Friday, February 20, 2015

The Sunday New York Times, February 1965 and February 2015

Reading last Sunday's New York Times, I noticed an announcement in the magazine of a new format, and that set me thinking about long-term changes in that venerable newspaper and how they reflected changes in our society as a whole.  I decided to compare two Sunday editions:  February 17, 1965--half a century ago--and February 15, 2015.  I picked two weekly sections to compare: the magazine, where I had started, and the Sunday Review, formerly the News of the Week in Review.  The results more than justified my expectations--and here they are.

 The very first story in the magazine for February 17, 1965 was in the long run probably the most important:  "The Berkeley Affair: Mr. Kerr vs Mr. Savio & Co."  It was a long survey of the student rebellion that had begun at Berkeley in the preceding fall, led by Mario Savio, a young New Yorker and veteran of the Mississippi Summer, on the issue of the right of students to conduct political activities on campus. 

The next story is historical: "A Japanese Remembers Iwo Jima," a battle well within the memory of any New York Times reader of 30 or older--the audience the Times was trying to reach. Then comes a piece from London, "Could Maudling Win for the Tories?"  Harold Wilson's Labour Government had come into power a few months earlier by winning an election by the very narrowest of margins.  Reginald Maudling was not the leader of the opposition Tory party: he was one of the two contenders to replace Sir Alec Douglas-Home, whom Wilson had edged out, and who was now stepping down.  As it turned out, Maudling lost the leadership election to Edward Heath.  The intraparty battles of opposition parties in Europe are no longer newsworthy in major American newspapers, unless, of course, some kind of sex scandal is involved.

The next piece is a kind of prescient counterpart to the Berkley one: "We are in Too Deep in Asia and Africa," by Senator Frank Church.  This was, as we shall see in a moment, the week that the bombing or North Vietnam got started in earnest, and we easily forget that a substantial cohort of major political figures, including Senate Majority leader Mike Mansfield and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman J. William Fulbright, opposed the war from the beginning, as did Church.  Nowadays no major political figure in Washington is standing against the Administration's Middle Eastern adventures.  Of course, this was only the beginning.

Russell Baker was the Times's resident humorist, a place that has been vacant for some time, and he contributed a mildly entertaining page on living in Washington, D.C., emphasizing how relatively simple and easy life was there, compared to New York or San Francisco.  I too remember that well, and it is interesting that Washington remained so small just as the Great Society was being put into place. Ronnie Dugger, a distinguished Texas journalist, then added an article about two reporters from Moscow who reached his home in Austin, Texas, while covering President Johnson.

Summing up, the New York Times Magazine in 1965 was a place for long news feature stories, as well as long opinion pieces by politicians and opinion leaders.  It assumed that its readers wanted new insights about world events, and tried to provide them.  It also provided a few puzzles for entertainment, including the famous Sunday crossword, which of course survives today.

This last Sunday's magazine has a similar format--although it is much shorter and has far, far fewer ads--but the subject matter of most of its articles is quite different.  It leads with "Feed Frenzy," an account of how people have unwittingly ruined their lives with indiscreet or somewhat offensive posts on social  media that went viral--truly a story for the age that we live in.  The second story, a very long one, deals with the relationship between a female Stanford undergraduate and a local businessman in his late twenties--single--who was designated as her mentor in a program linking the campus with local businesses.  They had an affair, which has degenerated into accusations of sexual assault and rape, and the piece draws on numerous emails between the two of them, between the woman and her best friend, and between the best friend and the woman's mother.  Such stories, obviously, did not find their way into major newspapers in 1965.  The third article would have been at home in the magazine 50 years ago--it deals with the attempt to hold Hezbollah accountable for the assassination of the former Prime Minister of Lebanon in 2005. Then, on the next page, we find, "Fear of Flying: What our Paranoia about Drones tell us;" a piece by "the ethicist" on the very complicated roommate policies of a college; a brief interview with David Axelrod regarding his new book on his life in politics; and a science piece on how atmospheric microorganisms may affect the weather.  There's also a piece about measurements in recipes, and a piece by Calvin Trillin, who is apparently in his late seventies, about haircuts in the 1950s, culminating in a revelation that his local barber habitually copped a feel of his customers genitals when he finished the haircut.

The change in the magazine's subject matter seems to me quite simple.  The main subject in 1965 was world politics,  not surprisingly, given the astonishing events--both tragic and heroic--that had taken place during the previous half-century. The subject matter today, for the most part, is the readership that the Times is trying to attract--well educated young adults.  The articles focus on their lives, their problems, and their interactions with one another.  And all that began, in my opinion, in the Berkeley rebellion that was the subject of the main story on February 17, 1965.I shall return to this later.

