The New Yorker is the only magazine, other than various alcohol-related periodicals, I’ve ever regularly subscribed to. I don’t like it as much as I used to — there are too many favorable profiles of VSPs and CEOs and too few of weirdos, trouble-makers, fuggers, and thieves (aw, but they’re cool people). I already knew that it used to be more smart-assed many years ago, long before I started reading it, but I was struck by how much its early duels with Time magazine sounds like the blogger/establishment media arguments of today:
Time Inc. once sent out a flyer: “TIME has given such attention to the development of the best narrative English that hundreds of editors and journalists have declared it to be the greatest creative force in modern journalism.” Ford’s “The Making of a Magazine” included an exposé called “The Construction of Our Sentences”: “Before a sentence may be used in THE NEW YORKER it must be cleaned and polished. The work of brightening these sentences is accomplished by a trained editorial staff of 5,000 men named Mr. March.” The New Yorker once ran a cartoon with the caption “But, Lester, is it enough just being against everything that ‘Time’ magazine is for?”
This story about a nasty New Yorker profile of Henry Luce, who owned Time Inc. (which included Fortune and Life) really rang my bell:
[A] brutal parody of Timestyle, called “Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce”: “Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind.” He skewered the contents of Fortune (“branch banking, hogs, glassblowing, how to live in Chicago on $25,000 a year”) and of Life (“Russian peasants in the nude, the love life of the Black Widow spider”). He made Luce ridiculous (“ambitious, gimlet-eyed, Baby Tycoon Henry Robinson Luce”), not sparing his childhood (“Very unlike the novels of Pearl Buck were his early days”), his fabulous wealth (“Described too modestly by him to Newyorkereporter as ‘smallest apartment in River House,’ Luce duplex at 435 East 52nd Street contains 15 rooms, 5 baths, a lavatory”), or his self-regard: “Before some important body he makes now at least one speech a year.” He announced the net profits of Time Inc., purported to have calculated to five decimal places the “average weekly recompense for informing fellowman,” and took a swipe at Ingersoll, “former Fortuneditor, now general manager of all Timenterprises . . . salary: $30,000; income from stock: $40,000.” In sum, “Sitting pretty are the boys.”
This led to a confrontation between Henry Luce and Harold Ross, the then-editor of the New Yorker:
“There’s not a single kind word about me in the whole Profile,” Luce said. “That’s what you get for being a baby tycoon,” Ross said. “Goddamn it, Ross, this whole goddamned piece is malicious, and you know it!” Ross paused. “You’ve put your finger on it, Luce. I believe in malice.”
Far too few media elites believe in this kind of malice anymore.