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Theodore Harold White (May 6, 1915 – May 9, 1986) was an American political journalist, historian, and novelist, known for his wartime reporting from China and accounts of the 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972 presidential elections.

Life and career

Born May 6, 1915, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of a lawyer named David White. Theodore H. White received a scholarship to Harvard in 1934, based upon his academic achievements at Boston Latin School, from which he graduated in 1932.

White graduated from Harvard in 1938 summa cum laude (Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. was a classmate), with a degree in Chinese history, the first honors student of John K. Fairbank. He went to Chungking (Chongqing), China's wartime capital on a fellowship,later became a freelance reporter after being an adviser to Chinese Propaganda Dept for a short while. When Henry R. Luce, China born founder and publisher of Time Magazine, came to China the following year, he befriended White. White became the China correspondent for Time during the war. White chafed at the restrictions put on his reporting by the censorship of the Nationalist government and the rewriting of his stories by the editors at Time.

Although he maintained great respect for Henry Luce, he resigned and returned home to write, along with Annalee Jacoby, a best selling description of China at war and in crisis, Thunder Out of China [1]. The book described the incompetence and corruption of the Nationalist government and described the power of the rising Communist Party. The authors called upon Americans to come to terms with this reality. The Introduction warned “In Asia there are a billion people who are tired of the world as it is; they live such terrible bondage that they have nothing to lose but their chains.... Less than a thousand years ago Europe lived this way; then Europe revolted... The people of Asia are going through the same process.” (p. xix).

White then served as European correspondent for the Overseas News Agency (1948–50) and for The Reporter (1950–53)

He returned to his wartime experience in the novel The Mountain Road (1956), which deals with the retreat of a team of Americans in the face of the Japanese offensive. Although the Americans begin with a sympathy for the Chinese, their mission ends with the burning and destruction of a Chinese village.

Making of the President series

With experience in analyzing foreign cultures from his time abroad, White took up the challenge of analyzing American culture with the books The Making of the President, 1960 (1961), The Making of the President, 1964 (1965), The Making of the President, 1968 (1969), and The Making of the President, 1972 (1973), all analyzing American presidential elections. The first of these was both a bestseller and a critical success, winning the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.[1] It remains the most influential publication about the election that made John F. Kennedy the President. The later presidential books sold well but failed to have as great an effect, partly because other authors were by then publishing about the same topics, and White's larger-than-life style of storytelling became less fashionable during the 1960s and '70s.

A week after the death of JFK, Jacqueline Kennedy summoned White to the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport to "rescue" her husband's legacy. She proposed the that White prepare an article for Life magazine drawing a parallel between her husband and his administration to King Arthur and the mythical Camelot. At the time, a play of that name was being performed on Broadway and Jackie focused on the ending lyrics of an Alan Jay Lerner song, "Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot." White, a long-time family friend of the Kennedy's, was happy to oblige. He and Jackie collaborated on 1,000 word essay that he dictated later that evening to his editors at Life. When they complained that the Camelot theme was overdone, Jackie objected to changes. Kennedy's time in office was transformed into a modern day Camelot that represented, “a magic moment in American history, when gallant men danced with beautiful women, when great deeds were done, when artists, writers, and poets met at the White House, and the barbarians beyond the walls held back.” Thus was born one of the nation's most enduring, and inaccurate, myths. White later wrote that his essay is a "misreading of history. The magic Camelot of John F. Kennedy never existed."

On May 15, 1986 White suffered a sudden stroke and died in New York City. He was survived by two of his children, Heyden White Rostow and David Fairbank White.

Major books

Thunder Out of China (with Annalee Jacoby) (1946) reprinted Da Capo, 1980 ISBN 03068012800.

Fire in the Ashes (1953)

The Mountain Road (Sloane (1958), reprinted with an Introduction by Parks Coble, EastBridge 2006 ISBN 15998800080) which was made into a movie starring James Stewart.

Breach of Faith : The Fall of Richard Nixon (1975) A comprehensive history of the Watergate Scandal with biographical information about Richard Nixon and many of the key players of the event.

In Search of History: A Personal Adventure (1978)

America in Search of Itself: The Making of the President, 1956–1980 (1982)

Assessments

Both W.A. Swanberg in Luce and His Empire and David Halberstam in The Powers That Be discuss how White's China reporting for Time Magazine was extensively rewritten, frequently by Whittaker Chambers, to conform to publisher Henry Luce's admiration for Chiang.

