Henry Grunwald

It’s Time, Part I

VTR Date: April 15, 1983

Guest: Grunwald, Henry


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guests: Henry Grunwald
Title: “It’s Time” Part I
VTR: 4/15/83

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. One couldn’t have grown to intellectual maturity in America, not at least in those extraordinary decades the 30s, 40s and 50s without being a time watcher, without estimating full well enough, maybe even too well, the important role that Time, the weekly news magazine, played in commenting on, and thus in a very real sense, helping to create our national agenda, our national mood. Loose thinking, some have considered it. Largely we who naively were made most uncomfortable but by what some have thought as the Machiavellian influence exercised by Time’s master, Henry Luce, in his statement of and thus perhaps then the realization of his ideal of the American century. Well, we have no Luce to scapegoat anymore. Nor does Time see so ominously to dominate America’s cultural landscape anymore. But those who would now underestimate the power of Time magazine and Newsweek too, its chief rival, would do well to consider that both, now perhaps more than ever before, are right there at the hub of communications empires whose influence has to be counted mightily in any realistic estimations of who we are as a people and how we come to think about what we think about the world around us. Besides, if print now looms less large today, Time, Incorporated has become even more of a national presence in electronic communications too. And at its apex is my guest today, Editor-in-Chief Henry Anatole Grunwald.

Mr. Grunwald, thank you for joining me today here on The Open Mind. I should say to begin with that, a little self-advertisement. I do another program series called “From the Editor’s Desk”, and when I begin that program, there are those who feel that I’m engaging in hyperbole when I talk about bringing those who make the news of the world together with the editors and commentators who interpret it, who shape the news, mold it, who do or do not make it part of our public awareness, our public opinion. And I wondered whether you think that that’s attributing too much to the editorial force, or perhaps too little.

Grunwald: I think probably a little too much. We certainly shape the news, sometimes. We anticipate the news sometimes. I think we influence people to a certain extent. But I, I don’t find it terribly healthy to overestimate our power.

Heffner: Healthy for whom? You or for the nation?

Grunwald: Both of us. I don’t think it’s, it’s very good for an editor to go around all the time thinking about how powerful he or she may be. And I don’t think it’s terribly wise or healthy for the public to overestimate our power and thereby in a sense to blame us for a lot of things that I think perhaps should be blamed on others.

Heffner: Is that the key? The question of blame, the question of responsibility? You don’t want it?

Grunwald: No, I certainly want responsibility. I certainly don’t, don’t shirk from responsibility, and shrink from responsibility. I’ve edited it myself. And I think all journalists must be very much aware of the responsibility they do, they do have. But it is no, is no use piling everything that happens on the press or on the electronic media.

Heffner: You know, it’s interesting, I’ve been reading the Point of View commentary, “Are Editors Necessary” and i was amused that you quote Carlisle to say, “Carlisle was wrong. Carlisle observed enthusiastically, ‘Isn’t every able editor a ruler of the world?’” And you disclaim that. You say, “This isn’t true”, and now you say it again.

Grunwald: I say it is not true. We are not rulers of the world. I think we are informers of the world, occasionally, if you will, shapers along with many other forces.

Heffner: But why, if one would disclaim what some of us think to be the power of you editors. If you were to disclaim that why do you also claim prerogatives and privileges that are as great as those of the court perhaps, of the highest court of our land?

Grunwald: Well, on the first point, I think we are arguing a matter of degree only, and arguments about degree are not terribly dramatic or terribly interesting, but those are the real arguments. I certainly don’t deny that we have power. All I’m saying is that that power should not be overestimated. As far as claiming privileges and rights are concerned comparable to the courts, I must deny very categorically that we claim those. We are quite powerless compared to the courts. The courts are much more powerful than we are, and of course should be. The courts have, can compel testimony. The courts, the courts can enter locked rooms by law. The courts can take weeks, months and years to ponder a very difficult situation. None of these things we can do. I’m not saying we should be able to, but I think we should not be compared to the courts nor should we be held accountable to the Rules of Evidence that prevail in a courtroom, which sometimes people have done.

