The Nation has been around long enough to see many publications come and go: of large circulation and small, of robust quality and poor, left and center and right. Time magazine, reportedly still read in some of your more cosmopolitan Elks Lodges and doctor’s offices, was first published on this day in 1923. Dwight Macdonald was hired by the magazine’s publisher, his fellow Yale alum Henry Luce, in 1929, and later worked for Luce’s new magazine, Fortune, during the Depression. He left in an editorial dispute in 1936 and the following year wrote a three-part series in The Nation on Luce’s empire. It is a classic of media criticism; this is an excerpt from the third installment, “‘Time’ and Henry Luce” (May 1, 1937).
Time, Inc. is an enormous mechanism designed to give the American public the Real Dope, straight from the shoulder, without—in its own words—“windy bias,” neither corrupted by radical dogma nor distorted by pressure from interested parties. Like all machines, it is vastly impersonal. Its products bear the name of no individual author, appearing as pronouncements ex cathedra with the whole weight of the organization behind them. A corps of researchers gather the raw material from newspapers, libraries, interviews, phone calls, learned and technical journals, cables and telegrams from special correspondents all over the world. A corps of writers strain this material clear of all editorial bias and fabricate it into articles, movie and radio scripts, picture captions. A corps of editors, headed by Luce in person, revise the finished product word by word, removing any last lingering odor of partisanship. After such triple-distilling the indescribably pure product is ready for the printer—who presumably wears antiseptic rubber gloves….
Luce and his editors are understandably sensitive on the score of objectivity, since their journalistic rationale is largely based on this great premise. Remove it and their magazines sink to the merely human level of such journals as, say, The Nation. Even lower, in fact, since the editorializing isn’t open and honest. And so they are quick to point out that if certain articles arouse protest from liberals, certain others draw fire from conservatives. Sometimes (triumph!) the same article will be attacked by both the right and left. If that doesn’t prove they’re above the class struggle, what does?….
[But] in calculating the Lucian objectivity, it is necessary to consider Luce’s point of view as the expression of a social class. Once this point of view is taken for granted as the “normal” one, as of course Luce and his editors do, then the Lucian pragmatism becomes entirely objective. In the columns of Time, for example, those who wish to effect social change have for years been labeled “rabble rousers”—a completely detached description if the point from which such persons are surveyed happens to be not far from 23 Wall Street. The Lucian journalists, of course, deny erecting their instruments on any such spot. Indeed, one gets the impression that they draw their angles of vision from somewhere in the neighborhood of Uranus. Their moral imagination over journals which are gross enough to confess to a specific point of view is amusing to witness; almost as funny as the righteous fury with which those earlier apostles of objectivity, the Manchester school of British economists, assailed such prejudiced persons as wanted to curtail the liberty of mill hands to work sixteen hours a day.
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