This Sunday, the New York Times Magazine will debut its redesign, and Michael Calderone at Yahoo News has a preview. The cover looks very much like the magazine’s cover looked 40 years ago, which is fine. But look beyond the visual and see if you can discern the subject of the cover story and the originator of its quote: “I Was Much Freer in Jail.”
Who is this Solzhenitsyn, this Sharansky, this prisoner of conscience? None other than Lori Berenson.
And who is Lori Berenson? Only the Manhattan-born red-diaper baby who moved to Peru in the early 1990s and became a member of the Tupac Amaru guerrillas, one of the monstrous terrorist organizations that plunged Peru into hellish chaos and killed an estimated 70,000 people (the evil done by these groups is a subject of some of the great fiction and journalism of this year’s Nobelist, Mario Vargas Llosa). Peru’s terrorist monsters were so brutal, it was necessary for the judges who heard cases involving them to be hooded so that they could not be identified — to spare both them and their families from personal retaliation following multiple assassinations.
Berenson housed Tupac Amaru members, let them use her apartment as an ammo dump, and attained press credentials so she could scout the Peruvian parliament to help design its planned takeover by the group. When she was in court, she famously screamed at the judges in Spanish: “There are no criminal terrorists in the MRTA. It is a revolutionary movement.” Even now she denies it, telling Newsweek: “I don’t consider myself a terrorist. I think saying someone is a criminal is enough. It’s not helpful to look for ways of qualifying our enemies in drastic terms instead of trying to figure out exactly what we’re faced with. … I’m not ashamed of what I did.”
On another occasion or two she said she regretted having lost her temper in the courtroom, but it sure didn’t look like she was sorry, or that she didn’t mean it, or that she wasn’t in fact saying (as she was) that the group was in fact exactly what it was accused of being. (Meryl Yourish has a good roundup of Berenson’s history.)
I haven’t read the magazine piece, by the often brilliant novelist Jennifer Egan, so it may be brutally honest about all this. But no matter what the text says, the cover image is consciously designed to make Berenson look like the Madonna with child — the child to whom she gave birth in prison in 2008. His father is also a convicted member of the Tupac Amaru group.
The Times has a repugnant history of this sort of thing; many people remember its glowing story about Bill Ayers, the Weather Underground domestic terrorist, which appeared, to the paper’s eternal shame, on September 11, 2001. It’s almost 10 years later. Evidently, the statute of limitations on journalistic embarrassments ran out, and it was time for the Times to snag another one.