Hugh Hefner, the iconic founder of Playboy magazine, died yesterday at 91. Remembered primarily as the man who—as The Washington Post put it in a front-page obituary—“turned the world on to sex,” Hefner was also a free speech advocate who printed more serious journalism and fiction than just about any other magazine publisher.
Though the percentage of consumers who read Playboy “for the articles” was undoubtedly smaller than claimed, those articles included pieces by some of the 20th century’s greatest journalists and writers. James Baldwin, Ray Bradbury, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Vladimir Nabokov, and countless others all found a home for their work in the magazine’s glossy pages. The Playboy interview was for decades one of the most prominent vehicles for newsmakers to speak expansively about their lives.
Hefner often claimed his goal was to reject the puritanism he saw in American culture, and his magazine certainly had a role in the cultural revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. He is remembered as a champion of free speech, a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, and an advocate for gay rights.
Though Hefner argued that Playboy was also an ally to feminism, he was accused of exploiting women and contributing to a culture of objectification. Most notable among those critics was Gloria Steinem, whose 1963 “A Bunny’s Tale” exposed what life in a Playboy Club meant for women working there.
With the rise of the internet, where free access to nudity is just a click away, Playboy’s influence waned, but Hefner’s legacy as a complex man with an outsized influence was already secure. Below, more on Hefner and his impact on journalism.
- An iconic life: In The New York Times, Hefner is cast as an American original. “He was compared to Jay Gatsby, Citizen Kane and Walt Disney, but Mr. Hefner was his own production,” writes Laura Mansnerus.
- A controversial figure: NPR’s Scott Simon says Hefner was “a proponent of free speech and a champion of civil rights who was decried as a merchant of smut.”
- A window into Donald Trump’s views: The future president’s 1990 Playboy interview was “a remarkably prophetic document,” wrote The New York Times’s Michael Barbaro during last year’s campaign.
- A dark view of life inside Hefner’s world: In 2015, BuzzFeed’s Kate Aurthur talked with Holly Madison, one of Hefner’s former girlfriends, about “the hell that is Playboy Mansion life.”
Other notable stories
- CNN’s Hadas Gold explores why the aftermath of Hurricane Maria hasn’t received the same level of coverage that followed Irma and Harvey.
- Mark Zuckerberg responded to Donald Trump’s claim that Facebook is “anti-Trump.” Zuckerberg also admitted that he erred in dismissing the idea that misinformation on his platform had an influence on the 2016 election.
- The knowledge that football can have long-term negative impacts on the brains of those who play it has changed the way journalists cover the game. I spoke with NFL reporters and columnists across the country about how they’ve adjusted their coverage.
- For The Undefeated, ESPN’s Jemele Hill writes that she regrets placing her employer in a difficult position, but “the events of last weekend showed that the intersection of sports and politics is the most pronounced we’ve seen in decades.”
- NowThis is launching a real-time reporting project on Twitter. CJR’s Meg Dalton talks with P. Kim Bui, one of the team’s leaders.
- Amen to David Uberti’s argument against the glamorization of fake news purveyors as some sort of rebel entrepreneurs.