We are living in the most thoroughly documented time in human
existence. There are billions of us carrying cameras in our pockets, and the
videos we make ricochet across the internet with astonishing ease: silly things,
like dance moves and pratfalls, along with deadly serious things, like police
officers murdering unarmed civilians or children choking on chemical weapons.
And yet we see through a glass darkly. We consume a stream of snippets, served
to us chopped up and sometimes algorithmically curated, often stripped of
It is precisely because of this never-ending stream of images that the
devastating new documentary “20 Days in Mariupol” seared into my brain when I
saw it in a theater last week. The film is the work of an astonishingly brave
team of Ukrainian journalists who remained in the city of Mariupol at the very
beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, risking their lives to
document the siege.
If you paid any attention to the news from Ukraine then, you probably saw some
of this team’s work. Mstyslav Chernov, a Ukrainian journalist and filmmaker,
along with Evgeniy Maloletka, a still photographer, and Vasilisa Stepanenko, a
field producer, documented the siege for The Associated Press.
They were, after a fashion, accidental war correspondents. War arrived on their
doorstep, and each of them, somehow, found the courage to meet it. Chernov was
an artist who increasingly moved to making news photos and videos when Russia
menaced and ultimately invaded Ukraine. Stepanenko, the daughter of a pioneer of
hip-hop dance in Ukraine, was just 22 years old during the siege of Mariupol.
She chose journalism as a career because she had grown up in a city a couple of
dozen miles from the border, in the shadow of Russian aggression. Maloletka cut
his teeth photographing Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine.
Newscasts led with snippets of their footage, demonstrating in the starkest
terms just how pitiless Vladimir Putin’s prosecution of the invasion would be:
Doctors frantically perform CPR on a lifeless toddler. A father wails over the
body of his 16-year-old son, who died after his legs were blown off by an
airstrike during a soccer game. A woman on the verge of giving birth is carried
out of a bombed hospital, dazed, bleeding, clutching her swollen belly.
Woven into a documentary that unfolds over 95 excruciating minutes, these
moments become something else: a chronicle of what it means to witness and
document atrocity, the extraordinary risks these journalists took to tell these
I recently returned to field reporting after a decade as an editor and media
executive, working safely behind a desk and in conference rooms, to discover a
changed world for journalists. The crucial concept of the neutrality of
journalists in conflict, a tenuously accepted idea in the best of times, has all
but vanished amid a thicket of propaganda, lies and disinformation. I have
watched helplessly as friends and colleagues have been jailed, beaten and killed
simply for trying to do their work with honor and integrity.
This work has always been difficult and dangerous, but it has become ever more
so, most especially for journalists like those who made this film: local
journalists, many of them freelancers for international organizations, covering
brutal events unfolding in their own backyards.
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Since 2003, about 1,700 journalists have been killed in the line of duty around
the world. The deaths of Western journalists tend to get the most attention: the
horror of reporters beheaded by the Islamic State; celebrated photographers who
died under artillery fire in the post-Arab Spring battle for Libya; a legendary
foreign correspondent killed by government shelling in the Syrian city of Homs.
But the butcher’s bill is the longest for local journalists covering the crises
in their homelands, countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as well as places like
Mexico, where drug cartels frequently target journalists for assassination.
Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, at least
17 journalists have been killed in Ukraine, 11 of them Ukrainian.
Governments are jailing more journalists, too. Last year, the number of detained
journalists spiked to 363, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in
authoritarian countries like China, Eritrea, Iran and Myanmar but also in
troubled democracies like Turkey. (Disclosure: I serve on C.P.J.’s board.) As I
write this, Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, has been held
prisoner by the Russian government for more than 100 days for simply doing his
I’ve seen the growing danger firsthand. Last fall, I traveled to Haiti’s
capital, Port-au-Prince, where I was once able to walk deep into the city’s
sprawling slums to interview residents about their lives. This time, amid open
gang warfare and a plague of kidnappings, I had no choice but to travel around
the city in a sport utility vehicle convoy with an armed guard. In Haiti, a
country under siege by warring gangs aligned to powerful political and business
interests, at least seven journalists were killed in 2022, and at least two have
been killed this year.
Last month, I went to the borderlands between Sudan and Chad to report on the
crisis engulfing Darfur. I have visited the area many times, even crossing the
border on foot to try to document war crimes in Sudan when the Sudanese
government refused to permit me to enter Darfur legally. These days the region
has become so lawless, and respect for the vital work of journalists so
meaningless, that I was required by the Chadian authorities to travel with a
So it is not surprising that images like the ones captured in “20 Days in
Mariupol” feel so vanishingly rare.
A pivotal scene in the film comes on Day 14 of the siege, March 9. Russian
troops have just bombed a maternity hospital. A heavily pregnant woman is
carried out on a stretcher, gravely wounded and apparently in shock. Women
clutching infants stream out of the bombed-out building. A little boy screams
for his mother.
The team runs to the scene, cameras rolling, and captures it all.
And then comes the hard part: How to send these images to the team’s editors at
The Associated Press? The cellphone networks have been down for days. Chernov
and his team have dodged airstrikes to capture this atrocity. Can they safely
get it out to the world?
A police officer named Volodymyr tells Chernov that he knows a place — just
outside a looted supermarket there is a patch of cellphone signal. They drive
there, a risky proposition given the warplanes streaking over the city. A plane
roars overhead. The team dives behind a stairwell for safety.
“Is there internet?” someone asks.
“Volodymyr said the footage from the maternity hospital would change the course
of the war,” Chernov narrates over these scenes. “But we have seen so many dead
people. Dead children. How could more death change anything?”
Despite the exceptional courage of the team and the remarkable scenes they
capture, a feeling of futility hangs over the film. It’s not hard to understand
why. Most of us got into journalism hoping to change the world. Surely, showing
atrocities will lead to action. But the more common pattern is this: A horror is
revealed, and then, for a long time, not much happens.
The massacre at My Lai was exposed in 1969; it surely increased domestic
opposition to the war in Vietnam, but it hardly led directly to the end of the
pointless slaughter there, which came years later.
The publication of the torture photos from Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad was
shocking. But it hardly slowed, much less halted, America’s slide toward ever
escalating atrocities in the “war on terror.”
The revelation that Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, had used chemical weapons
that maimed and killed children brought global condemnation but little action.
Today the regional foes who once swore to isolate and remove Assad from power
are beckoning him back into the fold of acceptable autocrats.
I asked Chernov about this. A few times in the documentary he mentions being
apart from his young daughters. Each day in Mariupol risked a greater chance he
might never see them again. If he was so unsure of the impact of his work, why
“If you don’t do anything, you also feel like a criminal,” Chernov told me.
“Like you are helping the killers. You are helping the criminals to continue to
do their crimes. And I can’t. After all we lived through, this is not something
I can do. I am aware that my efforts are not as productive as I would want them
to be. But still, at least, at least do something.”
As he spoke, I thought of another journalist I admire, working half a world
away. Hiba Morgan, a journalist of Sudanese and South Sudanese origin, is one of
the few reporters still working in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. She is the
correspondent for Al Jazeera, and with her team she has documented at great
peril the street-by-street fight between two rival generals and their troops to
control the city and the country. The fighting has stretched on for more than
three months, killing thousands of people. Her team had had many close calls —
stray bullets and wayward artillery coming uncomfortably close. When I called
her recently, she listened for incoming airstrikes or gun battles that
ricocheted too close as we talked. I asked her what kept her here, when so many
others had fled.
“A couple of weeks ago we went to a hospital, and the doctors were running out
of medicines,” she told me. They needed to remove a bullet from a 7-year-old
boy. They didn’t have enough anesthesia to put him under, so they used a local
“You could clearly hear the child was crying and in pain,“ she said. “We came
out of that, we were all crying as well, and we had a chat afterward. We all
wondered, what are we doing? And I think we know that it may not make a
difference now, but we’re documenting history. We are creating a record. People
will know what happened here.”
