(MORE) guided journalists during the 1970s media crisis of confidence

For the eight years of its existence, (MORE): A Journalism Review flummoxed copy editors. Launched in 1971 by Richard Pollack, J. Anthony Lukas, and William Woodward III, the publication sought to bring a downtown sensibility to national newsrooms—to break up the ossified culture of the elite media. The name was a play on the marking at the bottom of a page of typed copy, indicating that there was another page to follow; as a journalism review, it implied there was more to the story of the press than most people were getting.

The founders of (MORE) saw the mainstream American press as stagnant, conservative, and unwilling to examine themselves at a time when the country was convulsing with social movements and the public was losing confidence in institutions. The United States had been in a seemingly endless war with Vietnam, and reporters such as David Halberstam, Seymour Hersh, and I.F. Stone had begun to question the official narratives that people in positions of power had been feeding to the press. (MORE) was not the first journalism review in the US (this publication predates it by a decade), but it did do something new and different: It questioned the objectivity that the New York press had long held onto. And it ended up chronicling one of the most eventful and transformative decades in American journalism.

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Its founders believed the tradition of objectivity, which had served American journalism so well for nearly a century, had become a hindrance to reporting the capital-T Truth. Truth was a concept that had become problematic in the ’60s, as the gap between the World War II generation and their kids widened, confidence in American institutions lagged, and it became clear the government was lying. The old model wasn’t working anymore, they thought; most reporters and editors had their heads buried too deeply in that day’s story to be able to see the bigger picture of how they are approaching the coverage. Only a press critic, at a remove from that daily task, could see the bigger picture.

 

He knew this would be the next day’s news out of the trial—but he also knew that the Times would never publish the offending word. He and his editor eventually ran it in the Times by calling the word “a barnyard vulgarity.”

 

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But at the same time, (MORE) wanted to reform the mainstream press, not to tear it down. From 1971 to 1978, the magazine pushed issues of newsroom management, diversity of staffing, treatment of women, and reluctance to challenge government or corporations, as well as the corporatization of news itself. One 1971 story by Chris Welles analyzed more than 500 New York Times business articles and diagnosed their pro-business stance as a result of reporters who lazily relied on corporate press releases and publishers who were afraid of offending advertisers. In 1973, (MORE) ran a story by a pseudonymous author who purported to be a frequent anonymous source for reporters. “My biggest high,” he wrote, “comes when, in the middle of a formal dinner party, I let drop a juicy item and a reporter takes his pad out of his dinner jacket and starts making notes.”

The editors of (MORE) ran stories other magazines or newspapers had spiked, and told the story of why they were killed. One was a review by the feminist journalist Susan Brownmiller of Norman Mailer’s book-length critique of feminism, The Prisoner of Sex, which Life magazine had spiked. At times, they aspired to be The New York Review of Books of journalism, with probing essays about journalistic accountability. One collection of short essays by various authors ran shortly after Richard Nixon’s reelection in 1972, despite persistent coverage of the administration’s corruption and the growing Watergate scandal. Collectively, they asked the question of whether the press or the public was more to blame for Nixon’s landslide win. If a public is properly informed by the press, can the press still be at fault?

But not every story was so fraught with existentialism. Sometimes (MORE) wanted to be more like National Lampoon, running cartoons or compiling a page of column-filler stories from the Times, which were invariably about buses in South America plunging into ravines (sort of like this one, by Jack Shafer for Slate).

In ways that echo the 1970s, American journalism is facing a crisis of confidence once again, and the most self-aware journalists are beginning to critique themselves as much as their audiences are. The current model of journalism is again struggling to adequately describe the world it is trying to cover. The best minds in journalism can find each other easily now, but another (MORE) needs to finish the job it started—to make the press more self-aware, more self-critical, more flexible, and better able to rethink its best practices in the face of its own failure.

