The Historical Present: Uses and Abuses of the Past

By Edwin M. Yoder | Go to book overview

The "How's the President Doing" Question

THE LATE HEDLEY DONOVAN, Henry Luce successor as editor in chief of the Time-Life publications, was a model of journalistic sobriety and intellectual curiosity whom I had the pleasure of knowing in his later years. Hedley liked to convene editorial luncheons in the Time-Life Building's executive dining suite above the clouds in New York and, over good food and drink, conduct informal seminars on presidential performance--the "how's the president doing question," as he called it.

One day in 1978, I had flown up from Washington for such an occasion. I was then editing the editorial page of the Washington Star, which Time, Inc. had just bought. Hedley invited me to lead off a discussion of the state of the Carter presidency. How was Carter doing? In all candor, I might have asked: "Compared to whom? And when?" But such questions would have been uncollegial, and certainly unjournalistic. So I did my best. But it is very hard to say how a president is "doing" except with reference to the fickle standards journalists establish when they're eager for copy.

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