Her words made me realize that Chernov’s film left me feeling something that was
quite the opposite of futility. Morgan, like Chernov, is a journalist committed
to going to and staying in the hard places, the painful ones, and telling the
stories of the people she finds there. These brave journalists do this work not
because they think they can make an immediate difference, but because doing
nothing in the face of such cruelty is intolerable. Their work is humbling,
inspiring and necessary. It demands and requires our rapt attention.
Richard Dudman, a much-traveled reporter for The St. Louis
Post-Dispatch who spent more than a month in captivity in Cambodia after being
ambushed by Vietcong fighters and later survived an assassination attempt after
meeting the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, died on Thursday in Blue Hill, Me. He
The death was confirmed by his daughter, Iris Dudman.
Mr. Dudman’s career in journalism lasted more than three quarters of a century.
He was in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and, after
oversleeping and missing a flight back to Washington, dropped by the police
station where Lee Harvey Oswald was being held and watched as he was gunned down
by Jack Ruby.
He covered the 1956 Arab-Israeli War, filed stories from Havana when Fidel
Castro toppled the Batista government and covered wars and revolutions in
Guatemala, Argentina, Burma (now Myanmar), Ireland, El Salvador, the Dominican
Republic, Algeria, Laos and China.
He made his first reporting trip to South Vietnam in 1962 and, concluding early
on that the war was a doomed enterprise, became one of the first American
reporters to question the official narrative dispensed by military and
government officials. In 1965, while preparing a series of pessimistic reports,
he wrote to his colleague Marquis W. Childs, “The war is being lost, and in a
As the Washington bureau chief for The Post-Dispatch, Mr. Dudman secured and
published excerpts from the government’s classified history of the war, known as
the Pentagon Papers, after the courts barred The New York Times and The
Washington Post from printing any further material.
His taste for adventure occasionally led him down dangerous roads. In 1970, he
and two colleagues, Elizabeth Pond of The Christian Science Monitor and Michael
Morrow of Dispatch News Service International, tried to drive from Saigon to
Phnom Penh to report on the developing covert war in Cambodia.
At a roadblock halfway between the border and Phnom Penh, three Vietcong
fighters, brandishing assault rifles, emerged from the trees along the road and
took the reporters captive, convinced that they were C.I.A. spies. Mr. Dudman
turned to his colleagues and said, “If we get out of this alive, we’ll have a
hell of a good story.”
A coolheaded Vietnamese general, Bay Cao, eventually intervened and ensured
better treatment of the three prisoners — on Ho Chi Minh’s birthday, they
enjoyed a feast of roast dog. After six weeks, Mr. Dudman and his colleagues
were taken to a road and left to hitchhike back to Saigon. Mr. Dudman described
his ordeal in “Forty Days With the Enemy,” published in 1971.
Cambodia had not finished with him. In 1978, he and Elizabeth Becker of The
Washington Post and Malcolm Caldwell, a leftist Scottish economist, secured a
meeting with Pol Pot, becoming the first Western writers to travel through
Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1974.
The hoped-for interview never materialized. After a handshake that Mr. Dudman
found unnerving — Pol Pot had delicate, tapering fingers and soft skin — the
dictator held court.
“He spoke in a quiet monotone as we sweltered in tropical sunshine that flooded
the room and brushed away the flies that buzzed around the orange juice,” Mr.
Dudman wrote in The Post-Dispatch in 2015. “He spoke in Cambodian, Foreign
Minister Ieng Sary put the Cambodian into French, and another official
translated into English. Before getting to our questions, Pol Pot launched into
a diatribe against the Vietnamese.”
He added, “We tried to break in with questions, but he ignored them and rolled
Mr. Dudman did manage to take one of the few known photographs of Pol Pot.
The following night, Mr. Dudman heard gunshots in the guesthouse where he and
his colleagues were staying. Stepping out into the hallway, he faced an
attacker, who began shooting at him with a pistol. Mr. Dudman dashed back into
his room, dodging bullets, and hid behind his bed.
Two hours later, a Cambodian escort officer appeared. “He told me that Becker
was safe but that Caldwell had been killed and I should view his body,” Mr.
Dudman wrote in The Post-Dispatch in 1997. “The young terrorist was sprawled
dead in the doorway. And Caldwell’s body lay on his bed with a gaping wound in
The motivation for the attack, and the identity of the gunman and two
accomplices, remained unknown.
Richard Beebe Dudman was born on May 3, 1918, in Centerville, Iowa, to Virgil
Ernest Dudman, a gynecologist and obstetrician, and the former Wilma Beebe. The
family moved to Portland, Ore., two years later.
Mr. Dudman enrolled in Stanford University with ideas of becoming a doctor, but
lost his nerve when it came time to dissect a frog. He began reporting and
taking photographs for The Stanford Daily and, on summer vacations in Northern
California, worked for The Mercury-Register, in Oroville, a newspaper owned by
After graduating in 1940 with a degree in economics and journalism, he joined
the merchant marine, serving on a freighter that transported war matériel across
the North Atlantic. In 1942, he enlisted in the Navy Reserves and spent four
years on an armed supply ship that led convoys to Europe and North Africa.
He was hired as a reporter by The Denver Post and joined The Post-Dispatch in
1949. He reported from around the world for the newspaper and in 1954 was
assigned to its Washington bureau. He became bureau chief in 1969 and held the
position until retiring in 1981.
Mr. Dudman, desperate to get a piece of the story, chafed when The Times began
printing excerpts from the Pentagon Papers in mid-June 1971. A chance meeting
with the left-wing journalist I. F. Stone, a good friend, led him to Leonard
Boudin, a radical lawyer and Mr. Stone’s brother-in-law, with whom Mr. Dudman
had an inconclusive conversation.
“That same day, an anonymous caller said he understood I wanted a batch of the
papers,” Mr. Dudman wrote in The Post-Dispatch in 1996. “He said I should send
someone to Cambridge, Mass., to wait in a certain public phone booth at a
certain time the next day for further instructions.”
Thomas W. Ottenad, the newspaper’s political reporter, flew to Cambridge, where,
at the appointed phone booth, he was told to go to a second phone booth. There
he received instructions to look under a stack of newspapers on a table on the
upstairs back porch of a Cambridge rowhouse. There he uncovered a trove of
classified material, which he, Mr. Dudman and James Deakin distilled in 38
articles. The newspaper published them the next day.
To Mr. Dudman’s annoyance, however, The Post-Dispatch, on the advice of its
lawyers, held off publishing further material from the Pentagon Papers until the
Supreme Court handed down a decision on the injunctions against The Times and
After retiring from The Post-Dispatch, Mr. Dudman continued to file special
assignment stories. When his wife, the former Helen Sloane, bought two radio
stations in Maine, he accompanied her to Ellsworth, intending to build boats.
Instead, he spent nine years as a managing editor of South-North News Service in
Hanover N.H., editing copy from foreign correspondents. From 2000 to 2012, he
wrote two editorials a week for The Bangor Daily News. In 1993, he was given the
George Polk Career Award for his foreign reporting.
In addition to his daughter Iris and his wife, who was executive women’s editor
of The Washington Post in the 1960s, he is survived by another daughter, Martha
Tod Dudman, and four grandchildren.
Mr. Dudman’s last day on the job at The Post-Dispatch was eventful. Word came in
that a gunman had shot Ronald Reagan outside the Washington Hilton, not far away
from the newspaper’s offices. Like a racehorse hearing the bugle, Mr. Dudman ran
out the door and up Connecticut Avenue, pen and notebook in hand. His story ran
the next day.
He had a motto: “Reporter who sits on hot story gets ass burned.”
Gil Noble, a television journalist who hosted “Like It Is,” an
award-winning Sunday morning public affairs program in New York, one of the
longest-running in the country dedicated to showcasing black leadership and the
African-American experience, died on Thursday in a hospital in Wayne, N.J. He
The cause was complications of a stroke he had last summer, said Dave Davis,
president and general manager of WABC-TV, which had broadcast “Like It Is” since
Though broadcast only in the New York metropolitan area, “Like It Is” attracted
guests of national and international influence. Some were controversial. His
interviews with figures like Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam drew
complaints of one-sidedness. But for Mr. Noble, that was the point:
“My response to those who complained that I didn’t present the other side of the
story was that this show was the other side of the story,” he said in 1982.
