Sunday, May 24, 1992

Race Relations in America: Fragile and Deteriorating?

November, 1991. Italian-American residents of Bensonhurst, New York react with anger to the ninth in a series of marches through the streets of their community by thousands of protestors, predominantly African-Americans.

Led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the marches have been organized to keep public attention focused on the death of black teenager Yusef Hawkins. Hawkins was murdered in August, 1989 by several Bensonhurst youths, who suspected him of entering their community in search of white females. Earlier that morning, two of his alleged killers have been acquitted on murder charges and released.

"N-ggers, n-ggers, you motherfucking n-ggers," yell some onlookers. Crowds of white people hold up watermelons for the obliging television cameras.

Admittedly, Bensonhurst showcases an extreme example of poisoned race relations in a modern day American community. But the fact that such hatred can be openly witnessed in even one area of our country should gravely trouble us all. Today, more than twenty-five years have passed since our society finally began to dismantle the legal and institutional frameworks that enforced segregation between Americans of different races. Yet it can credibly be argued that there is still a potential for the hatred which exists in Bensonhurst to be exhibited elsewhere, in many other American cities and towns.

Some would go further, and argue that race relations in America today are not only still fragile, but noticably deteriorating. Things are bad and getting worse. Our times demand serious inquiry into all aspects of the history of race relations in America.

(Editor's note, 11/12/10 - This was the introduction to a never-completed paper on notable race riots of the twentieth century. I wanted to look at what sparked riots in Detroit in 1943, Watts in '65, and Newark in '67. I should have stuck closer to home, and focused on one shameful episode in North Carolina history - the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898, the only time in American history that a coup d'etat has successfully overthrown a lawfully elected local government. But I bit off more than I could chew with other papers I was working on at the time, and never started writing this one.

Little did I know that later that summer (1992), the L.A. riots would explode, writing a fresh chapter of our national failure to all get along. This would have been a really timely project.)

Monday, May 4, 1992

Corporate Media Exist To Sell Products, Not Inform Citizens

In modern day American society, traditional definitions of "connectedness" and "community" have almost ceased to have meaning for many people. Paradoxically, however, our entire nation seems to be more and more "connected," in the sense that our social structure seems to increasingly revolve around being plugged into a nationwide electronic forum.

This forum concerns itself in part with an endless pattern of events designated as the "news of the day" by the media professionals in control of its major outlets, particularly the television networks and mass subscription cable channels (CNN, MTV, ESPN, etc.) capable of providing up-to-the-minute coverage of such news.

It also provides us with a constant barrage of information concerning entertainment events, including the latest films, impending concert tours, and recording releases by superstar recording artists. Not to mention direct access to some of these entertainment events themselves, like broadcasting episodes of popular network television programs.

In the process, this forum allows the majority of Americans to share in a common frame of reference about the world and our place in it, mediated through the mass media - television, in particular. Essentially, our current day mass media have usurped many of the functions that were once served by the more coherent social structures of individual communities in city wards, small towns, and neighborhoods. One might say that the mass media has become our de facto national community, and that it has largely been technological advances that have made such a national, media-directed social structure possible.

What developments in American history have led us to this state of affairs? In order to discern them, it is necessary that we recognize one further reality about the mass media and how it has existed in U.S. society almost since its inception. Advertisers seeking to inform the widest possible audience about their wares have long been a natural fit for mass circulation newspapers, magazines, and television programming.

How better to reach potential customers than through media which people actively seek out, in order to better inform themselves about the world around them? Owing to the absence of direct U.S. government control and subsidy of mass media in America, (the limited exception being funding for the Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS), it is little wonder that advertising revenues have continuously flowed to mass media.

Unfortunately, this has long signaled bad news for the media as an essential component of a well-functioning democratic society. The mass media's primary function in America has not for a very long time been to maintain an informed citizenry, conscious of the important political, social, and economic issues facing our nation and world. Rather, its foremost mission has been to provide a vehicle by which manufacturers and other business concerns can reach consumers with advertising messages and thus help sell their products.

This has been true since the early nineteenth century's "penny press," a wave of mass circulation daily newspapers that emerged in the 1830s. Before this, newspapers were chiefly controlled and financially subsidized by American political parties, still too weak to survive on the strength of circulation and advertising alone. These papers were filled primarily with the sort of "reasoned political opinion" which characterized American public discourse at the time.

With the advent of more popular, penny papers run by editors such as Horace Greeley and James Bennett, circulation soared figures soared. Such papers, in the words of media critic Neil Postman, "began the process of elevating irrelevance to the status of filling their pages with accounts of sensational events, mostly concerning crime and sex." (Amusing Ourselves To Death, Postman, p 66.)

It was not until later in the nineteenth century (1880s) that newspaper advertising revenues first began to outstrip circulation revenues, forever after relegating the media's supposed mission of "keeping the public informed" to second place, behind the interests of advertisers. Yet an important process began soon after the development of the penny press in the 1830s. This was a process by which the information content transmitted by mass media was transformed into a "product" in its own right.

It had clear roots in the technological changes first ushered in with the introduction of telegraphic communication in the 1840s. "It was not long after (the telegraph's debut) that the fortunes of newspapers came to depend not on the quality or utility of the news they provided, but on how much, from what distances, and at what speed." (Postman, p 67.) More specifically, the information explosion that resulted from the transmission of continent-wide "news," reports of "crimes, crashes, fires, from nowhere, addressed to no one in particular," (Postman, p 65) created opportunities for newspaper publishers to further increase the size of their dailies, and thus the amount of advertising they could carry. Information became a product meant primarily to fill pages (and later, radio and television timeslots) as elaborate frameworks for glorified advertising circulars.

As Postman and fellow communications scholar Joshua Meyrowitz have noted, the development of the telegraph (and later, the telephone) also laid important groundwork for the modern national media "community" because these communication technologies took initial steps towards "making the country seem smaller and other places and people closer." (No Sense Of Place, Meyrowitz, p 116.) Although the spread of world-wide communication introduced irrelevancy on a grand scale (in Postman's words), it also provided people with expanded "mental maps" of the world, and at the very least, an awareness of events far removed from their immediate surroundings.

For that matter, the range of transportation advances that our nation has witnessed in the past 150 years - from steamships to the railroads, from automobiles to jet planes - has also played an important role in expanding people's conceptions of their places within America in relation to others. In turn, these expanded "mental maps" have contributed to the development of the media-directed national dialogue. And of course, telegraphic communication removed news from formerly place-based, location-specific contexts and robbed it of immediate usefulness in the daily lives of whom it was addressed to. The development of photography in the 1840s and 1850s and later, of motion pictures (1890s) would amplify the same effect by introducing visual methods of context-free communication.

Subjugation of later communication technologies to the pursuit of profits continued. The majority of wireless radio stations set up in the U.S. during the early 1920s were operated by business firms interested in the sale of radio receivers. With the advent of radio's first commercials, broadcast in 1922, modern advertising techniques were off and running. Radio soon developed along the lines that television would - an industry deriving massive operating incomes from the broadcasting of advertising. The news, entertainment, and musical programming that graced radio's airwaves were almost immediately reduced to so much filler, broadcast simply to justify the continued running of advertisements.

The development of radio broadcasting also led to the establishment of the Federal Communications Commission in 1934. The FCC supposedly charges all radio and television stations with the responsibility of broadcasting "in the public interest." This is also the supposed primary condition on which renewal of stations' broadcasting licenses rests. In reality, very, very few U.S. stations have ever had their licenses revoked for failure to live up to FCC standards. The increasingly homogeneous nature of the mass media, fostered by growing concentrated ownership within the once-competitive industry, has also been a byproduct of the federal government's refusal to rigorously apply anti-trust laws to proposed mergers between media corporations.

The long dominant view of those in power during both Democratic and Republican administrations of the twentieth century has been that the government's duties towards regulation of media industries are minor ones. Not only has the U.S. government failed to adequately subsidize truly public media outlets, but it has long spurned the very mass media oversight responsibilities that were entrusted to it via the FCC Act. This abdication of government involvement in mass media control has not been a direct cause of the subjugation of true public interest reporting and information access to the dictates of profit-making, but it has ensured that nothing would be done by the broader society to impede its progress.

