World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Theodore H. White

Theodore Harold White (Chinese: 白修德, May 6, 1915 – May 15, 1986) was an American political journalist and historian, known for his wartime reporting from China and accounts of the 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1980 presidential elections.


  • Early life 1
  • Career: China 2
  • Career: Making of the President series 3
  • Other major works 4
  • Assessments 5
  • Portrayal 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life

White was born May 6, 1915, in

  • Papers of T. H. White: an inventory (Harvard University Archives) [2]. Includes a biographical notice.
  • Theodore H. White
  • Theodore White - JFK Presidential Library & Museum

External links

  • French, Paul. Through the Looking Glass: Foreign Journalists in China, from the Opium Wars to Mao. Hong Kong University Press, 2009.
  • Griffith, Thomas. Harry and Teddy: The Turbulent Friendship of Press Lord Henry R. Luce and His Favorite Reporter, Theodore H. White. New York: Random House, 1995.
  • Rand, Peter. China Hands. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
  • Sullivan, Walter. “. . . The Crucial 1940's Nieman Reports.” The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University (Spring 1983) [1]
  • White, Theodore H. In Search of History: A Personal Adventure. New York: Harper & Row, 1978. 561p. [ISBN 0060145994] Memoir of White's early years, training at Harvard under John K. Fairbank, experiences in wartime China, relations with Time publisher Henry Luce, and later tribulations and success as originator of the Making of the President series.
  1. ^ White, Theodore H. In Search of History: A Personal Adventure
  2. ^ "Pulitzer Prize Winners: General Non-Fiction" (web). Retrieved February 28, 2008. 
  3. ^ White, Theodore H. In Search of History: A Personal Adventure, p524
  4. ^ Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. p. 498.  
  5. ^ Buckley, William F. Jr. (May 22, 1986),  
  6. ^ Buckley, William F. Jr.; Roger Kimball; and Linda Bridges (2010), Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations: A William F. Buckley Jr. Omnibus, Encounter Books, p. 315,  
  7. ^ "China: The Roots of Madness, 1967: Movies & TV",, Retrieved March 25, 2011
  8. ^ "The Bootleg Files: China: The Roots Of Madness", Film Threat, June 11, 2010. Retrieved March 25, 2011


His reporting role in Henan is portrayed by actor Adrien Brody in the 2012 film Back to 1942.


Contemporary critics have strongly criticized his cold-war era film 'China: The Roots of Madness' as a "callous and condescending" portrayal of Chinese. His reporting was described as "self-important, sanctimonious and he gave voice to no more than an American viewpoint", wherein he portrayed the Chinese as merely pawns in the Cold-war, blinkered by their Communist ideology. Film Threat remarked that White never attempted to take on board the Chinese viewpoint, and points out there were unconfirmed rumours that the CIA was involved in the film's making.[7][8]

There is the question of civil liberties and minority rights, which lie at the root of America's concept of democracy. During the war the Communists championed all that was good in Chinese life; they fought against Kuomintang dictatorship and in so fighting fought for the liberties of all other groups. But up to now the Communists have been in opposition to the dominant regime, and their base has lain in the backward villages, where opposition has been nonexistent. How will they react to the organized opposition of the large cities where the Kuomintang middle class is firmly established and where, with money and influence, it can command a press that will present an alternative program? Will the Communists, if they govern large and complex industrial cities, permit an opposition press and opposition party to challenge them by a combination of patronage and ideology? They say that they will, for they believe that in any honest contest for the vote of the people, the people will vote them and their allies a majority against the candidates of the landed and well-to-do minority. But if the Communists are wrong in their calculations and are outvoted, will they yield to a peaceful vote? Will they champion civil liberties as ardently as they do now? This is a question that cannot be answered until we have had the opportunity of seeing how a transitional coalition regime works in peace time practice. Theodore White, Thunder Out of China, pp 236-237

But White wrote:

In her book, Theodore H. White and Journalism As Illusion, Joyce Hoffman contends that White's "personal ideology undermined professional objectivity" (according to the review of her work in Library Journal). She alleges "conscious mythmaking" on behalf of his subjects, including Chiang Kai-shek, John F. Kennedy, and David Bruce. Hoffman alleges that White self-censored information embarrassing to his subjects to portray them as heroes.