His interviews comprised a veritable archive of contemporary black history in
America: hundreds of hourlong conversations with political and cultural figures
like Lena Horne, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bill Cosby, Sammy Davis Jr., Muhammad Ali,
Andrew Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Stokely Carmichael.
Mr. Noble viewed “Like It Is” as a platform for ideas and perspectives —
especially those of blacks — that were missing from the mainstream news media.
He once called his show “the antidote to the 6 and 11 o’clock news.”
His one-on-one exchanges with African and Caribbean heads of state, including
Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Michael Manley of Jamaica and Robert Mugabe of
Zimbabwe, were part of another mission: to report on events affecting people of
African descent throughout the world.
“You learned a lot watching Gil,” former Mayor David N. Dinkins of New York said
in an interview for this obituary. “You didn’t have to agree with everything he
said, but for many of us, he was required watching.”
The deep support Mr. Noble enjoyed among his viewers helped him survive two
controversies stemming from interviews with figures considered anti-Semitic,
biased against Israel or both. In 1982, the Anti-Defamation League accused Mr.
Noble of showing an anti-Israel bias when he broadcast a panel discussion about
the Israeli invasion of Lebanon without presenting the Israeli perspective.
Just the rumor of disciplinary action prompted protests outside WABC
headquarters, led by the Rev. Calvin O. Butts, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist
Church in Harlem, and the Rev. Al Sharpton. No disciplinary action was taken,
but Mr. Noble was required to present a program with pro-Israeli guests.
Similar tensions arose in the summer of 1991, when Mr. Noble made plans to
broadcast a speech in which a friend, Leonard Jeffries, a City College professor
of black studies, was said to have made bigoted remarks. News reports had led to
Mr. Jeffries’s removal as chairman of the black studies department.
Mr. Noble argued that only by hearing the speech in full could college officials
(and everyone else) decide whether the remarks were cause for discipline or had
been taken out of context. (In one remark, Mr. Jeffries said Hollywood movies
demeaning to blacks were made by “people called Greenberg and Weisberg and
Trigliani.” In another, he said, “Everyone knows rich Jews financed the slave
WABC-TV executives shelved the segment, saying it could aggravate racial unrest
in the city. As it happened, long-simmering tensions between blacks and Jews in
the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn exploded into violence the next week.
Protesters again appeared outside the station’s offices. This time, they
included a state senator, later to be governor of New York, David A. Paterson.
“It was a spontaneous protest as I recall,” Mr. Paterson said in an interview.
“People just showed up. Because ‘Like It Is’ — it was something special in the
African-American community, to be protected.” A segment on the Jeffries affair
was eventually shown later.
“Some white Americans are repelled by ‘Like It Is,’ but that’s the nature of the
program,” Mr. Noble told The Village Voice later that year. “We are witnessing a
quarrel between the races in America, and certain opinions in the black
community must be heard even if they are revolting.”
After Mr. Noble’s stroke, WABC-TV began broadcasting “Here and Now,” a public
affairs show it described as “continuing the legacy of Gil Noble.”
Gilbert Edward Noble was born in Harlem on Feb. 22, 1932, the son of Rachel
Noble, a teacher, and Gilbert R. Noble, who owned an auto repair shop. Both
parents were born in Jamaica. He attended City College and was drafted into the
Army during the Korean War.
Mr. Noble was hired as a reporter for the radio station WLIB in 1962. In 1967,
after nationwide race riots that prompted television stations around the country
to recruit some of their first black reporters, he was hired by WABC. He worked
as reporter, weekend anchor and sometime correspondent for “Like It Is,” a show
begun in 1968, before taking over as its host in 1975. He received seven Emmy
Mr. Noble’s survivors include his wife, Norma Jean; their four daughters, Lynn,
Lisa, Leslie and Jennifer; a son, Chris; and eight grandchildren.
Milton Allimadi, a former publisher of the Harlem-based newspaper Black Star
News and an occasional guest on Mr. Noble’s show, described the special regard
in which Mr. Noble was held in the community he served.
After Mr. Allimadi appeared as a guest on the show, strangers stopped him on the
street to shake his hand, he wrote in an online appreciation last August. “When
I enter an M.T.A. bus, drivers refuse to accept my fare,” he wrote, “saying they
are happy to drive someone who has been on ‘Like It Is.’ ”
Anthony Shadid, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign
correspondent who died on Thursday at 43, had long been passionately interested
in the Middle East, first because of his Lebanese-American heritage and later
because of what he saw there firsthand.
Mr. Shadid spent most of his professional life covering the region, as a
reporter first with The Associated Press; then The Boston Globe; then with The
Washington Post, for which he won Pulitzer Prizes in 2004 and 2010; and
afterward with The New York Times. At his death, from what appeared to be an
asthma attack, he was on assignment for The Times in Syria.
Mr. Shadid’s hiring by The Times at the end of 2009 was widely considered a coup
for the newspaper, for he had been esteemed throughout his career as an intrepid
reporter, a keen observer, an insightful analyst and a lyrical stylist. Much of
his work centered on ordinary people who had been forced to pay an extraordinary
price for living in the region — or belonging to the religion, ethnic group or
social class — that they did.
He was known most recently to Times readers for his clear-eyed coverage of the
Arab Spring. For his reporting on that sea change sweeping the region — which
included dispatches from Lebanon and Egypt — The Times nominated him, along with
a team of his colleagues, for the 2012 Pulitzer in international reporting. (The
awards are announced in April.)
In its citation accompanying the nomination, The Times wrote:
“Steeped in Arab political history but also in its culture, Shadid recognized
early on that along with the despots, old habits of fear, passivity and despair
were being toppled. He brought a poet’s voice, a deep empathy for the ordinary
person and an unmatched authority to his passionate dispatches.”
Mr. Shadid’s work entailed great peril. In 2002, as a correspondent for The
Globe, he was shot in the shoulder while reporting in Ramallah, in the West
Bank. Last March, Mr. Shadid and three other Times journalists — Lynsey Addario,
Stephen Farrell and Tyler Hicks — were kidnapped in Libya by Col. Muammar
el-Qaddafi’s forces. They were held for six days and beaten before being
Later that year, as the Syrian authorities denounced him for his coverage and as
his family was being stalked by Syrian agents in Lebanon, Mr. Shadid nonetheless
stole across the border to interview Syrian protesters who had defied bullets
and torture to return to the streets.
“He had such a profound and sophisticated understanding of the region,” Martin
Baron, the editor of The Boston Globe, for whom Mr. Shadid worked during his
tenure there, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “More than anything,
his effort to connect foreign coverage with real people on the ground, and to
understand their lives, is what made his work so special. It wasn’t just a
matter of diplomacy: it was a matter of people, and how their lives were so
dramatically affected by world events.”
Mr. Shadid was born in Oklahoma City on Sept. 26, 1968, the son of Rhonda and
Buddy Shadid. The younger Mr. Shadid, who became fluent in Arabic only as an
adult, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism from the
University of Wisconsin in 1990. He later joined The Associated Press, reporting
from Cairo, before moving to The Globe in 2001. He was with The Washington Post
from 2003 until 2009.
Mr. Shadid joined The Times on Dec. 31, 2009, as Baghdad bureau chief, and
became the newspaper’s bureau chief in Beirut, Lebanon, last year.
His first marriage ended in divorce. Survivors include his second wife, the
journalist Nada Bakri; their son, Malik; a daughter, Laila, from his first
marriage; his parents; a sister, Shannon, of Denver; and a brother, Damon, of
He was the author of three books, “Legacy of the Prophet: Despots, Democrats and
the New Politics of Islam” (2001); “Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the
Shadow of America’s War” (2005); and “House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family,
and a Lost Middle East,” to be published next month by Houghton Mifflin
In a front-page article for The Times last year, Mr. Shadid, reporting from
Tunisia amid the Arab Spring, displayed his singular combination of authority,
acumen and style.