 The second subject I looked at was The News of the Week in Review--now, significantly, the Sunday Review.  It was very long in those days, and it is no exaggeration to describe it as a third news magazine, comparable to Time and Newsweek, but without the entertainment sections.  The first two full pages were exactly what the section's title promised, a summary of the major national and world news stories of the week.  Most of the first page is about the widening war in Vietnam--a day-by-day review of events of the past week.  .  The rest of it deals with the United States'   balance of payments problems--it was very recent that our imports had begun to exceed our exports, and the US government was still committed to maintaining the dollar at a fixed value in terms of gold.  The next page carrries an item about changes in the State Department, where Averell  Harriman had been relieved as Undersecretary for Political Affairs.  Then comes an account of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s campaign for voting rights in  Selma and King's meeting with Johnson, who promised voting rights legislation.  (Bloody Sunday in Selma was another three weeks away, but coverage of the campaign was already intense.)  Then came a long story about the election of the President of the United Steelworkers union, in which half a million members had defeated the incumbent, David J. MacDonald, with I. W. Abel.   Another piece about a longshoreman's strike involving 60,000 workers.  Organized labor had been a tremendous economic and political power for thirty years now, and the subject of continuous coverage.

The World  , the next subhead.begins with a story about Egypt and Israel: "A cardinal aim of United State policy in the middle East has been to maintain the balance of arab-Israeli military stgrength in that intermittently troubled area of the world."  (Times do indeed change!) Then follow stories on government cutbacks in the aircraft industry in Britain; riots in India about the use of Hindi throughout the country; and  a UK ban on TV cigarette advertising, which says a similar ban in the US is not likely. (It came about six years later.) The New York Section begins with a story about a fatal air crash off Long Island, followed by a story about the new NY Senator, Robert F. Kennedy, becoming involved in a fight to determine the new legislative leadership.

The next page is taken up entirely with two articles on the foreign policy of Communist China, with particular focus on the Vietnam War and Chinese-Russian relations.  2/3 of the next page is a more extended discussion of Johnson's attack on the balance of Ppayments problem; the other third is about Harold Wilson's slim majority in London.  Then comes most of a page on voting rights campaigns in the Deep South, with the other 1/3 devoted to a regular feature, "The News of the Week in Law."  The following page features the News of the Week in Science, with items on measles vaccines and changing rabies treatments. And then came the News of the Week in Education.

On the op-ed page, James Reston leads with a piece on Vietnam, "The Undeclared and Unexplained War."  C. L. Sulzberger follows with a column on France, West Germany, and European unity, and Russell Baker, citing stories of increased teacher assaults in NY schools and marijuana at Harvard, talks prophetically about the threats posed by the Boom generation, which he does not specifically identify, who are tasting too many of life's pleasures too fast.  A page later Arthur Krock weighs in with another Vietnam column, and there is a sampler of editorial opinion from around the world.  On p. 10 we have "Report from the Nation," with stories from Tennessee, Houston, California, Detroit, and Atlanta. And that's that.

The News of the Week in Review is now the Sunday Review, and it is even more unrecognizable than the magazine.  It does not include, much less begin with, a summary of the week's news.  Instead, the two articles on the front page deal, respectively, with the impact even of hiking through the wilderness on the environment, and the second, with the impact of "faceless" abuse on the internet.  The story taking up half of page 2 is about what readers' online comments on news stories signify--a telling counterpart to the summary of recent news stories one found there fifty years ago.  The opinion section begins on p. 3 with a harrowing guest contribution, "Did a Text Kill My Brother?", about a fatal auto accident apparently caused by the other driver's lapse of attention.   Then regular op-ed columnist Frank Bruni has a column, "Too Much Prayer in Politics"--a sentiment with which I certainly agree, but which does not address contemporary news events.  An op-chart on p. 4 analyzes nine particular egregious misstatements of fact by various politicians.  Below that is an article about vaginal reconstruction, the latest procedure women are being encouraged to undergo to make themselves more attractive. (Contemporary feminists might ponder whether such a story represents progress for women over the last half century--and why or why not.)  Then the author Susan Jacoby contribued a long piece on the massacres of Jews during the first Crusade in Europe (there is nothing in the Sunday review about the massacres going on in various parts of the world right now), and another guest contributor argues that "Vitamins Hide the Low Quality of Our Food."  On p. 6, there's an autobiographical piece about writer's block.  Page 8 features a man-to-man letter, "To a Friend, On His Divorce."  On p. 9 we find a feature by a beekeeper about beekeeping. 

