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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE WASHINGTON REPORTERS 1978-2012
By STEPHEN HESS
BROOKINGS INSTITUTION PRESSCopyright © 2012 THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
All right reserved.
Chapter One"THE GREATEST GENERATION"
World War II ended in 1945. Rarely did these Washington reporters bring their military experiences into our interviews. All Bernard Kalb wanted to tell us about having worked on an Army newspaper published from a Quonset hut in the Aleutian Islands was that his editor was the great mystery writer Dashiell Hammett. Corbin Gwaltney quickly passed over 1943: "Went into the service, spent some time as a guest of the Germans in prison camps, and walked all over Germany. Learned a lot in the process."
Yet obituaries sometimes suggested more. When James McCartney died in 2011, the Washington Post wrote, "Mr. McCartney often said his interest in issues of war and peace derived in part from his experiences as a front-line infantryman in France and Germany during World War II. He was wounded in combat shortly before the end of the war." Richard Boyce "[rose] in rank from apprentice seaman to lieutenant commander" in the Pacific. Jerry Baulch "joined MacArthur's staff when it was reformed in Australia in 1942 and remained until after the signing of the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship Missouri [as] MacArthur's chief news censor." Jim Free served in the "Pacific Theater, often facing enemy fire as a Beach Master, putting troops ashore." Lloyd Norman was a "reserve ensign and lieutenant on a mine sweeper in the Atlantic." David Kelso served as a "bomber pilot stationed in England [and won] five Air Medals." Daniel Gilmore was a "radio operator-gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber when he was shot down over Europe in May 1944 [and was] a prisoner of war until May 2, 1945." Robert Heinl "entered the Marines following college and was an artillery officer at Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941. He was a member of the relief expedition to Wake Island in 1941, and saw action on both Guam and Iwo Jima." John Averill "suffered a leg wound and earned lieutenant's bars on the [20th Armored Division's] long eastward drive that culminated in the capture of Munich in the spring of 1945. But his most vivid memory was of being awakened from an exhausted sleep on the nose of a tank by a brisk blow on the soles of his boots. It was a whack from the riding crop of Gen. George S. Patton, the hard-driving leader of the campaign, who did not like his troopers sleeping on the job." James Roper was a correspondent covering the 5th Army in Italy, where he filed this dispatch in April 1945: "The people Benito Mussolini had ruled for two decades paid him their last tribute by hanging his remains head down from the rafters of a gasoline station in Milan's Loreto Square." None of the women served in the armed forces, but Charlotte Moulton came to Washington to work for the War Department.
Those who had gone to college before the war often were graduates of elite institutions: Amherst, Dartmouth, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Yale. Those whose postwar schooling was paid for by the GI Bill were more likely to go to large state universities such as the University of Oklahoma, Michigan State, and the University of Utah. Two-thirds majored in the humanities or social sciences, one-third in journalism, hardly any in the hard sciences. As a scholastic profile, theirs was far removed from the stereotypes of The Front Page, set in the 1920s, in which high-school dropouts filled the glue pots for egg-on-vest city editors.
The returning GIs looked different from those they would be joining in the Washington press corps, according to Glenn Everett, who worked for the Bryan Times and other small Ohio papers: "When I started in 1944 there were many of the older writers who had such profound prejudices that it greatly biased the copy they would write. Generally, they were much more in line with the Harding-Coolidge era than they were with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal or Harry Truman's Fair Deal. They rejected everything that smacked of liberalism, and their editors applauded." Everett, who later went into the personalized greeting card business, worried that the incoming reporters were swinging too far in the other direction. My interviewing suggested that they also would be more liberal than the boomers who followed them.
Some, like Orr Kelly, came to Washington looking for a job. After attending Columbia Journalism School, he had gone to California to work at the San Francisco Chronicle. Then, "in 1959 my wife and I started printing a newspaper in Berkeley, and that went until the spring of 1962, when it ran out of money. We had to decide where to go, and I just decided, 'Why not go to Washington? That's where the action is.' That was a better place for a reporter. At the Chronicle we ended up having to look at dead bodies every day, and after awhile you get sick of that. It's more fun in Washington."
Kelly got a job at the Washington Star.
The city of Washington had its own media: there were the Washington Post and the Washington Times-Herald in the morning, until the Post acquired the Times-Herald in 1954; the Washington Star and the Washington Daily News in the afternoon, until the Star acquired the Daily News in 1972; and local radio and TV stations. But young journalists were advised to go elsewhere if they wanted eventually to cover national government. Among the few places where cub reporters could get a direct start in Washington journalism were the small press services that sold stories to small papers. That was the path taken by Don Larrabee, who arrived in 1946 after having edited a weekly newspaper at an Army Air Corps base. The Griffin-Larrabee News Bureau, which sold mostly congressional news to twenty-six papers, got "five bucks a week from one paper and ten bucks from another"; it had a staff of four "overworked and underpaid" reporters.
