David Talbot



  • Former Editor-in-Chief of the Internet magazine Salon.com
  • Former Senior Editor of Mother Jones Magazine
  • Anti-war and “free love” activist in the 1960s

David Talbot was the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the Internet magazine Salon.com — a publication dedicated to the arts, politics and sexuality — from 1995 to 2005. He was also Chairman and CEO of Salon Media Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation that effectively owns this webzine and several related entities.

Born in 1951 in Los Angeles, David Talbot is the son of movie and television actor Lyle Talbot (1902-1996), who is best remembered as the character “Joe Randolph,” neighbor of Ozzie and Harriet on that popular television series (1956-66). David’s father was also a leftwing labor activist who co-founded the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and sat on its Board of Directors alongside Ronald Reagan. In later life Lyle Talbot claimed that Hollywood studios had denied him good movie roles in retaliation for his labor organizing activities.

David’s older brother is Stephen Talbot, who was a successful child actor and is now a television documentary producer for the Public Broadcasting Service. One of David’s two sisters is Margaret Talbot, a feminist writer at The New York Times Magazine, a former editor at the New Republic Magazine, and a fellow at the New America Foundation. Both Stephen and Margaret have written articles for Salon.com.

Wired Magazine’s Warren St. John reported that David Talbot “was also an activist and provocateur.” “As a teenager in the ’60s,” wrote St. John, “he’d been forced out of Harvard Preparatory School … for agitating against the Vietnam War. He campaigned to shut down Harvard Prep’s ROTC program and turned the school’s literary magazine, which he edited, into an antiwar pamphlet. The headmaster, Talbot says, deemed him a ‘disciplinary risk,’ and despite good grades, he was accepted at only one college, the hippie mecca the [University of California] Santa Cruz. There, Talbot says, he joined socialist groups, devoted himself to the antiwar and prisoners rights movement, ran with a guerrilla theatre troupe called the United Bozo Front, and spent time in jail in connection with his antiwar activities.”

According to Warren St. John, Talbot at UC Santa Cruz also became “an outspoken champion and campus guru of the ‘free love’ movement.” “His [Talbot’s] parents,” wrote St. John, “had always been open about sex — ‘Sex and politics were always part of my family,’ Talbot says — and he did them one better by joining both a notorious swingers commune and a lesbian collective called Chestnut House. Talbot is almost pathologically candid about his sexual experimentation — he co-authored a 1989 book on the topic called Burning Desires: Sex in America — A Report from the Field; he now describes his exploits as ‘youthful, but not indiscreet’….”

Talbot supported Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1968 and was traumatized by his assassination.

“I became increasingly inspired by journalism as a way to change the world,” Talbot has said. In 1978 he wrote the book Creative Differences: Profiles of Hollywood Dissidents. After working as a writer for the Environmental Action Foundation (1979-1981), he became a Senior Editor at the San Francisco-based magazine Mother Jones, but he alienated many of his orthodox comrades by criticizing what he began to call “the doctrinaire and totalitarian impulses of the organized left.”

In 1985 Talbot became a Senior Editor, and later Editor-in-Chief, of the San Francisco Examiner‘s artsy and provocative Image Magazine. After a 1994 strike destroyed the economic viability of this Hearst family newspaper, Talbot and several Image Magazine staffers, including Gary Kamiya and Joan Walsh, in 1995 launched Salon.com.

“I come out of a tradition of liberal journalism, left-wing journalism, Mother Jones,” Talbot told Terry Gross of National Public Radio in a 2000 interview, “but I knew right away that that wasn’t going to be sufficiently interesting because you have to mix it up. I did want to create a virtual drawing room, a salon, where people … disagreed with each other. If everyone’s just nodding their heads in harmony all night long, it’s pretty dull. So right away, despite my own liberal background, I wanted to bring in right-wing, conservative voices, libertarian voices, people who, I thought, were intelligent and interesting and could take issue with each other.” 

Talbot stepped down as Salon‘s Editor-in Chief in February 2005, and was replaced by his longtime deputy, Joan Walsh. Elizabeth Hambrecht, Salon‘s President, became its Chief Executive. “I think the timing is right,” said Mr. Talbot, who continued as Chairman of Salon while he worked on a book about Robert F. Kennedy. “If the business was shaky, I would feel uncomfortable, but things are now stable and I think I am handing my baby off to two women I have complete trust in.”

Notwithstanding his resignation, Talbot said, “I still feel this whole messianic vision. At its best, Salon is not only progressive and crusading, but also running stories about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. A lot of that joyful spirit has been trashed by recent events, and I think Salon will play a role in reviving it.”

Talbot’s book, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, was published in May 2007.

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