Finally, with the dawn of the broadcast technologies (radio and television) came a new element that would contribute greatly to mass media's eventual rise to great prominence in America's social structure. This was their ability to re-create elements of human communication in much more realistic manners than made possible by print or even photographic technologies. In turn, the widespread use of radio and television have made what researchers have called "para-social interaction" a fundamental feature of modern American social life. Electronic media have extended the psychological reach of personal communication shared by most Americans, to include the people we "meet" on television every day. "Viewers come to feel they 'know' (such people) in the same way they know their friends and associates." (Meyrowitz, p 119.) Such feelings of intimacy with figures who populate television programming are undoubtedly related to the sense of national "community" that the mass media provide today.

The three evils brought about by modern communication technologies, as outlined by Postman (irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence) remain with us as surely today as when they first began to shape the "news of the day" following the telegraph's invention.

The challenge is to re-orient some elements of our public discourse to their rightful places as the fundamental underpinnings of our democratic society - that is, as channels which can create and maintain an informed citizenry. This is likely to happen only through the development of true, independent sources of public interest reporting, and government funding for projects that provide greater public access to information.

Friday, May 1, 1992

Destroying Public Education: Chris Whittle, Channel One, and the Edison Project


One Company's Plan To Privatize American Public Schools

Whittle Communications. Infamous for its introduction of a daily, commercial news broadcast into the curriculums of American middle and high schools, a project dubbed Channel One. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, and founded by Christopher Whittle, 44, a CEO alternately described as a handsome, brilliant "golden boy,"1 and a "marketing terrorist,"2 who sports trademark bow ties and harbors political ambitions (temporarily shelved is Whittle's plan to run for Governor of Tennessee in 1994). Owned in large part by three multi-national media/electronics conglomerates - Time-Warner, which controls 37%, Associated Newspapers Holdings Ltd. of the U.K., with 24.6%, and the Netherlands' Philips Electronics N.V., with 25%. And, at the moment, a very profitable corporation.

Since 1980, total Whittle revenues have been more than $800 million - $151 million in 1988-89 alone, a figure projected to double by 1992-93. Whittle has been doing well because it is a ship kept afloat by the strategies and marketing schemes of the most revolutionary media buccaneer of our time - namely, Chris Whittle. Under his direction, the company is expanding media markets into areas never before penetrated, exploiting dozens of untapped opportunities to reach consumers with advertising messages.

Its latest proposal is an outgrowth of Whittle's presence in schools via Channel One. Currently billed as the "Edison Project," it is an undertaking described as perhaps the most ambitious educational initiative ever undertaken by an American company. In the next four years, Whittle hopes to re-shape U.S. education by opening a nationwide chain of 200 for-profit private schools.


Herbert Christopher Whittle's career path began during his years at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, from which he graduated in 1969. It was in college that Whittle met the small group of entrepreneurs who would eventually go into business with him in the early seventies.

In 1968, he successfully ran his future business partner and mentor Phillip Moffitt's campaign for student body president; the next year, Whittle himself was elected president.3 As Whittle himself explained in 1989:

"We did a magazine, Knoxville in a Nutshell, that was designed to orient new students to the University of Tennessee. We were all student leaders there, and a couple of us were involved in student orientation. So one of the group, Phillip Moffitt, came up with this idea."4

In 1971, Whittle, Moffitt, and three other partners borrowed capital from fifteen or so close friends (approximately $10,000 from each)5 and founded 13-30, a company named for the age groups they hoped to reach with their magazines.6 Their initial concept was publishing versions of Knoxville in a Nutshell for other college campuses around the country. Twenty separate editions were eventually produced, but success was not immediate. One problem was 13-30's method of soliciting local, not national advertising for the magazines, which preventing them from obtaining large enough revenues to support the magazines' free distribution systems. "(13-30) had losses of something like $60,000 the second year. By the fifth year it had losses of $500,000."7 These losses were partially alleviated by aggressive attempts to attract national advertisers eager to reach college-age consumers.

Single-sponsor magazines

13-30's fortunes truly shifted in 1974 with the development of their first truly innovative marketing strategy - the single-sponsor magazine. As Whittle explained in a March, 1990 interview, "Nissan came to us and said, 'We love your student magazines, but we'd like to stand out.' And I went, 'Well, yes. We can create a vehicle that only your advertising is in.'"8 That vehicle became America magazine, a biannual publication featuring "first-hand accounts of student travel adventures"9, distributed on college campuses, as Nutshell magazines had been. America, however, was to be solely supported by Nissan car advertisements and devoid of any editorial content, other than its relatively upbeat focus on college students as adventure-loving, and, of course, as a group of potential car buyers. Incidentally, the magazine is still published by Whittle today, still available on college campuses (such as UNC-Chapel Hill), and is still being sponsored solely by Nissan.

Whittle and 13-30 ran with the idea. Throughout the rest of the seventies, the company's focus shifted. Instead of creating magazines first and then trying to attract advertisers, Whittle developed magazine concepts according to demographic profiles of likely consumers of certain product categories. Then, advertisers from those same product categories were approached. "It was easy to sell potential clients on the idea of being able to have their ads - and their ads alone - reach a demographically perfect audience."10

Johnson and Johnson signed on with the New Parent series, which eventually grew to include three separate media properties:

"Pre-Parent Adviser, (a magazine) distributed through hospital-based prenatal classes, and New Parent Adviser, distributed at bedside 48 hours after birth (total distribution 4 million), as well as Parenting Adviser, (a wall-based poster advertising vehicle) in 10,000 to 15,000 pediatric offices."11

Ralston Purina sponsored both a biannual publication entitled Veterinary Practice Management, distributed to 30,000 veterinarians, and the Pet Care Report, a separate wall-based series of monthly advertising posters displayed in 6,000 veterinarians' waiting rooms across the nation. The U.S. Army sponsored two publications, Sourcebook and On Your Own, both designed to counsel high school students about "future plans," and together distributed to over 3 million high school juniors and seniors. Perhaps the most highly targeted of the single-sponsor magazines designed by 13-30 and sold to advertisers was the monthly Retail Appliance Management Series, underwritten by General Electric, and distributed free of charge to 18,000 appliance store managers.12

From the start, this innovative publishing concept came under fire from magazine competitors and critics of advertising's ever-increasing reach. "Competitors charged that Whittle's publications were non-magazines, nothing but bound "advertorial" - editorial copy designed solely to promote the interests and products of advertisers."13 Dale Lang, chairman of Working Woman/McCall's Group, said that Whittle's magazines "just don't have heart and soul."14

"For Whittle, editorial content is something you wrap around advertising to make it presentable. He hasn't just compromised the ideal relationship between journalism and advertising, as most magazines do; he has completely inverted it."15

It is not hard to see links between the current blurring of lines between editorial content and advertising through so-called "info-tainment" news specials and late night television product pitches, and the path that Whittle began blazing with his single-sponsor magazines. Clearly, the company was ahead of its time almost from the beginning.

By 1977, 13-30 had finally begun to work. Annual revenues were more than $5 million, and profits topped $1 million. That year, the company shopped around for a joint venture corporate partner and sold 50% of itself to the Bonnier Magazine Group, Scandinavia's largest publisher.16 Also that year, some of Chris Whittle's original college business partners took their earnings and cashed out. Left in control of the company were Whittle and his chief partner, Phillip Moffitt.

Esquire Magazine

In 1979, 13-30 departed from its single-sponsor strategy and made what Chris Whittle later described as "financially, one of the worst things we ever did,"17 the decision to purchase Esquire magazine.

"We (bought Esquire) mainly because we were tired of hearing, 'They don't do real magazines.' Finally, we said, 'O.k., we'll show them. Let's play in the big leagues. We'll go do one of theirs. But it didn't make much sense in terms of the company, as we grew to understand.'"18

At that point, Esquire was a fading publication, its glory days as the premier hip men's magazine only a memory. It was losing more than $100,000 a week, with subscription renewal rates hovering tenuously at less than 20%.19 13-30 held onto the magazine for seven years, losing more than $10 million before easing it back into profitability.

