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The Hutchins Commission was born in a boardroom. During a meeting of the Encyclopaedia Britannica directors in 1942 or 1943 (sources vary), Time Editor-in-Chief Henry R. Luce passed a note to Robert Hutchins, President of the University of Chicago. The note said, Hutchins later recalled, "How do I find out about the freedom of the press and what my obligations are?"

"I don't know," Hutchins answered.

"Well, why don't we set up a commission on freedom of the press and find out what it is?" Luce responded.

"If you'll put up the money," Hutchins said, "I'll organize the committee."3

The two men possessed wide-ranging intellects, unorthodox ideas, and brash self-confidence. Both had reached the pinnacles of their fields by age 30, and, having revolutionized those fields, both aimed to leave their marks on the world at large.

Hutchins began teaching at Yale Law School immediately after earning his law degree there. He was appointed Acting Dean two years later, at 28, and Dean the following year. A year after that, at age 30, he was named President of the University of Chicago.

He was soon being called not only wunderkind but also enfant terrible. "About all we can say for American education," he declared, "is that it's a colossal housing project designed to keep young people out of worse places until they can go to work." At Chicago, he created a new kind of university--admitting students who had not yet finished high school, mandating "Great Books of the Western World," eliminating vocational courses, and organizing the band of scientists who demonstrated that atomic weaponry was feasible. Hutchins also abolished the university football program, proclaiming in response to alumni protests, "All alumni are dangerous. No useful change could ever be made with their approval."4

Luce held equally unconventional notions. Twenty years earlier, he and his friend Briton Hadden, both 23 years old, had quit their jobs on the Baltimore News to start a magazine. Amid the bustle of the 1920s, they believed they had spotted an unfilled niche. "No publication," they explained in a prospectus, "has adapted itself to the time which busy men are able to spend on simply keeping informed." What was needed was "a weekly news-magazine." At first they planned to call it Facts. Then, after contemplating and rejecting Briefs, Hours, Chance, and The Synthetic Review, they settled on Time.5

From the outset, the magazine eschewed objectivity. "Time gives both sides," the prospectus said, "but clearly indicates which side it believes to have the stronger position." Hadden edited Time until 1928, and according to the magazine's official historian, "his judgments were ad hoc and ad hominem." After Hadden's premature death in 1929, Luce suffused Time's columns with his own strongly held views. He was a staunch but idiosyncratic Republican, opposed not only to the New Deal but also to segregation and isolationism (he, like Hutchins, would ultimately favor world government). Luce's "very definite [editorial] policy," as summarized by a Hutchins Commission researcher who interviewed him, was "that there should be a unity of policy, and that the editor should determine that policy, and that Mr. Luce is that editor." Indeed, Luce deemed objectivity impossible. "Show me a man who thinks he's objective," he once said, "and I'll show you a man who's deceiving himself."6

Luce also had sharply defined ideas about journalism and its shortcomings. Too much of the press was aiming merely to give people what they want, he said in a 1937 speech. He saw three dangers resulting. First, "there is no significant restraint on vulgarity, sensationalism and even incitement to criminality." Second, journalism that slavishly follows public demand creates "an enormous financial incentive to publish twaddle--yards and yards of mediocrity, acres of bad fiction and triviality, square miles of journalistic tripe." Third and most serious, such a press fails to provide the information that feeds democracy. To Luce, "never in the long history of Western civilization was the purely informative function of journalism more important than it is today."7