It's News to Me: The Making and Unmaking of an Editor

It's News to Me: The Making and Unmaking of an Editor


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781568583624
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Publication date: 09/28/2007
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Edward Kosner has had an unparallelled journalism career, beginning with a sixteen year tenure at Newsweek. He has also worked as editor of New York Magazine, editor of Esquire magazine, and editor of New York Daily News.

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Copyright © 2006

Edward Kosher

All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-56025-907-8

Chapter One


AS I CROSSED THE threshold to Kay Grahams small office at Newsweek
that early spring evening, I knew I was leaving my life behind. Kay was sitting
behind her desk wearing one of those Halston uhrasuedes she favored,
and she looked teary. I was alert and numb-like somebody in a near-death
experience watching himself from some serene remove.

"Oh, Ed," she said in her husky mezzo, "I feel so awful about this, but it's
just not working."

I'd known I was gone that Monday morning when I turned to the business
pages of the New York Times. The news magazines were more important
in June 1979 than they are today, and Time and Newsweek would take ads in
the Times at the start of each week showcasing their covers. In one corner,
there was the cover I'd chosen for Newsweek: A send-up of those old pulp sci-fi
magazines with a beautiful gasping girl and the headline in camp type,


Across the page, a benevolent Pope John Paul II waved to the ecstatic
Polish homecoming crowds from Time's cover.

It was nearly sixteen years since I'd first set foot in Newsweek's Madison
Avenue offices, a skinnytwenty-six-year-old kid from the scruffy New York
given a one-week tryout. Over the years, I'd scrambled to the top of the
masthead, and now my Newsweek sold more copies each week than ever
before and was thick with glossy ads. But I had lost favor with Kay, who
ruled her magazine and newspaper, the Washington Post, with a twitchy,
autocratic hand. Time's smiling Pope had sealed my doom.

As much as I had anticipated her words, I was still stunned-at least by
their timing. I was supposed to lead a Newsweek delegation to China in a
week, a rare journey in those days. Like Nixon's pilgrimage to China in the
midst of Watergate, the trip, I'd hoped, would buy me more time.

Being cast out of Newsweek was the worst thing that ever happened to me.
I had never really failed at anything before. Although I'd spent five years at
the Post, Newsweek was where I had grown up and transformed myself from
a Washington Heights provincial to a reasonably polished journalist who
could have dinner with Henry Kissinger or King Hussein of Jordan one
night and Liv Ullmann the next, and effortlessly chat up each one. I had
invested all my energy and intellect in the magazine and my heart, too. It
was my identity. Or so I thought.

That night, I swallowed my second Valium ever and made a decision: I
may have been fired, but I wasn't going to slink off from Newsweek. Next
morning, I had an announcement distributed to everyone on the editorial
and business floors asking them to join me at Top of the Week, the penthouse
meeting place I. M. Pei had designed for the magazine. Kay Graham,
I heard later, was alarmed when she saw the memo, sure that I planned some
tirade or ugly scene, but of course I had nothing like that in mind.

Soon Top of the Week was jammed with hundreds of Newsweek staffers.
As I reached the small lectern, I saw Kay standing against the wall, her arms
folded across her chest, looking tauter than ever. It was over in an instant. I
told them how honored I was to have been their editor, thanked them for all
their good work, and wished them and Newsweek good fortune, the appropriate
script. They applauded, as people always do at such grim rituals, and
I walked through the crowd and rode down in the elevator to the street,
where Julie was waiting in a car to take me away from the life I loved.

Later, I heard that Mrs. Graham, finding the elevators jammed, decided
to hoof it down the stairwell thirty floors to her office. Midway, she suddenly
stopped and turned to one of my ex-colleagues.

"Did I make a mistake?" she asked.

He reassured her that I had to go.

"No, not about Ed," she replied. "I mean about taking the stairs!"

As it happened, Kay Graham liberated me that day. Driven out of
Newsweek, I was forced to fashion a new career as the editor of two iconic
magazines, New York and Esquire, and of America's biggest tabloid newspaper,
the New York Daily News. I wound up working with the most accomplished
writers of our time, from Norman Mailer to Pete Hamill and Gay Talese, and
toiling for other press lords as mighty as Rupert Murdoch and as mercurial as
Mort Zuckerman.

It was my good fortune as a journalist to live in the most tumultuous era
of modern American history-the frenzied decades that ran from the assassination
of John F. Kennedy through the civil-rights uprising, Vietnam,
Watergate, and on to September 11 and the war in Iraq. I was at Newsweek
on November 22, 1963, when JFK was murdered in Dallas, and on August
8, 1974, the day Richard Nixon resigned and choppered off to San
Clemente, and I was running the Daily News on September 11, 2001, the
gleaming morning when the twin towers collapsed on the most horrific day
in the history of New York City.

I'd written more than 2 million words on everything from Lana Turner's
runaway daughter, Cheryl Crane, to Robert Kennedy's run for the White
House, edited nearly a thousand issues of Newsweek, New York, and Esquire,
and put out more than a thousand tabloid Daily News front pages.

