Can you imagine what it would be like to see your life’s work suddenly go down the drain? I can—right now. As a former Time editor who spent 13 years editing the magazine’s coverage of environmental issues, I am in despair over reports that Time Inc. will soon sell itself to Meredith Corp. in a deal that includes a $600 million investment from Charles and David Koch, whose Koch Industries is a big player in the oil and gas business and whose philanthropy has long funded climate denial.
If that happens—and news reports indicate the deal could be announced as soon as November 28—it will be a tragic end to a Time story that was once glorious but turned sad as corporate woes increasingly affected the editorial product at one of America’s iconic news outlets. The story is not just about the fate of Time. The story is about the fate of the world.
So far, media coverage of the proposed deal (which is separate from AT&T’s attempt to buy Time Warner, which the Trump administration has sued to block) has missed the most important point. The problem is not that the Koch brothers are “conservative.” Henry Luce, who co-founded Time in 1923 and ruled the magazine company for more than four decades, was conservative, too—a staunch opponent of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. Time thrived as a conservative publication, and the bias persisted for a long time after Luce’s death in 1967. The first cover story I ever wrote for Time, which was totally rewritten by the editors above me, was titled “Making Reaganomics Work.”
The biggest problem with the modern conservative movement is that it has sold its soul to the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and other kingpins of the fossil-fuel industry. For decades, the Kochs’ “dark money,” as The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer called it, has financed a campaign of disinformation designed to convince the public and politicians that climate change is nothing to worry about. In fact, any reputable climate scientist will tell you that global warming is the second-greatest danger to the human race, trailing only nuclear weapons. A majority of the American public is now concerned. Donald Trump and the Republican Party are not, because they know who butters their bread. Despite 30 years of scientific warnings about global warming, Congress has not passed an effective plan to slow the burning of fossil fuels. The Koch brothers, whether they understand it or not, appear to have plotted to destroy civilization as we know it for their own short-term profit.
Time was one of the first major publications to report on the environmental crisis in a big way. Even before the first Earth Day in 1970, Time established its Environment section in August of 1969. In October of 1987, Michael Lemonick wrote “The Heat is On,” the first of his many Time cover stories on global warming. In late 1988 Time’s managing editor, Henry Muller, decided to run the unprecedented special cover package “Planet of the Year: Endangered Earth,” which would report on the whole panoply of environmental threats, including climate change, ozone depletion, and species extinction.