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Truth & Innovation

Sir Harold Evans

     ... journalist, historian, editor and writer. Author of The American Century and They Made America, Sir Harold settled in the U.S. in 1984, having been editor of the "Sunday Times" of London and the "Times" of London. He was founding editor of "Condé Nast Traveler," president and publisher of Random House, editorial director and vice chair of U.S. News & World Report the Atlantic magazine, Fast Compan" and the New York Daily News. Britain's journalists voted Sir Harold the greatest all-time British newspaper editor in 2002, he was knighted in 2004 for his reporting on thalidomide. Sir Harold lives in New York with his wife, Tina Brown, and their two children.


Openness in a society is as critical to innovation as it is crucial to the development of humankind, according to Sir Harold Evans. A renowned journalist, editor and author, Sir Harold (still known in the publishing world as "Harry") says it's time to restore a reverence for truth to the news. He also calls us to consider innovation and innovators over the course of American history. Innovation itself, as Sir Harold presents it, offers great possibilities as a deeply moral activity, even when innovators themselves fall far short of sainthood.

America's traditional openness as a society, with its relatively greater freedom to exchange ideas, is a significant reason why innovators have flourished in the U.S., Sir Harold believes. You cannot be free unless you think you are free, he points out, convinced of the central necessity of freedom, whether physical or intellectual. So when ideology of any kind stands in the way of freedom and openness -- as he believes government restrictions are currently doing in the U.S. today -- humankind stands to regress, Sir Harold concludes.

Concentration is also an enemy of freedom in Sir Harold's view, pluralism is the name of the game. He turns a critical eye on today's media concentration as well as on the troubles with the current state of technology and of business. Vast experience has taught Sir Harold that the more sources we have, the better, the fewer we have, the worse.

Currently, he is alarmed by attempts to force journalists to reveal sources. While he knows that all governments have a natural tendency to be secretive, he finds today's secrecy within the United States' government particularly worrisome. Add to that, technology and the forces of capital accretion are tending to put a tight bound around expression and the free exchange of ideas, he says. And in his opinion as a newspaper editor, the media are seriously neglecting their important responsibilities, allowing unsubstantiated and unsourced stories, repeating ad nauseum obvious distortions and falsehoods as though they were established fact.

Return integrity to the news, Sir Harold says. Understand we will never find "the whole truth," but pursue it. Reinforce curiosity with energy. Today's "on the one hand, on the other hand" is neither objective nor impartial, he says, it is most often the utterances of two competing public relations organizations. Instead, praise honorable men and women. Maintain pressure to enhance education. And resist today's attempts to further concentrate ownership and management of radio, television and newspapers. Allow the good to drive out the bad, says this seasoned journalist.

Finally, resist the rhetoric of people Sir Harold considers ignorant demagogues when they demean "government." Innovation in America would have been impossible without the powerful combination of individuals willing to challenge most people's deepest assumptions and government willing to provide the framework of freedom, defense and education.

Where to begin to build a brighter future? With courage, Sir Harold believes. And courage has to begin as an individual thing, Sir Harold Evans insists, whether he is drawing his inspiration from heroic individuals fighting for their Civil Rights or from long-forgotten innovators and their innovations which alsochanged the world.

[This Program was recorded November 10, 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]


Conversation 1

Sir Harold Evans considers the importance of transgressing boundaries and mixing disciplines with Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. Sir Harold applies these ideas to innovators about whom he has written.


Conversation 2

While some generalities emerge about American innovators over 200 years, most great innovations were neither predicted nor predictable, Sir Harold says. Challenge assumptions, he says, giving a number of examples of innovators who successfully did, including Ted Turner, about whom Sir Harold expands. With a series of further examples, Sir Harold shows how perseverance and consistency may yield a trophy, but can also lead one astray.


Conversation 3

With a look back at the many career moves that brought him to the present day, Sir Harold affirms early decisions that saved him from potentially regrettable compromises. With a bow toward ancient wisdom, he considers what the appropriate balance is between social conformity and the impulse to innovate in spite of it. Outlining his own guiding values for a moral imperative, Sir Harold considers the importance of failure for several major American innovators, suggesting possible answers to his own question, "Why do people go on?"


Conversation 4

While there were many admirable motivations for his innovators, they were not saints, Sir Harold says, giving a series of examples. Affirming the importance of social and moral leaders he has celebrated in earlier work, Sir Harold explores the founding American ideal of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness," convinced that "happiness" must include some material things. If one is to understand American freedom, history, idealism or progress, one must include both the people who invented the United States' essential frameworks and the central role government has played, Sir Harold believes. Demeaning government is the work of ignorant people and political demagogues, he says, with a wide range of examples, including the role of patents. Suicides, serendipity and secrecy lead Sir Harold to defend openness in society on behalf of physical and intellectual freedom.


Conversation 5

Sir Harold details a disturbing and virtually unknown story -- Gary Kildall, not Bill Gates, was the innovator key to the personal computer revolution, says Sir Harold. He describes how he believes Kildall lost out to Microsoft and IBM, resulting in what Sir Harold calls a defective system which held back progress. Sir Harold calls for Bill Gates to do the honorable thing -- honor the memory of Kildall and Kildall's central contribution. Turning to today's media, Sir Harold describes it as suffering from far too much concentration. Pluralism, he says, is the name of the game in technology, business and communication. He explains why he is alarmed by current trends in American journalism and the growing difficulty of countering the natural secretiveness of government. "Resist concentration!" he reiterates.


Conversation 6

Courage is essential to a positive future, Sir Harold believes, convinced courage must begin with individuals. Praise honorable men and women, he says, then calls on journalists to search for and have a reverence for truth; to resist confusing "objectivity" with competing public relations mouthpieces; and to restore integrity to the news.



Welcoming Sir Harold rounded out a charming connection to the earliest days of our Show. Yet again, we thank reporter Miriam Longino for her story in the January 1, 1997, Atlanta Journal/Constitution, where serendipitously, we first were ever-so-loosely connected with then-Harry Evans and his wife, Tina Brown. We trust our good fortune to hold firm, delighted in possibilities that may grow from having welcomed Sir Harold to our program and into our lives.

We thank Gabrielle Brooks at Random House for making sure that The American Century found its way to us.

Related Links:

Sir Harold invites those interested in more about the lives and importance of the 70 innovators he covers in They Made America to the website by the same name.

Among Sir Harold's many books are They Made America, published by Little, Brown in conjunction with a 4-part television series seen in the U.S. on Public Television, and The American Century, published by Knopf.

Bonnie Anderson, former foreign correspondent for NBC and CNN, Haynes Johnson, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Tom Johnson, former president of CNN, share their informed thinking about journalists’ responsibilities in an open society and the current performance.

In his role as the Annals of Communication Editor for The New Yorker, Ken Auletta keeps track of the media and where it’s headed. In his book World War 3.0, he examined the battle between Microsoft and the U.S. Government over Microsoft's apparent business dominance of innovations supported by the personal computer.  Michael Lewis examined innovation in Silicon Valley in The New New Thing.

Inventor Ray Kurzweil may be one of the people working today who has the kind of impact documented in They Made America.

In the innovative, open tradition that Sir Harold describes, Amory Lovins is working to use available science and technology to change how we use energy.

Frank Sulloway began the research which led to Born to Rebel in an effort to understand the kind of people about whom Sir Harold writes.

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