“The idealism of the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, where the power of the street
revealed the frailty of authority, revived an Arab world anticipating change,”
he wrote. “But Libya’s unfinished revolution, as inspiring as it is unsettling,
illustrates how perilous that change has become as it unfolds in this phase of
the Arab Spring.
“Though the rebels’ flag has gone up in Tripoli,” he continued, “their
leadership is fractured and opaque; the intentions and influence of Islamists in
their ranks are uncertain; Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi remains at large in a flight
reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s; and foreigners have been involved in the fight
in the kind of intervention that has long been toxic to the Arab world.” He
added, “Not to mention, of course, that a lot of young men have a lot of guns.”
Tom Wicker, one of postwar America’s most distinguished
journalists, who wrote 20 books, covered the assassination of President John F.
Kennedy for The New York Times and became the paper’s Washington bureau chief
and an iconoclastic political columnist for 25 years, died on Friday at his home
near Rochester, Vt. He was 85.
The cause was apparently a heart attack, said his wife, Pamela Wicker.
On Nov. 22, 1963, Mr. Wicker, a brilliant but relatively unknown White House
correspondent who had worked at four smaller papers, written several novels
under a pen name and, at 37, had established himself as a workhorse of The
Times’s Washington bureau, was riding in the presidential motorcade as it wound
through downtown Dallas, the lone Times reporter on a routine political trip to
The searing images of that day — the rifleman’s shots cracking across Dealey
Plaza, the wounded president lurching forward in the open limousine, the blur of
speed to Parkland Memorial Hospital and the nation’s anguish as the doctors gave
way to the priests and a new era — were dictated by Mr. Wicker from a phone
booth in stark, detailed prose drawn from notes scribbled on a White House
itinerary sheet. It filled two front-page columns and the entire second page,
and vaulted the writer to journalistic prominence overnight.
Nine months later, Mr. Wicker, the son of a small-town North Carolina railroad
conductor, succeeded the legendary James B. Reston as chief of The Times’s
48-member Washington bureau, and two years later he inherited the column —
although hardly the mantle — of the retiring Arthur Krock, the dean of
Washington pundits, who had covered every president since Calvin Coolidge.
In contrast to the conservative pontificating of Mr. Krock and the genteel
journalism of Mr. Reston, Mr. Wicker brought a hard-hitting Southern
liberal/civil libertarian’s perspective to his column, “In the Nation,” which
appeared on the editorial page and then on the Op-Ed Page two or three times a
week from 1966 until his retirement in 1991. It was also syndicated to scores of
Riding waves of change as the effects of the divisive war in Vietnam and
America’s civil rights struggle swept the country, Mr. Wicker applauded
President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress for passage of the Civil Rights Act of
1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but took the president to task for
deepening the American involvement in Southeast Asia.
He denounced President Richard M. Nixon for covertly bombing Cambodia, and in
the Watergate scandal accused him of creating the “beginnings of a police
state.” Nixon put Mr. Wicker on his “enemies list,” but resigned in disgrace
over the Watergate cover-up. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew upbraided Mr. Wicker
for “irresponsibility and thoughtlessness,” but he, too, resigned after pleading
no contest to evading taxes on bribes he had taken while he was governor of
The Wicker judgments fell like a hard rain upon all the presidents: Gerald R.
Ford, for continuing the war in Vietnam; Jimmy Carter, for “temporizing” in the
face of soaring inflation and the Iranian hostage crisis; Ronald Reagan, for
dozing through the Iran-contra scandal, and the elder George Bush, for letting
the Persian Gulf war outweigh educational and health care needs at home. Mr.
Wicker’s targets also included members of Congress, government secrecy, big
business, corrupt labor leaders, racial bigots, prison conditions, television
and the news media.
In the 1970s, Mr. Wicker, whose status as a columnist put him outside the
customary journalistic restrictions on advocacy, became a fixture on
current-events television shows and addressed gatherings on college campuses and
in other forums. Speaking at a 1971 “teach-in” at Harvard, he urged students to
“engage in civil disobedience” in protesting the war in Vietnam. “We got one
president out,” he told the cheering crowd, “and perhaps we can do it again.”
A Prison Uprising
Mr. Wicker had many detractors. He was attacked by conservatives and liberals,
by politicians high and low, by business interests, labor leaders and others,
and for a time his activism — crossing the line from observer to participant in
news events — put him in disfavor with many mainstream journalists. But his
speeches and columns continued unabated.
His most notable involvement took place during the uprising by 1,300 inmates who
seized 38 guards and workers at the Attica prison in upstate New York in
September 1971. Having written a sympathetic column on the death of the black
militant George Jackson at San Quentin, Mr. Wicker was asked by Attica’s rebels
to join a group of outsiders to inspect prison conditions and monitor
negotiations between inmates and officials. The radical lawyer William M.
Kunstler and Bobby Seale, chairman of the Black Panther Party, also went in, and
the observers took on the role of mediators.
Mr. Wicker, in a column, described a night in the yard with the rebels:
flickering oil-drum fires, bull-necked convicts armed with bats and iron pipes,
faceless men in hoods or football helmets huddled on mattresses behind wooden
barricades. He wrote: “This is another world — terrifying to the outsider, yet
imposing in its strangeness — behind those massive walls, in this murmurous
darkness, within the temporary but real power of desperate men.”
Talks broke down over inmate demands for amnesty and the ouster of Russell G.
Oswald, the state corrections commissioner. Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller rejected
appeals by the observers to go to Attica, and after a four-day standoff,
troopers and guards stormed the prison. Ten hostages and 29 inmates were killed
by the authorities’ gunfire in what witnesses called a turkey shoot; three
inmates were killed by other convicts, who also beat a guard to death.
Afterward, many prisoners were beaten and abused in reprisals.
Mr. Wicker wrote a book about the uprising, “A Time to Die” (1975). Most critics
hailed it as his best book, although some chided him for sympathizing with the
inmates. “Attica,” a television movie starring Morgan Freeman as a jailhouse
lawyer and George Grizzard as Mr. Wicker, was made by ABC in 1980.
Fiction and Nonfiction
Mr. Wicker produced a shelf of books: 10 novels, ranging from potboilers under
the pen name Paul Connolly to murder mysteries and political thrillers, and 10
nonfiction books that re-examined the legacies of ex-presidents, race relations
in America, the press and other subjects.
Mr. Wicker’s first nonfiction book was “Kennedy Without Tears: The Man Beneath
the Myth” (1964), a 61-page look back that some critics said recapitulated
popular notions of an orator of charm and wit but did not penetrate the armor of
sentiment growing over the dead president.
“JFK and LBJ: The Influence of Personality Upon Politics,” (1968), was better
received. It analyzed the character of the two presidents to explain why Kennedy
was unable to push many programs through Congress and why Johnson’s credibility
was a casualty of the Vietnam conflict.
Mr. Wicker’s “On Press” (1978) enlarged on complaints he had made for years: the
myth of objectivity, reliance on official and anonymous sources. Far from being
robust and uninhibited, he wrote, the press was often a toady to government and
Published shortly before Mr. Wicker retired, “One of Us: Richard Nixon and the
American Dream” (1991) offered a surprising reassessment of the president he had
scorned 20 years earlier. Nixon, credited with high marks in foreign policy,
mainly for opening doors to China, actually deserved more notice for domestic
achievements, Mr. Wicker argued, especially in desegregating Southern schools.
Mr. Wicker later wrote “Tragic Failure: Racial Integration in America,” (1996),
arguing that black Americans should abandon the Democratic Party and forge a new
liberal movement. And he produced “On the Record: An Insider’s Guide to
Journalism” (2001), “Dwight D. Eisenhower” (2002), “George Herbert Walker Bush”
(2004) and “Shooting Star: The Brief Arc of Joe McCarthy” (2006).
His political novel “Facing the Lions” (1973) was on The Times best-seller list
for 18 weeks. His later novels were “Unto This Hour” (1984), a Civil War story
on the best-seller list for 15 weeks; “Donovan’s Wife” (1992), a satire on
sleazy politics; and “Easter Lilly” (1998), about a black woman tried for the
murder of a white jail guard in the South.