 

Born in a barnyard

Lukas, a reporter for the Times, was covering the Chicago 7 conspiracy trial when he came up with the idea for (MORE). On February 4, 1970, Lukas was in the courtroom when David Dellinger, one of the defendants, called the testimony of one of the police officers “bullshit.” The judge revoked Dellinger’s bail as punishment. Lukas had already won his first Pulitzer Prize and a Nieman fellowship, and he knew this would be the next day’s news out of the trial—but he also knew that the Times would never publish the offending word. He and his editor eventually ran it in the Times by calling the word “a barnyard vulgarity.”

Lukas, who was in his late 30s at the time, had been educated at Harvard, and was young enough to have seen (and covered) the counterculture. He, alongside his fellow young, college-educated reporters, were chafing against the restrictions that their editors, who largely came from a World War II or 1950s Cold War mentality, had put in place. Chief among these rules was the objectivity standard. As he wrote in his 1970 book The Barnyard Epithet and Other Obscenities: Notes on the Chicago Conspiracy Trial, Lukas had come to see the Chicago 7 trial as a political show, and he argued with his editors for the ability to call it as such, but the Times, led by then-Managing Editor Abe Rosenthal, made him stick to “straight” coverage. Calling it a show trial would have been too much commentary for The New York Times, which was small-c conservative in its attitude toward change in 1970s.

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In Chicago, Lukas also met staff of the Chicago Journalism Review, probably the strongest of the regional journalism reviews that had been springing up around the country. These reviews often focused on newsroom management and unionization efforts, but the 1968 Democratic National Convention had given the Chicago Journalism Review a news peg, and its team had begun to cover not only what the press was doing, but what it wasn’t doing. Lukas was inspired to create something similar in New York and the national media it housed. (Its chief competition would be this publication, which had been around for about a decade and which did cover the national press, but which at the time was hopelessly square and academic.)

Lukas recruited Pollak as the review’s first editor—they had worked together at The Baltimore Sun—and the two mobilized their network in the New York press. They held a meeting in the Harvard Club to brainstorm what the journal should look like. New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin attended. The advisory board for (MORE)’s pilot issue also included the Times women’s page editor, Charlotte Curtis; Paul Cowan of The Village Voice; Pamela Howard of Scripps–Howard; Kent MacDougall, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was secretly a socialist and, later, a University of California, Berkeley journalism professor; Ernest Dunbar, the first black reporter hired by a national magazine; and Mike Wallace, of CBS’s new news-magazine show, 60 Minutes. Woody Woodward, a not-particularly-distinguished reporter for Dorothy Schiff’s New York Post, was also there, and it was at this meeting that he approached Lukas and Pollak with an offer: In exchange for the title of publisher, he would bankroll the new venture, using some of his inheritance from the Manufacturers Hanover Bank fortune. Lukas, Pollak, and Woodward incorporated as Rosebud Associates—a Citizen Kane joke.

 

Get me rewrite

The pilot issue was released in June 1971, coincidentally the same month that the Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers. For the first few years of its existence, (MORE) physically resembled The New York Review of Books, and even had the same designer, Sam Antupit. At 75 cents a pop, it was a little bigger than a tabloid newspaper and text-heavy, illustrated with cartoons, and printed on paper that wasn’t much better than newsprint. In reviewing the pilot issue of (MORE), an anonymous author in Variety lauded it as “amazingly good for a first issue, critical but not with that offensive militancy that marks and mars many publications devoted to ‘exposing’ whatever it is, and those in charge.”

The cover of the first issue featured one by David Levine, but the review became associated most with illustrator Marty Norman, who often had at least one drawing in any given issue. (Photo: Kevin Lerner)

Its real work as a builder of the community of elite journalists would come at the A.J. Liebling Counter-Conventions, which (MORE) ran a half-dozen times between 1972 and 1976. The first Counter-Convention was held counter to the American Newspaper Publishers Association Conference in 1972, a year after the journalism review launched. While the publishers met across town at the Waldorf-Astoria, the (MORE) people booked the Martin Luther King, Jr. Labor Center just off Times Square. The opening “banquet” was supposed to be held at the Times Square branch of Nathan’s hot dogs (though a strike moved the festivities to a nearby Chinese restaurant). The (MORE) staff named the Counter-Convention after Liebling, the longtime New Yorker staff writer who obsessed eloquently about food, boxing, and urban lowlifes. Liebling was also The New Yorker’s press critic for a decade, and famously wrote in one of his “Wayward Press” columns that “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

