BRIAN LAMB, HOST:Hedley Donovan, your new autobiography is called "Right Places, Right Times." How come?
HEADLEY DONOVAN, AUTHOR, "RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIMES": Well, I'm discussing several chapters in my life, which I think correspond to that. I grew up in Minnesota in the 1920s, which I think was a very right place and right time to have both a good education in the public schools and a very healthy, somewhat provincial life. Then I went to the University of Minnesota in the 30s, the depths of the depression, a tremendously stimulating and exciting time intellectually, in spite of all of the hardship all around us and indeed some of it in my own family.
Then I was at Oxford for three years in perhaps the most golden of all Oxford ages, but a very good one and probably there has been nothing quite like it since the country was fully recovered from the first World War and the second war didn't seem quite inevitable yet and that was a very privileged time and place. Then I was a newspaper reporter here in Washington at the Washington Post, late 30s, the New Deal period, marvelous period to learn how to be a reporter, especially on the Washington Post, which was a fairly good paper, beginning to be a fairly good paper, but paid miserable wages. So that if you had the endurance to stick it out and weren't married, as I was not yet, and could live on these peon wages, you could get marvelous assignments, because older people with families who were any good would keep leaving for better offers. So, again, in a perhaps somewhat austere way, it was another great time and place. Then I was in the right time and place when Henry Luce was looking for a successor as editor-in-chief of Time, Inc. There were several people possibly better qualified than I, but too close to his own age, and I was the right age span from him he was looking for, and I hope not totally unqualified, but that certainly was luck in being in the right spot when a great job was opening up.
LAMB: As you finish the book and you end the book, you start talking about the big merger between Time and Warner.
LAMB: Did that bother you?
DONOVAN:Yes it did, as I indicate in the book, and I don't know to what extent my bother is kind of sentimental and nostalgic. It unquestionably changes the character of a company very significantly. Once it's happened, however, I am trying to be open-minded and hope it works.
LAMB: You saw a lot of change in Time, Inc. over the years.
DONOVAN:Yes I did.
LAMB: What, what does bigness do to a company?
DONOVAN:Well, I don't think bigness is, is harmful to a company, in fact, I think it's mainly beneficial. It can be harmful, but it doesn't have to be. That doesn't bother me in the connection with Time-Warner making a, a bigger company. What did bother me is it changes the mix in the company between publishing and entertainment. Now whether publishing can flourish as a lesser activity within a much bigger company
is my problem with it. I hope it can and certainly so far I've seen no evidence that, that it can't, but...
LAMB: Who was Henry Luce?
LAMB: Who was Henry Luce?
DONOVAN:Who was he?
LAMB: Explain your view of Henry Luce.
DONOVAN:Well, he was first an enormously creative, imaginative man with the great journalistic qualities of curiosity and a willingness to examine and reexamine things and stand them on their head and look at them again. He invented, co-invented to some extent, four new magazines, Time, Life, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, and they were all not merely new magazines, but new kinds of magazines. Nothing like Time had existed in this country nor Life nor Fortune. It was widely known that there couldn't be any such thing as a national sports magazine. He had both the intellectual breadth and the entrepreneurial courage to tackle these things, and that impressed me enormously when I saw it, as I came to work there after the war as a writer on Fortune. I had very little contact with him, but then I became managing editor of Fortune and saw a lot of him and I was, the closer up I saw him, the more impressed I was by these qualities.
LAMB: If you take Time magazine, what would be some of the traditions that he established or you established together that you're most proud of?
DONOVAN:In the case of Time, that wasn't established together with him. He and his original partner were establishing those things. When I came and took some responsibility for Time, it wasn't until Time had been running more than 30 years, 35 years, and, and I did some things there too, but not on the scale of the original invention. One of the, well, there were several major journalistic inventions in Time. One was the departmentalization of the news, so you could look in the same place every week, approximately the same place, and find national affairs, foreign affairs, business, medicine, science, and so forth.
When I mention medicine, that touches on another of the major discoveries, was that news was more than just politics and city hall and crime and sports, which was pretty much the content of newspapers then, but it was everything that people were interested in and did. Luce thought education was news, he thought the press itself was news, which was a revolutionary thought, and life, what are now called lifestyles, all of those things, all that was in Time right from the beginning. Now if you pick up any of the better newspapers in the country today, all this is now very commonplace, that you should cover the educational institutions in your area, medical advances or otherwise and on and on. It was not commonplace, it didn't exist at all really in American journalism in the early 1920s.