Heffner: Yet when the court is under attack by journalists, well, you say yourself in your Time essay of July 1979, you say, “Tension between power centers is useful in America, but the judiciary ought to reflect about what it is doing, “ talking about its potential limitations upon the free press. “In important respects, judges really are in the same boat as journalists, and ultimately in the service of the same ideals”. What did you mean by that?

Grunwald: Well, this was written at a time when the courts were quite active in one sense or another in trying to limit freedom of the press. At that particular time the main issue was whether or not newsmen have the right under certain circumstances to keep their sources confidential. There are other issues of course between the press and the courts. When I said that the courts sometimes, however, are in the same boat, or judges are in the same boat, I had in mind the fact that, as you know, a lot of people in this country believe that the courts have begun to abrogate to themselves certain powers that perhaps belong more properly to the legislatures. Partly because Congress and other state legislatures have perhaps left loopholes and have left gaps in the, in the laws they’ve written, the courts have been compelled, sometimes against their will, very often quite enthusiastically, to fill those gaps and to rule on things that a lot of people felt are not the business of judges. It’s perhaps, it was perhaps a somewhat far-fetched comparison. I can only say that far-fetched comparisons are sometimes quite interesting, and even necessary.

Heffner: This one certainly was interesting.

Grunwald: Well, i…

Heffner: You be the judge of how necessary.

Grunwald: It was originally not an essay but a speech to a group of jurists. That was another reason why I made that comparison.

Heffner: In that year…

Grunwald: Yes.

Heffner: …1979…

Grunwald: That’s right.

Heffner: …things were happening in the courts. Would you repeat the same points today, or do you feel the pressure is off somewhat?

Grunwald: I think the pressure is, has shifted somewhat. Today I would, and I think most of my colleagues would be somewhat more concerned about libel than about for instance the attempt to break journalistic confidentiality and so on. These things continue. On the other hand, Congress and state legislatures have passed quite a number of so-called shield laws which formalize the journalist’s need or right to keep certain information confidential. On the other hand, we’ve seen quite an increase in libel suits, many of them, I’m sure, justified, others perhaps not. Which in the aggregate may also have what our friends the jurists call the chilling effect on, on freedom of the press.

Heffner: When you say, “some of them justified”, do you feel that there is ever justification for chilling the freedom of the press?

Grunwald: Yes, of course. I mean, there is certainly justification of the libel suits. I think we are not an absolutist on these, on these issues or on other issues. I think that colleagues will argue that absolutely no tampering or no limitations on total freedom of the press I think are wrong. I think you and I should have the right to sue somebody for libel. Perhaps since we are in a sense public figures we have a lesser right than a totally private person, but the right must exist. And I think a, a newspaper which, which does recklessly and knowingly print a falsehood has to be and should be held responsible. There are many, there are many gray areas here, and juries particularly have been very ready in the last couple of years to clamp down tremendously large libel awards. And judges have been overzealous in some of these cases.

Heffner: Would you like to see the court move away somewhat from the notion that those who are in the public eye are, are, don’t have the same privileges in terms of responding to the press when they have been libeled? Would you like to see us not so fair game?

Grunwald: No, no. I think the original ruling that somebody who is in the public eye is in a different position and has less claim to sue for libel or to collect for libel. I think that’s, that’s perfectly sound. I think the problem, one of the problems that has arisen comes from a, from the so-called Sullivan decision. I believe it’s the Sullivan decision.

Heffner: Yes, the New York Times.

Grunwald: Which, which held that intent, the journalist’s intent is a factor. I believe it has something to do with whether a, whether the statement has been printed maliciously. And once you say, once you consider the word “malicious”, you open up inquiries into the journalist’s state of mind, which is a little scary. You suddenly open up the possibility of examining his private correspondence, his notes, his interoffice memos, conceivably even some chance remark that he might have made to a colleague. And looking into somebody’s state of mind becomes, I think, slightly ominous or slightly menacing. I’m no jurist; I don’t’ know how to resolve that. I suspect that the original ruling, considering malice, is probably sound. But as so many, like so many good things, well-intentioned things, there are some, there can be some rather dicey consequences.