Conservative author William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote an obituary of White in the National Review in which he described that "conjoined with his fine mind, his artist's talent, his prodigious curiosity, there was a transcendent wholesomeness, a genuine affection for the best in humankind." He praised White, saying he "revolutionized the art of political reporting." Buckley added that White made one grave strategic mistake during his journalistic lifetime: "Like so many disgusted with Chiang Kai-shek, he imputed to the opposition to Chiang thaumaturgical social and political powers. He overrated the revolutionists' ideals, and underrated their capacity for totalitarian sadism."[5][6]

The fight in Foreign News was not a fight for control of a seven-page section of a newsmagazine. It was a struggle to decide whether a million Americans more or less were going to be given the facts about Soviet aggression, or whether those facts were going to be suppressed, distorted, sugared or perverted into the exact opposite of their true meaning. In retrospect, it can be seen that this critical struggle was, on a small scale, an opening round of the Hiss Case.[4]
. Chambers himself explained post-factum: Chiang Kai-shek's admiration for Henry Luce, to conform to publisher Whittaker Chambers was extensively rewritten, frequently by TIME discuss how White's China reporting for The Powers That Be in David Halberstam and Luce and His Empire in W. A. SwanbergBoth


  • Thunder Out of China (with Annalee Jacoby) (1946) reprinted Da Capo, 1980 ISBN 0306801280; READ BOOKS, 2007, ISBN 9781406773484
  • Fire in the Ashes (1953); Sloane, 1968
  • The Mountain Road (Sloane (1958), reprinted with an Introduction by Parks Coble, Eastbridge, 2006, ISBN 978-1-59988-000-6) which was made into a movie starring James Stewart.
  • Breach of Faith : The Fall of Richard Nixon Atheneum Publishers, 1975; Dell, 1986, ISBN 978-0-440-30780-8 A comprehensive history of the Watergate Scandal with biographical information about Richard Nixon and many of the key players of the event.
  • In Search of History: A Personal Adventure Harper & Row, 1978, ISBN 978-0-06-014599-6; Warner Books, 1990, ISBN 978-0-446-34657-3
  • America in Search of Itself: The Making of the President, 1956–1980 Harper & Row, 1982, ISBN 978-0-06-039007-5; Warner Books, Incorporated, 1988 ISBN 978-0-446-37098-1
  • Theodore H. White at large: the best of his magazine writing, 1939-1986, Authors Theodore Harold White, Editor Edward T. Thompson, Pantheon Books, 1992, ISBN 978-0-679-41635-7

Other major works

On May 15, 1986 White suffered a sudden stroke and died in New York City. He was survived by two of his children, Heyden White Rostow and David Fairbank White.

His final entry in the series, "The Making of the President, 1984," was a lengthy post-election analysis piece in Time, in its special Ronald Reagan issue of November 1984.

After Watergate and the fall of Richard Nixon, White broke his quadrennial pattern with Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon (1975), a dispassionate account of the scandal and its players. There was no 1976 volume from White. (The closest analogue was Marathon by Jules Witcover.) After a volume of memoirs, published in 1978, he returned to presidential coverage with the 1980 campaign, and America In Search of Itself: The Making of the President, 1956-80 (1982), draws together original reporting and new social analysis of the previous quarter-century, focusing primarily but not exclusively on the Reagan-Carter contest.

