Alison Weir: The Empire Behind World’s Largest History Magazine Chain – How American History Magazine Censored Palestine
It all started out simply enough. The nonprofit Council for the National Interest, of which I am president, recently tried to buy an advertisement in American History magazine.
The ad was to promote a new book by CNI’s founder, former Congressman Paul Findley, offering discounted copies through the CNI website.
The book, Speaking Out: A Congressman’s Lifelong Fight Against Bigotry, Famine, and War, is a fascinating memoir of Findley’s nine decades of life. It describes his depression-era childhood, World War II service in the South Pacific, experiences as an editor of a small town corn-belt newspaper, and 22 years as a Congressman grappling with everything from farm issues, to Vietnam, to Israel-Palestine.
The ad featured the cover of Findley’s book and four strong endorsements, including the following by Bill Moyers:
“There is a place in America called Findley Country. Inspired by its founding father, the people who live there cherish principled politics, political courage, and speaking truth to power (even when it hurts). Paul has given us a lively recollection of a robust and honorable life in public service, grounded in a patriot’s devotion to the country he loves.”
American History magazine refused to run our advertisement.
In fact, Advertising Director Julie Kershenbaum gratuitously informed us that they would not publish it in any of the 10 other U.S. history magazines owned by the same company. She said that the chain’s CEO and publisher, Eric Weider, had personally made the decision.
The reason? CNI is allegedly “anti-Israel.”
In reality, CNI is a nonpartisan organization founded 20 years ago by highly principled former U.S. Congressmen and diplomats. Our board members include several ambassadors.
CNI provides in-depth, transparently sourced information on the history and current situation in Israel-Palestine, on U.S. Middle East policies, and on their impact on American citizens, in line with our mission to work for U.S. Middle East policies that serve the national interest; that represent the highest values of our founders and our citizens; and that work to sustain a nation of honor, decency, security, and prosperity.
We oppose failed national policies that prolong the tragic violence in the Middle East, that place perceived Israeli interests over American ones, and that drain billions of dollars from the American economy.
Although many Americans are unaware of this, Americans are closely connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We give well over $8 million per day to Israel, a state smaller than New Jersey. On average, Israelis receive 10,000 times more U.S. foreign aid per capita than other people throughout the world. And this costs us significantly more – some analysts have placed the total cost at approximately $15 million per day.
We feel that it is essential that Americans become thoroughly informed about this conflict, which has cost multitudes of lives and created potentially catastrophic instability in the Middle East for over 60 years.
Yet, because the owners of what may be the world’s largest publisher of history magazines are partial to Israel, readers of 11 key American history magazines will neither be permitted to read about Findley’s autobiography nor even see the CNI name.
Troubled by this censorship, I phoned Publisher Eric Weider to discuss his decision. When he failed to return my calls, I began to research his company. Who were the people deciding what information could or could not reach American history fans?
While many people might picture the publishers of these magazines as scholars dedicated to the disinterested study of history, I discovered a very different situation.
Instead, I found out that the magazines are part of a massive and lucrative empire based on bodybuilding and related products: an empire that has been investigated and convicted for using false claims to sell potentially dangerous “nutritional supplements” and for publishing “obscene” magazines, run by powerful people with powerful friends in high places who’ve opposed the regulation of such supplements.
Not the profile readers might expect, though Publisher Weider is now interviewed in the media as an expert on American history – one whose commentary supports the alleged necessity of American wars in the Middle East.
The Weider History Group’s Eleven Magazines
The entity known as the Weider History Group publishes several history-related websites and eleven magazines: America’s Civil War, American History, Aviation History, Armchair General, British Heritage, Civil War Times, Military History, MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Vietnam, Wild West, and World War II.
All but one of these publications were originally independent magazines. Some of them are decades old. Civil War Times has been around for half a century; American History since the 1960s.
In 2006 the Weider History Group took over them all, acquiring them from another magazine chain.
