Report is riding what’s become its oldest, favorite and some say lamest horse – how to help rich kids get into the best colleges.

Time’s cover is another installment of its America’s Best series, this time profiling the folks who make our culture and society so rich and diverse.

And Newsweek’s cover returns to the 2000 presidential election, using an excerpt from a new book, “The Accidental President,” to expose “the secret vote that made Bush President.”

The Big Three are not sleeping in this time of national crisis, however. Since Tuesday they have been scrambling to do what they do better than anyone in the world – quickly create massive, high-quality packages of news and analysis.

U.S. News will probably keep to its usual production schedule. But Time and Newsweek, whose normal weekly deadlines are late Saturday night, each have published millions of ad-free special editions that should be on newsstands now.

Meanwhile, the magazines have been keeping up with events on their Web sites. U.S. News provides only the barest of basics on usnews.com. Time.com is better, offering a few of its own stories and links to reports at CNN.

But Newsweek’s Web site, which is located at msnbc.com, is the best and deepest. Each day it contains about 20 items, including news reports, first-person accounts, essays and commentaries from around the world.

One of the best offerings comes courtesy of liberal Howard Fineman, who covers national politics for Newsweek. In “End of Innocence,” he wonders aloud if President Bush has the “guts and determination – and the vision – to lead us in this war.”

And in a nice bit of writing, he reminds us that the freedoms of citizens invariably suffer when their governments – even democratic ones – go whooping off to a war everyone is united behind:

Remember Sept 11, 2001, he writes, “… for on this day, life in America changed forever, and not for better. We are at war, and the war may never end. The death toll is unimaginable, the worst (and almost the only) domestic war casualties in our history.

“But we’ve lost more than lives. We’ve lost what’s left of our innocence. Remember what life was like before today: freedom to travel, the right to privacy, a sense of ease and security in our homes and in our cities and towns.

“All these freedoms are diminished now. We can and will get them back. We will win this war as we have won the others, including World War II. But victory will not be easy, and we may have to give up some measure of freedom to preserve what’s best of the rest.”

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