In order to finance Esquire's initial losses, Whittle and Moffitt bought back the 50% stake Bonnier owned in 13-30 and re-sold it to Esquire's former's owners, Associated Newspapers Holdings, a diversified British media company. Whittle concentrated on expanding 13-30's profitable stable of single-sponsor media vehicles, in order to offset Esquire's losses with the rest of the company's earnings.20 Moffitt focused on coordinating Esquire's production and halting its slide into bankruptcy.

When Whittle and Moffitt succeeded in rescuing the venerable magazine where other more experienced editors had failed, they won respect in advertising and publishing circles. The secret to their success was a shrewd adaptation of the company's innovative advertising approach to the constraints of a more conventional media vehicle, a general circulation magazine. According to a company press release, "Esquire survived after being 'repositioned as a lifestyle guidebook for affluent males between the ages of 25 and 45.'"21 Under 13-30's editorship, Esquire managed to ride the wave of yuppie culture as it emerged in the early eighties. To some extent, this again triggered the sort of earlier criticisms which 13-30's single-sponsor publications had drawn. To its critics, Esquire's "repositioning" meant that the magazine "catered increasingly to the culture of narcissism, with more articles on looking good, feeling good, and spending well - nice companions to advertisements on the same subjects."22

Whittle did reap other benefits from its Esquire years besides respect among industry circles. "'Esquire put us on the map,' said Laura Eshbaugh, who has worked with Whittle since the very beginning. 'It gave us entree to prospective clients that might have taken us a lot more years to get otherwise.'"23 Access to such clients would prove invaluable later, when the success of several large-scale Whittle ventures would depend primarily on the willingness of powerful advertisers to take risks on the company's untested marketing strategies.

In 1986, Whittle and Moffitt parted company. Relations between the two partners had been growing increasingly strained for years. Since their days in college, it had always been an unequal personal partnership for the two men - one often described as a "prophet-disciple relationship,"24 with Whittle on the losing end. The split was handled so that Moffitt got Esquire, which he sold later that year to Hearst Magazines, and Whittle retained control of 13-30, which he soon renamed Whittle Communications.25 The conventional wisdom in publishing circles was that Moffitt had gotten the better deal.

Place-based advertising

The second radical advertising innovation that Whittle and 13-30 employed was in the distribution of their single-sponsor magazines and other media properties. They were not only designed to appeal to specific types of consumers, but also distributed to places where such consumers were likely to be found. Most often, these places were ones that no one had ever before thought to use for advertising purposes. In order to accomplish this, Whittle has long employed a "large scale, highly advanced distribution force - (as of 1984), over 130 full time people who stock and deliver Whittle magazines in 50 cities."26 That number of delivery employees had more than doubled by 1988, to more than 350.27

Whittle called this concept place-based advertising. As one laudatory 1988 article put it, "the concept is simple - target the audience where they work, play, or wait, and serve up the advertiser like a ten course meal."28 It has provided the philosophical cornerstone for Whittle Communications' success as a media corporation - the constant drive to find new places where advertising can reach specific groups of people. In the process, many Whittle imitators have emerged who are following the same path and make up an expanding field of so-called non-traditional media firms.29

Place-based magazine distribution came first, yet was quickly followed by another important Whittle innovation - "wall media," or permanently-installed wall advertising posters. In addition to wall media installations on college campuses (Campus Voice Bi-Weekly) and in pediatric offices and veterinarian waiting rooms, such wall media were developed for health clubs (Esquire Health and Fitness)30, laundromats (Funnies), hospitals (Physicians Weekly), and even dermatologists' waiting rooms (Skin Care).31

Perhaps Whittle's most lucrative wall media are those displayed in elementary and secondary schools around the country. Since 1984, a series of posters called "Connections" have been installed in more than 5,000 U.S. high schools. "Published 14 times a year, each 'issue' is made up of four themed poster boards 'hosted' by a well-known (teen celebrity) figure. The billboards don't advertise tobacco or liquor...sponsors have included Proctor & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Levi Strauss."32 Since 1987, a similar series of billboards called "The Big Picture" have been on display in an additional 11,000 elementary schools. "It is not uncommon for grade schoolers to be surveyed by Whittle-funded researchers to see how vividly they recall brands like M&M's that advertise in Big Picture."33

"Big already pulling in $15 million a year (1988 figures) from advertisers such as General Foods Corp., General Mills, and Proctor and Gamble Co. 'That's all money that should have gone into Saturday morning TV shows,' Mr. Whittle said. 'But it's not. We've locked it up.'"34

"Ads run across the bottom of the billboards, which measure up to 6-by-4 1/2-feet, below educational messages on topics ranging from physical fitness to the U.S. Constitution."35 By touting the wall posters as educational aids, Whittle was able to sign contracts with local school systems which allowed them to be the only major vehicle for national ads in U.S. public schools between 1984 and 1988 (when several wall poster competitors emerged).

However, this also opened Whittle up to its first major criticism from educators concerned about selling advertisers access to students' minds. The reaction of Lawrence Hartman, principal of Tartan High School in Oakdale, Minnesota (a suburb of St. Paul) was typical of those school officials who reacted negatively to the Whittle pitch: "We have categorically rejected (wall posters) because they always carry with them some ad messages. This is a captive audience here. I don't think we can use the fact they must be in school...for profit."36 Officials and teachers in school systems which did allow installation of the posters were usually quoted in media reports as defending their educational value. The same was true of educators paid by Whittle to serve on the programs' advisory boards.

"Lester Knight, a University of Tennessee elementary education professor who is a paid member of "The Big Picture" advisory board, said the billboards' educational value overcomes any disadvantage of the advertising. 'I can understand why some people might say there is a captive audience here,' Knight said. 'At the same time, the ads are done so creatively it seems they could be an impetus for some kids to do creative things.'"37

Such contracts and the step they represented in bringing advertising into schools also laid important groundwork for Whittle's later, more extensive school advertising venture, Channel One. The negative response they drew from some quarters also anticipated, albeit on a much smaller scale, the controversy Channel One would be greeted with by many educators.

Special Reports

According a story circulated by Whittle in 1988, (which may have been more for public relations purposes than to provide insight into the company's workings), wall media also laid groundwork for the development of the breakthrough media property that first catapulted Whittle Communications into the national spotlight during the eighties. This vehicle was a quarterly series of six over-sized magazines called Special Reports, designed to be distributed free in doctors' offices nationwide beginning in fall 1988.

"While distributing (wall-media) materials, Whittle's people noticed that in most doctor's waiting rooms, the newest magazines are the first to be stolen; the issues that are left are often out of date, torn, and dog-eared. 'That's where we started from,' explained Whittle. 'We thought we could solve the physician's problem as well as the consumer's.'"38

Each of the magazines was to have a separate emphasis - one issue apiece on family, health, sports, life-styles, personalities, and fiction. They would be displayed in wood-paneled display cases also provided by Whittle, visited monthly by Whittle distribution employees to replace worn copies. Doctors would be saved the trouble and expense of maintaining subscriptions to other magazines, as well as keeping their waiting rooms tidy.

At first Whittle considered charging interested doctors an annual fee to receive Special Reports, a fee somewhat below the costs of subscribing to other magazines, but later provided everything free in order to maximize participation. The magazines eventually produced ran approximately seventy pages, thirty of which were (mostly full-page) ads. The editorial content in each issue was kept at no more than 27 minutes' worth, according to average reading rates - an amount geared to the average estimated time spent by patients in doctors' waiting rooms.