Not everyone was pleased with the change. Civil War Times Editor Chris Lewis eventually resigned over the new direction the magazines were taking. He circulated an email explaining why he had decided to leave:
“I am a lifelong reader and care a great deal about this publication—which is why I cannot be a part of the ‘new direction’ that the magazines in this group are either already going in, or will be going in soon. There is no respect here anymore for history, historians or the core audience.”
The Empire that Owns American History
The Weider History Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of Weider Health and Fitness, Inc., which in turn is part of a larger Weider empire valued at a billion dollars. The Weiders were initially Canadian promoters who are known for largely creating the business of modern bodybuilding and its multitude of spin-off products. Brothers Ben and Joe Weider founded the empire 70 years ago. Ben later said that his original dream had been to be an architect but that anti-Semitism had prevented this. Today, the principals are Joe Weider and Ben Weider’s son, Eric.
By the 1990s the Weider empire consisted of numerous brands and over a thousand products. These include bodybuilding extravaganzas and competitions; a wide range of exercise equipment and purported body enhancing devices; diverse publications; and a dazzling collection of “fitness products” and “nutritional supplements”– pills, powders, potions, and programs.
The latter are a large part of the Weider empire’s moneymaking machine. They include weight gain products, weight loss products, muscle health products, etc. An example is Weider BodyShaper Diet & Energy tablets “for Mental Energy and Thermogenesis.”
While many people purchase Weider products and some may deliver fully on their extravagant promises, federal investigations have found that a number of them do not.
Weider merchandise has been the subject of a number of federal investigations, and Weider companies have been found guilty of fraud on several occasions. The Weiders have worked to prevent legislation that would have further restricted the kinds of supplements sold by their companies.
In the 1970s U.S. postal officials found the Weider company had engaged in false claims involving a number of its products: “Slimmer Shake,” also known as “Weider’s Weight Loss Formula, XR-7;” “Slim Guard;” “Joe Weider’s Crash Weight Gain Formula #7;” “5 Minute Waist Slimmer Plan;” “5 Minute Body Shaper Plan;” and “Beauti-Breast of Paris,” a device which promised to enlarge breasts.
In 1981 the FTC found the company had made fraudulent claims regarding its “Slim-Quick formula.” The FTC also concluded that under some circumstances the weight-loss concoction could be significantly dangerous to health and required the company to add warning labels.
In 1986 the FTC forced Weider Health & Fitness Inc. to refund the purchase price paid by those who bought its “Anabolic Mega-Pak” or “Dynamic Life Essence” pills
In 2000 Weider Nutritional International settled an FTC complaint involving false claims for PhenCal and was required to pay $400,000, a sum unlikely to have caused much pain to a billion dollar operation.
An Empire Built on Bodybuilding
The foundation of the Weider empire was originally the business of bodybuilding, and this still remains a significant part of its focus. According to anthropologist Alan Klein, the Weiders own “the largest conglomerate of bodybuilding products in the world.”
The Weiders founded the International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB) in 1946 and Joe Weider has been called the “czar” of bodybuilding.
In a 1998 book, former Mr. Universe Bob Paris stated that the Weiders “control bodybuilding.” (To learn more about bodybuilding see the montage at the IFBBpro website. As of this writing, the Weider history magazines have a banner ad on the site.)
Paris writes that the Weiders would pressure the most promising young bodybuilders into signing contracts with them. Anyone who publicly criticized or questioned any of the policies of the IFBB or its officers, Paris wrote, could be suspended. The officers seem to have mostly been the Weiders themselves or their friends.
“[T]he Weider brothers claim that the IFBB and the Weider companies are separate and completely unrelated. Only the most naive fool would believe that. They should simply say that, yes, they are completely linked…but of course if they did that, then nasty words like monopoly or conflict of interest would start getting thrown around….”
Another writer reported that a connection to the Weiders spelled success for an aspiring bodybuilder, but for a price: “…from that point on, the bodybuilder’s career is owned by the Weider corporation.”
