Tuesday, December 10, 2002

The Underappreciated Hubris of John Huey

In the December issue of GQ, Maxmillian Potter attempts to do a hatchet job on the editorial director of Time Incorporated, John Huey. According to Potter, Mr. Huey is quite the churlish character and believe it or not is sometimes rude and brusk with his employees (Gasp! Yawn). Maybe I’m jaded, but I would be surprised to find out that a top executive at a massive global conglomerate like Time Inc. (which publishes magazines such as Time, Sports Illustrated, People, Fortune, and Entertainment Weekly) isn’t a bit of an a-hole. And if I were a share holder in said company, I’d be concerned if he wasn’t one. But despite Potter’s best attempts to persuade me otherwise, I believe John Huey to be a hero, if for no other reason than the following incident:

On the morning of October 12, 2001 about two dozen of Time magazine’s most senior journalists gathered in a conference room on the twenty-fourth floor of the Time & Life Building in midtown Manhattan to discuss their coverage of the September 11 attacks and the aftermath. Also present was John Huey, the new editorial director of Time Incorporated, the magazine-publishing division of AOL Time Warner.

By design, Time editorial meetings are informal democratic exchanges. “That’s how you get your ideas and formulate where you’re going,” a staffer explains. “You listen to people talk.” People such as assistant managing director Philip Elmer-DeWitt. As the group debated whether or not to make George W. Bush the cover of the forthcoming week’s issue, Elmer-DeWitt started to tell his peers he didn’t have much confidence in the Bush administration. He had barely begun speaking when Huey leaned forward and in his thick Georgia drawl said, “What makes you think anyone gives a sh*t what you think?”.

Huey added a few words about Time needing to be more objective, then eased back into his chair. The room fell silent, and the meeting lurched to an awkward close.


Sure, I appreciate Huey’s attempt to instill some degree of journalistic objectivity into an institution of arrogant and deeply entrenched bias. And I definitely applaud his gallant defense of the American government, during what was then still a time of crisis. But that’s not why he’s a hero to me.

No, instead, he’s a hero for having the vision and the guts to say the words that have needed to be said at every meeting I’ve ever attended during my long day’s journey through corporate America. To repeat, “What makes you think anyone gives a sh*t what you think?” Isn’t that absolutely beautiful? Say it loudly and there’s music playing, say it softly and it’s almost like praying. It reads like a corporate Shakespearean sonnet. Huey’s the Byron of upbraiding the banal.

He has inspired me to compose some of my own verse for the next meeting I attend, where some uninspired drone feels the need to natter on endlessly about what they think should happen or why they disagree with some brilliant idea I propose:

“Who the f*** ever gave you the idea that your opinions mean anything to anybody?”

Or

“Why don’t you keep your g******** mouth shut until I ask to hear the braying of a jack***”

Yes indeed, with this strategy, I just might be the next one to whom my employers hand over the keys to the executive washroom. Let’s just hope they don’t hand me a mop and bucket as well.

(FYI - GQ doesn’t publish an electronic edition, so I can’t provide a link to the article cited above, which is doubly tragic since you won’t be able to see the breathtaking picture of Jennifer Lopez on the cover either.)

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