The op-ed page features three regulars:  Maureen Dowd, who wrote about David Brock and infighting among Hillary Clinton's campaign team; Nicholas Kristof, with a typical piece about "Unpaid, Unarmed Lifesavers in Syria;" and Ross Douthat, about the film Fifty Shades of Grey.  (Full disclosure: I saw it myself last night and while no masterpiece, it was much better than expected and featured a brilliant performance by Dakota Johnson.)  The back page summarizes a study showing that even those who should no better accept misstatements of facts in movies as the truth, and an article about how a boy with a troubled childhood (the author) found refuge in skateboarding.

Now battles were building up in the Congress during the preceding week over immigration, and the Republicans seemed likely to shut down the Department of Homeland Security.  An actual war between sovereign nations (albeit fought in part by proxy) is happening on the Russian-Ukrainian border, and a new revolutionary movement, ISIS, has seized substantial portions of Syria and the Middle East.  A change of government in Greece has re-ignited the Greek debt crisis.  Fifty years ago the French and German governments' discussions on European unity figured in the News of the Week in Review; this year the Sunday Review ignores those same governments' attempts to arrange a cease-fire in Ukraine. And so on.  It was no accident, obviously, that the word "news" was dropped from the title of the Sunday review.  My wife recently heard an interview with the administrator of a website, who referred to hard news as the "vegetables" of the information menu nowadays, the thing people didn't really want to eat, but thought they had to.  I suspect that the MBAs who now run the world have convinced the Times management of something similar.

I chose this date almost randomly, but incredibly and coincidentally, the Times magazine of half a century ago documented the beginnings of the changes that would lead us to where we are.  They can be found in A. H. Raskin's remarkable piece about the Berkeley student revolt, from which I cannot resist quoting some passages.

"The Berkeley mutineers did not seem political In the sense of those student rebels in the turbulent Thirties; they are too suspicious of all adult institutions to embrace wholeheartedly even those ideologies with a stake in smashing the system. An anarchist or LW.W. strain seems as pronounced as any Marxist doctrne. . .

"The proudly  immoderate  zealots  of the  F.S.M. [Free Speech Movement] pursue  an  activist  creed -that only commitment can strip life of its emptiness, its absence of mean­ing in a great "knowledge factory" like Berkeley. That is the explanation for their conviction that the methods of civil disobedience, in violation of law, are as appropriate in the civilized atmosphere of the campus as they are in the primordial jungle of Mississippi. It was an imaginative strategy that led to an unimaginable chain of events.

"The cutoff in political re­cruitment [this refers to the ban on recruiting tables for local political action that triggered the first demonstrations] confirmed a convic­tion already held by some of the students that bankers, in­dustrialists, publishers and other leaders of the Establish­ment in the Board of Regents were making a concentration camp out of the the "multi­versity''--a term coined by [Berkeley Chancellor Clark] Kerr in a series of .lectmes at Harvard nearly two years ago to describe the transformation of a modem university, like Cal, into a vast techno­-educational  complex.
This conviction was not di­minished by the extreme free­dom the university has long allowed 
students  to  express their own political views. how­ ever unorthodox, at "Hyde Park"  areas 
inside  the cam pus. Even during the ban on the   use   of campus   property for organizing off-campus po­litical action, students re­tained their hberty to invite Communists, Nazis or Black Muslims  to  address  meetings at  the  university. They also could-and often did-agitate for the right to smoke mari­ juana,  to be able to buy con­traceptives at the University Bookstore or for other far-out [sic] objectives.

"If Clark Kerr is the high priest of the multi­ versity, social ·critic Paul Goodman is its Amtichrist and thus beloved of the F.S.M. The opening theme of an F.S.H. pamphlet is a declaration by Goodman  that in the United States today, 'students-mid­ dle--class youth-are the major exploited class. • • • They have no choice but to go to college.' Rejecting their role as factory workers on an academic assembly  line.  the  F.S.M.  demands a humanized  campus. a 'loving community' based on comradeship and purpose. 'We  must  now  begin   the demand of the right to know; to know  the realities of  the present   world - in- revolution, and to have an opportunity to think cleariy in an extended manner about the world," says the F.S.M. credo.  It is ours to demand meaning; we must insist upon meaning!'

Towards the end of his piece, Raskin questioned how far the protest could go:

"And who is listening, now that the clear-cut issue created by the closing of  the Bancroft Strip and the blackout of po­ litical recruiting has been re­solved? The signs are that the overwhelming  support  for F.S.M. aims among  students of all political hues and of no hues has evaporated along with the issue."