The Arnold Schwarzenegger Connection
It was the Weiders who discovered future movie star/California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and brought him to America. They got the aspiring bodybuilder an apartment, bought him a car, and crafted him into a celebrity, tutoring him on everything from his exercise regimen and real estate investments to how to wear his hair. Joe Weider told the New York Times, “We created Arnold.”
The Weiders supported Schwarzenegger for California governor and remain close to him. Schwarzenegger declared July 9, 2007 “Joe Weider Day.” As we will see, there is a further connection. But first, we need to examine another aspect of the Weider business machine.
The Weider empire has also long included an array of magazines, mostly focused on bodybuilding and fitness. A few in past years seem to have crossed the line into lewdness and Joe Weider was twice indicted for producing and distributing obscene literature. In 1957 he was placed on a five-year probation.
This was less than a clean break, however, as the businesses seem to have arranged a mutually beneficial association, some of it apparently touching on Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Joe Weider remained in charge of the magazines under American Media, while American Media director David Pecker signed a contract to co-sponsor major bodybuilding contests with the Weiders.
With this new Weider-Pecker alliance came a change in how American Media’s tabloids covered Schwarzenegger, who was then running for California governor, and whose previous steroid use, sexual affairs (one allegedly with a minor), bullying groping incidents, etc. were the kind of fodder that often fuels tabloids.
According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, “Tabloids Starry-Eyed for Schwarzenegger,” by Dion Nissenbaum, Pecker promised Weider that his tabloids would “lay off’’ Schwarzenegger and “not dig up any dirt” on the gubernatorial candidate. In fact, following its deal with Weider, American Media now seemed to be promoting Schwarzenegger.
The Mercury News reported that American Media produced a 120-page glossy magazine called Arnold, the American Dream, “crammed with flattering photographs” that auspiciously hit the streets just as Schwarzenegger headed into the final lap of his campaign for governor.
The next year, after Schwarzenegger became governor, Pecker made him executive editor of Flex and Muscle & Fitness, promising him an estimated $8 million over the next five years for helping to “further the business objectives” of the company, according to the LA Times.
If anyone wondered how a sitting governor of one of the nation’s largest states would have time for such a position, Advertising Age reported that that this was “a largely honorary position” and according to a Schwarzenegger aide “would only take up a ‘nominal amount’ of the governor’s time.”
The following year Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation that would have cracked down on the use of supplements by student athletes.
A number of these supplements have been tied to serious health consequences. The medical community has warned that potential health effects include liver cancer, heart disease, impaired testicular function, and neurodegenerative effects.
Following Schwarzenegger’s veto, critics accused him of a conflict of interest, since supplements constituted a large portion of the advertisingin the magazines that were paying him so generously for his work.
Advertising Age also made a point of noting that Schwarzenegger’s veto of legislation that would have regulated supplements “highlighted Mr. Schwarzenegger’s decades-long relationship with Joe Weider, the godfather of the supplement business.”
While Schwarzenneger was governor, and since, he has also worked to promote Israel. In a speech at an event at the Israeli Consulate Schwarzenegger proclaimed, “I love Israel. When I became governor, Israel was the first country that I visited.”
“I’ve had the pleasure of being there many times,” Schwarzenegger said, “and have seen it from a bodybuilding point of view, from a tourist’s point of view, from an entertainer’s point of view, from the governor’s point of view, forming trade relationships with Israel in order. I have been a long-time friend of Israel.”
The Orrin Hatch Connection
The Weiders have a history of working against public health regulation of supplements, despite evidence that some supplements can be dangerous to health – sometimes fatally so.
In 1994, according to a report on Weider Nutrition International in the International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.29, the Weiders worked with Utah Senator Orrin Hatch to successfully counter the FDA’s attempts to regulate supplements. Many Weider companies are headquartered in Utah.
