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An Aristocracy of Critics

Luce, Hutchins, Niebuhr, and the Committee That Redefined Freedom of the Press

Stephen Bates (View Bio)
Hardcover: Yale University Press, 2020.

The Commission on Freedom of the Press was one of the greatest collaborations of intellectuals in the twentieth century. Financed by Time Inc. publisher Henry R. Luce, the committee included preeminent philosophers, educators, theologians, and constitutional scholars, with University of Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins as chair. Starting in 1943, commission members spent three years wrestling with subjects that are as pertinent as ever: partisan media and distorted news, activists who silence rather than rebut opponents, conspiracy theories spread by faceless groups, hate speech, and the survivability of American democracy in a post-truth age. The report that emerged, “A Free and Responsible Press,” is a classic, but much of the commission’s greatest wisdom never made it into print. In this book, journalist and First Amendment scholar Stephen Bates reveals how these towering intellects debated some of the most vital questions of their time—and reached conclusions urgently relevant today.