A Young Journalist
Mr. Wicker was a hefty man, 6 feet 2 inches tall, with a ruddy face, jowls,
petulant lips and a lock of unruly hair that dangled boyishly on a high
forehead. He toiled in tweeds in pinstriped Washington, but seemed more suited
to a hammock and straw hat on a lazy summer day. The casual gait, the easygoing
manner, the down-home drawl set a tone for audiences, but masked a fiery
temperament, a ferocious work ethic, a tigerish competitiveness and a stubborn
idealism, qualities that made him a perceptive observer of the American scene
for more than a half century.
Thomas Grey Wicker was born on June 18, 1926, in Hamlet, N.C., the son of
Delancey David, a railroad freight conductor, and Esta Cameron Wicker. He worked
on his high school newspaper and decided to make journalism his career.
After Navy service in World War II, he studied journalism at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating in 1948. Over the next decade, he was
an editor and reporter at several newspapers in North Carolina, including The
Winston-Salem Journal, eventually becoming its Washington correspondent.
Mr. Wicker married the former Neva Jewett McLean in 1949. The couple had two
children and were divorced in 1973. In 1974, he married Pamela Hill, a producer
of television documentaries. Besides his wife, he is survived by the children of
his first marriage, a daughter, Cameron Wicker, and a son, Thomas Grey Wicker
Jr.; two stepdaughters, Kayce Freed Jennings and Lisa Freed; and a stepson,
In 1957-58, Mr. Wicker was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and in 1959 became
associate editor of The Nashville Tennessean. In 1960, Mr. Reston hired him for
The Times’s Washington bureau, one of “Scotty’s boys,” a cadre of protégés that
included Max Frankel, Anthony Lewis and Russell Baker.
Mr. Wicker covered Congress and the Kennedy White House, the 1960 political
campaigns and presidential trips abroad. His output was prodigious — 700
articles in his first few years, many of them on the front page, others in the
form of news analysis in The New York Times Magazine or the Week in Review.
His work was often entertaining as well as informative. “The most familiar voice
in Ameriker lahst yeeah warz that of a Boston Irishman with Harvard overtones
who sounded vaguely like an old recording of Franklin D. Roosevelt speeded up to
90 r.p.m.’s,” Mr. Wicker wrote for the magazine, summing up 241 Kennedy speeches
in his first year in the presidency. “Nor will the Beacon Street ‘a’ and the
Bunker Hill ‘r’ fall any less frequently on the American eeah in the coming
Mr. Wicker was named chief of the Washington bureau on Sept. 1, 1964, at the
insistence of his mentor, Mr. Reston, who had asked to be relieved. While the
job involved managerial duties, Mr. Wicker was an indifferent administrator. He
continued to cover Washington and national news, and to write news analyses and
magazine articles. In 1966, he took on Mr. Krock’s column, adding to his
In 1968, after complaints by Times editors in New York that Mr. Wicker was
devoting too much attention to his writing, The Times announced that James
Greenfield, a former Time magazine reporter and State Department official, would
replace him as bureau chief.
Mr. Wicker and some colleagues, who saw the move as an effort to rein in the
relative independence the bureau had enjoyed under Mr. Reston, vehemently
opposed the appointment. The publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, withdrew Mr.
Greenfield’s name and named Mr. Frankel as bureau chief. Mr. Wicker became
associate editor, a title he retained until his retirement, and after 1972 wrote
his column from New York.
Besides columns and books, Mr. Wicker wrote short stories and freelance articles
that appeared in The Atlantic, Esquire, Harper’s, Life, The New Republic, The
New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Playboy, Rolling Stone and Vogue. He
received many awards and honorary degrees from a dozen universities.
November 5, 2011
The New York Times
By RICHARD SEVERO
and PETER KEEPNEWS
Andy Rooney, whose prickly wit was long a mainstay of CBS News
and whose homespun commentary on “60 Minutes,” delivered every week from 1978
until 2011, made him a household name, died on Friday in New York City.
He was 92 and lived in Manhattan, though he kept a family vacation home in
Rensselaerville, N.Y., and the first home he ever bought, in Rowayton, Conn.
CBS News said in a statement that Mr. Rooney died after complications following
In late September, CBS announced that Mr. Rooney would be making his last
regular weekly appearance on “60 Minutes” on Oct. 2. After that, said Jeff
Fager, the chairman of CBS News and the program’s executive producer, he would
“always have the ability to speak his mind on ‘60 Minutes’ when the urge hits
But a little more than three weeks after that appearance, CBS announced that Mr.
Rooney had been hospitalized after developing “serious complications” from an
Mr. Rooney entered television shortly after World War II, writing material for
entertainers like Arthur Godfrey, Victor Borge, Herb Shriner, Sam Levenson and
Garry Moore. Beginning in 1962, he had a six-year association with the CBS News
correspondent Harry Reasoner, who narrated a series of Everyman “essays” written
by Mr. Rooney.
But it was “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney,” his weekly segment on “60 Minutes,”
that made him one of the most popular broadcast figures in the country. With his
jowls, bushy eyebrows, deeply circled eyes and advancing years, he seemed every
inch the homespun philosopher as he addressed mostly mundane subjects with
varying degrees of befuddlement, vexation and sometimes pleasure.
He admitted to loving football, Christmas, tennis, woodworking and Dwight D.
Eisenhower, one of the few politicians who won his approval because, as an Army
general during World War II, he had refused to censor Stars and Stripes, the
G.I. newspaper for which Mr. Rooney worked. He also claimed to like shined shoes
and properly pressed pants and had machines in his office to take care of those
functions, although somehow he always managed to look rumpled.
But he was better known for the things he did not like. He railed against
“two-prong plugs in a three-prong society,” the incomprehensibility of road
maps, wash-and-wear shirts “that you can wash but not wear,” the uselessness of
keys and locks, and outsize cereal boxes that contained very little cereal.
“I don’t like any music I can’t hum,” he grumbled.
He observed that “there are more beauty parlors than there are beauties” and
that “if dogs could talk, it would take a lot of the fun out of owning one.”
He made clear that he thought Gen. George S. Patton and Ernest Hemingway, both
of whom he had known personally, were gasbags. He disliked New Year’s Eve,
waiting in line for any reason and the bursars at whatever colleges his children
He once concluded that “it is possible to be dumb and be a college president,”
but he acknowledged that “most college students are not as smart as most college
On the subject of higher education, he declared that most college catalogs “rank
among the great works of fiction of all time,” and that a student of lackluster
intellect who could raise tuition money would find it “almost impossible to
Time magazine once called him “the most felicitous nonfiction writer in
television.” But Mr. Rooney was decidedly not everyone’s cup of tea.
The New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen, for example, took strong issue with
Mr. Rooney’s dismissive comments after Kurt Cobain of the band Nirvana committed
suicide in 1994. It was not surprising, she wrote, that Mr. Rooney “brought to
the issue of youthful despair a mixture of sarcasm and contempt,” but it was
“worth noting because in 1994 that sort of attitude is as dated and foolish as
believing that cancer is contagious.”
Mr. Rooney’s opinions sometimes landed him in trouble. In 1990, CBS News
suspended him without pay in response to complaints that he had made remarks
offensive to black and gay people.
The trigger was a December 1989 special, “A Year With Andy Rooney,” in which he
said: “There was some recognition in 1989 of the fact that many of the ills
which kill us are self-induced. Too much alcohol, too much food, drugs,
homosexual unions, cigarettes. They’re all known to lead quite often to
premature death.” He later apologized for the statement.
But the gay newspaper The Advocate subsequently quoted him as saying in an
interview: “I’ve believed all along that most people are born with equal
intelligence, but blacks have watered down their genes because the less
intelligent ones are the ones that have the most children. They drop out of
school early, do drugs and get pregnant.”
Mr. Rooney denied that he had made such a statement, and because the interview
had apparently not been taped, the reporter was unable to prove that he had. “It
is a know-nothing statement, which I abhor,” Mr. Rooney said.
He said that he had accepted the suspension rather than end his relationship
with CBS News. He said that when he was an Army trainee, he had been arrested in
the South because he insisted on riding in the back of a bus with some black
soldiers who were friends of his.