The company history reports that a bill sponsored by Hatch entitled “the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act” was passed “toprevent the Food and Drug Administration from overregulating the health products industry.”
“Later that year,” the report states, “Weider Nutrition honored Senator Hatch for his work on the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. Arnold Schwarzenegger came to Salt Lake City to present Hatch with Weider’s first annual award for major health contributions.”
A 2001 article in the Washington Monthly, “Scorin’ with Orrin: How the gentleman from Utah made it easier for kids to buy steroids, speed, and Spanish fly,” gives the details.
Washington Monthly reports that the FDA had not bothered to participate in debates over Hatch’s bill, because it believed the law was so obviously bad it would never pass. However, Hatch sneaked the bill through in a late-night session, the magazine reports. Afterward, a pharmacist and public health expert appalled at the bill remarked: “I do not understand how a single member of Congress voted for it.”
Washington Monthly concludes, “Thanks to Hatch, the U.S. now has standards as low as those in many Third World countries for the sale of many products with serious, pharmacological effects. The results have been deadly. Between 1993 and 1998, the FDA linked at least 184 deaths to dietary supplements, which are now suspected of contributing to the sudden deaths of three football players in August.”
Six years later, a number of athletes who had taken American supplements were devastated when they failed drug tests at the 2000 Olympics. Unbeknownst to these athletes, the supplements contained substances banned internationally because of the dangers they posed to health.
The Olympic International Committee (IOC) warned athletes to avoid American supplements, particularly those manufactured in Utah, which had become known as the “Cellulose Valley of the U.S. supplement industry.”
When Olympic officials and others specifically blamed Hatch for the problem, Weider and other manufacturers met with him to encourage him to keep the supplements as unregulated as possible. Washington Monthly reports that Hatch’s office “apparently reassured them that the senator would continue to defend their interests.”
While Hatch is reportedly a true believer in alternative medicine, the article pointed out: “There’s big money in dietary supplements, and Hatch has taken his fair share in campaign contributions.”
Loren Israelson, executive director of the Utah Natural Products Alliance, which represents the Utah supplement industry, lauded Hatch’s commitment: “He is by far our greatest advocate. No one rises to the issue the way Sen. Hatch does. He’s a true believer in natural health.”
The Weider empire is not limited to the U.S. The Weiders have promoted bodybuilding (and Weider products) worldwide. There are now IFBB groups in 182 countries, and there are photos of Weider with diverse government officials, including Ronald Reagan, Yasser Arafat, and Menachem Begin.
Multimillionaires often set up tax-deductible foundations and the Weiders have created several.
The Ben Weider foundation has donated gyms around the world as part of their bodybuilding outreach, including in Israel and Palestine. Benendowed what is now known as the “Ben Weider Jewish Community Center in Montreal” and also supported two Lubavitch institutions, a charismatic and sometimes controversial branch of Orthodox Judaism. He was an admirer of Lubavitch head Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, a religious leader who was a major force in Israel; Israeli leaders – including Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, and Benjamin Netanyahu – would often visit him when they were in the U.S. and seek his advice. A widely revered but controversial leader, Schneerson was held by some followers to be the Messiah. Less widely known is the fact that he made statements that Jews are a different and superior species to non-Jews.
There is also a Joe Weider Foundation; Joe Weider is CEO and Eric Weider has been CFO and is currently President. This has given several large grants to a Los Angeles-based organization called American Friends Of Aish HaTorah. Aish HaTorah is an Israeli organization that opposes Jewish assimilation and promotes Israel in the United States. It has been connected to the production of pseudo-documentaries promoting Islamophobia that were distributed in the U.S.
Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, a strong Israel proponent himself, calls Aish “just about the most fundamentalist movement in Judaism today. Its operatives flourish in the radical belt of Jewish settlements just south of Nablus, in the northern West Bank, and their outposts across the world propagandize on behalf of a particularly sterile, sexist and revanchist brand of Judaism.”