The real focus of Special Reports, as with any Whittle media venture, was to provide advertisers with a bold new way to reach their target audiences, one which would be extremely profitable for Whittle. For advertisers interested in reaching patients sitting in doctors' waiting rooms - mainly pharmaceutical firms and manufacturers of household goods - this target buying audience meant middle class adult women. Gynecologists, pediatricians, and general practitioners were approached. "'We will reach 70% of all mothers in America,' claimed Whittle."39

Advertisers who initially signed two year contracts to advertise in the magazines included Kraft, Nabisco, Sandoz, Colgate-Palmolive, Merrell Dow, Eveready, Ralston-Purina, General Foods, Motts, Beechnut, Lipton, and Hasbro.40 In all, those initial contracts provided Whittle with nearly $80 million in advertising revenues between 1988-1990. Whittle called Special Reports the most successful launch of a magazine in publishing history, in terms of advertising space sold. He cited by contrast the most successful conventional magazine launch ever, People magazine, which did $8 million worth of ad business in its first year.41

In order to obtain these enormous revenues, many advertisers had to sign onto the project. Thus, issues of Special Reports could not be single sponsor vehicles. However, Whittle did promise advertisers product category-exclusivity in the magazines. In fact, the company even went further. Whittle decided to cut down on the possibility that competing publications (more specifically, the ads they contained) would clutter up the waiting room environments where its magazines were placed. Whittle's agreement to provide Special Reports free of charge had one condition attached - participating physicians had to agree to subscribe to no more than two other non-Whittle magazines.42 More than anything else, it was this stipulation that created a stir in advertising and magazine publishing circles, helped whip up opposition in the ad world to Whittle's marketing innovations, and thrust Christopher Whittle into a truly national spotlight.

National newsmagazines such as Time and Newsweek ran critical stories on Whittle during early 1988, focusing on Special Reports. Other magazine publishers and advertising agencies also routinely condemned the project's exclusionary aspects. "'Whittle's plan is not far away from book burning,' commented T. George Harris, editor of American Health, which offers 100,000 subscriptions free of charge to doctor's offices."43 Rodale Press, publishers of Prevention and other health magazines, sent letters to 41,000 doctors urging them to keep Whittle out because the plan smacked of "censorship".44 "In response, Whittle went his usual route. He took out cheeky ads in The New York Times. He gave interviews. And he sold Special Reports."45

After the initial controversy over the project had died down, Special Reports was successfully rolled out in September, 1988. The next month, in early October, Christopher Whittle announced that he was selling half of Whittle Communications to Time, Inc. for $185 million. The move came as a surprise even to many industry observers, largely because Time executives had been among the most vocal critics of Special Reports. (Soon after the deal's completion, Whittle quietly decided to drop the project's only-two-other-magazines policy.)46

It was an eminently predictable sale from Whittle's perspective, paralleling as it did their earlier deals with both the Bonnier Magazine Group and Associated Newspapers Holdings. It gave Whittle access not only to Time's vast financial resources but also video technology and expertise via HBO, the Time-owned subscription cable channel.47

Perhaps just as important, Whittle again achieved the kind of legitimacy that the company had sought a decade earlier by buying Esquire. The sale provided Whittle with immediate liquidity and a restructured ownership arrangement that saw Time, Inc. owning 50% of Whittle, Associated Newspapers Holdings with 33%, key Whittle executives with 6%, and Chris Whittle himself owning 11%, although he maintained complete management control over the company.48

Whittle's original plans were for Special Reports to be distributed in 15,000 doctors' waiting rooms, located in 125 major U.S. market areas.49 Response from doctors once the magazines were made available free of charge was somewhat heavier than expected. By the fall of 1989, one year after their debut, Special Reports were in more than 17,000 waiting room locations.50 By the spring of 1990, they would be in more than 20,000.51 However, trouble was on the horizon.

A study was commissioned by Whittle concerning the relative effectiveness of ads placed in issues of Special Reports to those in other magazines, in terms of consumer recall. Not surprisingly, this study rated the Whittle ads very effective. "Whittle said Special Reports had 25 million readers and an ad-recall rate four times that of conventional magazines. He also claimed each copy of the magazine had been read by the statistical equivalent of 83 adults."52 Yet before renewing contracts for 1990-91, some advertisers asked their ad agencies to independently analyze Whittle's results. The agencies found that:

"(Special Reports) was not delivering as large an audience (as claimed), and was not nearly as cost-effective. An executive at one agency called Whittle's figures 'ridiculous.' The most conservative estimates set the cost-per-thousand (readers) for the publication at two to three times that of conventional women's service magazines."53

Broader estimates charged that the cost-per-thousand readers for Special Reports was more than twenty times more expensive than conventional magazines.54 Several of Whittle's initial clients declined to renew their contracts past 1988-1990. Whittle claimed the total renewal rate stood at 60%, while other ad agency sources put it closer to 50%.55 The pullouts had undoubtedly been influenced by shrinking ad budgets at a time of oncoming economic recession, but concerns over Special Reports' advertising effectiveness were the deciding factor.

In the end, Whittle managed to turn advertisers' dissatisfaction with Special Reports into a convenient opportunity to scale back on the project while forging ahead on another, more ambitious waiting room media plan. Details were first leaked to the media in November, 1989. The project's working title was WRTV, for Waiting Room Television. Whittle executives described the plan as merely "an extension of the waiting room environment from one media to another."56 Reaction from industry sources was somewhat more cynical. "'It's being done because renewals for Special Reports aren't going as well as they'd like,' said one ad agency executive. 'Whittle's good at doing that sort of thing.'"57

Initial plans for WRTV were characteristically grandiose. Whittle envisioned outfitting 100,000 doctors' waiting rooms with large screen televisions, six times the number of waiting rooms which were then receiving Special Reports. Commercially supported entertainment-oriented programming would be broadcast, with ad revenues projected to reach $200 million a year. "'It will be the fourth network,' Chris Whittle told a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. 'It will be fun.'"58

In May, 1990, Whittle officially announced the launch of WRTV, re-named Special Reports Television. Also announced were plans to continue quarterly publication of only two of the six Special Reports magazine titles, with the other four each to appear once a year. In effect, Whittle was halving the total number of magazines to be published annually, and thus also halving the project's available ad space. As a final sign of the magazines' demise, it was shortly thereafter decided that the ads in their pages would be offered free to advertisers who purchased commercial time on the Special Reports Television network.59

Channel One

Whittle's next project was the company's most controversial and well-publicized to date. It involved extending the concept of providing advertisers with access to consumers where they were likely to be to providing advertisers with a truly captive, guaranteed audience. The project consisted of a ten-minute daily news program called Channel One, designed to be broadcast to students in both public and private middle and high schools across the nation. Participating schools would each be wired with nearly $50,000 worth of telecommunications equipment, including satellite dishes, vcr-based receiving systems, and classroom television monitors (averaging 40-50 per school).60 In exchange, students would be exposed to two minutes' worth of commercial advertising interwoven with the program's news pieces. It was the logical next step for Whittle to take in expanding its earlier, very profitable school advertising efforts.

Plans for Channel One's introduction were first publicly announced in January, 1989. The project had been in development for nearly two years. According to Chris Whittle, the idea originated with Ed Winter, the Whittle division head eventually placed in charge of Channel One.

"'I went off on a retreat with Chris,' Winter recalls, 'and we were sitting around going, 'Listen to this idea: A teacher told me that we need to get into television. Somebody needs to produce news for teenagers using celebrities.' And then Chris looked at me and said, 'That's a Today show for teenagers.' Great ideas kind of stick in your gut, and I went, 'Of course!'"61

Susan Winston, a former producer of ABC-TV's "Good Morning America," was hired to oversee production of initial Channel One episodes. Additional news expertise came from former Fortune editor and current Whittle editor-in-chief William S. Rukeyser.62 A five-week trial run of the program was scheduled to begin March 6, 1989, with broadcasts to students in six schools located in Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and California.63

Reaction from many educators came swiftly. Some reacted favorably to Whittle's claims that the program would bolster students' knowledge of current events. Others saw the deal as a cost-effective way to provide school systems with much-needed video equipment at a time of local budget constraints.

"'I consider this the best form of corporate-school partnership,' said Thomas Sharkey, principal of Billerica Memorial High School in Billerica, Massachusetts. David Bennett, superintendent of the St. Paul, Minnesota school district, cited lack of public funds as a key reason why schools would accept the (Channel One) offer."64

Never highly publicized was the fact that Whittle planned only to loan video equipment to participating schools, available only for as long as schools agreed to broadcast Channel One.

Most sectors of the national education establishment were aghast at Whittle's plans. "'I think it's appalling and greedy,' said Arnold Fege of the national P.T.A.'"65 "'Do we want our young people to get the idea from school that buying fast food is as important as learning when Columbus discovered America?' asked Patricia Albjerg Graham, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.66 Children's television advocates were equally incensed.