Heffner: Could we go back for a moment to this matter of the, the power of the press? I don’t want to beat that more than it, it deserves, but you’ve said that, “The press should not be expected to be what it is not. Literary critics try journalism for not being literary enough. Historians, for lacking historical accuracy. Lawyers, for not martialling facts by the Rule of Evidence. But journalism is not literature, not history, not law. Most of the time it cannot possibly offer anything but a fleeting record of events complied in great haste”. That doesn’t sound like the description of an occupation, of a profession that warrants such great concern.

Grunwald: Well, perhaps the, perhaps the statement is a little, is somewhat too modest, but I think basically it’s true, quite seriously. I think it’s, it’s basically true. What I have, of course, not added here is the power of repetition, nor have I mentioned in this particular passage the power of, of television to create images and to create a presence in the house, in the home which goes far beyond anything that print can do. I think print can influence the mind more. If we are lucky, people will sit and think about what we write. Television obviously can, can influence the emotions more instantly and more readily.

Heffner: You’re obviously a pre-McLuhan person.

Grunwald: A what?

Heffner: A pre-McLuhan person.

Grunwald: I’m a, I like to think that I’m both a pre- and a post-McLuhan person. It’s quite interesting that I don’t hear McLuhan talk much, about much anymore.

Heffner: Why do you think that is? Because we’ve so accepted him? Worked him into our consciousness?

Grunwald: I think the two or three ideas he had, or two and a half ideas he had that were accurate I think we have accepted, and the rest was rubbish. You want to talk about McLuhan? I’ll be, I’d be happy to go on a little bit, but…

Heffner: I’m fascinated, I’m fascinated by what you say about rubbish, because I remember so well that in creating that rubbish your own magazines played a major role. I remember a big piece, I’m sure it was in Life magazine, about this, this new prophet.

Grunwald: Oh, sure.

Heffner: but what made him a prophet? Wasn’t it was Life did, in a sense?

Grunwald: Well, I certainly think that Life helped, and he had a, he had, you know, I say that he had two and a half ideas, that’s a lot. I didn’t necessarily mean to put him down for that. Most people go through their lives, most intellectuals go through their lives without having a single idea. So, McLuhan wasn’t so bad. He had a perception that television was a new, a totally new form. You notice that I try to avoid the word “medium” although in talking about McLuhan that’s almost impossible. And that information reaches us through television or from the television screen not in the linear, one-two-three, A-B-C tradition or form of the book or the magazine. A very, perhaps obvious, but very important perception. And the other perception, of course, was that the medium of information, whether it’ the printing press or the radio or the television, creates certain conditions quite apart from what it is that the medium, that one tries to convey through that medium. On the first, on the first, the linear thing, though, I think he overestimated the, the permanence of the nonlinear form of information. I think the linear, orderly, one-two-three form of conveying information has crept back or even rushed back into our lives. And we find even watching the evening news that for some years now the evening news has begun to use headlines. It’s begun, by god, it’s begun to use one-two-three. It’s begun to use captions. In other words, we need, we need the, the aid of the linear device. And I think McLuhan was wrong in thinking that this would never come back.

Heffner: You don’t think this is just the death rattle? The last gasp for print’s place in the world?

Grunwald: hell, no.

Heffner: Well, I agree with you, and i…no, I don’t know that I agree with you, but I think, I hope that you’re correct. Am I correct though in remembering that McLuhan had picked the demise o Time magazine as an indication of what was going to happen in time with the ascension to power of electronics?

Grunwald: I really don’t remember that he has singled out Time magazine although he may have. If so, I have blocked it, conveniently. But at any rate, whether he did or not, he was clearly wrong.