Joe Weider is one of six North American chairmen of The Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah. This focuses on bringing political leaders, corporate executives, investors, and entertainment personages on private trips to Israel to increase their support for Israel.
Weider Empire Acquires History Magazines
The same year the Weiders sold their muscle and fitness magazines they began their foray into history magazines. Working out of the same San Fernando offices, they published the first in their new chain, Armchair General, the following year. A Reuters story on the launch announced:
“The Los Angeles publisher that made its fortune on the dreams of armchair musclemen everywhere now wants to get Americans pumped up on a new avocation — becoming armchair generals.
“Eric Weider, whose family firm sold mainstream America on bodybuilding and Arnold Schwarzenegger, on Tuesday launched Armchair General, an ‘interactive’ war magazine aimed at selling military history to the masses.”
The Weiders’ market analysis showed a potential readership of “more than 35 million lifelong devotees.” Eric Weider, who had moved to California from Canada many years before, became an American citizen around this time.
While Eric Weider appears to be a genuine history buff, he apparently has no training or degree in history. He has a Master’s degree in business administration and has spent most of his life working in his family’s business empire, mostly in its bodybuilding and “nutritional supplements” divisions.
A Business Week c.v. lists the following positions: President and Chief Executive Officer of Weider Health and Fitness Inc., President of the Joe Weider Foundation, Chairman of Schiff Nutrition International Inc., Director of a number of public and private companies in the United States and Canada, including Nutripeak, Inc., Hillside Investment Management, Inc., Organ Recovery Systems and Life Science Holdings, and Weider Health and Fitness, a subsidiary of Schiff Nutrition International Inc.
Nevertheless, TV and radio shows hosted by such people as Tucker Carlson and Al Rantel feature Eric Weider as “an historian” to provide what is promoted as expert commentary on current events and today’s wars.
Weider is an engaging speaker, but the history he cites is highly selective and is used to support military action in the Middle East. On the Rantel show he suggested that American presidents should ignore polls indicating what Americans want and instead “instill the will” to fight.
The Weider History Group and Israel-Palestine
A survey of the publications’ website, HistoryNet, shows most articles and commentaries regarding Israel-Palestine to be Israel-centric. They often extol the Israeli military.
The publications’ articles during and following Israel’s 2008-9 massive attack on Gaza largely consisted of cheering Israel’s victory. The articles failed to mention that this allegedly proud conquest (fueled by massive American money and weaponry) was over one of the world’s poorest populations (largely thanks to Israeli policies). They also failed to mention that Palestinians have no navy, no air force, and no real army, and that their resistance groups are minimally armed.
When Israel finally ended its three-week long invasion of the densely populated enclave (during which Israeli forces had killed 1,400 Palestinians, 470 of them women and children; many others elderly men), a Weider HistoryNet article bemoaned Israel’s decision “to break off its punitive expedition into Gaza prematurely—despite the superb performance of the Israel Defense Force….”
The HistoryNet articles emphasized Israel’s need “to defend itself” against Palestinian rockets, but they failed to report that these are largely small, homemade projectiles and that Palestinian resistance forces began firing them only after Israel had already invaded Gaza numerous times and killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians of all ages.
They also neglected to mention that, before the invasion, these rockets had killed a total of approximately 19 Israelis – ever. (The total fatalities from Gaza rockets through November 2012 are 29. During the same time, according to the Israeli organization B’Tselem, Israeli forces killed over 4,000 Gazans.)
The articles erroneously claimed that Israel invaded Gaza because the Palestinian Hamas group had violated a ceasefire agreement with Israel. In reality, it was Israel that had violated the ceasefire three times – killing seven Palestinians – before some Palestinian groups then resumed rocket fire.
Finally, the Weider articles failed to inform readers that Israel had been planning the invasion for six months ahead of time, as revealed by aJewish Chronicle article applauding Israel’s effective “hasbara” (propaganda) campaign during the operation.