To the extent that many of the best newspapers have taken on the character almost of a daily magazine, you pick up the New York Times, for instance, and along with the day, what we think of as the hard newspaper or hard news, there is a very good magazine in there on a variety of subjects, not billed as a magazine, but, which incidentally and not so incidentally creates very important areas of competition for Time magazine. But that was basically a Time invention. Another of the cover story, which reflected a view that you could tell about very complicated subjects through a personality. The average reader doesn't want to hear too much about the Federal Reserve system, but if the chairman of the fed is an interesting, colorful, quotable person, he can be a vehicle for getting people to absorb some information about the Federal Reserve. Likewise, with scientific figures and so on. So Time, right from the beginning used the cover story to deliver a lot of information on some fairly difficult subjects not normally handled in the general interest press. I'd say those were the big Time inventions.
LAMB: What years were you editor-in-chief?
DONOVAN:'64 to '79.
LAMB: And what was the job, editor-in-chief, compared to say a managing editor or a lot of other, you were just the editor?
DONOVAN:Well, I suppose the first responsibility was to appoint the managing editors, if necessary fire them or move them around or early retire them, but basically appointing the managing editors, I think was the biggest single responsibility of the editor-in-chief. When I started we had four magazines, four major magazines, plus a very large Time-Life Books Division, and various lesser publications, Life in Spanish, Life International, Architectural Forum, House and Home, and so on, then in the 70s we started major new magazines, People, Money, so over the course of my 15 years as editor-in-chief, I appointed 14 managing editors, in some cases 2 in succession on one magazine. And I think that was my greatest responsibility. I never had to fire one. I nudged a few of them off stage, perhaps a little sooner than they would have done.
Then the editor-in-chief has an ongoing responsibility for basically the editorial content of all the magazines. Obviously he can't read more than a tiny fraction of it before it goes to press. I used to read and have a very close, clear understanding of the various managing editors. What kind of thing I did want to have a look at before it went to press, and these might be major policy stories in Time in areas of foreign or national policy or in Fortune or the Life editorial page or articles were very sensitive because they touched kind of the borderlines of wherever taste and propriety was at that point, and those borderlines, as you know, are, were and are constantly moving around.
I remember a Time cover story on Marlon Brando and the movie of his of the "Last Tango in Paris" in the early 70s, which would be considered practically Sunday school fare today, but was a shocker at the time, and I think Time got something like eight or nine thousand letters of protest, about half of which were cancellations, and it was not basically so much the content of the story, but just the idea of putting this man on the cover of Time brought this vile thing. I would even get letters from friends of my parents in Minnesota saying, you know, "I've known your parents for 50 years, such wonderful people, they must be mortified", that kind of thing. Well, those probings of wherever the limits of taste are, were also one of the things I wanted to be informed of or possibly have a look at before they went to press. New departments or changes in the format or structure of the magazine, I wanted to be in on, major appointments within the magazines, departmental editors, assistant managing editors, very important not only in the present tense, but for whatever is the pool of possible successors that is being created.
LAMB: Did you ever, did you get a sense that you, you lead the news or followed the news?
DONOVAN:Both. I don't think you, you don't want to lead it by too far, you don't want to be obsessed with something that people aren't ready to care about yet, ideally to be a little ahead is the best position.
LAMB: Thinking back to some of those famous cover stories that Time magazine had during the years you were editor-in-chief of the magazines, which ones beside the Marlon Brando cover, do you remember having some significant impact?
DONOVAN:Well, I think during Watergate, a number that we published and over the course of Watergate we published perhaps 50 or more cover stories, some of them I think had some definite impact on public opinion and on congressional opinion, you know, it's, these things are symbiotic and feed on each other, but I think in political terms, those were influential stories. One that was done on theology, again I think late in the 1960s, which on the cover slug said, "Is God dead?", this actually was taking off from a fairly well-known line from Neitzsche, a great many readers thought we were saying, “God is dead," and that drew about as much mail as Marlon Brando. It was in fact a, a fascinating report on the new and newish theologies, and both within the Protestant and Catholic churches, more striking in Germany, Switzerland, and elsewhere in Europe than in the United States, but I think highly informative. A great many clergyman, among other devout people, told us they thought it was great and, and highly informative.
LAMB: How about those covers, how, how did you decide to put something on the cover, were you involved in every Time magazine conference?
