A Personal Rift At Time Magazine That Went Public


By Thomas Griffith

Random House, 340 pp, $24

There is a good story in any friendship that endures for decades and survives rift and reconciliation. What makes ''Harry and Teddy: The Turbulent Friendship of Press Lord Henry R. Luce and His Favorite Reporter, Theodore H. White,'' different from the run-of-the-mill is that their rift was not only public: It had public consequences.

China brought Harry and Teddy together; and it was China that drove them apart.

Luce was the son of Presbyterian missionaries, born and raised in China. Following his graduation from Yale, he hit upon the idea for a weekly news magazine. Time magazine was born in 1923, and it was from the start a different sort of journalism -- journalism that delivered not just a summary of the week's events, but perspective and point of view as well.

Teddy White was a child of the Boston Jewish ghetto, a scholarship kid at Harvard who majored in Chinese studies and went to work for Luce's Time as its China correspondent in 1938.

''[T]o be an editor was to be an educator, at times even a preacher,'' Luce believed. The preaching he did in his magazine on the country of his birth was that Chiang Kai-shek, China's ruler, was a great and enlightened leader, a man destined to win ''greater influence than any other single being of our age.''

Teddy White shared Luce's view at the beginning -- he was the man who wrote those glowing words -- but as World War II went on, White's view changed.

It became the same as the view held by the man in charge of Allied forces in the China-Burma-India theater, American general Joseph Stilwell -- that Chiang was in truth a brutal dictator, indifferent to the suffering of the Chinese people, far more interested in using the Allied resources in China to fend off the communist opposition than in fighting the Japanese.

Luce, together with Time's foreign editor Whittaker Chambers, was having none of it. While hardly blind to Chiang's flaws, Luce, ever the missionary's son, believed him to be China's best hope for Christianity and democracy.

When Stilwell was sacked because of an inability to get along with Chiang, White's dispatch from China blasted the Chinese ruler. Time's heavily edited final story praised him.

So distorted were White's filings from China that he became the object of ridicule. Once, when he was reporting with a colleague from Chinese Army headquarters, he overheard one officer say to another: ''It's safe to tell them anything. Time doesn't print what they send anyway.''

And as Time was the only significant American newspaper or magazine providing any considered reporting on China -- the rest of American journalism was preoccupied with Europe -- America's views on China were colored by Luce's rose-colored glasses. At the very least the fall of China to the communists, which helped to poison the American political climate in the 1950s, would have been far less of a surprise had Luce exercised some journalistic responsibility.

White reluctantly left Time in 1945 and set the record straight in ''Thunder Out of China.'' It was White's first book. Luce took it as an act of betrayal. Their friendship appeared over. And yet, despite their disagreements, the affection between them was deep. A Paris meeting in 1952 began the road to reconciliation.

Author Thomas Griffith, a Luce editor for more than 30 years, knew both Luce and White. He tells his story with sympathy and affection for both men, and for the magazines to which they all brought such distinction.

Written with the same sparkle and passion that has always marked the best of Time's writing, the story of the Luce-White relationship is but a part of the wider picture. Every bit as fascinating is Griffith's look at the evolution of Time and the sea changes in American politics and journalism through the 1940s, '50s, and '60s.

Time was changing then. It was becoming more responsible than it was in Luce's heyday; but, as Griffith makes clear, it was bereft of something as well. ''Like the rest of American journalism, the Luce magazines were becoming fairer, freer of partisanship, and devoid of passion. In time they would become part of a vast conglomerate whose primary goal was profit, and whose primary interest was entertainment,'' he writes. That Griffith's epitaph is perhaps inevitable and undoubtedly preferable to the alternative does not make it any less melancholy.

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