Twilight of the superheroes

By PETER KADZIS  |  April 28, 2010

Luce built on the foundations laid by his newspapering forebears. The likes of Pulitzer, Hearst, McCormick, and Ochs — along with such families as the Metcalfs of Providence, the Taylors of Boston, the Binghams of Louisville, and the Chandlers of Los Angeles. Together, these clans created discrete mass markets in cities across the nation.

Assisted by his circulation wizard, Boston-born Roy Larsen, Luce plumed and consolidated a demand for intellectual goods in much the same way that Sears and Roebuck sold retail goods on the by-now-defunct frontier — through the US mail.

Brinkley explains that Time “was almost perfectly designed to respond to several of the most important social changes of its era.” These included “the increasing pace of modern life, the growing nationalization of commerce, and the need of middle-class people to know much more about the nation and the world.”

Reviewers reviewed
When a book of this import is written by a scholar of such distinction, the reviews are usually a cut above the ordinary. The Washington Post tapped Jonathan Yardley from its Pulitzer bench to assay The Publisher. Yardley pronounced it “magisterial.” In reviewer speak, “magisterial” is reserved for works of the highest order, books combining seriousness of authorial intent and execution with eminent subject matter.

Translation: five stars.

To ensure purity of message in a piece that was sure to be read for special nuance, Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal dispatched Edward Kosner, a writer whose vast editorial experience almost qualifies him to be considered a mini-mogul himself. Kosner edited Newsweek, New York magazine, Esquire, and the New York Daily News. As a connoisseur of publishers (including Murdoch) who have been known to bite the heads off editors before devouring their torsos, bones and all, Kosner is well suited to the task.

Kosner is particularly good on the intersection of Luce’s politics with his taste for talent: “Despite Luce’s ideological fervor, his magazines recruited some stellar journalists and writers, including John Hersey, James Agee, and Theodore H. White, all of whom left Time, Inc. or were driven away. Luce forced out Teddy White in 1946 because he was too critical of Chiang Kai-sheck’s corrupt regime — although White was back in Luce’s good graces by November 1963, when he delivered his famous ‘Camelot’ interview with the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy. During Vietnam, Time notoriously attacked American reporters (including its own correspondents) who were warning that the war was being lost.”

Translation: Luce was a great man, but an SOB.

The Sunday New York Times Book Review commissioned the newspaper’s own executive editor, Bill Keller, to do the honors in a marquee front-page review. This made it a meta-media event in and of itself: the titular pope of journalism reviews a biography of an undeniably historical and controversial publisher written by the offspring of a television broadcasting legend. (Yes, Alan Brinkley is the late David’s son.)

Keller, too, does not disappoint, writing less of a review and more of an essay. In a quiet and craftsman-like way, Keller subordinates his insights to the demands of Brinkley’s work. Keller’s overarching theme is the double helix of social authority and professional integrity. The top man at the Times explores how those strands played out in the life lived by Luce. Keller is especially interested in comparing and contrasting how David Halberstam — himself a former Timesman and, until Brinkley’s book, Luce’s most notable chronicler — covered Brinkley’s terrain. Keller’s twin themes of authority and responsibility merge into a consideration of community, of the social compact needed to provide a workable context in which journalism and public opinion and social democracy can co-exist in a self-nurturing interdependency. Keller calls it “consensus.”

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Related: Through a glass darkly, Is Murdoch’s WSJ being snubbed?, Murdoch mishegoss, More more >
  Topics: Media -- Dont Quote Me , Sports Illustrated, Teddy White, John Hersey,  More more >
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