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The Betrayal at the Heart of Time Magazine

Posted on Oct 10, 2006
Briton Hadden and Henry Luce
Time Inc. /From "The Man Time Forgot"

Briton Hadden, left, and Henry Luce, center, in 1925.

By Blair Golson

(Page 2)

Truthdig:  Why do you think Luce went out of his way to make sure Hadden didn’t enjoy his full share of credit? Vanity? Insecurity? Harboring a grudge?

Wilner:  Luce had finished so close behind Hadden for so long—they were rivals ever since Hotchkiss [prep school], where they had competed to be the editor of the newspaper, and Luce had finished behind Hadden. Then what really hurt Luce was losing the chairmanship of the Yale Daily News to Hadden by just one vote. It’s clear from reading his letters that Luce never really got over that loss: Those letters display the rawest emotions he ever wrote.

But the thing was, Hadden really picked Luce up after that and offered him the chance to write half the editorials, and told him they were a team—50/50. Hadden really inspired Luce and helped him to become a stronger person than he was. So Luce’s love for Hadden and his admiration for Hadden were always bound up with a sense of envy and a strong desire to beat Hadden in the end.

And that was amplified during the founding years of Time. Hadden insisted on remaining the editor for the vast majority of the time, and Luce badly wished to edit, but he was forced to basically balance the budget. Luce was balancing the budget for four and a half of the first six years, and didn’t get an extended crack at editing until 1928. So there was a lot of bound-up hostility, and in fact, they weren’t speaking during the last year before Hadden’s death.


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So Luce loved Hadden, but he was also jealous of him; and he wondered whether Hadden respected him as much as he respected Hadden. And in fact, during his life, Luce would often ask Hadden’s friends what Brit was saying about him. And Hadden would say, “It’s like a race. No matter how hard I run, Luce is always there.”

So as the book progresses, you see Luce climbing higher, becoming stronger, becoming a better writer; you see him learning from Hadden, becoming more polished socially, marrying a beautiful socialite, so he’s just inching closer and closer and closer to Hadden, until the moment of Hadden’s death, when Luce is just about to surpass Hadden, and Hadden, by dying, robs Luce of the chance to beat him.

So his erasure of Hadden’s legacy was born out of a deep-seated sense of rivalry and a weak ego.

Truthdig:  What about in after years? Why didn’t he ever set the record straight?

Wilner:  Once the lie got started going, it was very difficult for Luce to manage it. Once he began to stand on stage and take credit for that achievement, he couldn’t very easily stop that train, and say, “Wait a minute, everybody. Actually, Time was my friend Brit’s idea.” And the reason he couldn’t do that is because he was traveling the world as a media missionary, giving stump speeches, especially on America’s role in the world, and he became an extremely controversial public figure. And what propped all this up, what maintained his status, was the fact that he was known as the creative genius who had envisioned and brought about the Time Inc. empire.

Once he arrived as a great man, Luce had a difficult time admitting to himself that he wouldn’t have been who he was without the influence of Briton Hadden. His whole personality and direction had been swayed by someone who, for a time, anyway, was a greater man than he. That’s a very difficult thing for a great man to admit to himself, and something he might want to bury.

Truthdig:  As this angle developed, and the truth began to become clear about Luce’s squelching of Hadden’s contributions, were you afraid that if Luce’s heirs or Time magazine found out they’d cut off your access to the family papers or the Time Inc. archives?

Wilner:  The archivists at Time were actually really glad that somebody was finally telling Hadden’s story. And the Luce family was extremely helpful. I thought my job was always to be fair, and that if I could tell the story of this amazing friendship, it would do justice to both men.

Look, people aren’t perfect. And it’s unfortunate that Luce couldn’t bring himself to do the right thing, but at the same time, that shouldn’t outweigh what they accomplished together.

Truthdig:  Knowing, as you must have, how much that success of the book was going to depend on your ability to bring this betrayal to life, did you have to resist the temptation to interpret the facts in a way that would make Luce’s actions seem even more dramatic?