DONOVAN:Oh, certainly not in every conference. That would be a physical impossibility.
LAMB: No. I mean before the cover.
DONOVAN:No. But the managing editor, he and I would have conversations several times during a week, perhaps many times, but a fairly standard exchange between us around Monday or Tuesday on what are the cover plans. And then he would say, "Well, we're thinking of so and so." that might change during the week as more pressing news made something else more compelling, but if he, if he changed his ideas about what it should be, he would have to, he would check that with me, and especially toward the end of a week's cycle, Friday, when cover changes get pretty expensive in terms of tearing up old covers, I mean not old, but covers that are already printed with a date on them. So in terms of paper cost, printer's overtime and so on, some of those decisions could run in the one to two hundred thousand dollar zone, which was more money then than now, and those had to be cleared with me.
LAMB: Is the cover of Time magazine as important today as it was in 1965?
DONOVAN:You mean in the general field of journalism, does it have as much impact?
LAMB: Just power, ability to influence.
DONOVAN:I would suspect a little less because I think there are so many other computing images, and I mean images in the broadest sense, out there. But, I think still it has impact. The editors have shifted the cover formula considerably in that today it's much more often a subject rather than an individual, as illustrated by graphics or some form of art or photography montage or whatever, as opposed to the single head.
LAMB: What about political careers, did you sense that you could kick somebody's political career off on a national basis at any point?
DONOVAN:We never consciously tried to do that, certainly not in my day. I think the last political candidate that Time, in effect Time, Inc. made, was Wendell Wilkie back in 1940 and that was really accomplished more through Fortune than Time. The closest we came in my years as editor-in-chief was not intentional at all, but after the, I believe 1970, midterm gubernatorial elections in various states. About four of the southern states had come up with interesting sounding, fresh governors, who didn't sound like George Wallace and were quite progressive and enlightened people, one of whom was Jimmy Carter.
We considered a cover, we agreed that would be a good cover subject, these new southern governors, and we considered doing the four of them, I think, South Carolina, West perhaps, I've forgotten who all four were, but... And then the chief of our Atlanta bureau, of course Wallace was quite persuasive, that we really should make it Carter and we could tell about the others along the way in the Carter story. So we did. And this was the first national attention that Carter ever had, and he later attributed much of subsequent events to, to that cover. It certainly was not our plan in doing it that way, but...
LAMB: When you went to work for him for a year or so, did, did that have anything to do with the connection you made early with him?
DONOVAN:Not really. When we were doing that first cover, we had a lunch in the Time and Life Building in New York, where Carter was our guest, and he impressed us all as an interesting cover figure and he was quotable and likeable. That was the first time I had ever met him. And then he did become Governor and I saw him a few times during that period, a few times afterward when he was cranking up to run for President. But we were by no means intimate friends or buddies, and I suppose ... At the time he asked me to come to work in the White House, I might have had perhaps eight meetings with him over the previous eight years or some such.
LAMB: What did you think of that experience?
DONOVAN:The White House experience? It was enormously interesting and it was also frustrating. I was there as a so-called senior advisor to the President and I had no direct operational responsibilities. And he invited me to talk very freely with him about any aspect of national or international policy, about people in the government, my impressions of them and he, he certainly made good on that. He initiated a number of these conversations with me while I was in the White House and listened very patiently.
But a person with no operational field tends to get a little isolated within the White House staff and I was not a card carrying Democrat. I was a political independent, which was well-known to Carter and his staff, and as the 1980 election approached, there was a little isolation in being the only senior staff member who was not beating their brains out to try to get the man reelected. That leads to other staff people tending to wonder, "What's this guy doing here at all?" and then if some of them, for perfectly natural reasons, have been much closer to the President over years, their feeling gets back to him, even though it was he who appointed the advisor in the first place and set up the job that way. So it was somewhat frustrating, I didn't expect to have enormous influence, but I expected to have somewhat more than I did.
LAMB: Did you change your opinion about the Presidency itself, the closer you got to it?
DONOVAN:Well, I think when you see it from the inside, no matter how much you thought about it, read about it, covered it as a journalist from the outside, it's different. You're, you're experiencing it and this was very vivid to me during the Iran hostage crisis. To a journalist, though you would deplore the plight of the hostages and the grief imposed on their families and the, the humiliation imposed on the United States, still it's a very exciting story and the adrenaline begins to pump and if you're the editor of Time or Newsweek, you consider switching your cover that week and these are journalist reflexes that carry a lot of professional excitement.