Nora Ephron, not yet a screenwriter but already well-known for her reporting and essays, organized that first conference. One panel on the New Journalism featured Tom Wolfe, Gail Sheehy, Trillin, Pauline Kael, and Renata Adler. There were panels about minority representation in news organizations; democracy in the newsroom; covering political campaigns (with David Broder, Victor Navasky, Dan Rather, and Joe McGinniss); and sources, from their point of view, called “How They Cover Me.” Mafioso “Crazy” Joe Gallo was supposed to speak on that panel, but he was killed two months earlier at Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy. Activist Abbie Hoffman brought along some of his Yippies and Zippies to hijack a few panels or, failing that, to join them. It was a raucous convening of elements of professional and less-than-professional journalism. Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post, came over from across town and at one point stood in the back of the room. (MORE) gave out its inaugural Liebling Award to the independent muckraker I.F. Stone. And much of this gathering was broadcast live on the independent radio station WBAI and the nascent Sterling Manhattan Cable television network.

The next summer, Watergate had broken open, and the Counter-Convention moved to Washington, DC. The mood was less anti-institutional in the summer of 1973. After all, one of the big institutions of the American press had cracked open a case that eventually exposed crimes committed at some of the highest levels of government. (MORE), which had previously been more militant in its criticisms, began to renegotiate its relationship to the institutions of the press, guiding them along like a persistent tugboat nudging slow-turning behemoth cargo ships back into the channel, rather than trying to torpedo them.

The later Liebling Conventions became parties to celebrate the culture of journalism, and a place where journalism students could mingle with some of the biggest bylines around the country. Like (MORE) itself, they mixed a sense of urgency about the journalism of the future with a kind of nostalgia for a golden age of journalism that never really existed. Cartoonist Marty Norman drew a poster for one of the Counter-Conventions that depicts a 1930s reporter in a fedora with a press badge tucked into the band, necktie loosened, holding a two-piece telephone and bellowing “Hello, sweetheart, get me rewrite!” Later, popular demand led Norman to add a female version yelling “Hello, handsome…” (The “Hello, sweetheart” poster was a prominent set decoration in the newsroom of Lou Grant, the Mary Tyler Moore Show spinoff that debuted in 1977, near the end of (MORE)’s existence.)

Photo: Kevin Lerner

 

From journalism review to media magazine

By 1976, the founders of (MORE) were exhausted. For most of its existence, the review was a three-person operation: Pollak, an assistant editor, and someone on the business side. Some others had titles: Tony Lukas was usually on the masthead, though he didn’t do any of the editing; a young Brit Hume was hired to be the Washington, DC editor after he left his job as a researcher and reporter for the columnist Jack Anderson and before he began his broadcast news career. But Pollak did most of the work himself. And because (MORE) rarely had enough money to pay its contributors well (or sometimes at all), they often turned in some of their less-thorough work. Pollak said David Halberstam, an occasional contributor, would turn in stories he wrote “with his left hand.”

Lukas and Pollak were in favor of letting (MORE) die a quiet, dignified death, but Woodward didn’t want his name associated with a failed magazine, so he pushed for a sale.

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In the summer of 1976, Rosebud Associates transferred ownership of (MORE) to Michael Kramer, a young writer for New York magazine. Under Kramer, the publication lost its iconic parentheses, its newsprint, and even its subtitle. Instead of being “a journalism review,” the new More was “the media magazine.” Under Kramer, who had ambitions of reaching a general audience, More became a glossy, bound magazine with ample photography (and fewer cartoons), and its coverage expanded to book publishing, movies, television, and advertising. Where Dick Pollak and Tony Lukas wanted (MORE) to be a New York Review for journalism, Kramer wanted More to be the Newsweek of the media. But after a couple of years, this new version of More also became unsustainable, and Kramer sold it, this time to James Adler, the founder of a congressional reporting service. Lukas and Pollak, who had been estranged from More during the Kramer period, came back on as advisers. But Adler became ill soon after buying More. So, in one final transaction, Adler turned over More’s subscription list to its staid rival, the Columbia Journalism Review, in exchange for CJR taking on More’s remaining debts. CJR owns the rights to (MORE) to this day.