Many of his colleagues rushed to his defense. “I know he is not a racist,”
Walter Cronkite said.
Mr. Rooney was suspended for three months but was brought back after only one.
During his absence, the ratings for “60 Minutes” declined by 20 percent and the
network received thousands of letters and telephone calls from viewers who
missed his commentaries.
Mr. Rooney generated more criticism in 2002, when he said in an interview on a
cable sports show that women had “no business” being sideline television
reporters at football games because they did not understand football.
He did it again in 2007, with a newspaper column complaining about the current
state of baseball. “I know all about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but today’s
baseball stars are all guys named Rodriguez to me,” he wrote.
He subsequently acknowledged that he “probably shouldn’t have said it,” but
denied that his intent had been to denigrate Latin American players.
Andrew Aitken Rooney was born on Jan. 14, 1919, in Albany, the son of Walter and
Ellinor Rooney. His father was in the paper business. After his graduation from
Albany Academy, he worked as a copy boy for The Knickerbocker News before
attending Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., where he played left guard on
the football team (even though he was only 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds) and worked
for the weekly newspaper, The Colgate Maroon.
In 1941, three months before Pearl Harbor, he was drafted into the Army and used
his powers of persuasion to get himself assigned to Stars and Stripes. He did
not know much about reporting, but he learned his craft by working with
journalists like Homer Bigart, Ernie Pyle and Mr. Cronkite.
He became a sergeant, flew on some bombing missions, covered the invasion of
France in 1944 and won a Bronze Star for reporting under fire during the battle
of Saint-Lô in Normandy. A year later, he was among the first Americans to enter
the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Thekla, Germany.
In collaboration with Bud Hutton, a Stars and Stripes colleague, Mr. Rooney
wrote two books: “Air Gunner” (1944), a collection of sketches of Americans who
had been stationed in Britain, and “The Story of the Stars and Stripes” (1946).
After his discharge, Mr. Rooney returned to Albany and worked as a freelance
By 1949, he had persuaded Mr. Godfrey to hire him as a writer. He continued
writing for several entertainers, but also became involved in news and public
affairs when he was asked to write scripts for “The Twentieth Century,” a
documentary series narrated by Mr. Cronkite. That led to his long-term
association with Mr. Reasoner, which led to his involvement, initially as a
writer, with “60 Minutes.”
In the early 1970s, after briefly working for PBS, Mr. Rooney returned to CBS
and began appearing on camera in a series of specials, one of which, “Mr. Rooney
Goes to Washington,” won a Peabody Award.
Mr. Rooney was as outspoken about CBS, his longtime employer, as he was about
everything else. He made no secret of his dislike for Laurence A. Tisch, the
network’s chief executive from 1986 to 1995. Protesting Mr. Tisch’s cost
efficiencies and job cuts in 1987, Mr. Rooney said CBS News “has been turned
into primarily a business enterprise, and the moral enterprise has been lost,”
and he threatened to quit if a writers strike against CBS News was not settled.
Although his commentary was mostly written for CBS News, he also had a
syndicated newspaper column for three decades, for which he was given a lifetime
achievement award in 2003 by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. (That
same year he received a similar award from the Academy of Television Arts and
Sciences.) He published a number of books, primarily collections of his
commentaries, most recently “Out of My Mind” (2006), “And More by Andy Rooney”
(2008) and “Andy Rooney: 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit” (2010).
Mr. Rooney’s wife of 62 years, Marguerite Howard, died in 2004. Mr. Rooney is
survived by their four children, Ellen Rooney of London; Martha Fishel of Chevy
Chase, Md.; Emily Rooney of Boston; and Brian Rooney of Los Angeles, along with
five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Mr. Rooney frequently said he considered himself “one of the least important
producers on television” because his specialty was light pieces. “I just wish
insignificance had more stature,” he once said.
But he put things in perspective in his 1,097th and last regularly scheduled “60
“I’ve done a lot of complaining here,” he said then, “but of all the things I’ve
complained about, I can’t complain about my life.”
The courageous whistleblower
who claimed Andy Coulson
knew about phone hacking
had a powerful motive for speaking out
This article was published
at 18.46 BST
on Monday 18 July
A version appeared on p2
of the Main section section
of the Guardian
on Tuesday 19 July 2011.
It was last modified at 07.18 BST
on Tuesday 19 July
At a time
when the reputation of News of the World journalists is at rock bottom, it needs
to be said that the paper's former showbusiness correspondent Sean Hoare, who
died on Monday, was a lovely man.
In the saga of the phone-hacking scandal, he distinguished himself by being the
first former NoW journalist to come out on the record, telling the New York
Times last year that his former friend and editor, Andy Coulson, had actively
encouraged him to hack into voicemail.
That took courage. But he had a particularly powerful motive for speaking. He
knew how destructive the News of the World could be, not just for the targets of
its exposés, but also for the ordinary journalists who worked there, who got
caught up in its remorseless drive for headlines.
Explaining why he had spoken out, he told me: "I want to right a wrong, lift the
lid on it, the whole culture. I know, we all know, that the hacking and other
stuff is endemic. Because there is so much intimidation. In the newsroom, you
have people being fired, breaking down in tears, hitting the bottle."
He knew this very well, because he was himself a victim of the News of the
World. As a showbusiness reporter, he had lived what he was happy to call a
privileged life. But the reality had ruined his physical health: "I was paid to
go out and take drugs with rock stars – get drunk with them, take pills with
them, take cocaine with them. It was so competitive. You are going to go beyond
the call of duty. You are going to do things that no sane man would do. You're
in a machine."
While it was happening, he loved it. He came from a working-class background of
solid Arsenal supporters, always voted Labour, defined himself specifically as a
"clause IV" socialist who still believed in public ownership of the means of
production. But, working as a reporter, he suddenly found himself up to his
elbows in drugs and delirium.
He rapidly arrived at the Sun's Bizarre column, then run by Coulson. He
recalled: "There was a system on the Sun. We broke good stories. I had a good
relationship with Andy. He would let me do what I wanted as long as I brought in
a story. The brief was, 'I don't give a fuck'."
He was a born reporter. He could always find stories. And, unlike some of his
nastier tabloid colleagues, he did not play the bully with his sources. He was
naturally a warm, kind man, who could light up a lamp-post with his talk. From
Bizarre, he moved to the Sunday People, under Neil Wallis, and then to the News
of the World, where Andy Coulson had become deputy editor. And, persistently, he
did as he was told and went out on the road with rock stars, befriending them,
bingeing with them, pausing only to file his copy.
He made no secret of his massive ingestion of drugs. He told me how he used to
start the day with "a rock star's breakfast" – a line of cocaine and a Jack
Daniels – usually in the company of a journalist who now occupies a senior
position at the Sun. He reckoned he was using three grammes of cocaine a day,
spending about £1,000 a week. Plus endless alcohol. Looking back, he could see
it had done him enormous damage. But at the time, as he recalled, most of his
colleagues were doing it, too.
"Everyone got overconfident. We thought we could do coke, go to Brown's, sit in
the Red Room with Paula Yates and Michael Hutchence. Everyone got a bit carried
It must have scared the rest of Fleet Street when he started talking – he had
bought, sold and snorted cocaine with some of the most powerful names in tabloid
journalism. One retains a senior position on the Daily Mirror. "I last saw him
in Little Havana," he recalled, "at three in the morning, on his hands and
knees. He had lost his cocaine wrap. I said to him, 'This is not really the
behaviour we expect of a senior journalist from a great Labour paper.' He said,
'Have you got any fucking drugs?'"
And the voicemail hacking was all part of the great game. The idea that it was a
secret, or the work of some "rogue reporter", had him rocking in his chair:
"Everyone was doing it. Everybody got a bit carried away with this power that
they had. No one came close to catching us." He would hack messages and delete
them so the competition could not hear them, or hack messages and swap them with
mates on other papers.
In the end, his body would not take it any more. He said he started to have
fits, that his liver was in such a terrible state that a doctor told him he must
be dead. And, as his health collapsed, he was sacked by the News of the World –
by his old friend Coulson.