"Peggy Charren, president of Action For Children's Television, a watchdog group, said she thought Channel One was a 'nifty idea' until she was told it would be ad-supported. 'It's horrendous,' she said. 'It would be as if the schools were telling students what to go out to buy. Every school system in the country should fight this.'"67

The National Parent-Teacher Association (P.T.A.), the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the American Federation of Teachers all announced their opposition to the project.68 More ominously for Whittle, the education boards of four states moved to prevent local school systems from contracting to receive Channel One - California, New York, Rhode Island, and North Carolina. The New York State Board of Regents voted unanimously in June, 1989 against allowing the program's broadcast after Whittle mounted a somewhat misguided, overly aggressive p.r. campaign aimed at gaining their approval.69

In California, state superintendent of public education Bill Honig announced in May, 1989 that it would cut public funding for any schools that signed Channel One contracts with Whittle. Funds were to be cut by the amount it would cost annually to operate the schools during the time that commercials were shown.70 Honig subsequently became one of the highest-profile national opponents of Channel One, asked to appear opposite Chris Whittle in both televised and written appearances.71 When some California schools defied his threats to reduce their funding and contracted to receive the program, Honig filed a still-pending lawsuit with the California Supreme Court in December, 1991, asking to have all existing contracts invalidated.72

In North Carolina, the state Board of Education issued a statewide ban in February, 1990, forbidding school districts from signing on with Whittle. Two local school boards, the Thomasville City and Davidson County boards of education, were parties to a suit taken before the N.C. State Supreme Court to overturn this ban.73 In October, 1990, the court ruled in favor of the local school boards. As of April, 1992, the program now airs in 225 schools in 74 North Carolina school districts, reaching an estimated 148,000 N.C. students.74 Later, opponents of the program's broadcast in Texas schools would wage a campaign to have it banned in that state as well. In January, 1992, the Texas State Supreme Court ruled that its state Board of Education had the right to ban the program from Texas schools.75 However, in a ruling the following month, in February, 1992, the state Board of Education voted to allow local contracts with Whittle to remain in effect for the time being.76

The initial flurry of bad publicity surrounding Channel One had its effects on the pulse of public opinion. A Gallup poll was conducted for the trade journal Advertising Age in August, 1989. It surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults and found that while "support was strong for the basic concept of a specially prepared news program on current events being broadcast into public school classrooms, with 85% approving of the idea, if advertising was part of such broadcasts, support would be cut by more than half. Only 37% favor an ad-supported program."77 In retrospect, Whittle acknowledged that they had underestimated the opposition Channel One would stir up. The company also agreed that timing Channel One's introduction for January, 1989 had been a mistake - from a public relations perspective.

"'We had not met with the education groups before Ad Age called them,' said Laura Eshbaugh, a vice president at Whittle. 'And that's not a particularly good start, when the first thing you know of a project in your world is that an advertising media reporter calls and says, 'What do you think of this?' And then, the time of year was not good, because there were a whole sequence of national conventions right after that where people were able to say, 'Isn't that horrendous! Whittle's going to put ads in the classrooms!'. 'What we had here,' agreed Ed Winter, 'was maybe the most close-up sense of how people behave when they think they're right and on an ethical mission. I can deal with policy and I can deal with opinion polls. I can't deal with this 'if you think its ethical.' That's like prayer in schools - nothing for us to talk about.'"78

Comments such as these succinctly illustrate the company's attitude towards its opponents and the concerns they have raised about Channel One. To Chris Whittle, public high schools are as much appropriate places to provide advertisers with access to consumers as are beauty salons and doctors' offices. "Clearly, Whittle decided that opponents of Channel One were simply irrational, that their dislike of commercials just didn't make sense. As he said, 'If commercials were a negative force, we as a society would have dealt with them.'"79 Whittle perhaps failed to realize that his own company's efforts to greatly expand advertising's presence in the daily lives of Americans may be leading our society to start considering such solutions.

This tendency to view the opposition generated by some of his proposals as largely public relations problems is also revealing about Chris Whittle. He learned early on how to effectively deal with such unwanted criticisms of his business practices. Such criticisms might be raised by advertising industry professionals, respected publishers, educators, public officials, or even concerned parents. Yet in the end, Whittle recognized the power that favorable public opinion would ultimately have to silence these same critics. With particular regard to the controversy unleashed by Channel One, Whittle saw that only favorable public opinion could bring public pressure to bear on the state education officials who would decide the project's fate. The strategies that Whittle Communications has employed towards helping to shape such mass opinion of its activities are at least as inventive and effective as those of any other corporation in the business of manufacturing its own public approval.

Whittle Communications received an escalating wave of mainstream media coverage between 1988 and 1991, consisting of flareups over projects such as Special Reports, Waiting Room Television, and culminating with the controversy that raged over plans to introduce Channel One. During its most heated moments, the calculatedly disarming, quirky, bow tie-wearing presence of Chris Whittle himself seemed to be appearing everywhere. He shrewdly became available for interviews and guest-wrote editorial columns in mass-media publications and television shows ranging from USA Today to Vanity Fair, from the Today Show to Nightline.

Another standard Whittle tactic has been to run full page ads in The New York Times and other upscale publications in support of the company's latest plans, in order to influence a national audience of business and community "opinion leaders." They first ran a series of such ads in 1988, debunking the power of traditional media such as newspapers, conventional magazines, and network television to reach specific segments of an increasingly fragmented market, and ads extolling the virtues of Special Reports when that project began to draw flak. Later, in 1990, similar ads ran defending Channel One against educators' complaints, and promoting another project, Whittle's Larger Agenda Series of advertiser-supported books.

Sometimes, Whittle has miscalculated. In his appearance on Nightline, "he came across as a highly inventive businessman out to make a buck at the expense of innocent babes. When asked about revenues from Channel One, he said, 'I'm not going to apologize for making a profit. I didn't know that was anything I had to apologize for in this country.'"80 Yet for the most part, this free and paid media exposure introduced him and his company's projects to a much broader public, which after initial skepticism reacted somewhat more favorably to his wares. At the very least, public opposition to Channel One did not immediately blossom into mobs of angry parents besieging local school board meetings with anti-Whittle complaints.

Despite mounting criticisms of the project, Whittle went ahead with the five-week, $5 million test of Channel One, beginning in March, 1989. The company was confident that students, teachers, and administrators at the six selected test schools would react favorably to the program. Furthermore, they realized that such reactions would serve as fodder for a wave of pro-Channel One media publicity likely to be generated throughout the test's duration. Both assumptions were right on target. Typical of the coverage that test schools received was a March, 1989 Advertising Age article entitled "Kids give 'Channel One' thumbs up," which reported that 'in interviews with more than 20 students from three of six schools participating in a test of the Whittle program, there was near-universal praise for what Whittle was doing. There was virtually no strong student reaction against either the programming or the commercials in the experiment's first two weeks.'"81

"Tiffany Bingham, a senior at Gahr High School in Cerritos, California, said, 'It's just like watching regular TV.' The reaction was the same at Mumford High School. 'Why is everyone talking about the commercials - who cares?' asked Monica Davis, 17, who works on the school newspaper. At Central High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, a sophomore, Jeff Mize, said, 'If our parents have trusted the schools this long, they can trust them about this. Besides, we all see these ads at home anyway.' Mitch Lippen, a junior at Gahr, agreed. 'The controversy (over the spots) is ridiculous. Commercials are commercials. It's like a separation, like a new paragraph before you get into a new subject.'"82

In a June 8, 1989 press conference, Whittle reaffirmed the company's commitment to Channel One, called the five-week test an enormous success, and announced some project modifications designed to weaken educators' opposition to the program. In addition to the twelve minute daily news broadcasts, schools contracting with Whittle would also receive two other categories of educational programming. Instructional services for teachers and school administrators would come under the heading of the Educators' Channel. Supplementary non-commercial, documentary-style educational programming suitable for further broadcast to students would be broadcast on the Classroom Channel. This educational programming was to be provided through agreement with the Pacific Mountain Network, an association of 43 western U.S. public television stations.83

The revised package now being offered to schools was trumpeted as the Whittle Educational Network. Also, Whittle announced that school systems would have greater flexibility in their contracts. Schools wouldn't have to use Channel One in all their classrooms, and would have the ability to decide whether or not to air individual broadcasts as long as the program was broadcast to students during a minimum of 92% of the total school year.84