 

The legacy

(MORE), of course, did not manage to topple the objectivity ideal in American journalism. The “media magazine” it became in its last few years was a harbinger of the success of big media companies in the 1980s, in its slickness and its conflation of journalism with the rest of “the media.” By the time of (MORE)’s demise, The New York Times described in Gay Talese’s The Kingdom and the Power—a newspaper of country-club publishers and hard-bitten desk editors—had been replaced by the giant, powerful media conglomerates of Halberstam’s The Powers That Be. The 1980s brought CNN and USA Today and big-city newspapers that could almost literally print money as they became monopolies in their one-paper towns. Some of the ideas, and many of the people, of (MORE) were co-opted by this giant media machine, and as long as the money kept coming in, these institutions saw little reason to change in the ways (MORE) would have wanted them to.

But (MORE) did get the community of journalists—the elite journalists who do some of the most important reporting—to recognize itself and its duty to the profession. Pollak says that “in the ’70s, More was pretty much the lone independent voice criticizing the the mainstream media. Now there is a hyper-profusion of voices.” But Pollak doesn’t see much of a difference in the fundamentals of journalism. “Has reporting really changed much? I don’t think so. If More were around today, it should be pressing the media to chase down facts far more vigorously than they do.”

The press, Pollak says, still has to be pushed to do its best work. “Basically, the media (especially in DC) still view their job as covering what our leaders say and do, which is quite different from (to paraphrase I.F. Stone at the first Counter-Convention) sitting in their bathtubs and not wanting anything,” Pollak said. “Izzy was a documents man. Here we are almost half a century later, and there are still very few journalists willing to do the hard work in the files and archives where the real scoops often materialize. It’s much easier to steno the official view, or get an anonymous source to counter it. Then there is the Big Picture, which is pretty much ignored altogether.”

 

If More were around today, it should be pressing the media to chase down facts far more vigorously than they do.

 

Pollak still sees a need for the kind of reporting and analysis (MORE) used to publish. And he, too, wants fact, not opinion: “At 83, my primary journalistic instinct remains intact. I don’t care what people think. I want to hear what they know that’s new and revelatory.”

Jack Shafer, the Politico press critic, agrees that there is still a place for the kind of reporting and criticism (MORE) brought. “[(MORE)] matters today because the great work that it began is still undone,” he said. “When Richard Pollak created it in 1971, he sought emancipate the press from its hidebound traditions—over-reliance on official sources, the conformity expressed by Page One story selection, and ‘spurious objectivity.’ “Most of all,” Shafer says, “Pollak wanted to breathe back into the press its sense of wonder, honesty, and orneriness that had been leached out of it by corporate owners and Ivy League editors.”

John Maxwell Hamilton, a professor at Louisiana State University and historian of the press, says: “In some ways, the 1970s were a high water point of journalism. The president was unhorsed, and criticism became more institutionalized. Newspapers were making a shitload of money. Things were good.” (MORE), Hamilton says, was “an exceptionally good magazine. It was a brief experiment,” he says. “All too brief.”

Hamilton remembers attending meetings of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. “Their idea of press criticism was to stand up and say that the owners weren’t paying them enough,” he says. “They weren’t asking the bigger questions. It goes to show how content the press was. Nobody asked the question about what the responsibility to the greater public was.”

And James Ledbetter, the editor of Inc. and a former press columnist at The Village Voice, says at its best, [(MORE)] combined a sustained critique of media practice with solid shoe-leather reporting about the media industry—a combination as rare and valuable then as it is now.”

So shine the (MORE) logo into the night sky like the bat signal and call on the ghosts—and more reasonably, the successors—of A.J. Liebling and Tony Lukas to revive it.

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Kevin Lerner is an assistant professor of journalism at Marist College, and researches journalism history and press criticism. His new book on (MORE) and journalism in the ’70s will be published in 2019. Follow him on Twitter @klerner.