Remembering Journalist Abe Rosenthal

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr remembers his friend and colleague Abe Rosenthal, former executive editor of the New York Times and Pulitzer prize-winning foreign correspondent.

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DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Permit a personal aside about my friend Abe Rosenthal, A.M. Rosenthal to readers of the New York Times.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: His funeral is today in Central Synagogue in New York. We shared a neighborhood, the Bronx, a high school, DeWitt Clinton, and a college, City College of New York. Also, we shared some interesting Cold War assignments.

In 1959, we were together in Poland, Abe more skeptical than I was about signs of liberalization in Communist rule. He wrote with glee about the tumultuous reception that Vice President Richard Nixon received on a visit to Poland, and the chilly reception for Soviet Communist boss Nikita Khrushchev.

Abe knew that he was risking expulsion when he wrote about Polish Communist Chief Borislav Garmocha(ph) as being moody and irascible and spurned by Polish workers. And indeed, the Polish government sent Abe packing with a statement saying candidly that the government could not tolerate such probing reporting.

But such probing reporting won Abe a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, and as it happened, we were together in Geneva when word came of the award.

In 1963, when Abe was offered an executive position on The Times, I advised him not to take it. I said that managers were a dime a dozen, but gifted reporters and writers were rare. He said that having been offered the promotion, he had to accept it or he would have to leave the paper. And so he climbed the ladder to executive editor, but he retained some reportorial instincts.

In 1975, he was one of a group of Times editors to be invited to the White House for lunch with President Ford. Ford had just named a commission headed by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller to investigate CIA misdeeds. Rosenthal noted to the President that the members of the commission seemed too conservative to have much credibility. President Ford replied that he had to be careful because the commission members would have complete access to CIA files and would run into something much worse than what they thought they were investigating.

Like what? Abe asked. Like assassinations, Ford shot back. And then he asked that this be kept off the record.

The Times did not pursue the lead to CIA conspiracies to assassinate Fidel Castro and others, and so I was able to break the story on the CBS Evening News. It was one time I imagined that Abe would rather have been a reporter than an executive.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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