Max Brantley (1950–)

Born and reared in the lake country of southwestern Louisiana, Max Brantley spent fifty years as a journalist, all in Little Rock (Pulaski County), first writing and editing for the Arkansas Gazette and then the Arkansas Times, which transitioned from monthly magazine to weekly newspaper after the Gazette’s demise in 1991. When the age of the weblog arrived around the beginning of the twenty-first century, Brantley added a blog to the Arkansas Times website that he and sometimes his coworkers updated several times a day, doing extensive muckraking on state and local government and expounding on the developments of the day with an unabashedly liberal voice in a conservative state.

Max Fredrick Brantley was born on June 10, 1950, at Lake Charles, Louisiana, the middle of three children of Brittain Waddell Brantley and Betty Mae Mueller Brantley, who ran a stockbrokerage together. His father and mother had met in the last year of World War II in India, where his father was a U.S. Army sergeant in a communications unit that guided American pilots in the transport war in the China-Burma-India theater and his mother was a hospital dietitian taking care of injured troops, some of whom were survivors of flights over the eastern Himalayas.

Brantley graduated from high school at Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1968 and from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, in 1972. He enrolled in a graduate program in journalism at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and soon decided he was ready to be a professional journalist. His favorite professor at Stanford knew William T. Shelton, the Gazette’s city editor, and sent him a glowing recommendation of the student in 1973, which Brantley always thought landed him the job when there was no opening on the staff. He did not have a desk in the newsroom at the outset but, instead, moved around the newsroom to vacant desks as other reporters were out on assignments.

In April 1976, he married Ellen Bass of Little Rock, a law professor at what is now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law and later a chancery judge. They had two children.

After several years reporting, only occasionally on politics or government, Brantley became the assistant editor of city news, which led him to a pivotal role in the newspaper’s final decade, when the Gazette was engaged in what became known as the “newspaper war” with the Arkansas Democrat. During its last five years, the Gazette was owned by Gannett Company, the nation’s largest newspaper chain. Although Gannett brought in outsiders to be publisher and managing editor, Brantley effectively ran the paper’s news operation, in growing conflict with Gannett’s titled editor and publisher, who thought the paper should emphasize features and flashy writing over government and public affairs. Just as the Gannett editor, Walker Lundy, was about to fire Brantley for insubordination, Gannett dismissed Lundy. After Gannett struck a deal with Wehco Media, the Democrat’s owner, to trade ownership of the Gazette, Brantley led a brief effort to arrange an employee buyout of the paper, which delayed the U.S. Justice Department’s approval of the deal, thus postponing the paper’s closing for about a month, at considerable cost to both Gannett and Wehco, which were losing money on virtually every day’s publication. Gannett’s publisher at the paper refused to allow the paper to report that it was being sold to the Democrat’s owner, but Brantley did it anyway in a daily column he had begun to write.

Upon the Gazette’s closing on October 18, 1991, Brantley became editor of the Arkansas Times. The Times had been a monthly magazine but converted to a weekly tabloid to serve as something of a continuation of the Gazette, with the paper’s legendary cartoonist, George Fisher, and several of its writers on staff. Although it had a tiny staff and mainly emphasized cultural and entertainment news, the paper became a scourge of public officeholders, notably the governor and the legislature. Its editorials and opinion columnists carried on the liberal doctrine of the Gazette. Brantley turned the paper to investigative reporting, something the Gazette had traditionally avoided.

The Times reported on a variety of scandals, including the Medicaid fraud of Governor Mike Huckabee’s friend Ted Suhl, who ran a juvenile correction facility called the Lord’s Ranch, as well as the corruption in the legislature and the executive branch revealed by federal investigations of Preferred Family Healthcare, a Missouri conglomerate, and bribery and illegal payments to a tiny religious school, Ecclesia College, outside Springdale (Washington and Benton counties). President Donald Trump in 2019 let Suhl out of prison, at the request of Huckabee, which occasioned a bitter protest by Brantley on the Times blog. Although Brantley stepped down in 2011 as the editor of the Times to devote himself more to reporting and commentary on the seven-day-a-week blog, the blog and the weekly newspaper—it morphed again into a monthly magazine in 2018—were inseparable. Brantley’s daily blog reports and occasional screeds often led to deeper reports in the Times. The blog often carried the longer reports and opinion columns in the Times publications around the time they appeared in print.

Brantley’s exposés and criticisms in the Times and the online journal Salon of some of Mike Huckabee’s deeds and policies earned him the permanent hostility of the preacher/governor, who barred the paper from the media that received the governor’s announcements and speeches.

Brantley retired from the Times on January 8, 2023, the fiftieth anniversary of his first day working at the Arkansas Gazette, and left soon after on an excursion to Antarctica.

For additional information:
Brantley, Max. “A Sentimental Journey.” Arkansas Times, November 28, 2012.

———. “That’s All Folks.” Arkansas Times blog, January 8, 2023. (accessed June 13, 2023).

Dumas, Ernest. Gazette Project, Interview with Max Brantley, February 25, 2000. David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History. (accessed June 13, 2023).

Eichkorn, Page. “Max Brantley, Arkansas Times Senior Editor, Retires.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 9, 2023. (accessed June 13, 2023).

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas


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