So, it's a big, big story and that affects a journalist in quite a different way from the way it affects the people who have to handle it as a problem. At the end of a week inside the White House, where particularly if you're in a position reasonably close to the President, you sense all of the frustration and difficulty of this dilemma. You may feel utterly exhausted and drained at the end of the week and no progress has been made on the situation at all. Maybe you've even lost ground. Where outside, to the press corps, it's been a very interesting week. They've had good stories every day and, and a lot of editorials and think pieces about whose fault was it, and so, it's the difference between a story and a problem. And although we know that in general, looking from the outside, it becomes more vivid to you when you live with it in that building.
LAMB: In your book, you list -- I'm looking for it in the epilogue, I believe you listed and maybe it was the chapter before I, no here it is. You say that “Ralph Graves and I compared book writing torments.” Who is Ralph Graves?
DONOVAN:Ralph was the managing editor of the old weekly Life, the last four or five years of it's existence. He had been my deputy as, deputy to me while I was editor-in-chief, then was a very close colleague and friend. But he had written a couple of novels as a young man, and then as soon as he, and even in his last year or two as editorial director of Time, Inc., he was working during vacations on a novel and he finished it quite promptly after his retirement. Then he has finished another since, so that's four he has done and now he's working on a fifth. So he is a much more serious book writer than I am.
LAMB: Well, the reason I brought it up is you said you've got a list of 10 things here, including among them, write every day, write at the same time every day, write in the same place every day. Children, colleagues, friends, and telephones are not permitted during writing hours. Have a martini at the end of each writing session.
LAMB: Does that really work for you?
DONOVAN:Well, as I note in there, I didn't do that.
LAMB: I know, but did you try?
DONOVAN:I credited him with his rules. Well, not very hard. I don't like to be bound by that stern a schedule, and that's probably why I've only written two books while Ralph has done four and one-half. No, I don't want to be forced to get up at the same hour every morning and go to a study and write from 9:00 to 1:30, and I'd rather do it when I feel like it and not do it when I don't feel like it.
LAMB: When did you find that you were the most productive?
DONOVAN:Well, I suppose like most people, in the morning. But I didn't feel I was unproductive in the afternoon, if I felt like doing it.
LAMB: Did I note somewhere where you wrote everything out in longhand?
DONOVAN:Yes, pretty much.
LAMB: Why that over the typewriter?
DONOVAN:Well, I use a typewriter occasionally and when I was a reporter, of course I used it all the time. I became comfortable with the longhand and I suppose having been spoiled by a succession of very good secretaries, it's pleasant to write it out and give it to the secretary to type. I had one brief grapple with a word processor, but we didn't get along too well.
LAMB: Are you a fast writer?
DONOVAN:I can be if, if it's running good, yes.
LAMB: When, how long did it take you to do your memoirs?
DONOVAN:Well, allowing for not following Ralph Graves's rules, so it wasn't solid, continuous work, I would say I was at it for two and one-half years off and on.
LAMB: And, what would you hope would come from the publication? By the way, is a $27.95 book, expensive book? What do you hope will come from this, the book?
DONOVAN:Well, why, why does anybody write their memoirs? I suppose a certain measure of vanity.
LAMB: What do you hope that people will learn from it?
DONOVAN:Well, I hope they would learn something about journalism. Maybe something about various past times and places in America.
LAMB: Who taught you how to write?
DONOVAN:Well, I'd say I had very good teachers in the public schools in Minneapolis and my mother had also been an English teacher and gave some pretty advice along the way. At Oxford I had a couple of tutors who put great stress on the writing quality of your essays as being almost more important than the factual content. That had quite an influence on me. And then my four or five years on the Washington Post, I had to write fast under a deadline, and a lot of it wouldn't merit inclusion in anthologies. But, I think there is no comparable discipline for having to just turn it out.
LAMB: Is this a photograph of your parents?
LAMB: Is this a photograph of your parents right here?
LAMB: What influence did they have on your life?
DONOVAN:Well, as I mentioned, my mother had considerable influence. We were a very work oriented family. Everybody liked to write for the school paper and write letters and write what they hoped were funny things and we read a lot as a family.
LAMB: What did your dad do?