One day very late in the game, I finally found the right metaphor for my
career: It was a carousel ride-a media merry-go-round where one kept
rising and falling and sometimes getting thrown from the horse. I was always
encountering specters from the past who showed up again and again as benefactors
and antagonists, comrades and rivals.

And if I was honest, and looked closely enough, I might recognize one of
the ghosts as myself.

Chapter Two

The Little Fugitive

ONCE, AT NEWSWEEK IN the late 1960s, I found myself at dinner with
three colleagues. One was a direct descendant of John Jay. The second could
trace his roots to James Madison and the family that lent its name to Blackwell's
(later Welfare and, finally, Roosevelt) Island in the East River off Manhattan.
The third, Lucy Anne Howard, was descended from the renowned
Peale clan of early American painters, Benjamin Franklin, and a Confederate
pirate captain named James Waddell, who preyed on Union ships long after
the Civil War had ended. I kept my family tree to myself, partly because it
was mostly a mystery to me.

True to the "don't ask, don't tell" credo of so many of my parents' generation,
all I knew of my pedigree was that my mother's parents had emigrated
toward the end of the nineteenth century from Bialystock, a Polish-Jewish
metropolis of sorts that had been absorbed into Russia. An immigration
officer in New York had looked at my grandfather's unpronounceable name
and asked him what his family did in the old country. The reply sounded like
"fish," and Fisher they became.

My father's people came from what my mother liked to call "the caves,"
Galicia in the Polish-Ukrainian neverland ruled in their time by the Austro-Hungarian
Empire. This somehow emboldened many of my father's relatives to
claim they were of German origin, an attempt to acquire class by association
with the "Our Crowd" Jews who had come to America before the Civil War.

My paternal grandfather's name was Kosiner, but people in those days
kept pronouncing it Ka-zee-ner, which didn't sound American enough to my
father. So he dropped the i, hoping the name would be pronounced as if it
rhymed with close. Instead, he spent his adult life-and I've spent mine-correcting
people who invariably address us as if we all came from Oz.

The Kosiners and Fishers settled on the Lower East Side more than a century
ago. In time, my mother's father ran a catering hall on East Broadway
and a small hotel in the Catskills. My father's father seems to have sold
umbrellas, although the details of his business life are as lost in the mists as
his birthplace. By the 1920s, both families had prospered enough to move
north to the brownstone blocks of lower Harlem around what was then
Mount Morris Park (much later renamed for Marcus Garvey, the back-to-Africa
zealot from Jamaica).

My mother was one of five sisters and my father had ten brothers and sisters.
Thirteen of the sixteen married, and, remarkably, nearly all of them
found spouses living on a handful of streets clustered around 120th Street and
Madison Avenue. Unlike so many whose path from the Lower East Side led
to Brooklyn or the Bronx and then on to the suburbs, the Fishers and the
Kosiners stayed in Manhattan, eventually settling on the Upper West Side, or,
in the case of my parents, farther north in leafy Washington Heights, not far
from the George Washington Bridge. So I grew up in a world a shade less
provincial (and much less fun) than people of my age like Ralph Lauren and
Calvin Klein, whose childhoods were spent in the pulsing Jewish neighborhoods
around Pelham and Mosholu parkways in the Bronx.

Washington Heights during World War II was an oddly cosmopolitan backwater.
Broadway was the great divide. The Jews lived in mostly renovated six-story
brown, yellow, and gray brick apartment houses that ran west to the
Hudson from the huge Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center on 168th
Street to the hilly streets just north of the bridge. The Irish lived in buildings
more reminiscent of tenements, running east toward the Harlem River.

The Jews were an amalgam. The somber refugees from Hitler gave the
neighborhood a settled, German tone. Dressed in black, small, quiet couples
shuffled along the streets or sat together in the parks talking in whispery
German-never Yiddish-the women often carrying those mesh shopping
bags last seen on Alexanderplatz. The other distinctive group was made up
of refugees, too, but these were mostly Russian intellectuals, hard-core Stalinists,
and democratic socialists, bitter political rivals often in the same
family, whose book-lined apartments were filled with leftist tracts and
records by the Red Army Chorus and the black American Communist culture
hero Paul Robeson.

And then there were the Kosners and a handful of their ilk-American-born,
second-generation, lower-middle-class assimilationists who shopped at Saks
and Best & Co., loved Broadway musicals like South Pacific and Guys and
, and proudly displayed their Book of the Month Club best sellers by
Frank Yerby and Edna Ferber.

In the summer, the Irish rode the subway to Rockaway and Coney Island,
the German refugees who could afford it melted away to bungalows in Connecticut,
the Commies headed off to upstate proletarian camps, and the
Kosners went to middle-class Long Beach on the Atlantic, with its boardwalk
lined with frozen custard stands, pokerino parlors, miniature golf
courses, and cute townie girls.

