Someone once described the Church of England as the Conservative Party at prayer. Foreign Affairs, a similarly august institution (if given to different pieties), might be seen as the foreign policy establishment at the keyboard.
As in-house newsletter of the American Century, it's where George F. Kennan chose to announce the start of what soon came to be known as the Cold War, where Richard Nixon proposed an opening to China: where, generally, the U.S. foreign policy mandarinate articulated the ways in which it expected the rest of the world to move and shake.
Well, the rest of the world's moving and shaking at our beck and call -- which is what that grandiloquent phrase "the American Century" boiled down to -- ended around the time Nixon tasted his first mai-tai.
Yet just as Foreign Affairs, founded in 1922, preceded the American Century (b. 1945), so has it outlived the American Century (d. 1975). Celebrating that survival is a star-studded 75th anniversary issue (Sept./Oct.).
The stars come in a variety of constellations: emeritus servants of the mighty (Kennan, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.), academic eminentoes established (Harvard's Samuel P. Huntington and Richard Pipes, Johns Hopkins' Fouad Ajami) and rising (MIT's Paul Krugman, NYU's Tony Judt), a business guru (Peter F. Drucker), a captain of industry (Walter B. Wriston), even a token representative of the U.S. foreign policy elite's foreign membership (the Suddeutsche Zeitung's Josef Joffe).
What they all have in common, besides high intelligence and an ardent purposefulness, is the weighty air and self-reinforcing authoritativeness of Those Who Know They Matter.
Reading Foreign Affairs is as close as the rest of us might come to perusing the minutes of the ultimate board of directors meeting. True, it's the CEO and his deputies who actually run things, but the board does still carry a certain weight. For all that the global geology of power has shifted, Foreign Affairs, like Ol' Man River, just keeps rolling along.
Julia Child revisited
As for U.S. News & World Report (Sept. 22), it's less a case of rolling along than eddying in place, and this week's lead story does its best to prove that still waters need not run deep. The cover bears the words "How Julia Child Invented Modern Life" and a photo of the lady in question being swallowed by a salad bar. That's the way it looks, anyway ("Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" might have been a hotter cover-line).
Now an excellent case can be made for Julia Child as the godmother of food appreciation in this country and for food appreciation being the foremost ingredient (as it were) in what has come to be considered an affluent American lifestyle.
But it's also a case that's been made off and on for the past two decades and done far better than U.S. News does here. Doughy good cheer, exclusively referring to your subject by her first name, and the occasional citation of Thorstein Veblen and factoids (did you know that 95 percent of all dieters put the weight back on?): These do not a snazzy lifestyle story make.
You may roll your eyes over the assembly-line avidity with which Time and Newsweek churn out trend stories, but at least they know the nature of the beast. U.S. News is still trying to figure out whether it's animal, mineral or vegetable.
More on the princess
Stale lifestyle stories are nothing People readers fear, so attuned to nanosecond attention spans are that publication's editors. This makes it all the more of a tribute to Princess Diana's popularity that People (Sept. 22) should not let the late date keep her funeral off its cover. People knows its people, after all, and Diana reigned over them with a majesty her ex-mother-in-law can only dream of. The problem isn't attention span, it's freshness: 49 pages is an awful lot of space to fill, even with a gatefold (of the cortege) eating up three pages.
Garry Wills has few rivals for acuity or eclecticism. He's written memorably about Nixon, the Kennedys, Catholicism, the Gettysburg Address, even John Wayne. Unfortunately, few writers of his ability can be as pedantic, for Wills has rarely met an erudite obscurity he deemed unworthy of display. Both the writer's didacticism and dazzle are on display in his New York Review of Books (Sept. 25) appraisal of Richard Norton Smith's "The Colonel."
Smith's book is a biography of Robert McCormick, who for 45 years ran the Chicago Tribune with an iron right hand. The ultimate Midwestern isolationist and one of the supreme ideological loonies in the history of American journalism, McCormick believed all virtue ended at the Alleghenies and Franklin Roosevelt was like the anti-Christ, only more so.
McCormick also believed in fonetic speling and decreed its use in the columns of the Trib. Of course, by Chicago newspaper standards, the standards of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's "The Front Page" and Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley and Mike Royko's Slats Grobnick, McCormick seems altogether prairie-flat and Midwest-drab.
Wills, who teaches at Northwestern and clearly cherishes the wild-and-woolly tradition of Chicago newspapering, uses his review to examine that tradition, in the process requiring 30 footnotes to do so. It's a classic case of form warring with content until he finishes off with an observation that makes the preceding all worthwhile. To wit:
That the classic gusto of Chicago newspapers, their brazenness and brawl, lives on in such Chicago-based radio and TV figures as Studs Terkel, Oprah Winfrey, Jennie Jones, and the one who clinches it, Jerry Springer, truly a man to make the hardest-boiled denizen of "The Front Page" pressroom consider career opportunities in the clergy. Sweetheart, get me rewind!
Pub Date: 9/21/97