The Magazine Reader

02138: Blushing Crimson

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 26, 2006

They pass among us undetected. They look like us, walk like us and talk like us, albeit with higher-falutin words, such as "albeit."

In a top-secret process, they are chosen for their superhuman powers of cogitation and cerebration. They are carefully selected and carefully trained in arcane arts and mystifying sciences, then sent out to conquer the world.

And they do. There are only about 320,000 of them -- barely one-tenth of 1 percent of America -- yet they include six of the nine judges on the Supreme Court, 15 percent of current governors, 17 percent of U.S. senators, 40 of the billionaires on the Forbes 400 list and one out of every six American presidents, including the current one.

And now they have their own magazine. It's called "02138" -- a meaningless number to the rest of us but full of resonance for them: It's the Zip code of the school that trained them to rule -- Harvard University.

"02138 is a new lifestyle magazine for a unique community of educated, affluent and influential readers: Harvard alumni," proclaims one of the many pages of hype that came to me in a folder made from a suedelike substance so soft and velvety that I'm thinking of having a jacket made out of it. "02138 will deliver the world to our readers from the perspective they care about most -- their own."

02138 has no official connection with Harvard. It is bankrolled by David Bradley, the Washington-based magazine mogul who publishes the Atlantic Monthly and National Journal and who -- surprise ! -- went to grad school at Harvard.

The first issue of this new bimonthly has just appeared and it includes "The Harvard 100," a list of "the most influential alumni" ranked in order of just how important they are. No. 1 is Bill Gates, the world's richest man, who dropped out of Harvard to found a little company called Microsoft. No. 2 is George W. Bush. "The nation's first MBA president is a fifth-generation Yalie," the magazine notes, "but his epoch-making style of governance suggests that Bush learned everything he needed to know at Harvard Business School."

Which suggests a question: Is that an ad for the B-school or an indictment of it?

On and on the list goes -- chairman of the Fed, chief justice of the Supreme Court, secretary of the Treasury, the finance minister of India. Plus Ted Kennedy, John Abizaid, Matt Damon, Bill Frist, Margaret Atwood, Barack Obama, John Updike, Yo-Yo Ma, Meg Whitman, Natalie Portman, Pete Seeger and a slew of professional opinion-slingers -- Andrew Sullivan, Jim Cramer, Frank Rich, Fareed Zakaria, Bill O'Reilly and Al Franken.

"In the end, we had enough names for the Harvard 200 or 300," the editors note in the kind of casually smug statement that seems so very . . . well, Harvard.

But the smugness is eased, somewhat, by another list -- "The Crimson 5: Harvard's Most Embarrassing Alumni," which includes Enron crook Jeffrey Skilling, a geneticist and child molester named W. French Anderson, and Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who was raided by the FBI in August and found to have $90,000 hidden in his freezer. Inexplicably missing from the list was the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, Class of 1962. I'd say he's pretty embarrassing. But what do I know? I went to BU.

02138 also includes Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dan Golden's exposé of how Harvard's admissions process gives preferences to the children of alumni, particularly alumni who donate scads of money to the school -- a sort of affirmative action program for rich people. That article demonstrates 02138's admirable willingness to criticize Harvard. But it's kind of nullified by a tongue-in-cheek sidebar advising readers on how to take advantage of those preferences.

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