DONOVAN:He was a mining engineer, but a very good letter writer and a good writer even in technical journals of, he would include quite vivid and interesting color and detail. A good eye for detail and, and people. So I, I'm sure that had some influence on both, my brother and, and sister were both involved as I was in student publications in Minnesota. Then my brother went into advertising and my teacher became, my sister became a college English teacher. So there is a word weakness there. Two of my three children are in journalism. One of my sister's children is in journalism and one is a librarian, so there is something there.
LAMB: Where are your children in journalism?
DONOVAN:My younger is a senior editor at People, my daughter in Boston as a deputy managing editor of the Boston Globe, and my older son is a banker. The black sheep.
LAMB: Back to Minnesota, how did your parents get to Minnesota?
DONOVAN:By being born there.
LAMB: How did ...
DONOVAN:Well, their -- I'm sorry.
LAMB: What, how far back does it go in the?
DONOVAN:My grandmother on my mother's side was born, also born in Minnesota and at the time she was born, she was one of, one of the first babies in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her husband was born in Canada. He was of Scots Irish origin and she was mainly of Scots. My father's father was born in Ohio and so was my father's mother. And there, those families have mainly been in this country for quite a while, starting in the 18th century. Not on the Mayflower, but arriving in New York and Pennsylvania in the mid 1700s.
LAMB: You said earlier about "Right Times, Right Places, Right Times", and one of those right places was Minnesota, what, what's special about Minnesota?
DONOVAN:Well, I think it was, it was a state for one thing, that put an enormous emphasis on education and the strong Scandinavian and German presence in the population, I think gave a kind of earnestness and industry to the residents and their children. The, as a result, in part, the public schools were excellent, the university was excellent and the state legislature had a policy that any child in the state who graduated from a Minnesota high school, must be admitted to the University of Minnesota, if they wanted to go, and tuition of course was incredibly cheap in the 1930s.
But then the state, the government having granted this opportunity, in a very characteristic follow through, had a very tough policy about throwing people out. And so after this huge freshman would be admitted, they would be flunked by the hundreds during freshman year, so there was no coddling them once they got there, but they should have the opportunity to be there. Well, that was a very characteristic attitude in that state at that time. I think if education was kind of the secular religion in Minnesota and the university was really the pinnacle of the faith. It was, you know, it was the most powerful and respected institution in the state. Much more so than any corporation or bank.
LAMB: How did you get to Oxford?
DONOVAN:On a Rhodes scholarship.
LAMB: How did you get that?
DONOVAN:Well, it's a kind of strenuous competition. At that time, this is still pretty much the way it's done. Each educational institution in a state can have a certain number of nominees for the scholarship in a given year. The year I was running for it, there were, I think the state of Minnesota was allowed 12 places in the first round and the University of Minnesota was allowed 5. Then there were several very good private, small colleges in Minnesota including Carlton, St. Olaf, I think they were allowed one a piece, and then there was an allowance of places for young men from Minnesota who were attending college elsewhere, so that somebody who was, say, at MIT or Stanford or Yale, somebody from Minnesota, might figure his chances were better running in Minnesota than in Massachusetts or California. And they probably were better.
So, you would get this mix among the dozen students, as I said -- mainly seniors or juniors at Minnesota institutions, and then a few Minnesota boys who had gone east or west to school. Those 12 would meet with a committee, a selection committee, over a day or two, these were at the University of Minnesota, and those 12 would be narrowed down to two. So that was a fairly rigorous competition. Then the two from Minnesota and two from each of five other middle-western states, would assemble for the regional finals, which in my year happened in Des Moines, Iowa. So the 12 of us very excited, nervous, young men, met all day in Des Moines with a committee, partly former Rhodes scholars, partly just citizens, interviewed each of us at length.
They already of course had quite a file of material on each of us. Then my day in Des Moines, a further tension was that just before we went out to dinner, the 12 of us, making friends with each other, and huddling together for warmth, the committee asked by name that three of them be ready to come back for a second round as soon as we came back from dinner. Well, of course the 12 of us spent most of dinner speculating what this meant. Did that mean those three were virtually in, or what. It meant for a kind of nervous meal. So then we came back at whatever hour we were told to and the committee interviewed the three for a second round, deliberated among themselves for quite a while, then came out about midnight or 1:00 A.M., as I recall, and read off the names of the four who were getting the scholarship.