A week after the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., was happy to oblige. He heeded some of Jackie's suggestions while writing a 1,000 word essay that he dictated later that evening to his editors at Life. When they complained that the Camelot theme was overdone, Jackie objected to changes. By this telling, Kennedy's time in office was transformed into a modern day Camelot that represented, “a magic moment in American history, when gallant men danced with beautiful women, when great deeds were done, when artists, writers, and poets met at the White House, and the barbarians beyond the walls held back.” Thus was born one of the nation's most enduring, and inaccurate, myths. White later described his comparison of JFK to Camelot as the result of kindness to a distraught widow of a just-assassinated leader, and wrote that his essay was a "misreading of history. The magic Camelot of John F. Kennedy never existed."[3]

With experience in analyzing foreign cultures from his time abroad, White took up the challenge of analyzing American culture with the books The Making of the President, 1960 (1961), The Making of the President, 1964 (1965), The Making of the President, 1968 (1969), and The Making of the President, 1972 (1973), all analyzing American presidential elections. The first of these was both a bestseller and a critical success, winning the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.[2] It remains the most influential publication about the election that made John F. Kennedy the President. The later presidential books sold well but failed to have as great an effect, partly because other authors were by then publishing about the same topics, and White's larger-than-life style of storytelling became less fashionable during the 1960s and '70s.

Career: Making of the President series

The McCarthy period made it difficult for any reporter or official who had had any contact with communists, however innocent, to come out from the shadows of suspicion such contact aroused in the minds of people like McCarthy, and those who feared him, and persist in their chosen careers. White opted to turn from writing about China, though all of his education and training was oriented to that country. Instead he took up reporting on the Marshall Plan in Europe and then ultimately to the American presidency.

White returned to his wartime experience in the novel The Mountain Road (1958), which dealt with the retreat of a team of American troops in China in the face of a Japanese offensive provoked by bombings by the 14th Air Force. The novel was frank about the Americans' conflicting, sometimes negative attitudes toward their Chinese allies. It was made into a 1960 movie, starring James Stewart and Lisa Lu, that has been characterized as anti-war.

White then served as European correspondent for the Overseas News Agency (1948–50) and for The Reporter (1950–53)

During the war, White had gotten to know and respect General Joseph Stilwell, the American commander in Asia. He sympathized with Stilwell's disgust with Chiang Kai-shek's unwillingness or inability to wage all-out war on the Japanese invader. Stilwell died shortly after the war, and Stilwell's widow called White to her home in Carmel, California and asked him to undertake the job of putting the General's papers into publishable form. White succeeded in seeing The Stilwell Papers through to publication. White witnessed and reported on the famine that occurred in Henan in 1943.

Although he maintained respect for Henry Luce, White resigned and returned home to write, along with Annalee Jacoby, widow of fellow China reporter, Mel Jacoby, a book about China at war and in crisis, the best-selling Thunder Out of China. The book described the incompetence and corruption of the Nationalist government and sketched the power of the rising Communist Party. The authors called upon Americans to come to terms with this reality. The Introduction warned “In Asia there are a billion people who are tired of the world as it is; they live such terrible bondage that they have nothing to lose but their chains.... Less than a thousand years ago Europe lived this way; then Europe revolted... The people of Asia are going through the same process.” (p. xiii).

Awarded a traveling fellowship for a round-the-world journey, he ended up in Chungking (Chongqing), China's wartime capital, and later became a freelance reporter after briefly starting out with the only job he could find: as an advisor to China's propaganda agency. When Henry R. Luce, the China-born founder and publisher of Time magazine, learned of White´s expertise, he hired him and then came to China the following year, where the two became friends. White became the China correspondent for Time during the war. White chafed at the restrictions put on his reporting by the censorship of the Nationalist government, but he also chafed at the rewriting of his stories by the editors at Time, one of whom was Whittaker Chambers.

Career: China

White majored in Chinese history and studies and graduated with a B.A. in 1938. He was the first and best,certainly one of the best, students of John K. Fairbank, who went on to become America's foremost China scholar.

in 1934. Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1932 from where he went on to Boston Latin School He was a student at [1]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.