When he spoke out about the voicemail hacking, some Conservative MPs were quick
to smear him, spreading tales of his drug use as though that meant he was
dishonest. He was genuinely offended by the lies being told by News
International and always willing to help me and other reporters who were trying
to expose the truth. He was equally offended when Scotland Yard's former
assistant commissioner, John Yates, assigned officers to interview him, not as a
witness but as a suspect. They told him anything he said could be used against
him, and, to his credit, he refused to have anything to do with them.
His health never recovered. He liked to say that he had stopped drinking, but he
would treat himself to some red wine. He liked to say he didn't smoke any more,
but he would stop for a cigarette on his way home. For better and worse, he was
a Fleet Street man.
October 21, 2009
The New York Times
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
Of all the consequences of shrinking newsrooms, one of the oddest is this:
Fewer journalists are available to watch people die. But Michael Graczyk has
witnessed more than 300 deaths, and many of those were people he had come to
An Associated Press reporter based in Houston, Mr. Graczyk covers death penalty
cases in Texas, the state that uses capital punishment far more than any other,
and since the 1980s, he has attended nearly every execution the state has
carried out — he has lost track of the precise count. Whenever possible, he has
also interviewed the condemned killers and their victims’ families.
What makes his record all the more extraordinary is that often, Mr. Graczyk’s
has been the only account of the execution given to the world at large. Covering
executions was once considered an obligatory — if often ghoulish — part of what
a newspaper did, like writing up school board meetings and printing box scores,
but one by one, such dutiful traditions have fallen away.
A generation ago, he had plenty of company from other journalists at the prison
at Huntsville, about an hour’s drive north of Houston, where executions in Texas
are carried out. But then Texas executions went from rare to routine, and
shrinking news organizations found it harder to justify the expense of what was,
from most parts of the state, a long trip.
“There are times when I’m the only person present who doesn’t have a stake in
the outcome,” he said.
Seeing inmates in the death chamber, strapped to a gurney and moments away from
lethal injections, he has heard them greet him by name, confess to their crimes
for the first time, sing, pray and, once, spit out a concealed handcuff key. He
has stood shoulder to shoulder with other witnesses who stared, wept, fainted,
turned their backs or, in one case, exchanged high-fives.
No reporter, warden, chaplain or guard has seen nearly as many executions as Mr.
Graczyk, 59, Texas prison officials say. In fact, he has probably witnessed more
than any other American. It could be emotionally and politically freighted work,
but he takes it with a low-key, matter-of-fact lack of sentiment, refusing to
hint at his own view of capital punishment.
Given a choice between the death chamber’s two viewing rooms, he usually chooses
the one for the victim’s family rather than the side for the inmate’s, partly
“because I can get out faster and file the story faster.”
“My job is to tell a story and tell what’s going on, and if I tell you that I
get emotional on one side or another, I open myself to criticism,” he said.
The A.P. attends every execution, a policy that newspapers around the state
“Our staff is half the size it was three years ago, and so it’s just much more
difficult to send somebody,” said Jim Witt, executive editor of The Fort Worth
Star-Telegram. “But we know we can depend on The A.P., so I can send my
reporters to something else.”
Newspapers sometimes use The A.P.’s reporting rather than their own — or they do
not cover the executions at all. What was once a statewide story has become of
strictly local interest.
A few papers, like The Houston Chronicle, still routinely cover executions in
cases from their home counties, but not those from other parts of the state.
Only one paper regularly covers executions no matter which part of the state the
cases come from: The Huntsville Item, a small publication based near the prison.
This year, the state has put to death five inmates in cases from Tarrant County,
which includes Fort Worth. The Star-Telegram covered one, wrote about two other
cases in the days before the executions, and on the remaining two did not
publish any articles, either its own or The A.P.’s.
“It depends on whether the crime was particularly newsworthy,” Mr. Witt said.
This year, a case from El Paso County resulted in an execution for that county
for the first time in 22 years, but rather than send a reporter to Huntsville,
some 650 miles away, The El Paso Times quoted extensively from Mr. Graczyk’s
“We actually put in to attend that one, and we were granted a spot, but when the
editors explained the case to me, and the local connection was minimal, I said
it wasn’t a compelling enough case,” said Chris V. Lopez, editor of The Times.
He said the expense of traveling to Huntsville was not a major consideration,
but “it has to be a case that has a lot of local impact,” adding that the paper
plans to attend a scheduled execution in a more prominent case.
Mr. Graczyk, who also writes on a wide range of other topics, developed his
unusual specialty in the mid-1980s, a few years after Texas resumed executions
after a long hiatus. He often covers the crimes, the trials and the appeals,
immersed in details so gruesome it is hard to imagine they are real.
At first there were just a handful of executions each year, but the pace of
capital punishment in Texas stepped up sharply through the next decade. The
state has put 441 inmates to death since 1982, more than the next six states
combined. That includes 334 since the start of 1997, a period in which Texas
accounted for 41 percent of the national total.
“The act is very clinical, almost anticlimactic,” Mr. Graczyk said. “When we get
into the chamber here in Texas, the inmate has already been strapped to the
gurney and the needle is already in his arm.”
Witnesses are mostly subdued, he said, and while “some are in tears, outright
jubilation or breakdowns are really rare.”
They stand on the other side of a barrier of plexiglass and bars, able to hear
the prisoner through speakers. And the only sound regularly heard during the
execution itself, is of all things, snoring. A three-drug cocktail puts the
inmate to sleep within seconds, while death takes a few minutes. Victims’ family
members often remark that the killer’s death seems too peaceful.
But before the drugs flow, the inmate is allowed to make a last statement,
giving Mr. Graczyk what even he acknowledges are some lasting, eerie memories.
One inmate “sang ‘Silent Night,’ even though it wasn’t anywhere near Christmas,”
Mr. Graczyk said. “I can’t hear that song without thinking about it. That one
really stuck with me.”
January 29, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GRIMES
James Brady, who helped start the Page Six gossip column at The New York
Post, chronicled the doings of the New York power elite in columns for
Advertising Age and Crain’s New York Business and wrote a gripping memoir of his
combat experience in the Korean War, died on Monday after collapsing at his home
in Manhattan. He was 80.
His daughter Fiona Brady said that the cause had not been determined but that he
had a stroke several years ago.
For more than 30 years Mr. Brady turned a knowing eye on the literati,
fashionistas and tycoons who defined life at the top in Manhattan. He also
interviewed Hollywood celebrities for Parade magazine. But nearly any topic that
caught his fancy made it into his columns.
In his final “Brady’s Bunch” column in Advertising Age in 2005, he reviewed some
of the subjects that he had written about over the years. They included Paris
and Coco Chanel, war and peace, “the Hamptons, football, red wine, TV, Scott
Fitzgerald, skiing with my grandchildren and Elaine’s restaurant.”
The list went on. And on.
“He was a throwback to the Damon Runyon days of newspapermen,” the gossip
columnist Liz Smith, who worked for Mr. Brady at Harper’s Bazaar and The Post,
said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “He did just about everything, and
probably 28 other things I don’t even know about. He worked hard, and he made it
James Winston Brady grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and worked his way
through Manhattan College as a copyboy at The Daily News in New York. After
being called up from the reserves by the Marine Corps, he went to Korea in 1951
and wound up leading a rifle platoon in some of the heaviest combat of the war.
He later wrote about his Korean experience in an acclaimed memoir, “The Coldest
War” (1990), one of his several books about Korea and the Marines, including
“The Scariest Place in the World” (2005), “Why Marines Fight” (2007) and the
novels “The Marines of Autumn” (2000) and “The Marine” (2003). Just days before
he died, he finished editing “Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Legendary Marine
John Basilone,” to be published by Wiley in November.
On returning to the United States, he was hired as a business news reporter by
Women’s Wear Daily. Its parent company, Fairchild Publications, later sent him
to Washington to cover Capitol Hill and to London and Paris to run its bureaus
there. In Paris he became a good friend of Coco Chanel, who, for reasons
unknown, called him “mon petit indien” (“my little Indian”).
