OLD Media Moves

Remembering Jim Michaels of Forbes

October 6, 2007

Posted by Chris Roush

Stephen Miller of The Wall Street Journal takes a look back Saturday at the career of former Forbes editor Jim Michaels, who died Tuesday.

Jim MichaelsMiller wrote, “Mr. Michaels ran investigative features attacking trial lawyers and the National Education Association. Forbes began grading mutual funds and publishing lists of executive compensation and of the wealthiest Americans. One thing he taught was to buck conventional wisdom. In 1992, he published a prison-house interview with junk-bond king Michael Milken, at the time a reviled Wall Street figure. ‘Mike Milken is a chastened man,’ Mr. Michaels wrote. ‘He deserves a fresh hearing.’ The story ran 12,000 words.

“Nor did he hesitate sometimes to break the usual mold of business journalism: At an editorial meeting, Stewart Pinkerton, then deputy managing editor, proposed a story on the burgeoning business of country music. All he had was a one-sentence description, and Mr. Michaels was famed for skewering unprepared editors. Mr. Michaels said simply, ‘There’s our cover.’ So Garth Brooks showed up on the March 2, 1992, issue.

“Though Forbes’s ad campaigns called it the ‘capitalist tool,’ it was a tool that, if need be, could turn on big business. Mr. Michaels liked to refer to the magazine as the ‘drama critic’ of business. (He displayed on his office wall what he said was a quote from a rival editor: ‘Forbes: They’re Nasty, Venal People.’) In decennial anniversary issues, the magazine published lists of the decline of leading corporations of decades past. ‘It is always safe to take counter-cyclical positions in a cyclical world,’ Mr. Michaels told Ad Week in 1985.”

Read more here.

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