More than two of three mainstream reporters in Washington were sent by their organizations. At the wire services and weekly news magazines, a reporter moved up the ladder city by city (or country by country). Hugh Sidey described a writer's career path at Time magazine as going from reporting in Chicago to being deputy bureau chief in Paris to being bureau chief in Atlanta to being Washington correspondent. In Washington, the correspondent might cover the Pentagon or the White House, eventually working his or her way up to being Washington bureau chief and finally chief of correspondents in New York. The actual path of correspondent Simmons Fentress at Time led from Atlanta (1961) to Saigon (1966) to Washington (1967). Associated Press (AP) reporter James Cary moved from Phoenix (1949) to Tokyo (1954) to Washington (1960).
Newspapers also had a pecking order. Benjamin Cole joined the Indianapolis Star in 1944 as a copy editor and progressed to statehouse reporter, assistant city editor, and city editor before becoming the Star's Washington correspondent in 1949.
Darwin Olofson, of the Omaha World-Herald, enjoyed claiming that his transfer to Washington in 1950 was "a form of punishment." The story he told was that when he was covering the first big snowstorm of the season in Omaha, he went out "to get images of cherubic children prancing in the white flakes" but instead found them cold and shivering on an elementary school playground. So, as an enterprising new reporter, he started a snowball fight, which the children loved: "Before I got back to the newsroom the school principal had called our executive editor and accused me of threatening the health and welfare of an entire new generation. Shortly thereafter the executive editor called me in and said he thought I would do better in an unstable environment. He was sending me to Washington."
Occasionally a move to Washington was not a promotion. Bill Steif said that his employer, Scripps Howard, was using its Washington bureau as "a dumping ground for older, higher-priced executives" from the chain's newspapers. He named names. "Nobody ever gets fired. Some should." On the other hand, Knight Ridder bureau chief Bob Boyd said that a large chain had the capacity to put Washington reporters in executive positions on its papers if it felt that they had the potential. The bigger the chain, the more slots for editors and publishers, said Gannett's Sid Hurlburt: "You don't have to wait for someone to die."
Once in Washington, reporters sought better assignments as they gained seniority. An AP reporter could go from the regional staff, covering a specific state or city, to the national staff. A few moved from one organization to another while remaining on the same beat: Pentagon reporter Lloyd Norman moved from the Chicago Tribune (1946-59) to Newsweek (1959-78). Filling jobs was never a problem; Baltimore Sun bureau chief Pat Furgurson once interviewed seventy-five applicants for three openings. But losing good people could be a problem. Recalling the squeeze that occurs when experienced reporters start to worry about sending their kids to college, Gannett bureau chief Jack Germond mourned being unable to keep "better people longer."
Journalists move for the same reasons as people in other businesses do, usually revolving around personal or professional conflicts. Morton Mintz, of the investigative unit at the Washington Post, recalled: "Initially, [Bob] Woodward and I got along very well.... But then Woodward and I didn't get along." David Dear commented on selling the small newspaper publishing company that he owned with his brothers: "They pretty much brought the decision on.... I was only 58. I had a career ahead of me with nothing to do." Morton Paulson explained his departure from Changing Times, a general interest magazine: "The magazine had changed its format completely. They began accepting advertising. The name changed to Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Personal finance wasn't something that I had a great abiding interest in."
"It's hard to balance the time spent with family and the time spent trying to get the news," said Bob Smith, of King Broadcasting. "I think that's one of the challenges that journalists have, and it's not an easy one." Still, none attributed job changes to family concerns, as happened later when there were more women journalists and there was a greater need to accommodate two careers. Only one of the "greatest generation" women, Mal Johnson, of Cox Broadcasting, was married, and she began her journalism career after the death of her husband.
Most journalists who changed jobs stayed within the same type of journalism: Bernie Kalb went from CBS to NBC, Herb Kaplow from NBC to ABC. The members of this generation were essentially the last that would start their careers in the newspaper or the radio business before switching to the new medium of television. Future Washington correspondents were more likely to be groomed in local markets, particularly at CBS and NBC, networks with a stable of profitable networkowned-and-operated stations. In print journalism, reporters went from wire services to newspapers but rarely in the other direction—James Cary, for example, left the Associated Press for Copley papers—and there was a steady flow between newspapers and news magazines: John Lindsay went from the Washington Post to Newsweek, David Barnett from Hearst papers to U.S. News & World Report.