"One of  the  imponderables in trying to guess   whether peace ha.s really come to the campus Is that some F.S.M. activists obviously have devel­oped a vested interest in find­ ing things to fight about. They seem to operate on the theory that, in a. system they believe Is basically corrupt, the worse things get, the easier it will be to generate mass resistance."

"The reckless prodigality with which the F.S.M:. uses the weapon of civil diSobedience raises problems no university can deal with adequately. Harsh discipline carries  the  danger of martyrdom and a spread of sympathetic disorders to other campuses."

The events that would trigger the further spread of civil disobedience, disciplinary reaction and protest were the subject not only of Frank Church's article in the same magazine, but of the lead paragraphs of the News of the Week in Review: the beginnings of the escalation of the Vietnam War.  Thus did the older generation confirm the worst fears and anxieties of their children, eventually convincing them that yes, meaning could be found only in their own thoughts and feelings, and not in the political, intellectual or journalistic legacy of the past.  That generation has been in charge for about 25 years now, and the results are all around us.

Let us be fair:  the front page (although now only six columns instead of eight) and the front section of the Times today is relatively similar to that of fifty years ago.  It is for those that I get home delivery every day and plan to do so until either I or the paper Times finally expires.  But in a failing effort to attract new generations of readers, the Times, it seems to me, has abandoned most of its educational role.  Both the magazine and the Sunday Review are about the readers they want to attract--their lives, their fashions, their hopes.  The readers of 1965 seemed to understand, bless their hearts, that their private lives were their own business.  But the Berkeley undergraduates wanted the wider world to take their thoughts and feelings more seriously.  No one in 1965 could possibly have imagined the scale of their eventual triumph.



Larry said...

Interesting as usual David.

Who would have thought then too that that the Birchers would find their way into mainstream politics and effectively take over a major political Party?

Energyflow said...

Very interesting. I  read a book by a man who must be quite old who discussed the falling intelligence in society as falling around 1980(in germany) due to the introduction of private TV stations, based on ad revenues. This is parallel to cable TV in USA and later in Europe. People are distracted by sex, violence. I recall an internet article about the number of newspapers being very large earlier in the century with many different political leanings and that vocabulary of people was much larger.


We know about genrational theory. This explains internal boomer psychology.This is based on deep inner workings which would exist even in an illiterate, pre-industrial society. The egoism, spoiledness of the modern ruling class in the West has to do with excess of personal privilege(boomer coddling in 50s) in addition to technical and political surfeit of power over the physical environment(cars, TV, computers, nonphysical labour jobs), and over foreign country. The sum result is a narcissmus of a Nero or Caligula on a civilizational scale. We massacre physical habitats, species, cultures, nations and then go get our nails done, see a shrink, or play nintendo. We fiddle while Rome burns(or Obama and congress does) and panem et circenses in terms of

nintendo, internet nonsese, food stamps for the masses. A critcal, educated public such as the offspring of majority farming based population from USA of 1920s-1930s, who were used to living hard physical lives of deprivation would not have behaved like ours.

Energyflow said...


The physical fitness, mental acuity, emotional maturity of society goes hand in hand. We have given away our work to technological servants, physical and mental,thereby atrophying both brain and muscles. Additionally due to the industrial process people have gradually moved from interdependence on larger family groups towards 50s nuclear families towards single households eating instant microwave foods, living far from any relatives. The average person has fewer friends, less deeper contacts. Essentially giving our lives over to technology has atrophied our emotional muscles as well.


Your boomers are seeking inner life precisely because the nuclear family suburbia, fridge, TVschool desk existence lacks physical hardship, familial depth, mental realities(rout learning for tests). They are then coddled and sense an inner vacuum, try to rebel but find refuge in drugs, sex, rock and roll, later in 80s as yuppies and then as banksters, internet, computer inventors and global destabilizers.


Bush and Clinton clans are your left and right wing of this. One got drunk, the other did not inhale marijuana. One came from poverty, the other from wealth. Result is same, narcissism, irresponsible behaviour.Obama seemed nice but given his environment he folded, gave banksters a pass, is in security worse than Nixon. Xers are so insecure and see in boomers older siblings to look up to. Us xers are however unstable, boomers are blind leading blind.

When I respect Putin I see a mature man, intelligent, independent of action, coming from a background of deep family suffering-Leningrad in war. This compares positively to go with flow, moral relativist boomers of rght or left. Right wing morality s hypocritical, left wing politically correct.