William F. Buckley, Jr. a well-known conservative author, wrote an obituary of White in the National Review. He wrote of White that "conjoined with his fine mind, his artist's talent, his prodigious curiosity, there was a transcendent wholesomeness, a genuine affection for the best in humankind." He praised White, saying he "revolutionized the art of political reporting." Buckley added that White made one grave strategic mistake during his journalistic lifetime: "Like so many disgusted with Chiang Kaishek, he imputed to the opposition to Chiang thaumaturgical social and political powers. He overrated the revolutionists' ideals, and underrated their capacity for totalitarian sadism." [2]

In her book, Theodore H. White and Journalism As Illusion, Joyce Hoffman alleges that White's "personal ideology undermined professional objectivity" (according to the review of her work in Library Journal). She alleges "conscious mythmaking" on behalf of his subjects, including Chiang Kai-shek, John F. Kennedy, and David Bruce. Hoffman alleges that White self-censored information embarrassing to his subjects to portray them as heroes.

There is the question of civil liberties and minority rights, which lie at the root of America's concept of democracy. During the war the Communists championed all that was good in Chinese life; they fought against Kuomintang dictatorship and in so fighting fought for the liberties of all other groups. But up to now the Communists have been in opposition to the dominant regime, and their base has lain in the backward villages, where opposition has been nonexistent. How will they react to the organized opposition of the large cities where the Kuonintang middle class is firmly established and where, with money and influence, it can command a press that will present an alternative program? Will the Communists, if they govern large and complex industrial cities, permit an opposition press and opposition party to challenge them by a combination of patronage and ideology? They say that they will, for they believe that in any honest contest for the vote of the people, the people will vote them and their allies a majority against the candidates of the landed and well-to-do minority. But if the Communists are wrong in their calculations and are outvoted, will they yield to a peaceful vote? Will they champion civil liberties are ardently as they do now? This is a question that cannot be answered until we have had the opportunity of seeing how a transitional coalition regime works in peace time practice. Theodore White, Thunder Out of China, pp 236-237

References

Theodore H. White, In Search of History: A Personal Adventure (New York: Harper & Row, 1978). 561p. [ISBN 0060145994] Memoir of White's early years, training at Harvard under John K. Fairbank, experiences in wartime China, relations with Time publisher Henry Luce, and later tribulations and success as originator of the Making of the President series.

Thomas Griffith, Harry and Teddy: The Turbulent Friendship of Press Lord Henry R. Luce and His Favorite Reporter, Theodore H. White (New York: Random House, 1995).

“. . . The Crucial 1940's Nieman Reports.” Walter Sullivan The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University (Spring 1983) [3]

  • French, Paul. Through the Looking Glass: Foreign Journalists in China, from the Opium Wars to Mao. Hong Kong University Press, 2009.

References

  1. ^ "Pulitzer Prize Winners: General Non-Fiction" (web). pulitzer.org. http://www.pulitzer.org/. Retrieved February 28, 2008.  

External links

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Theodore Harold White (May 6, 1915May 9, 1986) was an American political journalist, historian, and novelist, best known for his accounts of the 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972 presidential elections.

Contents

Reporter

Born May 6, 1915, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of a Jewish lawyer named David White. Theodore H. White received a scholarship to Harvard in 1934, based upon his academic achievements at the famous Boston Latin School, from which he graduated in 1932.

White graduated from Harvard in 1938 summa cum laude (Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. was a classmate), with a degree in Chinese history, the first honors student of John K. Fairbank. He went to Chungking (Chongqing), China's wartime capital on a fellowship,later became a freelance reporter after being an adviser to Chinese Propaganda Dept for a short while. When Henry R. Luce, China born founder and publisher of Time Magazine, came to China the following year, he and White hit it off. White became the China correspondent for Time during the war. White chafed at the restrictions put on his reporting by the censorship of the Nationalist government and the rewriting of his stories by the editors at Time.

Although he maintained great respect for Henry Luce, he resigned and returned home to write, along with Annalee Jacoby, a best selling description of China at war and in crisis, Thunder Out of China [1]. The book described the incompetence and corruption of the Nationalist government and described the power of the rising Communist Party. The authors called upon Americans to come to terms with this reality. The Introduction warned “In Asia there are a billion people who are tired of the world as it is; they live such terrible bondage that they have nothing to lose but their chains.... Less than a thousand years ago Europe lived this way; then Europe revolted... The people of Asia are going through the same process.” (p. xix).

