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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.

(Page 3)

Truthdig:  Given that you were an editor of the Yale Daily News, you were obviously already intimately interested in this topic. Did you fear that this wouldn’t appeal to more than a very narrow band of readers who are already familiar with the Ivy League, Skull and Bones, and institutions like those?

Wilner:  I always thought it would appeal so much to everybody because it appealed so much to me. I guess I was a little nave, kind of the way Hadden was nave. He didn’t come up with Time because this was something that would appeal to millions of people. He came up with Time because it was the type of magazine he wanted to read. He saw the news in terms of personalities, and he wrote it in terms of personalities. I felt it was an interesting story. And especially when I started reading the oral-history reminiscences of Hadden, and I started reading about how self-destructive he was and how attractive he was to the people around him, and how much he influenced all his friends since the early days of prep school. He struck me as a cinematic personality—somebody who was larger than life.

So that grabbed me, and then about a year into the project, I interviewed Hank Luce, and he gave me access to the Luce papers, and I was just blown away by how brilliant Luce was, and how hard-working, what an astonishing childhood he had in China, with being sent away to this cruel boarding school at the age of 10, how he had willed himself to cure his stutter, and how he was always moving onward and upward. His will to power was remarkable. So the contrast between the natural and the arriviste was fascinating to me. I also think Hadden and Luce, even though they were the elite of the elite, that didn’t stop them from coming up with an idea that they felt would strengthen American democracy. So they came from an elite background, and perhaps it was an elitist notion that they were going to shine a light for the common man, but they were interested in serving the public, so I felt like, it’s our story, too.  It’s the story of these elite men, but it’s also the story of how all of us, middle-class Americans, came to tell stories about the world in the way that we do. How we came to be so interested in the news, how we came to consider the news a form of entertainment.

Also, it’s the story of the rising middle class. We can look back on that period of American history and it always impressed me when I started reading the letters that people from the Midwest and the Western states would write Time; Hadden was shocked when he started receiving these letters. Oh my God, people are actually reading this thing we’re putting out. And not only reading it, but they were learning from it, they were attracted by it, they were beginning to write in his style in order to imitate him and join the elite circle of the young and the urbane. So that impressed me: the fact that the middle class of the 1920s was so upwardly mobile. It seems like something we’ve lost.


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Truthdig:  What do you mean by that?

Wilner:  It seems like people today don’t want to learn all the news from around the world. We have so many entertainment options, and we’re reading the news all the time; we’re just inundated by information, and so it doesn’t seem as though the middle class today is as eager to climb upward and belong in American society.

That was a remarkable aspect of the 1920s. Film was new, radio was new, fashions were spreading, and a national conversation was just beginning to take place. And all across America, people whose parents had grown up on the farms, people who were the first in their families to attend college, wanted to join this conversation. They wanted to know what was happening in the world, and Time was an easy place where they could figure it all out quickly. It was a way for upwardly mobile people to become more knowledgeable and sophisticated than they were.

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. And that’s why they liked Time, because it was fairly easy reading, but they would always learn something: a new word, they would get out their dictionaries to learn words Hadden was using. Can you imagine? They used the dictionary. We don’t do that today. It was the birth of a national literary culture.

Truthdig:  Your book is predicated on the fact that what Time did was very significant for modern journalism. But your book is also coming out at the very moment when many people are questioning the relevance of a newsweekly in the age of the Internet. Was that a concern?

Wilner:  The parallels are striking. I always think of Time as the Google of its time. Time was the one company that put all of the facts you needed to know at your fingertips. That’s what Google is trying to do today. But Google has cut out the filter. They’re not digesting the news. Americans definitely still need a digest, we definitely need a trusted filter to tell us what’s true and what’s not, but the question is whether we want it. More and more, many people just want to receive the news that interests them, the stories that entertain them, and opinion pieces that they agree with. 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. It’s not just the news magazine, it’s: Is there a place for the evening news?  Or is there a place for big-budget movies that everyone goes to see, that are still good movies? 

So it does seem as though America is no longer united by a national story line, except for one thing: 9/11. We’re pulled together by the most epic and tragic event that defines our time, but other than that, our country is pulling apart. We’re all running in different directions. It’s a scary thing. And this is what Hadden was inspired by: Hadden was inspired by Homer and the idea that the Iliad, because it personified the past, the epic past of the Ancient Greeks, it was the national story line. Parts of the story would be related orally around a campfire, and that’s what Hadden wanted to become: a bard for our time—someone who could almost sing to this country the history of the nation. We’ve lost our ability to do that.

And what I’m trying to do is to still make an academic contribution, still bring forward original research, but tell it in a way that can reach everybody. Because I think we need books, magazines and TV shows that bring everybody together and sing the big themes.

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By john douglas, November 10, 2006 at 9:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

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
(Unregistered commenter)

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
(Unregistered commenter)

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
(Unregistered commenter)

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
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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
(Unregistered commenter)

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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