Why Al Hirschfeld’s Drawing of Louis Armstrong Never Made It Onto Time Magazine’s Cover

In his editor’s note for the June 8 issue of Time -the second installment of the magazine’s “Time 100” series, this one covering “Artists and Entertainers of the Century”-managing editor Walter Isaacson wrote that he chose Al Hirschfeld to do the cover illustration because Mr. Hirschfeld is “the premier entertainment caricaturist of our century.” What Mr. Isaacson didn’t mention was the staff uprising he had to deal with when the “premier entertainment caricaturist” turned in a cover illustration that made jazz titan Louis Armstrong (a.k.a. Satchmo) look more like the early 20th-century racist cartoon character Sambo.

The “Time 100” is, essentially, a parlor game turned vertically integrated media stunt: A mysterious committee of Time honchos chooses 20 luminaries from five different fields (“Artists and Entertainers,” “Leaders and Revolutionaries,” “Builders and Titans,” “Scientists and Thinkers” and “Heroes and Inspirations”), and the magazine publishes an issue for each category. Each installment of the series is billed as a publishing event; public panels are held-Charlie Rose recently moderated a discussion at the Getty Center in Los Angeles in which Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine squared off with singer Sheryl Crow, among others-and each issue is followed by a Mike Wallace-narrated CBS News special. It all culminates with a “Person of the Century” issue, due in 1999.

For the “Artists and Entertainers” issue, Mr. Isaacson and his fellow editors decided they wanted Steven Spielberg, Pablo Picasso, Lucille Ball, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Chaplin on the cover, and they put Mr. Hirschfeld to work on a rare color group portrait (the artist works in black and white almost exclusively). In due time, he submitted the illustration to the magazine, but when Mr. Isaacson showed the work to staff members, they noticed a problem. Louis Armstrong “had white eyes, red lips and [was] real black,” said one Time editor. “It was a real lawn-ornament-type thing.”

Time senior writer Christopher John Farley, who is African-American, was especially appalled. “He said, ‘It looks like little black Sambo,'” said the editor. (Mr. Farley did not return repeated calls for comment.) A small coalition formed to oppose the cover, and its members approached Mr. Isaacson one by one.

“A couple of people said, ‘Hmmm, that could cause some feedback,'” Mr. Isaacson said. Mr. Farley, however, was more direct. Mr. Isaacson said the writer told him, “I warn you, that’s bothersome.” Mr. Isaacson called a meeting of his top editors, and they quickly decided to ask Mr. Hirschfeld to reconceive his cover. “We thought, it’s controversial, so why go there?” Mr. Isaacson said.

Mr. Hirschfeld, who is 95 and referred calls on the matter back to Time , told his Time editors he disagreed with the “Sambo” reading of his Armstrong drawing. “He said it was a caricature and valid,” Mr. Isaacson said. The magazine ended up paying Mr. Hirschfeld twice: once for his portrait with the offending Armstrong caricature, and then again for a redrawn portrait, which replaced Armstrong and Chaplin with Bob Dylan.

It’s not the first time Time has experienced difficulty with the portrayal of an African-American on its cover. A June 1994 cover of O.J. Simpson’s mug shot provoked an outcry when it was revealed that Time had used computer imagery to darken Mr. Simpson’s complexion for a sinister effect. Mr. Isaacson’s “Time 100” has caused controversy as well. The first installment of the series, on “Leaders and Revolutionaries,” angered Turks worldwide when the editors rejected thousands of pleas from Turk nationalists to add their hero, Kemal Atatürk, to the list.

It was only a matter of time.… The first Web site devoted to the work of wayward meta-journalist Stephen Glass has appeared on the Internet. A 33-year-old Toronto freelancer named Rick McGinnis has set up the Glass site (http://www.interlog.com/~rmcginn/

Glassindex.htm), which includes samples of Mr. Glass’ work along with links to roughly two dozen articles about the problematic young reporter.

Mr. McGinnis said he began following Mr. Glass’ career after the publication of a February 1998 Harper’s magazine piece on telephone psychics called “Prophets and Losses.” When news of Mr. Glass’ con job broke in early May, Mr. McGinnis began accumulating stories on the subject with help from colleagues from the on-line community the Well. But since Mr. McGinnis and other students of Glassiana struck out to compile the Glass oeuvre , the former New Republic associate editor’s work has been harder to come by; The New Republic has removed almost all of Mr. Glass’ 41 pieces from its own Web site. Ever the enterprising freelancer, Mr. McGinnis is angling for an interview with Mr. Glass. “I’ve put an invitation for him to call me on the Web site,” Mr. McGinnis told Off the Record. “I’m very curious about why he did this.”