White then served as European correspondent for the Overseas News Agency (1948–50) and for The Reporter (1950–53)

He returned to his wartime experience in the novel The Mountain Road (1956), which deals with the retreat of a team of Americans in the face of the Japanese offensive. Although the Americans begin with a sympathy for the Chinese, their mission ends with the burning and destruction of a Chinese village.

Making of the President series

With experience in analyzing foreign cultures from his time abroad, White took up the challenge of analyzing American culture with the books The Making of the President, 1960 (1961), The Making of the President, 1964 (1965), The Making of the President, 1968 (1969), and The Making of the President, 1972 (1973), all analyzing at American presidential elections. The first of these was both a bestseller and a critical success, winning the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.[1] It remains the most influential publication about the election that made John F. Kennedy the President. The later presidential books sold well but failed to have as great an effect, partly because other authors were by then publishing about the same topics, and White's larger-than-life style of storytelling became less fashionable during the 1960s and '70s.

Shortly after JFK's death, White obtained an exclusive interview with Jacqueline Kennedy. During this interview Mrs. Kennedy spoke at length on a personal level about her husband and what she hoped would be his legacy. Her comments inspired White to compare the short-lived presidency of John F. Kennedy with the legend of Camelot, for which Life was also acclaimed. White covered the assassination and funeral extensively, also for Life. White was the best known reporter at Andrews Air Force Base on November 22, 1963, when the body of the assassinated president arrived there.

On May 15, 1986 White suffered a sudden stroke and died in New York City. He was survived by two of his children, Heyden White Rostow and David Fairbank White.

Major books

Thunder Out of China (with Annalee Jacoby) (1946) reprinted Da Capo, 1980 ISBN 03068012800.

Fire in the Ashes (1953)

The Mountain Road (Sloane(1958) reprinted, with an Introduction by Parks Coble, EastBridge 2006 ISBN 15998800080) which was made into a movie starring James Stewart.

Breach of Faith : The Fall of Richard Nixon (1975) A comprehensive history of the Watergate Scandal with biographical information about Richard Nixon and many of the key players of the event.

In Search of History: A Personal Adventure (1978)

America in Search of Itself: The Making of the President, 1956–1980 (1982)

Assessments

According to David Halberstam's book, The Powers That Be, White's China reporting for Time Magazine was extensively rewritten in order to reflect publisher Henry Luce's admiration for Chiang.

William F. Buckley, Jr. a well-known conservative author, wrote an obituary of White in the National Review. He wrote of White that "conjoined with his fine mind, his artist's talent, his prodigious curiosity, there was a transcendent wholesomeness, a genuine affection for the best in humankind." He praised White, saying he "revolutionized the art of political reporting." Buckley added that White made one grave strategic mistake during his journalistic lifetime: "Like so many disgusted with Chiang Kaishek, he imputed to the opposition to Chiang thaumaturgical social and political powers. He overrated the revolutionists' ideals, and underrated their capacity for totalitarian sadism." [2]

In her book, Theodore H. White and Journalism As Illusion, Joyce Hoffman alleges that White's "personal ideology undermined professional objectivity" (according to the review of her work in Library Journal). She alleges "conscious mythmaking" on behalf of his subjects, including Chiang Kai-shek, John F. Kennedy, and David Bruce. Hoffman alleges that White self-censored information embarrassing to his subjects to portray them as heroes.

References

Theodore H. White, In Search of History: A Personal Adventure (New York: Harper & Row, 1978). 561p. [ISBN 0060145994] Memoir of White's early years, training at Harvard under John K. Fairbank, experiences in wartime China, relations with Time publisher Henry Luce, and later tribulations and success as originator of the Making of the President series.

Thomas Griffith, Harry and Teddy: The Turbulent Friendship of Press Lord Henry R. Luce and His Favorite Reporter, Theodore H. White (New York: Random House, 1995).

“. . . The Crucial 1940's Nieman Reports.” Walter Sullivan The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University (Spring 1983) [3]

  • French, Paul. Through the Looking Glass: Foreign Journalists in China, from the Opium Wars to Mao. Hong Kong University Press, 2009.

References

  1. "Pulitzer Prize Winners: General Non-Fiction" (web). pulitzer.org. http://www.pulitzer.org/. Retrieved on Feburuary 28, 2008. 

External links


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