Wilner:  No, because I basically just read every public statement that Luce ever made and anything I could find that he said on the TV or the radio. So the question was: How did Luce treat Hadden’s legacy?

In other words, when I came in, I didn’t know Luce had buried Hadden’s role in history. But what happened was, when I went back and read Time magazine, I noticed that Luce had taken Hadden’s name off the masthead within two weeks of his death. This shocked me, because it had never been reported before. And then as I explored the topic further, I learned a lot of other things that made plain just how deep this betrayal had gone.

Truthdig:  It’s a truism that the history books are written by the winners. Did your exploration of this topic lend you a deeper understanding of that?

Wilner:  History and what people think is history are two entirely different things. What I learned after working on this book is that history is a dialogue between the present and the past. And our view of the past changes with the decades, but it also gets more accurate. The hope is that history becomes more accurate with each year. Perhaps we lose some documents over time, but the hope is that more documents will become available to give us a fuller picture of the past.

I think that’s the case here. The prevailing view was that Time was Luce’s idea, and nobody even thought about Hadden. Nobody had any specific information about what he contributed to the partnership. I hope that my book simply corrects the record.

Truthdig:  You spent almost five years working on this book. That’s almost as long as Hadden spent working on Time. Did it feel at times that you had lost your bearings under the weight of so much material and so much time spent as basically a solo operation?

Wilner:  One of the reasons it took so long is because I read every document that related to Hadden’s life. There’s no stone left unturned. And I had to process all that information before I could get it into a narrative. So when the writing process began, I had to teach myself how to write a book, and I discovered it over a couple of years. I ended up boiling down an 850-page manuscript to about 350 pages.

Next Page: The middle class of the 1920s was so upwardly mobile.Today, the middle class seems downwardly mobile. For example, we frown on intellectualism. Presidential candidates would never want to appear intellectual. Whereas at that time, people wanted to be intellectual.

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By john douglas, November 10, 2006 at 9:37 am Link to this comment
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strange there’s no mention of LIFE
(actually talking about the magazine)

the following URL’s
from the week/year i was born

quite remarkable snaps of the time indeed
(why aren’t harvard, yale and princeton brought up on criminal charges for what they’ve had a hand in?)

rumsfeld: a collegiate wrestle… why not just say princeton?

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By Jeffrey van Davis, October 28, 2006 at 1:39 pm Link to this comment
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Wow, like jeez.  Isn’t that interesting?  Wilner
made it to the top of the journalistic heap at Yale and looked with wonderment at that picture of the long ago editer who co-founded Time. 

My grandfather hated Time.  You know, it was Luce that always insisted that the then President of the United States be always referred to as “Harry S.(for nothing)Truman”  What pettiness!

What really interests me, though.  Is that great “traumatic” secret that Wilner told his fellow Yalies when he joined the Scull and Bones crowd.  You know, the secret that everyone has to tell and everyone else has to keep secret.  The Bushes (father and son) went through that process and one is a major war criminal who has taken this country to the depths and the other is on the boards of many corporations who are reaping untold profits off the deaths of young Americans (many farmboys and small towners who most assuredly read Time).  George W., who received a degree in History at Yale, doesn’t have a clue about history.  Hey, what a great academic institution that Yale is, huh?
This 14 year-old,Wilner, (at least he looks it), bright and precocious, thinks that we would be interested in what interests him.  Maybe so, maybe not.  But one thing is for sure, I’m certain that one of the boys at his publishing house went to Yale.  I wonder what his secret is.

Maybe someday when Wilner grows up he may learn a real truth about this country:  It’s always the rich that send the poor; it’s always the old that send the young; it’s always the elite who lord it over the rest of us common folk.

