The Coastal Post - May, 1998

Time Magazine's Skewed Tribute To Henry Luce

By Norman Soloman

The nation's biggest news weekly is celebrating itself. Time magazine has put out a "75th Anniversary Issue," paying tribute to the vision of founder Henry Luce. Readers get an inspiring-and expurgated- story.

Time began as a pathbreaking newsmagazine in March 1923, the special edition recalls, and Luce was "its undisputed leader for nearly 40 years." We're told that he wanted Time to be "a vehicle of moral and political instruction, a point of connection between the world of elite ideas and opinion and middle-class people in the "true" American hungry for knowledge."

Luce died in 1967, and the magazine is now the flagship of the largest media conglomerate ever, Time-Warner. But the firm still doffs its corporate hat to the Luce mythology. After more than 60 pages devoted to self-homage, Time closes its March 9 issue with an essay by managing editor Walter Isaacson that clings to the Luce mantle.

While acknowledging that Luce let his "global agendas" unduly influence Time's content, Isaacson assures us that the rough edges have been smoothed: "Although our stories often have a strong point of view, we try to make sure they are informed by open-minded reporting rather than partisan biases." Yet the magazine lays claim to Luce's core values: "Above all, we continue to share his belief that journalism can be, at its best, a noble endeavor."

But Time's 75th anniversary issue is a telling instance of how lofty rhetoric can easily serve as a cover story. The hero of the retrospective, Henry Luce, gets plenty of adulation and some hazy references to flaws. But it's sanitized history, omitting less pleasant facts.

They aren't hard to find. As tragic events unfolded in Europe, Luce ran his thriving magazine empire with an odious tilt. "In 1934 he devoted an entire issue of Fortune to glorifying Mussolini and Fascism," wrote independent journalist George Seldes. And in Time, Luce "permitted an outright pro- fascist, Laird Goldsborough, to slant and pervert the news every week."

One of many brilliant books by Seldes, Witness to a Century, recounts a revealing incident in March 1942: "Thurman Arnold, the assistant attorney general, appearing before a Senate committee investigating war profiteering, testified that Ethyl Gasoline Corp., General Motors, Standard Oil and I.G. Farben of Germany had an agreement by which the American corporations supplied Hitler with the secret of making tetra-ethyl lead for gasoline, without which Hitler could not have operated his air force or gone to war, and also supplied him with the secrets of making synthetic rubber."

The head of the committee, Sen. Harry Truman, responded by declaring "This is treason." But the big press glossed over the matter. As Seldes noted: "Henry Luce's Time, for example, ridiculed Truman on page 16 one week and published a $5,000 Standard Oil advertisement on page 89."

After formation of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947, Luce-a close friend of U.S. spymaster Allen Dulles-privately urged his correspondents to cooperate with the agency. Meanwhile, Luce debriefed with the CIA about his own travels overseas.

Along with some other powerful media executives, Luce joined Dulles on the board of directors of the National Committee for a Free Europe. That private front group funneled money to neo-Nazi emigre organizations.

Fifty-seven years ago, Luce proclaimed that the world was in the midst of "The American Century." His pronouncement is still echoing.

On March 3, when Time spent $3 million to throw a celebrity- filled anniversary party at Radio City Music Hall in New York, one of the featured guests was Bill Clinton. "Tonight, Time

magazine has paid tribute to the time it not only observed but helped to shape," the president said, "the 100 stunning years that your founder Henry Luce so unforgettably called the American Century."

Time-Warner bigwigs like the sound of such talk. And they see no reason for the United States to relinquish the next hundred years. "To the extent that America remains an avatar of freedom," Time's managing editor contends, "the Global Century about to dawn will be, in Luce's terminology, another American Century."

No thanks. One was more than enough.

Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His most recent books are Wizards of Media Oz (co-authored with Jeff Cohen) and The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh.

Coastal Post Home Page