FROM A JOURNALIST'S HEART
FEBRUARY 12, 1997
David Gergen, editor at large of U.S. News & World Report, engages Henry Grunwald. Heís the former editor in chief of Time Inc. and was Ambassador to Austria during the second Reagan administration. Heís the author of One Manís America: A Journalistís Search for the Heart of His Country.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally tonight, a Gergen dialogue. David Gergen, editor at large of U.S. News & World Report, engages Henry Grunwald. Heís the former editor in chief of Time Inc. and was Ambassador to Austria during the second Reagan administration. Heís the author of "One Manís America: A Journalistís Search for the Heart of His Country."
DAVID GERGEN: Mr. Grunwald, as background for our viewers, I found one of the best capsules of your life came from a very familiar publication, Time Magazine. And it said in a review of your book: "When Henry Grunwald left Vienna in 1938, he was a boy alone carrying a single suitcase and fleeing the Nazis. When he returned in 1988, he was the ambassador of the United States of America. In intervening years he had become the editor of this magazine, Time, and, thus, one of the most powerful people in American journalism." Tell us a little more about that life.
HENRY GRUNWALD, Author, "One Manís America": Well, departure from Vienna was, of course, quite a shock. I had led a rather sheltered life in Vienna. Suddenly, our world--my world collapsed completely, and we were refugees overnight which, believe me, is a sobering experience. As Dr. Johnson said in another context, Ďit concentrates the mind." I had really wanted to be a playwright and like my father and I felt, however, that playwrighting was not going to be immediately lucrative, and so I thought Iíd better do something else, and journalism seemed like a good idea. So I--really by accident--got a job at "Time," and as an office boy and then gradually persuaded some of the editors to print some of my stories, that I had submitted--and then gradually I was formally hired and so it went.
DAVID GERGEN: What was it like coming up in the house of Henry Luce?
HENRY GRUNWALD: Well, I was a bit of an outsider because I still considered myself--I still felt very much as a refugee, an immigrant. But the wonderful thing about "Time" in that sense I think it was--to my mind--the reflection of America as a whole was that merit prevailed.
DAVID GERGEN: Thatís one of the things that drew you to America, itself.
HENRY GRUNWALD: Exactly. It at the time was and is a meritocracy, as is this country as a whole.
DAVID GERGEN: You had a chance to meet many prime ministers and presidents along the way, but I had a sense reading your book you enjoyed perhaps a little more meeting Marilyn Monroe and others of that type.
HENRY GRUNWALD: Well, I was always drawn to show business and to the culture partly because of my fatherís playwrighting, theatrical background. Certainly, meeting Marilyn Monroe was a highlight. We developed a brief and very nice but entirely platonic friendship.
DAVID GERGEN: You said unfortunately I think.
HENRY GRUNWALD: I said unfortunately, and I will repeat that. (Gergen laughing) Iíve always found it wonderful that she--that--when I first took her out for dinner, I was a little condescending because I thought I knew much more about literature and so on, and she suddenly said in that little voice of hers, "You know, have you ever read the ĎCatcher in the Ryeí?". And I must confess that I hadnít heard about the "Catcher in the Rye" at that time. So she one upped me there, and I became a great addict of Salinger, of course.
DAVID GERGEN: Right. And Holden Caulfield for you became a figure too of some importance, thinking about America.
HENRY GRUNWALD: Yes. Well, he was a little--he was kind of wonderful, innocent, and I think too thin-skinned for, for reality. Iím not sure that he was in that sense particularly typical of America but--
DAVID GERGEN: Iím wondering how much you think journalism has changed. You wrote about the time when you were having so much fun at "Time Magazine" that the covers of "Time Magazine" were so often graced by religious thinkers, by diplomats, or university presidents, and you look across the news magazines today, thatís just no longer the case.
HENRY GRUNWALD: Well, I think thatís entirely true. In fact, it began to get a little difficult to do very serious covers of that sort even when I was still there. I think, for instance, the cover of "Time" was a tremendously influential feature. It still is to an extent, but getting on television now for a politician is perhaps just as important as being on the cover of "Time." And, moreover, in this present climate, politicians, to be crass about it, donít sell very well. Foreign statesmen donít sell very well. Diplomats donít sell very well. And magazines, being profit-making institutions, you canít quite ignore that. Nonetheless, I wish not just "Time" but all popular publications, I wish that a bit more could be done in the way of serious journalism, especially covering the rest of the world.
DAVID GERGEN: Youíve written your memoirs, wide-ranging, reflective on your whole life. Walter Cronkite has just published his memoirs. Kay Graham has got memoirs coming. Ben Bradlee just published them. Why is it we have so many memoirs coming from people out of journalism and so few coming from those whoíve served in public office? Do journalists have more fun?
HENRY GRUNWALD: I think itís true that journalists have more fun, although politicians very often have more power, but they perhaps also have more to hide. (Gergen laughing) And maybe thatís one of the reasons journalists donít hesitate quite as much to write their memoirs. Most politiciansí memoirs are ghostwritten and very carefully tailored to put the subject in the best light. Iím not saying that all journalistic memoirs are full of stark honesty, but I think weíre a little bit more above board about our careers.
DAVID GERGEN: Henry Luce was the man, of course, who called this the American century. At the end of your book you write "The next century could again be Americaís if we want it and if we are willing to commit ourselves to extraordinary effort, determination, and discipline." Can you elaborate on that?
HENRY GRUNWALD: Yes, I certainly can. What Iím trying to say there is that nothing is foreordained. We are not fated to be--to remain as important as we were or are. We are not fated to decline even. It depends on us. We have free will as individuals and as a country. I think that we must do two things above all others if we want to have this next century to be characterized and typified by America. One is that we have to re-think education. You will notice that I am not saying reform education because the tinkering with vouchers and charter schools and so on, while possibly important, is not going to solve this.
We have to have a different attitude about education. We have to get away from John Deweyís philosophy that you educate people for life, for living, for self-expression, and so on. I think we need to get back to more rigor, more academic rigor beginning at the very start, beginning in the lower class--in the lower grades, and this can be done only by one of those kind of marvelous, I call them secular crusades, that changes--that have changed opinion in this country profoundly.
It goes all the way back to what happened with the environment, which was not an issue for a long time, then became a major issue. It also is typified by the extraordinary change in attitude toward homosexuals. Iím not necessarily saying that I like it or donít like it, but it is a stunning change in our attitude. But I think we must get--we must achieve a similar change of attitude about the importance, the selectivity, and the rigor of education.
The other thing that Iím terribly worried about and that if we donít do something about it, if we canít as a society do something about it, although certainly not give as a second American century, and that is what has been called, what I have called tribalism. It is the tremendous emphasis on ethnic, religious, racial communities, with much less regard for the well-being of the country as a whole and much more regard for the rights and privileges of each community. This is quite disastrous and a long way away from what we all meant by fighting for civil rights.
DAVID GERGEN: Are you optimistic?
HENRY GRUNWALD: I cannot help but be optimistic about America because Iíve seen this country pull itself together and renew itself in so many--after so many crises, and if I may add this, I think one of the forces that has helped our renewal very often is immigration. I know that there are serious problems now perceived about immigration, and that thereís no question that some of it, some of its nature and some of the practices could be reformed, but I think it has renewed America. Immigrants have renewed America in every generation, and I very much hope that that will continue.
DAVID GERGEN: Well, you write your book with what you called an immigrantís special love for America. We thank you very much.
HENRY GRUNWALD: Thank you.