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By CAROL R. CAMPBELL, October 26, 2006 at 2:30 pm Link to this comment
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If Wilner wants to romanticize the ‘20s, I’d suggest he read John Dos Passos’ trilogy USA. Then he can read the same author’s biography of Woodrow Wilson and see what happens when you filter history through the rose colored glasses of success and prosperity.

I prefer to do my own research, there are simply too many examples of talented people selling out in return for good reviews in Time Magazine.

So, a couple of rich kids had a good idea in the Roaring ‘20s - What a concept…

Perhaps Truth Digs could be a bit more forthcoming as to why any of us should care - unless we went to Yale like King George, of course.

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By neil williamson, October 25, 2006 at 6:58 pm Link to this comment
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Isn’t it wonderful that we now have the internet and the ability to log onto websites such as Truthdig in order to find out what is REALLY going on in the world and not get all our news from Mr Murdoch and his other allies in a world where most of the “independent” media has been usurped by right wing power brokers intent on only furthering their own interests? Power to the people bringing truth to the masses thru the internet!

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By DumKuntry, October 24, 2006 at 1:33 am Link to this comment
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So the spinners and spin-diviners can’t seem to agree on the Pap-Vehicle of the generation….... if it was Time, Newsweek, or any other with shiny cover and posed photos, it was that same set of folks that brought us John Paul Vann and the rest of the Halberstam universe to show us how f’ed up our government was in trying to keep us from dying the same deaths as those in Pol-Pot-Land (oh, sorry, I think it was called Kampuchea, but that never caught on, did it?), and how f’ed up are those who try to fight that dark Force-fed power that sustains those who would keep us down…......and so here we are, 25-35-45 years later, debating who was the hippest and correct-est (right-est) of those who tried to make us think, and I guess they all succeeded on one level, ‘cuz we’re still thinkin…...... and then there’s me, and many thousands like me, and many millions like me who don’t wear my uniform, but just kept raising our kids and keeping us straight enough to laugh at Nancy Reagan when She Just Said NO, and we’re mostly looking around now, and wondering, “Do I teach my kid to think, or to kill the idiots who don’t like that they think, or to do one and then the other? And which first and who lives?”
Kinda sad, and the previous writer who noted Time/Newsweek/US News duality thru the ages was BANG ON…..........

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By Pat Small, October 23, 2006 at 10:44 pm Link to this comment
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TIME, Skull and Bones, Billary Clinton, half the DC elite, the so-called ‘intelligence community’, Bob Woodward—ya’ll got Yale in common and the world isn’t better because of it.  And now some young Yalie writing a romantic recount of a couple of craven roaring twenties Yale cronies who ended up not liking each other.  What’s the surpise in realizing when one died the other tried to erase all record of his rival/‘friend’? 
  And most telling in the published interview was the spelling of naive as ‘nave’.  Now THAT was revealing—and guaranteed that I will not need to read anything more from Wilner

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By Terry, October 23, 2006 at 2:50 pm Link to this comment
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Strange that some think Time is liberal and others, fascist.  It’s been both in its history.

In the 70s, if one want to reach a liberal audience, one advertised in Newsweek; if a right wing audience, US News and World Report and Time was middle of the road.

The editorial slants seem to be pretty much the same today.

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By pluton, October 22, 2006 at 10:47 pm Link to this comment
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I was nine years old for most of 1965.  My mom subscribed to Newsweek; Time had something to do with”...Luce…right-wing…facist…” something or other.  As I grew up and realized that all commercially supported media are always inherently suspect if not just plain corrupt, I found that there was something about the big 3(or maybe 2.5?) newsmagazines that made them completely unsatisfying and even unsettling to read. The events of the world are usually interesting…but having them described through such a rigid style was always torture for the reader.  The whole mag was written as if in one person’s style, even though different writers were credited.  Phoniness.  Even if desparately bored I’m loathe to pick up a Time or Newsweek(or a FoxNews or a CNN, for that matter). 
To me it is a dark, almost morbid but still legitimate project to historically document the origins of what apparently is one of, if not the FIRST national-single- voice massaged-news outlet.

