"An Aristocracy of Critics" by Stephen Bates

An Aristocracy of Critics Luce, Hutchins, Niebuhr, and the Committee That Redefined Freedom of the Press Stephen Bates

Publication date:
12 Jan 2021
Yale University Press
336 pages: 235 x 156 x 29mm
19 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

The story behind the 1940s Commission on Freedom of the Press—groundbreaking then, timelier than ever now

"Bates skillfully blends biography and intellectual history to provide a sense of how the clash of ideas and the clash of personalities intersected."—Scott Stossel, American Scholar

"A well-constructed, timely study, clearly relevant to current debates."—Kirkus, starred review

In 1943, Time Inc. editor-in-chief Henry R. Luce sponsored the greatest collaboration of intellectuals in the twentieth century. He and University of Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins summoned the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, the Pulitzer-winning poet Archibald MacLeish, and ten other preeminent thinkers to join the Commission on Freedom of the Press. They spent three years wrestling with subjects that are as pertinent as ever: partisan media and distorted news, activists who silence rather than rebut their opponents, conspiracy theories spread by shadowy groups, and the survivability of American democracy in a post-truth age. The report that emerged, A Free and Responsible Press, is a classic, but many of the commission’s sharpest insights never made it into print. 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.

Stephen Bates is an associate professor in the Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Winner of the 2021 Goldsmith Book Prize, Trade category, sponsored by the Shorenstein Center

“In decades of editing, I have always carried with me the thoughts of A Free and Responsible Press. Stephen Bates does us a service in his vivid account of its creation.”—Sir Harold Evans, author of Good Times, Bad Times and The Freedom of the Press

“A sterling piece of intellectual history of America at midcentury, and an important meditation on the problems of journalism in American life.”—Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica

"Stephen Bates tells an astonishing story about a time when U.S. media outlets were biased, polarizing and distrusted. Sound familiar? This deeply researched, vividly written book speaks directly to the age of trolls and tweetstorms."—William Powers, author of New York Times bestseller Hamlet's BlackBerry

An Aristocracy of Critics is an elegant and seminal work about a gathering of mid-20th century intellectuals who presciently examined the role of news media in a democratic society.”—Sally Denton, author of The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World