March 1, 2024

Media Decoder: A Magnate’s Postscript

Mike Theiler/Reuters Sidney Harman with his wife, Representative Jane Harman of California.

When Sidney Harman was found to have an aggressive form of leukemia several weeks ago, he sat down to write a short essay for Newsweek about his determination to beat the disease.

But Mr. Harman, the 92-year-old owner of Newsweek, decided not to publish the article, thinking that he had years left to live. He saw no reason to alarm anyone about an illness he believed he could outlive.

“When the tests came back and the path ahead looked promising, Sidney put this piece aside and decided just to wage the battle,” said Robert Barnett, Mr. Harman’s lawyer and close friend. “Seeing him only a few days ago and doing business with him until the very end, none of us thought the end was so near.”

Mr. Harman died last Tuesday, and Newsweek decided to publish the essay in this week’s issue to honor his memory. In it, Mr. Harman wrote defiantly about the illness, acute myeloid leukemia.

“I have known many cancer victims — friends and family. Without exception, each has declared, ‘I’ll beat this thing.’ They meant it, but for them that consisted of placing everything else on hold to face down the dragon. I have a different view. I have told the dragon to go stand in the damn corner. I have important stuff to do,” he wrote.

That important stuff, he said, included making sure the magazine he had committed to rescue would survive. And he pledged that the magazine would be on sure footing, even without his being around.

“My family successors and I are committed to the future of the magazine and to The Daily Beast,” he wrote. “They are solidly financed and will continue to be. I am convinced that I make significant business and intellectual contributions, but I know that the enterprise will move forward, if necessary, without me.”

Added Mr. Barnett: “This piece is vintage Sidney — scholarly, humorous, insightful, fearless, self-confident, but realistic.”

The essay, published as one of Newsweek’s signature “” columns, was an unintended coda to Mr. Harman’s contributions to the magazine. In 1979, long before he had moved to get into the magazine business, Mr. Harman wrote his first “My Turn” piece, on American industrial policy.

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