Mr. McGinnis isn’t the only one who’d like to speak with Mr. Glass, of course; his editors at The New Republic , George and Harper’s are still hoping he’ll get in touch. But a friend of Mr. Glass’ reports they shouldn’t hold their breath. Mr. Glass has told associates that on the advice of attorneys, he’s keeping his mouth shut. Lee Levine, a Washington, D.C.-based First Amendment specialist, confirmed he had advised Mr. Glass but said he had not been formerly retained by the writer. Asked when his editors and associates might expect to hear from Mr. Glass, Mr. Levine said, “I have no clue.”

Meanwhile, Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham has decided not to address the veracity of Mr. Glass’ “Prophets and Losses” piece in print. Harper’s publisher Rick MacArthur told Off the Record that the magazine has rechecked the piece and concluded that while Mr. Glass did indeed go undercover as a telephone psychic for a time, the conversations he recounted in the piece were unconfirmable.

“We fact-checked it as far as we could fact-check it, and the facts we could check checked out,” said Mr. MacArthur. “Half of it’s true, which doesn’t mean we don’t suspect he made up the conversations [with anonymous people calling the psychic phone lines], but we don’t know it. We’re not off the hook.” Mr. MacArthur added that he’d like to speak with Mr. Glass, but “he hasn’t returned our calls.”

Kathy Bishop will long be remembered for something she wrote at the New York Post , even though she never meant it for publication. Ms. Bishop is the former Post women’s page editor who resigned on May 29, one day after a job solicitation intended for Daily News editorial director Harold Evans wound up in the wrong hands. Ms. Bishop was trying to print the letter in her office at the Post but made a computer error that routed the letter to the layout department. Soon, nearly everyone at the tabloid had a copy, including Post editor in chief Ken Chandler. Mr. Chandler summoned Ms. Bishop for a lengthy meeting that afternoon. The next morning, she resigned.

Ms. Bishop was not exactly the most beloved member of the Post staff; her colleagues bristled under her aggressive management style, and several say eruptions were frequent. Post cartoonist Sean Delonas celebrated Ms. Bishop’s departure with a cartoon that was so offensive his superiors ordered it shredded. “I feel like the biggest fool in the whole wide world,” Ms. Bishop told Off the Record. Here’s why:

“Dear Harry,

“Help, I’m aging. In fact, the next time we speak, I might have gray hair!

“Kidding aside, it has been a while since I turned in the Sunday Daily News ‘report card’ and I wanted to check in. (The past few issues seem to be picking up a little steam …)

“I do believe that my talents would greatly benefit your company. At this stage, while I am happily ensconced at the Post , I’ve hit my learning curve here. I thrive on new challenges-and that is what I am seeking. As we’ve discussed, I hope you’ll think of me as a potential trouble-shooter-to go into, say, the Sunday Daily News and turn it around (I know I can do that); or to help make U.S. News become a true must-read (remember, my section’s articles get picked up by television and other print media all the time). And please repeat after me: I do not want your job-although associate editorial director wouldn’t be too shabby. I do think we’d enjoy working together as well.

“Perhaps I’m thinking large, but that’s what I do. I did it at the Post and it worked. What could have been a dopey little women’s section has given the rest of the testosterone-filled paper a good run for its money.

“Harry, I do hope we can get together soon, or at least catch up on the phone. In early July, I’m going to the Murdoch retreat-management confab, but June is wide open.


Kathy Bishop”

On May 31, the New York Post ran a two-page, cover-billed editorial advocating a new Yankee Stadium on Manhattan’s West Side. The editorial may have given Post readers the impression that the tabloid’s higher-ups were in bed with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. But a sweeping television shot during the May 28 Yankees-Red Sox game revealed that the Posti es and Mr. Steinbrenner weren’t sharing a bed, but a sky-box.

Post editorial-page editor John Podhoretz confirmed that he, Post editorial writer Bob McManus and Post publisher Martin Singerman were guests of Mr. Steinbrenner for the Thursday-night Red Sox game, just four days before the tabloid’s big pro-stadium editorial. Was the Post editorial a payback for some choice seats next to the Boss?

“It’s not true,” protested Mr. Podhoretz. “That piece has been in the works for three weeks.” Mr. Podhoretz said that initially he’d opposed the stadium “on boondoggle grounds.” But after investigating the economic feasibility of a new stadium on the West Side with his cohort and fellow baseball fan Mr. McManus, Mr. Podhoretz said he decided to come out in favor of the project. But he claimed that the issue of the new stadium never came up with Mr. Steinbrenner. “I think we talked about the Boston Red Sox shortstop,” he said. You can reach Off the Record by e-mail at wstjohn@observer.com.

Why Al Hirschfeld’s Drawing of Louis Armstrong Never Made It Onto Time Magazine’s Cover