When Gerald M. Levin announced in January, 2000, that he was selling Time Warner Inc. to America Online Inc., he was called a visionary. By that fall, he was branded as reckless. Indeed, when Internet stocks crashed and the economy slowed, whatever grand ambitions Levin had about combining old and new media began to look ludicrous. He has said it's too early to judge the deal. Today, AOL Time Warner Inc. (AOL ) is worth 75% less than it was in January, 2001, when the deal closed. The company is burdened by $24 billion in debt, its credit rating is tenuous, it has had to write off $54 billion in assets, and it faces Securities & Exchange Commission and Justice Dept. investigations into accounting practices at AOL. Meanwhile, Levin, 63, retired early and left colleagues to defend an idea that few believe in anymore.