Once they had read the names off, it became clear that those three were in contention for the last of the four places the committee hadn't quite decided on. So that was a very long day. I in subsequent years have served on the New York State Selection Committee, where we're winnowing down, oh, maybe 15 or 20 candidates. Very impressive candidates, from Columbia, NYU, West Point, Cornell, quite a rich gathering of candidates, for just two places, and even those two won't necessarily get the scholarship. They will represent New York, and that I have found almost as, as difficult as, as being a candidate because these people are so good and as a former Rhodes scholar, you know very well this is going to have quite an influence on all those 20 lives, whether they get it or not, and how you decide who to turn down. I found it excruciating. Usually the committee, after looking over all the paperwork, all the resumes of all these people, would agree that six or seven or eight really aren't quite of the same caliber as the rest. That's the least painful part and you get a general agreement, okay let's eliminate those, although you may have holdouts in the committee, oh, no let's, let's have another look there. Then, then you're down to very good people and inevitably some of them impress particular committee members even more than others.
LAMB: What's the impact of having a Rhodes scholarship on someone's life? In other words, if you hadn't gone to Oxford, do you think you have taken a different course in your life?
DONOVAN:Well, I don't know specifically what course I would have taken, but I think right away it's a tremendous boost for anybody's career in almost any field, and in that sense you've had the maximum benefit from it the day you're appointment, which really matters more in the rest of your life in some ways than the two or three years at Oxford, which indeed is a very rich experience. But certainly in academic life, I think in journalism, in business, being a Rhodes scholar is a very good credential, a good line in anybody's resume. And the line of course includes that people know that an Oxford education is an interesting experience and presumably an enlargement of this person's capacities. We have seen, to my delight, in the last ten or fifteen years, the Rhodes scholarship obviously become a very good credential in politics. There are now, I forget, either five or six United States Senators, Rhodes scholars. Well, that's a pretty high percentage of the Senate, and a number in Congress. Where I think once, a generation or two ago, a more common, perhaps more provincial attitude would have been, "Well, I don't know, what's this, what's this guy from Oxford gonna do for this district?"
LAMB: In looking through the book, there are a lot of pictures of you with world leaders, I see Alexi. I'll show the audience here in just a second, Mr. Kruschev, and, and several others. Of all those world leaders, which one impressed you the most, that you met over the years, or which ones?
DONOVAN:Well, at the time I met him, I was tremendously impressed with Deng Xiapong, whatever his backslidings in the final two or three years of his political career. He did a lot to move China off the Maoist failure and indeed some of the movement that was stirring around in Bejing and other cities this spring. In a sense it's the product of his fairly liberal policies, starting eight or ten years ago, and the fact, the important, enormously important role of the students in the demonstrations had it's origins really in Deng Xiapong, loosening up tremendously, restrictions on students studying abroad, and especially in the United States, so it came back to him in ways that he perhaps didn't expect, but in many ways he was the instigator of what broke out there.
Now, as it turns out, tragically, he was also the suppressor of it, but I can't believe that's for very long. But, I would consider him a major historical figure. Kruschev seemed to be, at the time I met him, because he was moving the Soviet Union fairly far off Stalinism, and there was quite a liberalization or thaw, as it was then called, within the Soviet Union, in terms of what people could say.
They stopped shipping people off to the gulag wholesale and there was a relative, by comparison with Stalin, there was certainly a very enlightened Soviet regime. But then, he only lasted in, in complete power for five or six years, and I think a lot of what he had accomplished internally was undone gradually under Breszhnev, so he has had less lasting influence, and again, we will wait indeed to see what happens with Gorbachev, but whom I have never met. But, if he can make some of this stick, he will certainly be a tremendous figure for this whole decade or century.
LAMB: How important did those leaders that you met, the Shah of Iran is in here and a lot of others, how important did they think Time magazine was, did you ever get a sense of..
DONOVAN:Oh, they thought it was very important, and I think it's reasonable to say they wouldn't have bothered to see me if they didn't. And, I don't mean this as far as Time's domestic reputation, but in some ways it was even better known abroad among leaders, and Jack Kennedy complained once that after he had been to Paris and had some, I guess not entirely easy sessions with de Gaulle, that everybody, everybody in Europe, meaning everybody in governments and the top ranks of business, seemed to think all they had to do was read Time and the New York Times and they understood the United States. He didn't say this to me, I think he said it to the publisher of the New Yorks Times. I said to one of our correspondents, who was on quite friendly terms with Kennedy and whom I thought might rely the comment back, that given that these people don't have indefinite quantities of time, small time at their disposal, and if that's what they're reading, the Times and Time magazine, I think they're doing pretty well. Whether it got conveyed to Kennedy or not, I don't know.
