At 51, Time Inc. exec Ann Moore is in the catbird seat. Last year, as a result of the AOL Time Warner merger, the value of her AOL stock reportedly passed the $1 million mark; then in June, she gained control of both ‘People’ and ‘Time.’ But at a November 15 panel convened by the ‘Columbia Journalism Review,’ Moore got bad reviews all around.
“All of our brands are just extraordinary,” chirped the woman who, as president of People, launched the spin-offs InStyle, Teen People, and Real Simple. Seemingly unaware that dozens of news editors had turned out to hear a frank appraisal of the state of journalism today, she praised the hard-hitting work of Teen People and compared the new thumbnail obits in The New York Times to a “mini-People magazine.” Alarms went off when she called People “the most successful magazine in the world.”
“What exactly is your definition of success?” asked moderator Bill Moyers.
“People has 35 million readers,” Moore crowed, and the $2.99 cover price makes it the “single most expensive newsweekly in America.” With that kind of revenue, she said, a quality product is guaranteed.
Moyers turned conspiratorially to Katherine Boo, an investigative reporter at The Washington Post who won a Pulitzer last year. “How do you define success?”
“My definition of success is what the market doesn’t bear!” said Boo with a toss of her blond mane. She cited as a model The Chicago Tribune‘s 1999 exposé of errors in Illinois’s administration of the death penalty, a story that triggered a systemic review.
Boo was not the only one to bristle at Moore’s boosterism. Earlier, when Moyers asked if there had been a downside to the layoffs at CNN, Moore praised CNN CEO Walter Isaacson, calling his credentials “really impeccable. It makes me happy, as a shareholder, to know he’s there.”
In response, Joan Konner, a former dean of the Columbia Journalism School, scolded Moore for offering the “corporate catechism” and declared: “Big media companies are answering to the needs of Wall Street and not the needs of the public.”
Even New York Times managing editor Gerald Boyd slipped in a dis. Ever the diplomat, he intervened between Boo and Moore, saying, “I guess our role tonight is to beat up on each other, but I’m feeling a little gentler.” Later, he added, “There may be people who are crazy about People magazine . . . I’m not one of them.”
In an interview, Moore responded to her critics, calling them “arrogant” for making fun of People. She said “everybody on the panel seemed to have their own agenda”—including a young man who came up afterward, asking, “How much do you get paid to peddle such nefariously misguided information?”
Moore insisted that the Times obits do look like People (“wonderful delicious details about ordinary people”) and said that Boyd is “wrong and a little bit arrogant if he thinks otherwise.”
Of Konner, she said, “I don’t think she had anything to back up her claim that consolidation has been bad for anybody.”
As for Boo, “She’s a young reporter and it was wrong for her to dismiss the rest of us as lightweight.” Moore suggested that investigative stories work because the newspapers that publish them have strong circulation and a business model that protects them. Repeating her mantra, she said, “The mark of success for me is that readers are so engaged by what they’re reading that they’re willing to pay. I was confused as to why that was offensive.”
Moore did learn one thing from the experience: Choose your social engagements wisely. “I was missing another event that night. At the panel, I thought, these people are angry about something, and I’d rather be at the Teen People party with my girls.”
Summer of ’42
Perhaps as a patriotic gesture, The New York Times has omitted an unpleasant bit of World War II history, specifically, the existence of a government agency that routinely reviewed film scripts and bullied Hollywood to produce patriotic films.
The omission occurred November 11, when the Times‘ Rick Lyman reported a new wartime collaboration between Hollywood execs and the White House—nothing involving content, they insist, just a wish list for Hollywood to produce PSAs and send celebs abroad to entertain the troops. To be sure, Lyman referred to a similar “partnership” that developed in the 1940s. But he didn’t report the partnership’s name—the Bureau of Motion Pictures—or its role in the Office of War Information (OWI).
Six months after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Roosevelt administration set up the OWI as a propaganda agency, with divisions assigned to radio, press, and so on. Under the leadership of St. Petersburg Times publisher Nelson Poynter, the film bureau produced documentaries, reviewed scripts, and issued a guide for filmmakers (first question: “Will this picture help win the war?”).
“Some studios took [the bureau] more seriously than others,” says Gregory Black, coauthor with Clayton Koppes of Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits, and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies. But the effect on films of the 1940s was hard to miss. “All the allies were made to appear just like America,” says Black, “while all the enemies were made to appear fascist.” The U.S. was romantically depicted as a place that gives African Americans equal treatment.
Black’s book received a favorable review in the Times in 1987. But since then, it seems to have been forgotten. On November 12, in a follow-up article, Lyman quoted White House adviser Karl Rove saying that in the 1940s, “The government did not direct the movie industry . . . the industry sort of set its own course.”
Lyman said he had not read the book, adding, “Rove was either unaware of the depth of the bureaucrats’ involvement . . . or he was going out of his way to cast it in the most favorable light.”
The New York Post has a new managing editor—Colin Myler, a Fleet Street veteran who resigned as the editor of London’s Sunday Mirror last April after an unusual plot twist. At the height of a trial involving an alleged beating by two soccer stars, his paper published a splashy interview with the victim’s father, causing the trial to be canceled. The Mirror‘s owners admitted that the story could have prejudiced jurors, a breach of England’s contempt laws for which they face a stiff fine. The mere prospect of a financial penalty caused the company’s stock value to drop by 40 million pounds, according to the Times of London.
Depending on who tells the story, Myler either emerges as a hero who defied antiquated press laws, or a gambler who takes ethical risks. Rupert Murdoch has never been averse to the latter, so why should he care if Myler cost his employer a fortune? Since the Sunday Mirror competes with Murdoch’s News of the World, he has every reason to want to see it suffer.