In the fall of 1989, Whittle donated $4.3 million to the Pacific Mountain Network for use in producing portions of the Classroom Channel's promised non-commercial educational programming.85 He also organized a national Council of Advisers for the Whittle Educational Network, made up of education, business and government leaders. They included chairman Terrell H. Bell (former Reagan administration secretary of education), who agreed to participate for an undisclosed fee, Lamar Alexander (then serving as University of Tennessee president), who resigned from the board in 1990 when appointed Bush administration secretary of education, Alex Haley, Richard Munro (co-CEO, Time-Warner), H. Ross Perot, Frederick Smith (chairman, Federal Express), and Albert Shanker (president of the American Federation of Teachers), who said his position on the board was that of a "watchdog."86

Whittle concentrated its energies on convincing individual school districts across the country to sign up for the program, working towards its announced goal of bringing 1,000 schools on line by March, 1990, with a total of 8,000 schools receiving the broadcasts by the end of that year.87 A team of seventy Whittle salespersons crisscrossed the country, visiting thousands of U.S. private and public schools. Beginning in May, 1989, however, Whittle had to deal with a new wrinkle in its plans. Ted Turner's Cable News Network announced that CNN would begin providing a competing, non-commercial news broadcast for U.S. students to be launched in September, 1989.88 Called CNN Newsroom, the Turner program would be 15 minutes long, broadcast every morning at 3:45 a.m., and taped by schools to allow playback for students as individual teachers saw fit the next day.

The most important difference between the two companies' plans was that unlike Whittle, CNN did not plan to make large-scale loans of telecommunications equipment to schools receiving its news broadcasts. Schools without cable reception would be connected, free of charge, by local cable operators, but schools without enough television sets and VCRs would be unable to broadcast CNN Newsroom to all students. Nevertheless, the idea was greeted with enthusiasm by many educators, who saw signing on to receive Turner's programming as a way of thwarting Whittle's plans to bring advertising into the classrooms. As of March, 1990, more than 7,500 schools had signed agreements to receive CNN Newsroom.89

Whittle seized this opportunity to remind the public that after a decade of stable or declining education outlays at the state and local levels, most U.S. schools had yet to enter the information age through large-scale purchases of telecommunications equipment. In February, 1990, the company heavily publicized results of a Whittle-commissioned Gallup poll which interviewed 1,500 students nationwide and found that only .9% of them had access to daily televised news broadcasts (i.e., CNN Newsroom). This was at a time when according to Whittle, the cable industry was claiming to be broadcasting CNN's program into thousands of schools across the country.90

Channel One made its debut in 400 schools on March 5, 1990. By this time, Whittle claimed to have signed contracts with 2,700 schools in all.91 That figure rose to 2,900 a few weeks later,92 and to more than 3,300 schools in 37 states by early April, 1990.93 The number of school districts signing up for the program increased exponentially over the next year, so that by May, 1991, over 8,600 schools had signed contracts with Whittle.94 Eventually, grassroots anti-Whittle efforts did spring up in some areas. "Randy White, whose child attends Newton County High in Covington, Georgia, organized a parent group that forced the school board to vote down Channel One."95 "Students in Fargo, North Dakota staged a walkout to protest what they felt was dull and condescending programming."96 Yet for the most part, there was minimal public resistance as thousands of school districts decided that the merits of Whittle's offer outweighed the negative aspects of its commercial sponsorship. As more and more schools signed on, some educators' opposition to Channel One wilted in the face of not wanting to let their districts lose out on something so many others were embracing.

However, the style and pace of the program's news portions lent further credibility to critics' charges that Channel One was an inappropriate vehicle to use for increasing students' knowledge about current events.

"Describing Channel One - as it has been described - as a cross between MTV and "Good Morning America" is being charitable. Its news stories are narrated by young, stylishly groomed anchors who look as if they don't quite understand themselves what they're talking about. And it's not clear that anyone else will. The lead stories last about 20 seconds and are subdivided into lots of fleeting visual fragments."97

At Union High School in New Jersey, students watching Channel One's debut broadcast on March 5, 1990 illustrated the potential dangers of presenting students with an even more fragmented, soundbite-oriented summary of current events than they might ordinarily have access to via network or cable television newscasts. As reported in a New York Times account:

"After Channel One moved quickly through some top reports, the program offered (features on) a Japanese high school in Tennessee, the history of the Berlin Wall and the stricter educational requirements of the U.S. Army. The feature on the Japanese high school clearly sparked the most interest. Many students expressed resentment that Japanese lived in the United States, but did not choose American high schools. The report did not mention that the Japanese high school was founded because Japanese students educated overseas often fall behind their classmates at home and then fail the competitive examinations necessary for college, and future success, in their country."98

As of April, 1992, more than 6.6 million U.S. students in 10,000 schools were watching Channel One on a daily basis. This represents more than a third of all U.S. teenagers, although the program is still banned in California, New York, and Rhode Island. The student audience for Channel One is larger than the share of teens watching all top three network news shows combined.99 Whittle's current gross annual revenues from Channel One advertisers are $102 million. Plans are in the works for Channel One to be televised internationally for the first time in late 1992, broadcast into Russian schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg on a test basis. Ted Turner's CNN says that 23,500 schools are currently receiving its CNN Newsroom program, although the number of schools actually usually using the program is not known.100

However, recently released results from the first year of a three-year study of the program's effectiveness may give new ammunition to Channel One's critics. The study was conducted by the University of Michigan's respected Institute for Social Research, and directly funded by a $900,000 grant from Whittle Communications. Yet the research team insisted on complete independence from the company, and told the press that the study's less-than-glowing results proved there had been no interference from Whittle. Researchers interviewed 4,400 students at 24 schools in 11 areas around the country, about evenly divided between students who saw Channel One and those who did not.

"The researchers found that although teachers and students liked Channel One, teen-agers who had watched the program during the 1990-91 school year made very small gains in how much they knew about current events compared with students at schools without Channel One. On the average, the study found, students who watched Channel One scored an average of 3.3 percent higher on a 30-question test of current events than those in schools without Channel One - a difference the report called 'statistically significant but so small as to be educationally unimportant.'"101

An additional conclusion of the study was even more likely to possibly jeopardize the continued acceptance of Channel One, especially in view of similar research findings presented in earlier studies of the program:

"The research did show that students remember the commercials - both the sponsor and the product. Schools do not endorse the products advertised on Channel One. But a 1991 study by the Southeastern Educational Improvement Laboratory in Research Triangle Park found that most students assumed the products were good for them because the commercials were shown in the schools. Johnston said a study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University last year came to the same basic conclusion."102

Larger Agenda Series and other current initiatives

Throughout the struggle to sell America's schools on Channel One, Whittle divisions pressed ahead with the development of other new marketing projects. One was the Larger Agenda Series of advertiser-supported books, launched in early 1990. Each about one hundred pages long, these slim hardcover volumes were in effect single-sponsor books, with the first set of five containing ads for Federal Express. Whittle distributed the books free via mail to a primary market of 150,000 "opinion leaders," i.e., professionals, corporate officers, government officials, and to a secondary market of regular bookstores selling advertiser-free editions. For the book's content, the company paid well-known authors such as William Greider, David Halberstam, Robert Waterman, George Plimpton, Richard Holbrooke, George Gilder, and John Kenneth Gailbraith about $60,000 each to write non-fiction essays on current issues.103

Another two Whittle projects currently in the works are Highway One and Doc TV. Highway One is a place-based advertising venture that fits Whittle's image as a marketing corporation first, and publishing/media empire second. The project involves plans for a chain of shopping-mall based automobile showrooms where consumers could take simulated test drives using sophisticated, virtual reality-like "electronic kiosks" designed by Whittle.104 The company initially approached domestic automaker Chrysler Corp. about participation in the venture, and talks continue.