In 1958 he married Florence Kelly, who survives him. In addition to his daughter
Fiona, of the Riverdale section of the Bronx, he is also survived by a brother,
Msgr. Tom Brady of Brooklyn; another daughter, Susan Konig of Croton-on-Hudson,
N.Y.; and four grandchildren.
Mr. Brady returned to New York as publisher of Women’s Wear Daily in 1964 and
later started its spinoff publication W. In 1971 he took over the editorship of
Harper’s Bazaar, but his efforts to inject a more youthful note into the
publication earned him a quick exit, although he put his misadventures to good
use in the publishing memoir “Superchic” (1974).
He was quickly hired by Clay Felker to develop and write the “Intelligencer”
column for New York magazine, and, just as quickly, lured away by the publisher
Rupert Murdoch, then extending his reach from Australia and Britain to the
United States. Mr. Brady initially edited The National Star (now The Star), the
supermarket tabloid, and then moved to The Post after Mr. Murdoch bought it in
Whether Mr. Brady alone gave birth to Page Six remains in dispute, but he was
present at the creation, gave the column its name and was its first editor,
briefly, before being called on to edit Mr. Murdoch’s latest acquisition, New
York magazine. He returned to Page Six as editor in the early 1980s.
A taste for the high life and an upbeat, gregarious nature made Mr. Brady a
marathon chronicler of the upper reaches of Manhattan social life, where he was
a curious enthusiast rather than a climber. He began writing a column for
Advertising Age in 1977, and when Crain’s New York Business started up in 1984,
he simply doubled his output with a column there, too. The social material that
did not find its way into his columns fed into a series of novels set in the
Hamptons. (He had a summer house in East Hampton, N.Y.)
Beyond New York, he was familiar to millions of readers as the author of “In
Step With,” a weekly celebrity profile for Parade magazine, which he began
writing in 1986. His last Parade column, on Kevin Bacon, is scheduled to appear
on Feb. 15.
last few years, newspapers have been smacked around for lacking relevance, but
the industry has finally found a compelling spokesman: Rod R. Blagojevich,
Democratic governor of Illinois.
According to the criminal complaint that the United States attorney filed,
Governor Blagojevich, while allegedly trying to set a price for a United States
Senate seat, also spent a significant amount of time going after the press,
especially The Chicago Tribune, whose editorial page had been calling for his
The governor said he would withhold financial assistance from the Tribune
Company in its effort to sell Wrigley Field unless the newspaper got rid of the
editorial writers. “Our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people, get
’em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support,” he told his
chief of staff, John Harris.
Who says the modern American newspaper doesn’t matter?
There is no evidence that Sam Zell, the chief executive of the Tribune Company,
or any of his colleagues followed through on Mr. Blagojevich’s demand for
retribution. (Gerould Kern, editor of The Chicago Tribune, told me Sunday,
“Since I have been editor, I have not been pressured in any way on our coverage
of the governor, our editorial page positions or the staffing of our editorial
The Tribune Company has acknowledged that that the company received a subpoena,
but declined to comment further.
In a city and state where corruption is knit into the political fabric, a
solvent daily paper would seem to be a civic necessity. But if another governor
goes bad in Illinois — a likely circumstance given the current investigation and
the fact that the last governor, George Ryan, is serving six and a half years on
corruption charges — what if the local paper were too diminished to do the job?
It is not an academic issue. Last week, it was reported that the two daily
newspapers in Detroit, a city whose politicians have been known to get their
hands in the till as soon as voters pull the lever, will cease home delivery on
most days of the week, printing a pared-down version for newsstands, with cuts
in staff to match.
And last Monday, the day before Mr. Blagojevich and Mr. Harris were arrested,
the Tribune Company, which has almost $13 billion in debt, filed for bankruptcy
protection. It was less than a year after Mr. Zell, a man with a fondness for
distressed assets, took control of the Tribune chain — which owned 11 other
newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, and 23 television stations — in a
deal structured around an employee stock ownership plan that involved $8 billion
in new debt.
Things have not gone as planned since then. The worst ad recession since the
Depression, combined with that crushing debt, has compelled the company to sell
assets — Newsday, a daily newspaper in Long Island, was sold last spring for
$650 million — and cut staff. The Chicago Tribune newsroom, which had a staff of
670 in 2005, has gone through several rounds of cutbacks and buyouts that left
the newsroom with 480 employees.
Some of the losses have been dear. This summer, Maurice Possley, a Pulitzer
Prize-winning journalist and the paper’s premier criminal justice reporter,
left, in part because he didn’t believe the newspaper was still interested in
the kind of long-form investigative stories he worked on.
Last month, John Crewdson, another Pulitzer-winning reporter, was laid off from
the newspaper’s Washington bureau. Two of the newspaper’s five staff members who
covered state government full-time are now gone. Ann Marie Lipinski, the
newspaper’s editor and a longtime enabler of The Chicago Tribune’s journalistic
aggression, left last summer, and in September, a redesign with fewer articles
arrayed over less space was put in place.
Almost since the day Mr. Blagojevich took office, The Tribune has shown readers
that the governor’s primary interest was not always the public interest. And the
paper’s reporting helped expose the outside clout of Antoin Rezko, the convicted
fixer with ties to both Mr. Blagojevich and President-elect Barack Obama.
Although much of the current investigation is being led by the office of the
United States attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, the newspaper did its own work,
including pointing out that the governor’s wife, Patti, received over $700,000
in real estate commissions, with much of the money coming from people who did
business with the state. In the indictment, she too pays tribute to the
newspaper’s effectiveness, shouting in the background as her husband talked
“Hold up that [expletive] Cubs [expletive],” she said. “[Expletive] them.”
It is the highest sort of compliment, if rather profane.
This week, Dan Mihalopoulos, Ray Long, John Chase, David Kidwell and others at
the paper continued to work every angle on the Blagojevich investigation, and
follow some of their own. But some people at the newspaper, and those who have
left, wonder whether The Tribune’s commitment to covering corruption is
“I couldn’t be prouder of the people that are there and the job that they have
done,” said David Jackson, an investigative reporter who worked on the Rezko
coverage and is now on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. “But both as a citizen
and a journalist, you have to wonder whether the paper will have the resources
moving forward to continue to do that work. I am worried that the paper will be
so diminished under Zell that it won’t be able to play that role.”
Mr. Crewdson, who had worked in the Washington bureau, was not so concerned.
In an e-mail message, he said the financial condition of his former paper would
not “have kept Fitzgerald from finding out what he wanted to know and going
wherever he wanted to go.”
Financial problems aside, Mr. Zell has publicly ridiculed the focus on long-term
investigative projects, telling a New York investors’ conference, “I haven’t
figured out how to cash in a Pulitzer Prize.”
In a speech last month at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University
of Chicago, James Warren, a former managing editor of the paper who was asked to
leave after a new editor was appointed, denounced the shift away from
“Journalistically, it is hard, even impossible, to imagine the current Tribune
hierarchy, bent on what it sees as more ‘utilitarian’ and locally ‘relevant’
work, championing such a time-consuming, original and inherently catalytic
effort,” he said.
Mr. Kern, the current editor, said that this week confirmed that The Tribune had
the conviction and muscle to cover its backyard aggressively.
“This was an extraordinary week for The Chicago Tribune,” he said. “On Monday,
the company filed for bankruptcy protection, and on Tuesday, this huge story
broke. There are two messages there. One, that the business model has to be
reinvented and two, the importance of doing public service reporting. In the
future, we will be doing fewer things and doing them better, and this kind of
reporting will be a pillar of what we continue to do.”
Mr. Possley, who left the newspaper last summer, said he was encouraged that
someone, at least the current governor of Illinois, felt that the biggest daily
in Chicago was important, however reduced its circumstance.
“What The Tribune was doing with its reporting and on its opinion page was
clearly a source of deep concern to Blagojevich and in a sense, you love to see
that,” he said. “You have to worry when they start not to care. Then they begin
to act as if they are in a vacuum, and that won’t be good for anyone.”