Eric Weider himself has occasionally posted pro-Israel comments on the site’s forums. In one he responds to a member’s posting about Israeli fighters flying over Gaza several times a day to create sonic booms in order to frighten the people below, who would dive for shelter. Weider comments: “Next thing you know the Israelis will start talking excessively loudly! Their cruely [sic] knows no bounds!” In another thread, Weider states, “It is important to recognize that there is a lot of anti-semetic [sic] inspired Anti-Israel sentiment in the world.”
Eric Weider and George Washington
Eric Weider expresses great admiration for George Washington and has begun a petition to restore his birthday as a federal holiday. He has written: “If I have a historical role model I would say that I most admire George Washington and I do my best to conduct myself in a way that he (and my father) would approve of.”
Yet, Weider seems to be violating one of Washington’s major recommendations:
In his Farewell Address, Washington warned against a “passionate attachment” to any foreign nation, saying that such attachments were “particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot.”
If Eric Weider looked at the CNI website when he decided to censor it from his 11 magazines, he saw prominently displayed on the homepage a picture of the American forefather who he has called “first in his heart.”
Under this he saw an excerpt from his role model’s famous speech in which Washington warned: “Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”
On our homepage Weider would have also seen a history article on the U.S.-Israel relationship that contains considerable new, somewhat explosive information. Much of this would quite likely be of interest to readers of American history magazines, if they were allowed to learn of it.
Determining the future through controlling the past
It is disturbing to find that a chain targeting American history enthusiasts is exploiting its considerable power in furtherance of a political agenda of such monumental significance.
Multitudes of lives have been lost and destroyed in Middle East wars – many thousands of them American. Israel is the core issue in the Middle East and key cause of hostility to the U.S., is a factor in the American economic crisis, is embedded in U.S. electoral politics, and plays a significant role in many aspects of American policy formation. It is essential that Americans become well informed on Israel and on our relationship to it.
Author George Orwell’s words capture the profound significance of the Weider censorship within its history magazines: “Who controls the past controls the future.” Or, in the words of someone who posted to an online bodybuilding forum about the Weiders’ ownership of history publications: “Of course, if you control the writing of history…you gain power.”
The way to avoid a dangerously darkening future, I feel, is to free the past to full, open, and unfiltered inquiry. Our forefathers created freedom of the press because they rightly understood the necessity of a fully informed populace for the survival of our democratic republic.
The only way to counter the manipulation of powerful media owners is to expose their actions widely and to demand better. I hope all those who love knowledge, who care about the United States, and who value the lives of others on the other side of the world will help disseminate this information. It is time to stop allowing those who own the press to abuse their massive power.
Alison Weir is the president of the Council for the National Interest, a former journalist and the founder of If Americans Knew, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the Israel-Palestine conflict, specializing in statistical analysis. Weir writes and speaks widely about Israel-Palestine, with particular focus on media coverage. Her articles on the subject have been published in anthologies both in the U.S. and abroad and in diverse online and print publications.
Ms. Weir has given talks at numerous universities, including Harvard Law School, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Yale, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the Naval Postgraduate Institute; four times at the Asia Media Summit in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, and has twice given briefings on Capitol Hill.
Former U.S. Congressman Tom Campbell (R-CA) said of her presentation: “Ms. Weir presents a powerful, well documented view of the Middle East today. She is intelligent, careful, and critical. American policy makers would benefit greatly from hearing her first-hand observations and attempting to answer the questions she poses.”
The New York Times reported of her lecture in Greenwich, Connecticut: “When the speech ended, Ms. Weir was met with thunderous applause, and across the room there was a widespread sense of satisfaction that someone was saying what needed to be said.”
In 2004 she was inducted into honorary membership of Phi Alpha Literary Society, founded in 1845 at Illinois College. The award cited her as a: “Courageous journalist-lecturer on behalf of human rights. The first woman to receive an honorary membership in Phi Alpha history.”