Heffner: But you’re more powerful, it seems to me, today than ever before, and, a wonderful little speech that you gave at the fiftieth anniversary of, and you were so gracious, of your rival’s birthday, of Newsweek, you said, at any rate, “Not too many years ago you heard quite a few people say that newsmagazines were a thing of the past. But we have proved otherwise. The main reason is that in a chaotic era, the sense of order and organization offered by the newsmagazine is more important than ever”. Isn’t this a kind of power? Isn’t this that organizing power that we…

Grunwald: Yes, it, it certainly is, it is, I, it is certainly an important power, but I do think it explains why newsmagazines have endured many predictors to the contrary. It is that sense of order and organization which really suggests – I don’t want to be pretentious – but it does suggest that there is a universe out there, and the world out there that can make sense to ordinary, reasonably well-educated people. That it isn’t all chaos, it isn’t all hopeless. That with a little patience, or a lot of patience, and with a certain amount of application of reason, you can at least in a limited way make sense of the world. I think the newsmagazine says that in many ways. And not least by its organization, its structure, its form.

Heffner: Then…

Grunwald: In, in a sense, the way the encyclopedia said that in the 18th century. That there’s this whole vast universe of things, objects, ideas out there. By god, we’ll make a list. We’ll go through the alphabet and we’ll make sense of it.

Heffner: The Diderots of the contemporary world then must exercise a kind of power. And I keep coming back…

Grunwald: All right. I don’t, I don’t shrink from it, I just want to put it in perspective, that’s all.

Heffner: Would you choose, in terms of power, would you choose anything as greater, as more important, as more significant in the long run than the power to organize, help organize our thinking?

Grunwald: Oh, I think there are several, there are several callings that are more, that, that, that involve more power, obviously on the political side. I don’t have to enumerate whether it’s, whether it be the president or the prime minister of Britain or whatever. Obviously, elective offices, when all is said and done, is still more powerful than the press. But I think there is great power also in the, in original, creative scientists or thinkers. It becomes a little elusive. A Hollywood movie or a play by Tennessee Williams or a discovery about the atom or genes ultimately I think all these things wield more power than we in the press. What you can say about, of course, about us in the press is that these, well these inventions for instance, these plays, these discoveries of need mediation. They need to be brought to the public, and that we do.

Heffner: Could a motion picture, could a play, indeed, could a book, with rare exceptions, possibly survive being ignored by the media of intervention?

Grunwald: I think it would have a hard time surviving if it were totally ignored by the entire press, which is an unlikely happening. But if you want to posit that, yes, it would be difficult to survive. Although I do think we have , I mean people have found other ways besides the press to make themselves heard and felt if they, if they want to.

Heffner: Judy Holliday with a big sign at Columbus Circle in New York?

Grunwald: (Laughter)

Heffner: You mentioned first, in terms of power, you mentioned politicians. Yet the politicians today are crying, “Woe is me”, about the power of the press. The power. And I think of Vice President Agnew’s talking about the electronic press as well as the printed press. His plaint after the Nixon/Agnew ticket was elected that after all it was those who organized our thinking – and he was thinking then particularly about television – who can turn away the people’s judgment. A man can be elected by a majority of the voters in this country and yet he then raises the question which you say is not a, an appropriate question of who elected these editors-in-chief: those who take the people’s decision and try to point it in another direction.

Grunwald: Well, two things about that: First of all, it is certainly legitimate the question, the power of the press, the responsibility of the press, to accuse the press of being irresponsible when it is indeed irresponsible. I have no quarrel with any of that. I think the press is big enough to take it. And I, I deplore journalists who, who are very squeamish about criticism. But this specific matter of should the press, does the press have any legitimate power because it is not elected, because I don’t have to run for office (thank god)? I think that is, is a misunderstanding of what a democracy is like. I don’t think you want to elect anybody who has any kind of authority of any kind of responsibility in this society. At least…

Heffner: I raised that…

Grunwald: …not in the conventional political sense. A college president is in a sense elected, maybe by the faculty or however the, whatever the procedure is. And the pastor of a church is elected perhaps by his trustees or, again, whatever the, whatever eth machinery is. But he doesn’t have to run for office. And I think that’s healthy. I don’t think, I don’t think that everybody should have to run for office.

Heffner: How does the editor-in-chief of Time, Inc. get elected?

Grunwald: He gets elected by the board of directors, and he serves at their pleasure. And beyond that I think he gets elected, however indirectly, by the customers who buy the magazines for which he is responsible. And…

Heffner: Then what you sell is important if it appeals, indeed, if it caters. Is that fair?