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By Jack, October 21, 2006 at 10:14 am Link to this comment
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Growing up in the ‘50s and attending high school in the early ‘6os, Time Magazine was a staple at our house and read by most family members (9).  Starting with the film reviews in the back and working back to the “harder” news provided me with a decided advantage in the Current Events club at school and gave me a sense of awareness of national and world events.  The famous “Is God Dead?” cover of 1964 made one feel he was participating in a type of national dialogue.

It wasn’t until I attended University that it was pointed out to me that all the articles seemed to have been written by the same person and that correspondents for Time routinely resigned because they could not recognize their own dispatches after they had been subjected to the Time “filter.”

As I availed myself to the relatively meager news offerings of the day and expanded my range of inquiry to events, reading Time became kind of a fun way to see what the assholes had to say about the world.  The magazine provided comedic relief in the way that watching Fox news does today.  In fact, you can sit in your Dentist’s waiting room leafing through a month old Time magazine while watching Fox news and cause a disturbance uttering guffaws. 

But I no longer find the hilarity beneficial.  It is somewhat depressing to realize this crap not only sells but is taken seriously.  Exploring which preppie is responsible for the genesis of a magazine that is so fundamentally flawed to be rendered irrelavant seems like an undertaking by and for the elites.

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By LongerMemory, October 20, 2006 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment
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Never-before-told story? Well, W.A. Swanberg spent about 50 pages telling it in his 1972 biography of Luce. Hotchkiss, Yale, the early struggles of Time, Hadden always a shade ahead of Luce, the eventual alienation. All there. No doubt Wilner has told the story in much greater detail, and this may be the first full book devoted to it, but the story itself had been told before Wilner was born.

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By saul, October 18, 2006 at 8:45 pm Link to this comment
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What is funny to this 76 year old is all my life I have heard about the liberal press.
I grew up in a city with a so called liberal paper but they also had a Hearst paper from a much larger and more powerful organization and the Time, Life Look group of Luce’s had a stranglehold on the magazine business.
A media that was controlled by conservative but still called liberal- go figure

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By Poztron, October 15, 2006 at 1:53 pm Link to this comment
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Interesting interview. I do wonder if Wilner is unduly nostalgic for a romanticized notion of an earlier era, perhaps due to having soaked himself in “Time” for so long.
He says: “So Time came out of a different era, when it wasn’t possible to filter out the news for yourself. But now that we can do that, there’s a danger that we’re losing that national hearth, the one place we can all congregate and hear the same story.”
I find this sentiment sort of topsy-turvy. In the good old days, we had Time filtering out the news for us (not to mention Hearst and Col. McCormick) and we were all warming ourselves around the same story. Now, in the bad new days, we have access via the internet to all sorts of stories from a variety of angles, and the country is pulling apart?
This pulling apart is, it seems to me, more of a process of polarization, with the GOP’s Mighty Wurlitzer providing a “same story” to those who need to believe, and the rest of us trying to piece together a realistic take on the world to counter the delusional storyline emanating from the Ministry of Propaganda.
Having actually lived through the era when “Time” was far more influential in defining the boundaries of acceptable discourse, I have little nostalgia for the confines of that “same story.”
I think it is misplaced sentiment to long for everyone being on the same page due to reading the output of elite Yale grads. The only “same story” worth pursuing is having a majority of the population wake up to our economy and Constitution being systematically dismantled and sold off to the benefit of elite Yale grads.

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By vonwegen, October 15, 2006 at 10:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Oh, so what you’re saying is the GOP has no spin doctors?

Geez, so Karl Rove is only a shoe salesman?

Thank you so much for providing clarity.

