A Confederacy of Dunces

by Michael Walsh

During my years at Time magazine, roughly 1981–1996, the entire Time Inc. empire held fast to one core conviction: that, quoting Jefferson’s famous letter to the Danbury Baptists, there ought to be a “wall of separation” between Church and State — that is, between the editorial side of the company and its business side. That separation was rigorously enforced by the then-editor-in-chief, Henry Grunwald, and Time’s great managing editor, Ray Cave.

In other words, something like this would never have happened:

The beginning of the end came when Time Inc. ”merged” with Warner Communications in 1989, a fateful decision that led to the end of the Time Inc. magazines’ editorial independence, putting them to the service of Warner’s larger corporate interests. The process was gradual but — as the unfortunate cover so graphically illustrates — eventually complete.

When the definitive history of the decline and fall of institutional journalism is written, the Time-Warner merger will loom large. And don’t even get me started on the worst merger in corporate history to which it in turn led, the handiwork of a veritable confederacy of dunces whose failure was utterly predictable at every level of the company except the suit level.

UPDATE: Most of the comments below completely miss the point: that with the breakdown of the wall between editorial and advertising at Time Inc. (not just at Time Magazine) , journalism became subordinated to marketing, leading to such unfortunate events as this regrettable Batman cover. Obviously, the editors at EW (full disclosure: I was the first music critic of Entertainment Weekly) could not have predicted the ghastly events in Aurora; and, yes, the Batman movie would have warranted considerable coverage. But before the various mergers, editors would contort themselves not to be seen plugging obvious commercial conflicts of interests; after them, they became simple cogs in the vast p.r. machine.

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