My Russian wife says to me today "we live wrong, I cook fresh foods,the kids are not kept in school afterwards till 4 pm so that I could work, we have no car". Before she has bemoaned other kids haveTV, PC, smartphone. Her family suffered massively due to the war, she went summers to her grandparents in country, worked on parents dacha to have food to get through winter. Mushroom picking, own potato patch, buckets of own strawberries to marmelade. This made winter up through gorbies time survivable outside privileged moscow, st. Petersburg. 1930s quasi 50 after the war but with fridge, TV, free medcal, all women working, kids in kindergarten, destroyed sense of family due to industrialism. America went far in one direction. Russia was a bit different.The 90s collapse and dacha mind set however reduced severity of boomer narcissism, which they also had. Putin is 63 and a clear example. Due to the suffering the best of their boomers, like Putin, are not Neros like Bush, but more like logsplitter Lincoln, or FDR or Washington. Spiritual cleansing is through suffering. America has not had since WW2 and the war was abroad.

Assurance-First-Assurance said...

Good Morning:

I really enjoyed your well-developed post. Let me provide a small observation from my high school days in the early sixties.

Occasionally, I would go downstairs to the large basement (where I was not allowed to be) and read from the enormous stacks of newspapers and magazines from long ago and saved for whatever reason.

I especially liked to read the newspapers of around 1900. (breaking news of such things as the assassination of President McKinley.)

The one thing that impressed me was the almost universal optimism of all the writers. We were on the edge of a wonderful adventurous future and they couldn't contain themselves to write about it. Something you certainly don't see nowadays.

Shelterdog said...

David: Excellent, as always.

One quibble. You state: "[W]e easily forget that a substantial cohort of major political figures, including Senate Majority leader Mike Mansfield and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman J. William Fulbright, opposed the war from the beginning, as did Church. Nowadays no major political figure in Washington is standing against the Administration's Middle Eastern adventures."

Mansfield, Fulbright, and Church expressed concerns about our involvement in Vietnam, but no Democrat ever case a vote against the Vietnam War while LBJ was in office except for Morse and Gruening. The others only got the courage to vote their consciences after Nixon took office.

Energyflow said...

I happen to be reading Spengler on what makes a people. It is not language, blood ties, religion, but an identity brought about through a great cause survived together. We see that in America clearly. When this purpose is lost then anything is possible. Late Rome he says was just a population, at time of Hannibal a people. America was clearly a people in 1945. This completed a process of which Civil War was second part after revolution. 9/11 drew America together, therefore endless wars as reconfirmation of identity, a sort of cultural ritual male bonding among individuals who, due to facts I have related above, have little in common and actually no sense of purpose or contact with self. In old world it may be simpler to maintain a feeling of nationhood due to stabler culture and blood ties so that constant nation building, internal, external unnecessary(moonlanding, global policeman, moral crusades). This makes USA dynamic like early historical warrior cultures, assyrians, arabs,mongols, celts, roman empire who were restless and maybe very changing in blood ties, geography, religion, language in an unsettled world. America was settle recently so it fits this modus operandi as does similarly Russia post expansion into Asia after 17th century. So from such perspective US history makes more sense. Japanese culture, language, religion, blood ties are quite rigid to make an extreme comparison. They were a warrior nation and very successful economically since war. But they settle quickly
into stasis. America is restless as inner form is missing. Form meaning an agreed subtextual understanding among all group members allowing peaceful and happy coexistence.

Bozon said...


Great post.

Re the media, see my blog, terms search Lorch.

That has been how it has been, the order of the day, since the 18th century.

Even more overtly ideologically oriented media have been the order of the day since Lorch wrote.

Quigley chronicles European media, British especially, "The Anglo American Establishment".

all the best

Rupert Chapman said...

It is a peculiar thing to me, growing up in the era of which you are writing here, that I was very much enamored of the Romantic poets, the leaders in both England (and I do, here, mean England, not the United Kingdom) and in Germany, of the Romantic Movement, a great intellectual rebellion against the Age of Reason (as Thomas Paine termed it) and the Augustan poets, such as Alexander Pope, for whom the essence of civilization lay in rationality, not emotion. The Romantics, in contrast, promoted emotion and imagination as the highest form of human intellectual activity. As time has passed, and I have, at intervals, returned to my other great love (apart from archaeology), English literature, I have found myself increasingly unimpressed by the majority of the Romantic poets, and actually alarmed by the implications of the Romantic Movement, as I view its terrible results. The majority of Wordsworth's poetry is soppy, maudlin, and, for me, virtually unreadable (heresy, I know, but there it is). Keats, Shelley, and Coleridge wrote poetry of great beauty, sublime (in the terms of their own aesthetic), but always about themselves, and always about emotion, not reason. The triumph of this sort of Romanticism has been disastrous for the world, and continues to be so. It is self-indulgence writ large, with little or no thought for others or for the future. The results can be seen exemplified in your piece this week.