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A Letter From The Publisher: may 18, 1962

4 minute read

WE are not often accused of being bland or evasive, and if we have a preference for speaking directly, so do our readers. The letters we get, as indicated by the selection we publish each week, are never lacking in forthrightness. “Brickbats for your biased baloney,” begins one. And there is no reader so scornful as one whose favorite section got left out one week (“Man can’t live by gluten bread alone. Where’s the Art section?”).

Our readers seem to feel a democratic possessiveness about our Letters column. After President Kennedy’s set-to with steel, we reported that his action had been popular in the nation. But not, it turned out, with our readers. A reader demanded to know whether the letters we selected to run correctly reflected the ratio of letters we received. When we noted that our mail ran 5 to 1 against Kennedy, an eager reader protested that to judge by the Letters column, readers were 8 to 1 against! Such adding-machine impartiality is not our criterion in picking publishable letters; if it were, we would be at the mercy of systematic letter-writing campaigns. We try in a general way to reflect, by the letters we publish, the numbers, the intensity and the partisanship of the mail we get. But we must also add that in making our choice we show a preference for the letters that have something more to add, by way of argument, or have a vivid way of making their point.

TO gather news for this week’s TIME, one of our correspondents spent more than two weeks trekking through one of the world’s most depressing landscapes, and another rode the New York subway.

Rio Correspondent John Blashill made the journey through Brazil’s poverty-stricken Northeast, a land as worrisome as “six Cubas.” His searching report (see THE HEMISPHERE) makes the misery of the land apparent, and yet finds room to describe the elements around which hope may build.

Willard C. Rappleye Jr. was the correspondent who rode the subway, following a fellow passenger in his rounds—the head of the world’s biggest manufacturing corporation. General Motors’ Chairman Fred Donner is a man who lives simply, was brought up in a family that did not seek publicity, rarely gives interviews, and on behalf of General Motors believes that “we would much rather be inscrutable than talk too much.” His 9½ hours with Rappleye may set some sort of record for this reticent man. Recently, on one of Donner’s inspection trips to G.M.’s overseas empire, he entered the orbit of Australian Artist William Dobell, who painted the cover portrait. The story was written by Everett Martin, 36, who once covered Detroit for the Christian Science Monitor and worked for the Wall Street Journal.

IN the intuitive art of journalism, timing is as important as selecting the news. In March our correspondents in Texas began alerting us to some funny business involving one Billie Sol Estes, and before March was over, we had received 26, pages of reporting on the subject. The honor of being first in breaking the story belongs to an enterprising and courageous Pecos editor named Oscar Griffin. But TIME correspondents in Texas, Colorado, California, Chicago and Washington followed the story closely for weeks, and we waited until last week, and the cresting interest, to lay down a cohesive report on Billie Sol. Thus, as Billie Sol made front-page news across the land, TIME readers could find what was probably the most concise, comprehensive story on Billie Sol’s complex and intriguing scandals to date. There’s more to tell this week.

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