LAMB: You do write in your book that Jack Kennedy got good treatment in Time magazine prior to even running for the office, what was that about?
DONOVAN:Well he got especially good treatment in Life magazine. He and Jackie were a great Life story, and indeed he said and Ted Kennedy subsequently said that Life's coverage of Jack had quite a lot to do with building him up as a presidential candidate. That was not Life's intention, but it had that consequence. He was a real cover boy and Jackie enhanced the cover. Time, during the 1950s, when Jack was a Congressman and then Senator, gave him reasonably friendly coverage, but certainly it wasn't treating him necessarily as a presidential possibility. And I think it did point out more than once that he was not among the most diligent members of the Senate. His name was not connected with any legislation or major hearings.
When he did get the nomination, then Time, I think, gave very objective, balanced coverage to the contest between Kennedy and Nixon. Kennedy thought we did. This was influenced partly by the fact that Joe Kennedy, Sr. was a very good friend of Harry Luce's. It was influenced by the fact I that had become editorial director and didn't want Time to seem as partisan as it sometimes had, and though we endorsed Nixon on the Life editorial page, we did it in a way that was very friendly and admiring of Kennedy. We spoke well of both people and our argument was that Nixon basically was more experienced, which indeed he was. But that I would say got us off to a good start with, with the Kennedy administration when it came in and the fact that Kennedy had been elected by such a narrow margin, as compared with Eisenhower's landslides, in a sense gave Time more influence with Kennedy than we had with Eisenhower, though we were known as all out supporters of Eisenhower.
But partly because of that, Eisenhower didn't feel any particular need to cultivate Time or Time, Inc. or Harry Luce after he was president and if Time got mad at him, there were plenty of other publishers who weren't. But Kennedy needed every area and base of support he could find and he, of course liked, and thinking instantly of re-election, and he wanted Time's support, Luce's support, Time, Inc. support, for whatever objectives his administration arrived at, but also for his personal political backing. He became very indignant at a Time reconstruction of the Bay of Pigs episode, which was an extra based on a much longer piece on the same subject in Fortune, and he really exploded at this, and sent his then personal military advisor, General Maxwell Taylor, to New York to argue with us and we had quite a set-to. Taylor eventually, in effect, conceded that almost all our points were accurate, but one or two might be matters of interpretation. I know he was not looking forward to reporting that back to the President. But then it all died down and quite soon Kennedy had done something, I don't remember which specifically, that we spoke favorably of, and on the Life editorial page, particularly the time of the Cuban missile crisis, in both Life and Time, we were very admiring of his handling of the situation.
LAMB: Which politicians, from your experience, read Time the closest?
DONOVAN:I think perhaps Kennedy. He was a terrific reader of magazines and newspapers, and of course journalists like to be read, so right away that, that's a point in his favor, that he's reading you. Eisenhower certainly didn't, on anything like the same scale, and once when somebody asked him how he could be so serene or calm in the face of great wave of press criticism that was going on about something, he said, "Well, my secret is that I don't read the papers."
LAMB: Did you..
DONOVAN:Roosevelt read them with fairly close attention. Lyndon Johnson certainly did, and he would latch on to both anything unfavorable and bear a grudge about that for weeks, but also something favorable. He would tear it out and put it in his pocket and show it to visitors.
LAMB: I don't want to put words in your mouth, but you start this book by suggesting that FDR may have been the single most powerful or impressive or, you explain what you said, "A President on this town in your lifetime".
DONOVAN:He was the dominant figure in this town in a way that subsequent Presidents have not been, partly because the town was simpler, smaller, the press was a totally different animal, television didn't exist, the press was not necessarily entirely committed to supporting FDR, but, there was an old-fashioned respect for the Presidency and the White House and from perhaps a simpler, patriotic age, and Roosevelt by style felt utterly at ease, to say the least, in being President.
So his presence was Presidential, in a way that Ike perhaps mastered for different reasons. He didn't have the instantly impressive personality, but he, his past accomplishments, he had already done something which he felt, with some justice, was about as big as being President of the United States. So he certainly didn't lack in confidence. But, so the President of the United States today, in a sense, has more power than FDR had partly because of the nuclear bomb and the whole national security situation at his command, Franklin Roosevelt had nothing like that and had to slog every single defense measure through Congress, sometimes by painfully thin margins, he did not have the ability to just order something and explain it later to Congress in general, but his personality was such, that's what I meant, that he was the most commanding presidential figure in Washington, that I've seen.