Doc TV is the working title for a place-based television system, similar to Special Reports Television and Channel One, to be installed in an estimated 100,000 doctors' personal offices or homes.105 Daily 12-minute broadcasts would keep doctors informed of the latest developments in their medical specialties, sent via satellite or cable. The programming would be supported by advertising messages from pharmaceutical firms. At stake would be a share of the $452 million worth of drug ads carried annually by medical trade journals, and the additional hundreds of millions spent by firms such as Merck and Sandoz on medical detail forces, the drug company salespeople who personally visit doctors.

In order to secure additional liquidity to finance continued expansion of these and other projects, in February, 1992, Whittle again brought another multinational investor into its fold. This time, 25% of Whittle was sold to the Netherlands corporation Philips Electronics N.V. for $175 million.106 The deal allowed Whittle some measure of vertical integration, since Philips was already under contract to produce the television sets used to broadcast Channel One and Special Reports Television. The revised ownership structure left Time-Warner's share of the company at 37%, Associated Newspapers Holdings Ltd.'s share at 24.6%, Chris Whittle's personal share at 8.5%, and other Whittle executives at 4.9%.107

Edison Project

Speaking before a group of educators (the East Tennessee Education Association) in October, 1989, Whittle outlined parts of his vision for the future of U.S. education.

"He defines his idea of the 'New American School,'a school that will be open year round ('just like America is'), a school with workstations for each student, with textbooks on computer disks and a student-teacher ratio of five-to-one. Surprisingly, Whittle doesn't think this New American School should be financed by the business community. 'Just as it took the federal government to guide us through the Depression, to rally us to war, to fund the Manhattan Project, to inspire our interstate system,' he says, 'it will take the federal government to create the blueprint for the New American School.'"109

Less than two years later, on May 16, 1991, a slightly older Chris Whittle again stood before a media glare, making another speech about his conception of what re-tooled New American Schools might look like. This time, Whittle's vision was even more sharply honed, and he had discovered another entity which would be more qualified than even the federal government to build them - namely, Whittle Communications. He announced plans to establish a laboratory called the 'Edison Project' near his corporate headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee, "to be staffed by 100 yet-unselected people culled from education, business, and science who will try to sketch out a blueprint for a new breed of elementary and secondary schools."110 Whittle would spend $60 million on the three-year research and design project, then try to raise $2.5 billion to $3 billion (most likely by selling shares in the project to other corporations) to build and open 200 private schools in major urban areas by the fall of 1996.111

Initially the schools would focus on instruction for children aged 1-6, with higher grades added in stages. Whittle's eventual goal is to enroll 2 million students at 1,000 campuses by the year 2010, with day care, elementary, middle, and high school facilities at each.112 The schools would be equipped with the latest in high-tech communications and computerized learning equipment, and students would receive instruction via televised educational programming for at least part of the school day.

Whittle made it clear that his schools would be designed not only to educate children without the interference of excessive educational bureaucracy, but also to make money. He promised that tuition for each school would "probably be just below the per-pupil cost of public education in its community."113 In order to keep operating costs down, he proposed to "harness student power"114 in order to reduce support staff. Students might be required to perform maintenance or clerical tasks, or older students serve as student teachers for younger ones.

Whittle's plans greatly resemble the Bush Education Department's original "America 2000" proposal to create 535 experimental U.S. schools by 1996. Lamar Alexander, Bush's current Secretary of Education, served on the Whittle Educational Network's Council of Advisors and worked directly for Whittle between his stints as Governor of Tennessee and president of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Alexander has also "in his own words been 'a good close friend for twenty years' of Chris Whittle."115 The Alexander-Whittle connection is significant because of the power Alexander now wields in formulating education policy and programs. As one observer put it, Whittle's "connections and financial resources give him an inside track to schools of the future.116

Other non-traditional media companies are carrying on the work that Whittle pioneered by finding increasingly ingenious ways to shove ads in our faces. As for Whittle's political ambitions, they have been abandoned for the moment. "'Channel One has (had) such an impact on education that I realized I could never do anything like this in four years of politics. So I decided I would rather stay in business."117

Whittle recently managed to neatly sum up the future direction he is brashly leading our country's educational system towards. Much as he has previously dismissed critics of Channel One and his company's other attempts to commercialize the education process, Whittle dismissed the prospect that operating schools as profit-making concerns would not be in the best educational interests of students. "'Is there an inherent conflict between profits and education? No way. The biggest contribution business can make to education is to make education a business.'"118

In the coming decades, our nation may yet devise another method of rebuilding America's schools for the next century, one involving a greatly strengthened public commitment to the education of our children in the form of massive public investment. If not, Whittle's most long lasting contribution to American society may be the ultimate replacement of the civic, egalitarian values that now guide our system of public education with the citizen-as-consumer, profit-driven marketing ethos that seems to have guided his company's twenty-year development of ever more insidious advertising schemes.


1 Joshua Hammer, "A Golden Boy's Toughest Sell." Newsweek, February 19, 1990, p 52.

2 John Birmingham, "Marketers - and revisionists - are taking a hard look at Whittle." Adweek's Marketing Week, April 9, 1990, p 20.

3 Lynn Hirschberg, "Is Chris Whittle the Devil?" Vanity Fair, March 1990, p 230.

4 "A Gathering of Entrepreneurs." (Interview with Christopher Whittle). Inc., November 1989, p 41.

5 Ibid., p 40.

6 Lynn Hirschberg, "Is Chris Whittle the Devil?" Vanity Fair, March 1990, p 230.

7 "A Gathering of Entrepreneurs." (Interview with Christopher Whittle). Inc., November 1989, p 42.

8 Lynn Hirschberg, "Is Chris Whittle the Devil?" Vanity Fair, March 1990, p 230.

9 Rebecca Fanin, "The Hotshots." Marketing and Media Decisions, May 1984, p 65.

10 Lynn Hirschberg, "Is Chris Whittle the Devil?" Vanity Fair, March 1990, p 230.

11 Stuart J. Elliott, "Parent books booming." Advertising Age, May 4, 1987, p 72.

12 Rebecca Fanin, "13-30 Corporation Publications." Marketing and Media Decisions, May 1984, p 64.

13 Laurence Zuckerman, "Targeting the Waiting Room." Time, March 21, 1988, p 56.

14 Barbara Kantrowitz, "Marketing the Waiting Room." Newsweek, March 21, 1988, p 78.

15 Michael Newman, "Citizen Chris." New Republic, April 10, 1989, p 12.

16 "A Gathering of Entrepreneurs." (Interview with Christopher Whittle). Inc., November 1989, p 40.

17 Ibid., p 45.

18 Ibid., p 46.

19 Rebecca Fanin, "The Hotshots." Marketing and Media Decisions, May 1984, p 118.

20 "A Gathering of Entrepreneurs." (Interview with Christopher Whittle). Inc., November 1989, p 46.

21 Michael Newman, "Citizen Chris." New Republic, April 10, 1989, p 12.

22 Ibid.

23 Lynn Hirschberg, "Is Chris Whittle the Devil?" Vanity Fair, March 1990, p 230.

24 Ibid.

25 Fred Pfaff, "The hotshots halve it." Marketing and Media Decisions, May 1986, p 20.

26 Rebecca Fanin, "13-30 Corporation Publications." Marketing and Media Decisions, May 1984, p 65.

27 Matthew Rose, "Clutter and Waste." Direct Marketing, September, 1988, p 34.

28 Ibid.

29 "Special Report: Non-traditional Media." (Special insert section). Advertising Age, 1990.

30 Stuart J. Elliott, "Ex-partner in bid for part of Esquire". Advertising Age, December 15, 1986, p 2.

31 Patrick Reilly, "Chris Whittle: Media Baron for the 1990's." Advertising Age, May 16, 1988, p 90.

32 Scott Donaton, "Whittle faces more school media." Advertising Age, July 25, 1988, p 22.

33 N.R. Kleinfield, "What is Chris Whittle Teaching Our Children?" The New York Times Magazine, May 19, 1991, p 49.

34 Patrick Reilly, "Chris Whittle: Media baron for the 1990's." Advertising Age, May 16, 1988, p 90.

35 (Associated Press), "Educators disagree over in-school advertising." Marketing News, July 18, 1988, p ?