Grunwald: It would be fair if business considerations were the only ones. But we have never at Time, Incorporated felt that business, business considerations were the only considerations for our, for our magazines. We have always felt, and we still do, that we have a, a public duty as well as a, as a business duty.

Heffner: In the past, the attacks upon William Randolph Hearst or upon Pulitzer, upon the yellow journalism, focused on the effort to sell, sell, sell. And you sold by being exploitative in what you presented. Is that a thing of the past as far as your concern is in terms of, as far as you’re concerned, in terms of the generality of American journalism?

Grunwald: It’s certainly not a thing of the past. We certainly have a newspaper in this city which, which I think compares rather favorably with Hearst, or unfavorably, as you will. But it is, but yellow journalism, so called, has become far paler than it used to be, and has become a much smaller phenomenon than it was. I think that the print press at last, by and large, is more responsible than it was 50 years ago or even 30 years ago.

Heffner: Is Time magazine different now substantially from what it was 30 years ago?

Grunwald: Yes.

Heffner: In what ways?

Grunwald: Well, I think the major difference is that Henry Luce is dead. And Henry Luce was a brilliant editor and a genius in his particular field. He was also a very honest man with whom one could always argue, and who would certainly change his mind when presented with evidence. Nonetheless, he would, he had strong convictions. Very strong convictions. And he felt that his personal convictions should be quite properly expressed in Time magazine. I think we have, we have diluted that somewhat, quite, quite a bit since his passing. I certainly have very strong convictions about a lot of things. In fact, I am engaged by my corporation to have such convictions. But I, I would not be, wouldn’t dream of treating Time as a kind of personal instrument. I’m not saying that Harry Luce did either, but certainly more so than would be possible or desirable now. We have become, in other words, a bit more balanced, i think, on a lot of issues, including politics.

Heffner: What does “balanced” mean?

Grunwald: Fair.

Heffner: Fair in the sense that you don’t’ disguise opinion as news?

Grunwald: Well, that’s a, that’s a somewhat different matter. We never really disguised opinion as news, I think. Because people are intelligent enough to tell when they, I think they can tell when you, when they read an opinion or they can read a, when they read a fact.

Heffner: Back 30 years ago?

Grunwald: I think possibly 30 years ago, but that’s, that gets a little dicey. But Luce had one or two particular passions, China being one of them, Nationalist China. And he also had on, on, on occasion this or that favorite presidential candidate. And I think it’s fair to say without besmirching his memory, which i really revere, that he used Time, on occasion, to push this cause and some of these candidates, which we, I think, would not do today.

Heffner: Would you push anything, in terms of you’ve agreed that you’ll sit here with me and do a second program, and on that second program I want to talk about this love affair that you have with this country and the, the extraordinary beauty with which you express your feelings about the basis for this, for this country’s greatness. Isn’t that something worth pressing, pushing?

Grunwald: Well, it certainly, it certainly is, but I think, you know, I would press certain other things less cosmic than that. When I say that we don’t want to push certain causes too hard or certainly not candidates, I certainly don’t believe that we should be neutral and boring and not make up our minds. And I think we have a duty to analyze or interpret. What is analysis to me may be prejudice to you, but that’s, that’s the way it goes. We do analyze situations every week of the year, be it nuclear arms or the freeze or abortion, or the death penalty on a recent occasion. And we, my, my principle in these situations is that we ought to be fair. That we ought to certainly present evidence on both sides, but that we should not hesitate to indicate where we, having done our analysis, and having done our thinking about it, where we come out.

Heffner: do you think that your editorial stance is of real importance in this country?

Grunwald: Yes, I would have to say it is, it is of real importance. But again, I revert to what we said earlier, what I said earlier in the program, this has to be kept in perspective. I don’t think Time magazine or any other magazine or even any television network could push a single cause onto, into the minds of the American people if, if they didn’t want it.

Heffner: Our presidential and other political figures sometimes seem to disagree with that.

Grunwald: Yes, I understand. I know that.

Heffner: Thank you so much for joining me today on The Open Mind, and please do stay around and let’s talk about America the Beautiful. And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again on the Open Mind. Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”