Some moved down in order to step up, taking a higher-ranked job at a less prestigious organization. After 15 years at the Washington Post, Richard Maloy opened a Washington bureau for Thomson Newspapers, a chain of thirty-five papers, mostly in the 20,000-circulation range, at the low end of journalism's food chain: "Thomson and Dick Maloy happened to be a perfect fit. Their management philosophy was to find a good manager and leave him the hell alone. I was perfect for them because I knew Washington but also had small-town journalism experience, which is what they wanted [His father had been editor of the Lorain Journal, in Ohio].... I was told to proceed on the theory that if you don't hear from us you're doing a great job. I was never told to write or not write a story, which is fantastic. Fifteen years later they had more newspapers and I had four or five guys working for me."
Less than one in five of the mainstream reporters changed jobs after they got to Washington; the single-employer career was most common. Ben Cole retired in 1986 after nearly 40 years as the Indianapolis Star's Washington bureau chief. The Omaha World-Herald's Darwin Olofson was in Washington for 35 years, the last 14 as bureau chief. The standard postwar career pattern, regardless of whether the reporter worked for a wire service, small paper, large paper, or news magazine or for television, looked like this:
—Martha Cole, 36 years with AP, 26 years in Washington
—Louis Hiner, 40 years with the Indianapolis News, 35 years in Washington
—Robert Young, 38 years with the Chicago Tribune, 30 years in Washington
—Hugh Sidey, 41 years with Time/Life, 38 years in Washington
—George Herman, 44 years with CBS, 33 years in Washington.
A paper that experimented with a one-year Washington-and-back rotation for young reporters soon discovered that it was a good way to lose a good reporter. As Don Shannon recalled it, "Those were the old days, when people didn't shift around. People tended to stay with the paper they started with, so I was with the Los Angeles Times [from 1952] until I retired [in 1980]."
Some even stayed on the same beat for extended periods. John Averill covered the Senate for the Los Angeles Times for 16 years (1964-80) and was shifted to preparing advance obituaries of senators only when a hip ailment limited his mobility. Frank Cormier, AP, had been at the White House for 18 years when he left in 1980 because of a crippling nerve disorder. "He kept covering the White House when he couldn't stay on his feet," remembered Muriel Dobbin, the Baltimore Sun's White House reporter. In 1980, CBS switched Bob Pierpoint to the State Department from the White House after he had spent 22 years on that beat. Asked why she had stayed at the White House for 57 years, Helen Thomas, of the United Press International (UPI), replied, "What made me stay? Because it's the center. Everything comes to the White House. All news that affects the country or the world comes through the White House. So why not be in the center of it?"
But Fred Taylor, executive editor of the Wall Street Journal, believed in rotation: "Papers that keep a reporter on the same beat until he dies are short-changing the reporter and the readers." One of his Washington reporters "had a low boredom threshold. We had to keep changing his beat every two-and-a-half years." Reassignments—which often came after a presidential election—could set off a chain reaction: Senate reporter to White House reporter, White House reporter to State Department reporter, State Department reporter to an overseas bureau.
Washington vacancies were filled from headquarters, if possible. Doing otherwise would create "a bad morale problem," said Cox bureau chief David Kraslow. Yet it was not always possible, especially when a specialist was needed or there was a new beat to be covered. The Washington Post hired science reporter Victor Cohn, who had been writing about scientific developments in the Soviet Union since the 1950s, from the Minneapolis Tribune in 1968. The problem with specialists is that they are not easily fungible. The AP's Howard Benedict, "dean of space reporting," covered over 2,000 missile and rocket launches, but what was the agency to do with him during a long hiatus between the Apollo and Shuttle programs? Robert Heinl, the Pearl Harbor veteran, joined the Detroit News as a military analyst after retiring from the Marines in 1963. Some experts worked for niche publications like Armed Forces Journal and Aviation Week. Except for those at the major business magazines, specialists rarely jumped the queue into the mainstream media.
In every decade special circumstances arose that had employment consequences, usually resulting from the failure or founding of a news operation or from ownership changes. The New York Herald Tribune folded in 1966, the Washington Star in 1981. Start-ups included USA Today (1982), The Hill (1994), and Politico (2007). Notable management changes took place at UPI, CBS, U.S. News & World Report. The reconstituting of the Los Angeles Times Washington bureau in 1963 followed the arrival of new publisher Otis Chandler, whose aggressive attempt to change the image of his family's rich and provincial paper centered on remaking its moribund D.C. operation. Chandler lured the nearly iconic Washington reporter Bob Donovan away from the Herald Tribune and gave him the money to rebuild an operation that was down to two reporters. Within a year Donovan had eleven on staff, almost all coming from other Washington bureaus, including Don Irwin (Herald Tribune), Bob Toth (New York Times), Dave Kraslow (Knight Newspapers), Larry Burd (Chicago Tribune), Bob Thompson (New York Daily News), Vince Burke (UPI), and Dick Reston (Madison Capital Times).
Excerpted from WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE WASHINGTON REPORTERS 1978-2012 by STEPHEN HESS Copyright © 2012 by THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION. Excerpted by permission of BROOKINGS INSTITUTION PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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