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By NotFazedbyThiskidsbookplug, October 15, 2006 at 6:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

**Wilner should be writing for the democrat spin doctors by spring. I lost my hearth and I can’t seem to find it. Please. So much for truthdig, it seemed so unbiased for about a week and a half.
Yes, Wilner, no one want’s to learn anymore, only you, sweetie.
Did you see Time’s cover this morning? They are spinning for Barak Obama for Prez, ALREADY!!
*********WHO IS TRUTHDIG FRONTING FOR??**********

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By OCPatriot, October 14, 2006 at 10:08 am Link to this comment
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Luce personified the Right Wing; he had enormous influence that persists today.  We need to send President Bush, Laura Bush, the two Bush girls, Mr. Murdock, Mr. Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rove, maybe Denny Hastert and Joe Lieberman to the front lines, in appropriate early design bullet proof vests and ill-equipped Hummers, all to do what you’re suggesting.  I love the columnists who suggest we can’t “cut and run” and suggest instead that we keep our young people in the military in harms way so they can be killed to correct those clowns mistakes.  Maybe you, too, could join the crew I have named above of first rate idiots who, along with the neocons we could add like Wolfowitz & Co. to the newly created battalion, to rectify the situation.  Remember, needlessly killing our young people isn’t something we like to mention when proposing solutions about messes created by Bush & Co. like Iraq or Afghanistan; it’s all lofty ideas and solutions.  The alternative is to let the locals solve their own problems and for our government to work on real strategic solutions to existing problems, like learning how to act like diplomats and working out real strategic solutions that don’t involve stupid loss of life.  What’s really behind all this, if you really think about it, is oil and nothing more; no one would care a fig for any of this if it weren’t for the oil.  Once we figure out how to divorce ourselves from using oil, these places will become minor players in world affairs.  The Internet, if it isn’t stifled to an early crib death, can provide a wonderful alternative to the FOX News and the oligarchs who control the media like GE.

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By Gijsbert Brandeveld, October 13, 2006 at 11:28 pm Link to this comment
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“What we forget is what we’re not allowed to know.”

Günther Anders (1902-1992), German philosopher

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By Phi Derby, October 13, 2006 at 8:32 pm Link to this comment
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At Yale, there was a story about how TimeSpeak originated.  Luce and Hadden went to John Berdan, a renowned professor of English there, for suggestions as to what literary style to use in their new publication.  Berdan is supposed to have simply said, “Reread your Thomas Carlyle.” And so they did.

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By Paul O'Curry, October 13, 2006 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment
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Luce was Evil .... as a result of Mao taking over in China he helped launch the anti-communist tirade with the Dulles Bros ... all three ... the third one was a Jesuit Cardinal !  Although Luce was a Prebyterian..born to missionaries in China ..  he pushed the Catholic politicians in the US into the Vietnam war using propaganda in his magazine.

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By paul kibble, October 12, 2006 at 8:49 pm Link to this comment
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Self-correction from earlier post: “I haven’t yet read Mr. Wilner’s back” should, of course, be amended to “I haven’t yet read Mr. Wilner’s book.” Apologies for channeling Mark Foley (though Mr. Wilner, reportedly in his 20’s, is clearly too long in the tooth for Mr. Close Encounters with the Third Grade).

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By Lee Driver, October 12, 2006 at 11:15 am Link to this comment
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Oneyedjack says “who cares?” The answer is lots of people do, but they’re going to be in their 50’s, 60’s and older. Luce gave birth to the Rupert Murdochs and Ted Turners of today, journalists who are conspiritors in the making of US policy. Being a Viet Nam vet and a student of history, I’m aware that Henry Luce had much to do with the creation of the mind set that led to the tenor of our nation’s involvement there, and in legitimizing the power of the press to engage in the manipulation of opinion. Luce’s legacy speaks volumns about the conditions we face in the modern day, where the editorial board of mega-communications giants have their hand on the spigot of what’s news, and in orchestrating how we think about it. Luce and Time gave legendary velocity to “spin.” Given the way things have developed in the modern day, it seems only just ordinary that he torpedoded his nemisis/buddy on the way up.  My dad held Henry Luce up as hero, and I got forever flipped by Viet Nam. Who cares” I do.