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

38 Laurence Zuckerman, "Targeting the Waiting Room." Time, March 21, 1988, p 56.

39 Nancy J. Perry, "Special Report." Fortune, February 29, 1988, p 114.

40 Special Report On Family, November 1990 - January 1991.

41 "A Gathering of Entrepreneurs." (Interview with Christopher Whittle). Inc., November 1989, p 34.

42 Kenneth R. Sheets, "War in the Waiting Room." U.S. News and World Report, March 7, 1988, p 59.

43 Laurence Zuckerman, "Targeting the Waiting Room." Time, March 21, 1988, p 56.

44 Barbara Kantrowitz, "Marketing the Waiting Room." Newsweek, March 21, 1988, p 78.

45 Lynn Hirschberg, "Is Chris Whittle the Devil?" Vanity Fair, March 1990, p 232.

46 Walecia Konrad, Mark Landler, and Zachary Schiller. "Whittle's advertisers are getting tired of waiting." Business Week, January 22, 1990, p 35.

47 Patrick Reilly, "Whittle joins Time's lair." Advertising Age, October 24, 1988, p 3.

48 "A Gathering of Entrepreneurs." (Interview with Christopher Whittle). Inc., November 1989, p 41.

49 Laurence Zuckerman, "Targeting the Waiting Room." Time, March 21, 1988, p 56.

50 Scott Donaton, "Whittle wires the waiting rooms." Advertising Age, November 13, 1989.

51 Randall Rothenberg. "Whittle explains media shift." The New York Times, May 31, 1990, p C19.

52 John Birmingham, "Marketers - and revisionists - are taking a hard look at Whittle." Adweek's Marketing Week, April 9, 1990, p 20.

53 Ibid, p 21.

54 Randall Rothenberg. "Whittle explains media shift." The New York Times, May 31, 1990, p C19.

55 Scott Donaton, "General Foods joins Whittle dropouts." Advertising Age, February 12, 1990, p 54.

56 Randall Rothenberg. "Whittle explains media shift." The New York Times, May 31, 1990, p C19.

57 Scott Donaton, "Whittle wires the waiting rooms." Advertising Age, November 13, 1989.

58 Lynn Hirschberg, "Is Chris Whittle the Devil?" Vanity Fair, March 1990, p 234.

59 N.R. Kleinfield, "What is Chris Whittle Teaching Our Children?" The New York Times Magazine, May 19, 1991, p 49.

60 Patrick Reilly, "Whittle to accelerate 'Channel One' rollout." Advertising Age, June 1, 1989, p 1.

61 Lynn Hirschberg, "Is Chris Whittle the Devil?" Vanity Fair, March 1990, p 199.

62 Patrick Reilly, "New Whittle Shocker." Advertising Age, January 16, 1989, p 1.

63 Dennis Chase, "Kids give 'Channel One' thumbs up." Advertising Age, March 20, 1989, p 4.

64 John E. Gallagher, "Wooing a Captive Audience." Time, February 20, 1989, p 88.

65 Ibid.

66 Ibid.

67 Patrick Reilly, "New Whittle Shocker." Advertising Age, January 16, 1989, p 1.

68 Michael Newman, "Citizen Chris." New Republic, April 10, 1989, p 13.

69 Dan Koeppel, "Educators Send Chris Whittle Back to Public Relations 101." Adweek's Marketing Week, June 19, 1989, p 2.

70 Bradley Johnson, "California moves to ban Whittle's 'Channel One.'" Advertising Age, May 16, 1989, p 1.

71 Honig, Bill, "Channel One should be turned off." (Face-Off: Watching TV In The Classroom). USA Today, March 5, 1990, p 6a.

72 M.L. Stein, "Taking On T.V." Editor and Publisher, December 28, 1991, p 7.

73 Jane Ruffin, "State Supreme Court to hear Channel One case." Raleigh News and Observer, October 8, 1990, p 1b.

74 Tim Simmons, "Channel One results minimal." Raleigh News and Observer, April 23, 1992, p 1a.

75 "Texas Board of Education has authority to ban Whittle Communications' commercially sponsored newscast Channel One." Television Digest, January 20, 1992, p 3.

76 Gary Putka, "Whittle wins a round in effort to keep Channel One on the air in Texas schools." Wall Street Journal, February 10, 1992, p A7.

77 Scott Hume. "'Channel One' ads bug adults, survey shows." Advertising Age, August 14, 1989, p 4.

78 Lynn Hirschberg, "Is Chris Whittle the Devil?" Vanity Fair, March 1990, p 199.

79 Ibid., p 234.

80 Ibid., p 199.

81 Dennis Chase, "Kids give 'Channel One' thumbs up." Advertising Age, March 20, 1989, p 4.

82 Ibid., p 4-5.

83 Laurence Zuckerman, "Teacher or Trojan Horse?" Time, June 19, 1989.

84 John Birmingham, "Marketers - and revisionists - are taking a hard look at Whittle." Adweek's Marketing Week, April 9, 1990, p 28.

85 Joshua Hammer, "A Golden Boy's Toughest Sell." Newsweek, February 19, 1990, p 53.

86 "Council of Advisers for the Whittle Educational Network." (Whittle promotional material), November, 1989.

87 Patrick Reilly, "Advertisers mull Whittle debate." Advertising Age, June 12, 1989, p 2.

88 Steven W. Colford, "Turner battles Whittle." Advertising Age, May 1, 1989, p 1.

89 Richard Zoglin, "The Battle over Classroom TV." Time, March 19, 1990, p 59.

90 "Come with us behind the scenes of the cable industry's school news show." (Channel One full-page advertisement), The New York Times, February 16, 1990, p C18.

91 Susan Chira, "Reading, Writing, and Broadcast News." The New York Times, Tuesday, March 6, 1990, p B1.

92 Richard Zoglin, "The Battle over Classroom TV." Time, March 19, 1990, p 59.

93 John Birmingham, "Marketers - and revisionists - are taking a hard look at Whittle." Adweek's Marketing Week, April 9, 1990, p 28.

94 N.R. Kleinfield, "What is Chris Whittle Teaching Our Children?" The New York Times Magazine, May 19, 1991, p 49.

95 Joshua Hammer, "A Golden Boy's Toughest Sell." Newsweek, February 19, 1990, p 53.

96 N.R. Kleinfield, "What is Chris Whittle Teaching Our Children?" The New York Times Magazine, May 19, 1991, p 49.

97 Michael Newman, "Citizen Chris." New Republic, April 10, 1989, p 13.

98 Susan Chira, "Reading, Writing, and Broadcast News." The New York Times, March 6, 1990, p B1.

99 John S. Friedman, "Big Business Goes to School." The Nation, February 17, 1992, p 188.

100 Susan Chira, "Little Help From a School TV Show." The New York Times, April 23, 1992, p A8.

101 Ibid.

102 Tim Simmons, "Channel One results minimal." Raleigh News and Observer, April 23, 1992, p 18a.

103 John S. Friedman, "Big Business Goes to School." The Nation, February 17, 1992, p 190.

104 John Birmingham, "Marketers - and revisionists - are taking a hard look at Whittle." Adweek's Marketing Week, April 9, 1990, p 24.

105 Scott Donaton, "Whittle's new gamble." Advertising Age, September 9, 1991, p 1.

106 N.R. Kleinfield, "What is Chris Whittle Teaching Our Children?" The New York Times Magazine, May 19, 1991, p 32.

107 (Reuters), "Whittle Sells Stake to Philips." The New York Times, February 6, 1992, p C5.

108 Ibid.

109 Lynn Hirschberg, "Is Chris Whittle the Devil?" Vanity Fair, March 1990, p 200.

110 N.R. Kleinfield, "What is Chris Whittle Teaching Our Children?" The New York Times Magazine, May 19, 1991, p 32.

111 Kenneth Jost, "Chris Whittle's latest - For-Profit Schools." Congressional Quarterly Researcher, November 22, 1991, p 887.

112 Ibid.

113 John S. Friedman, "Big Business Goes to School." The Nation, February 17, 1992, p 188.

114 Ibid.

115 Ibid., p 189.

116 Ibid., p 192.

117 N.R. Kleinfield, "What is Chris Whittle Teaching Our Children?" The New York Times Magazine, May 19, 1991, p 88.

118 John S. Friedman, "Big Business Goes to School." The Nation, February 17, 1992, p 191.

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