To my mother, who had a tall, docile, twentyish Negro girl from the Carolinas
as a full-time maid to help her keep our tiny apartment overlooking
Broadway immaculate, the sad, whispery German refugees and their children
were "refs." The lefty mothers, with their makeup-free pusses, austere
bowl haircuts, and ugly brown space shoes, were "the intelligentsia" with a
dismissive hard g. My mother knew we were the real Americans.

The war was a palpable presence as I was growing up in the Heights, and
not just because the sad refugees brought the reality of Hitler to every corner.
To ensure more daylight hours at the end of the workday, War Time had
been imposed. It pushed the clocks ahead two hours so that when the time
read 7:00 AM it was actually five and pitch black. To save on gasoline, the
milkman delivered from a horse-drawn cart, and often the first sounds I'd
hear as I awoke for school were the clops of the Sheffield Farms dray plodding
up Broadway.

My mother went shopping clutching booklets of blue and red ration
stamps (and we would have had a gas rationing sticker on the windshield of
our car if we'd had a car). Each morning, I'd head off to school after the war
news from Edward R. Morrow in London and others on the CBS Radio Network.
The reports always mentioned the Red Army attacking the Nazis or
being driven back by the Nazis. I pictured masses of troops all clad in crimson
or scarlet marching behind tanks the color of fire engines. I was ashamed to
ask anybody what this Red Army was, and it was years before one of my
Communist playmates told me about Our Heroic Soviet Comrades.

There were no new metal toys to be had so we played with clunky carved
wooden soldiers wearing World War I-style pie dish helmets and stubby
wooden trucks and tanks. The only excitement came every few months
when word flashed around the neighborhood that this or that candy store
had got hold of a stash of frozen Milky Way chocolate bars, a contraband
delicacy in these deprived times. From nowhere, children looking like
Depression urchins in their plaid mackinaws and corduroy knickers would
line up silently outside the shop-only to learn that the precious candy had
run out, if there had even been any on sale.

In war and peace, my mother was very particular about how I dressed for
school, taking me downtown on Saturdays to the spiffy Lilliputian Bazaar at
Best & Co. on Fifth Avenue or to the children's department at Macy's. I particularly
loved going to Macy's because that meant a hot dog and an orange
drink in a tall, thin glass at Nedick's, a shop wedged right into the corner of
the department store at the northwest corner of Herald Square. It also meant
a glimpse of a funny little man who was always posted in front of Nedick's
clutching a stack of muckraking ten-cent tabloid papers that he may have
written himself. He was a crusader against unhygienic food and dangerous
products-a kind of Stone Age Ralph Nader. "Rat hairs found in Velveeta
cheese!" he'd cry. "Coca-Cola syrup rots meat in test tube!" Hardly anyone
bought his papers, but he never gave up.

My mother was most critical of the way the "refs" dressed their kids, as if
they were attending some polytechnic in Hamburg rather than P.S. 173. Their
shiny black shoes, so alien compared to the brown lace-ups she got me at Best's
or Indian Walk, particularly annoyed her. The truth was, I was turned out like
none of the other pupils at 173. The Irish kids-those whose parents couldn't
afford to send them to the parochial school, the Church of the Incarnation a
couple of blocks away, or who had been thrown out for hooliganism-dressed
like ragamuffins. Most of the Jewish kids wore the knickers and mackinaws
sold on Broadway. Little Edward had gray flannel trousers, those Best & Co.
brogans, and an array of leather jackets more appropriate for our pilots
bombing the brains out of the Nazis from their B-17s and Liberators over
Frankfurt and Düsseldorf. My father was in the men's and boys' outerwear business,
and he'd decked me out in samples from the time I could zip a zipper.

Inevitably, I hated being different. I was obsessed with getting one of
those plaid mackinaws and a pair of scratchy corduroy knickers so I could
look like everybody else, and I tormented my mother until she consented to
take me to the boys' store a few blocks up Broadway from our apartment
where all my schoolmates got their clothes. After my father got home from
work that evening, I modeled my new duds.

As it happened, I was the smallest (and youngest) boy in my class-so
short and bone-skinny that my mother had packed me off to Dr. Pecker for
an exam to make sure I wasn't an incipient dwarf. As my parents watched, I
pulled on the baggy knickers, tugging the belt so tight to keep them from
falling down that the wartime ersatz fabric bunched up and my legs, in their
loose dark hose, stuck out like toothpicks.

Then I donned the red-and-black plaid mackinaw, zipped the hood over
my head, and stood in front of the bedroom dressing mirror. Staring back at
me was a goblin from the brothers Grimm, a tiny, shrunken figure with a
pinched, ashen face peering out from a massive dark cowl. Standing behind
me on either side, my mother and father erupted in shrieks of derisive
hilarity. My regular-boy outfit went back to the store the next day, and my
parents never let me forget my pathetic folly.


Excerpted from IT'S NEWS TO ME
Copyright © 2006 by Edward Kosher.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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