Media / Magazines

Hinckle, Warren. If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990. 370 pages. First published in 1974.

In 1961, when he came aboard the new Catholic magazine Ramparts, young San Franciscan Warren Hinckle was already a veteran newshound -- as well as a hardened parochial-school survivor not burdened with overly romantic ideas about the Church. But given that time and place, Hinckle wasn't destined to spend the next decade writing about liturgical reform. Instead, as Hinckle chronicles in this take-no-prisoners memoir, Ramparts unexpectedly became the leading magazine of the U.S. New Left, and broke one mind-bending investigative story after another. Cardinal Spellman and the pro-Diem lobby that greased U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Training in torture for U.S. Special Forces. The CIA's use of Michigan State University as a front for training Diem's secret police. The squeaky-clean National Student Association as a CIA cutout. The philanthropic J.M. Kaplan Fund ditto. Hinckle also gave an important early boost to critics of the Warren Commission -- although he spells out their frequent excesses in the same gleeful detail that he does his own. By the dawning of the 70s, Hinckle's bet-the-rent managerial style, plus the changing times, had finished off Ramparts. Hinckle himself, fortunately, is still with us. -- Steve Badrich

Heidenry, John. Theirs Was the Kingdom: Lila and DeWitt Wallace and the Story of the Reader's Digest. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993. 701 pages.

Reader's Digest founder DeWitt Wallace made a fortune by correctly estimating the American consumer and offering his reprinted pablum through direct-mail campaigns. More than just a magazine, Reader's Digest was a phenomenon that mirrored middle-class culture and values. By now Reader's Digest is laying off employees -- another sign, perhaps, that the American middle class is on its way out. At its peak, the Digest had a circulation of 18 million; only the Bible did better. Not to be outdone, in 1982 the Digest even tried to market a condensed version of the Bible.

[Cartoon]

The Digest empire, particularly through its Washington bureau, was a major outlet for Cold War propaganda and had significant connections to the U.S. intelligence community. Author John Heidenry does an excellent job of ferreting out these connections, even though this accounts for less than one-sixth of the book. The remainder of this comprehensive account revolves around the private and public lives of Lila and DeWitt Wallace, and the handful of fawning executives who ran the office in Pleasantville, New York beginning in the 1920s. From these offices, the empire grew to become the world's most successful publisher of magazines, and the largest global marketer of books.


Swanberg, W.A. Luce and His Empire. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1972. 529 pages.

Henry Robinson Luce co-founded Time magazine in 1923, and remained the autocratic owner of Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated until his death in 1967. His parents were missionaries in China; when Henry was two years old, they barely escaped the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, when over 200 missionaries and their children, along with 30,000 Chinese converts, were killed. While Henry did not grow up to be religious, he was stubbornly ideological, adopting the "white man's burden" orientation of his parents.

Even after the corrupt Chinese Nationalists slaughtered 20,000 Taiwanese in order to create a base after fleeing from Mao, Luce continued to plug Chiang Kai-shek as a hero on many covers of Time. Clare Boothe Luce, a Congresswoman and later ambassador to Italy, shared her husband's anti- communism. Between them, they had so much power that even presidents such as Lyndon Johnson had to be careful. Biographer Swanberg feels that the Luce press was somewhat responsible for the Cold War, from Chiang through Vietnam. This may be more true than Swanberg realizes: C.D. Jackson, who published Life for Luce, was simultaneously a psychological warfare expert for U.S. intelligence (his name also pops up in JFK assassination books). But the CIA connection is not pursued by Swanberg, perhaps because this book appeared too early, before many misdeeds were revealed in the 1970s.


Thomas, Kenn (ed). Popular Alienation: A Steamshovel Press Reader. Lilburn, GA: IllumiNet Press, 1995. 343 pages.

This is an anthology of issues four through eleven of Steamshovel Press, plus an extra "phantom" issue. Kenn Thomas, the man behind the shovel, works out of St. Louis, Missouri. He's a gonzo editor with a penchant for mining the depths of New Age conspiracism, beat literature, Wilhelm Reich, UFOs, and assassination theory. If presented with a choice between the outright bizarre, on the one hand, and dull, cautious, footnoted research on the other hand, Thomas prefers the former.

Nevertheless, the occasional nugget stays in the pan. Particularly informative are his interviews with Jack Hoffman (Abbie's brother), Deborah Davis, Mark Lane, Kerry Thornley, Jim Marrs, Dick Gregory, Jonathan Vankin, Robert Anton Wilson, John Judge, Carl Oglesby, A.J. Weberman, Allen Ginsberg, David Dellinger, David Emory, and Sherman Skolnick. The book reviews are more mixed: some are helpful, but others treat titles that are insanely obscure, almost kinky. Steamshovel Press sees itself as a serious magazine, even if one suspects that Thomas sometimes has a laugh at our expense. If you like some "X Files" paranormality mixed in with your "Octopus" theories, you could do a lot worse.


NameBase book reviews               CloudFlare Watch