LAMB: I just showed the audience a picture of Mr. Luce and you together. In the history of Time, Inc., how many editors-in-chief have there been?
DONOVAN:Four. I was number two. My successor was Henry Grunwald, who served about eight years and his successor is man named Jason McManus, who has been in office about two years.
LAMB: And, you write about the church and state issue.
LAMB: Explain that.
DONOVAN:Well, in the metaphor, church is the editorial side of the company, state is the business side, and state isn't supposed to monkey around with church. In my years as editor-in-chief, I had a very, very close and warm relationship with the top state people, though a lot of things we did utterly informally and conversationally, that didn't pay any particular attention to stated boundary lines, they would ask my advice and opinion on all sorts of decisions that were within their jurisdiction by our constitution, I would ask their opinions, perhaps on fewer things, but I would certainly inform them of important things or decisions that were coming up from the editorial side.
The original intent was that in the magazines the editors should be protected from any advertising or business pressure, and if an eager advertising sales staff of one of the magazines was trying to land a big account, and there may be several million dollars riding on it, it's very distressing to them naturally, if the editorial columns of their magazine come out with some attack on the company. But it can happen, and during the years I was managing editor of Fortune, this distinction was enormously important because Fortune's subject matter, being business, every article we wrote had to do with either a present advertiser or a potential advertiser or an angry ex-advertiser, and it was imperative that it should not be possible to influence the editor and editorial judgments by this business considerations. And that was true to, true, just as true in the other magazines except they didn't have the problem in quite such intense form as Fortune, because they were often writing about people or things that didn't, that didn't advertise there.
LAMB: The editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., serves on the board of directors?
LAMB: Did that create a problem for you at any time?
DONOVAN:No, quite the contrary. It was, it was an integral part of his position that he should be on the board of directors. The, and he was responsible only to the board. He was not responsible to the CEO, who was his partner on the, on the same level, running their two respective spheres of the company. The CEO was responsible to the board, as the editor-in-chief was. The board could theoretically fire the editor-in-chief, but didn't.
LAMB: Do you still follow Time closely?
DONOVAN:Well, naturally not as closely as I once did, but I pay some attention, yes.
LAMB: There was criticism recently during the merger of Time and Warner that Time magazine wasn't very aggressive in it's coverage of that subject. Did you agree with that criticism?
DONOVAN:Well, I think that was a tough call. They, they could, or course, have done a very substantial story easily. I think it was, despite some embarrassment, better not to do it the first week, where it might appear in the magazine almost as kind of a propaganda piece in favor of something that obviously was going to be quite controversial. As Time magazine buckled down to continuing coverage of it, I thought they did a very good job and it was very seldom that you could, as a reader pick up and say, "That's why they say that." And now, I don't know if you've seen the recent Fortune article on the deal -- a really brilliant reconstruction and very detached as far as it's point of view -- you'd be hardpressed to think of this as any kind of company propaganda.
LAMB: Is there sometime a bending over backwards to the point where you may be more critical of your company?
DONOVAN:Yes. It happens and I think there's a bending over backward, perhaps, not to be critical of your own company, but to be respectful of the competition and not to say something that might be interpreted as self-interest.
LAMB: Last question. What's the future of Time magazine, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, and People, magazines in general, as it relates to the new television age?
DONOVAN:You mean in 30 seconds?
LAMB: No, you got two minutes.
DONOVAN:Two minutes. I think it's very good, and I think the new television age is an enormous enhancement of people's, not People magazine, the American people's access to information and to very vivid treatments of information, the kind of coverage we all were fascinated by with the Berlin and what's been going on in Eastern Europe, absolutely unforgettable on TV, which I don't think by any means puts print out of business.
I still have to, these days, spend maybe an hour and one-half just to get through the New York Times, in, in part because the world is so interesting these days, and my interest, if anything is whetted by what I saw on television last night. And I think by the same functional role, the news magazines still have a lot to contribute to understanding of these events. And the different time spans that are involved, what you're can deliver almost instantly, live on the screen, is one tremendously exciting dimension. What you can say 12 hours later in the New York Times is a different level and quality of information, and what you can say in Time magazine maybe six days later. Likewise, I don't think any of them put the other out of business.
LAMB: Our guest for the last hour, Hedley Donovan, writer of this book, "Right Places, Right Times: Forty Years in Journalism Not Counting My Paper Route" Thank you for joining us.
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