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By jkoch, October 12, 2006 at 11:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Even if Luce had no grudge towards Hadden, was he supposed to freeze Time as “Hadden’s magazine” or make it his own?  What happened was not betrayal, only human. 

By the way, the original Time was little more than a recap of the week’s newspaper headlines, accompanied by trite or joking comments, plus occasional bios of movers and shakers.

Had Luce run Time into the ground after Hadden’s death, would that make it Hadden’s fault or his?  Obviously, the blame would fall on Luce.  Instead, Time / Life was a great success.  So why not let Luce bask in it? 

Luce’s flaws, by the way, were of a different nature: editorial and political.  See the W.A. Swanberg biography.

Wilner should tackle a more formidable publishing and broadcasting titan of our own day, who controls a major US network, multiple newspapers, and assorted communications ventures.  Ruppert makes Luce look like Barney.

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By, October 12, 2006 at 6:22 am Link to this comment
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How fascinating:  those were my parents’ times, though not with “Time” since Mother repudiated its political leanings.  “Newsweek” provided the substitute venue for what I assume were the “progressive” upwardly mobile.  The eventual authority of these two weeklies propelled them to the making and breaking of people and ideas.  So it is not surprising personalities clashed and truth was wounded.  Let us see how the healing takes place…

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By harald hardrada, October 12, 2006 at 4:38 am Link to this comment
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‘time’ has always rivalled but has never risen above the better college humor magazines

anybody who takes ‘time’ seriously is ill-informed

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By paul kibble, October 11, 2006 at 5:57 pm Link to this comment
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I haven’t yet read Mr. Wilner’s back (but I will). However, I must confess that I was somewhat taken aback by this pronouncement:
“So Time pioneered a style of writing called TimeStyle, which was brash, curt, punchy, athletic, and had a great sense of humor; it transformed the news into a form of entertainment.”

Not everyone regarded Timestyle as a daringly innovative breakthrough. In fact, the New Yorker’s Wolcott Gibbs wrote a legendary parody (“Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind”) that understandably enraged Luce. As the years passed, Timestyle became as rigidly patterned and predictable as a Kabuki drama.

When Henry Grunwald became managing editor of Time in the 70’s, he abandoned the ossified mannerisms of Timestyle in favor of a more natural (yet more authentically lierate) house style. He also freed the magazine from its infamous brand of “American-Century” conservatism that Luce inflicted on his brainchild and its readership for far too many years.

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By Ed Watters, October 11, 2006 at 5:23 pm Link to this comment
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Sounds like a good read but the kid’s (he looks like a teen in the picture) sentimentality over Time and ‘national dialogue’ seems a bit over the top.

It’s great that farmers became interested in what was going on in the world but a pity that the analyses they were treated to each week never strayed outside the bounds deemed acceptable by the wealthy socialites that the Time co-founders ‘hung with’.

Hopefully, the family farmers went searching for another ‘national dialogue’ when they read in Time, Newsweek etc. that its better for the country if Archer-Daniels-Midland grows our crops…

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By Dean Pettit, October 11, 2006 at 3:19 pm Link to this comment
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The idea of a national hearth appeals to me.  Of course, it cannot be only one dimension with so many sources of ideas.  As we have not developed our own mythology, yet, perhaps it will be awhile before we can find our one hearth.  I would come to it warmly, if I were not forced.

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By soaral, October 11, 2006 at 11:01 am Link to this comment
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Wilner’s book sounds like a fascinating look into the development of “Time” magazine—and of how history can be hijacked.
It’s curious how frequently accepted “history” and reality don’t match—if one cares to dig for the truth.

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By Recher, October 11, 2006 at 10:45 am Link to this comment
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By oneyedjack, October 11, 2006 at 2:29 am Link to this comment
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Like, who cares?

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