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The Paper. The life and death of the New York Herald Tribune.

The Paper. The Life and Death of The New York Hearld Tribune

Every year there is a reunion partyfor the reporters and editors who worked on the New York Herald Tribune, and at every party I have attended, along toward the end of the evening, mellowed by drink, somebody raises his glass and proclaims, "By God, you could take the people in this room right now and still put out the best newspaper in the country." The rest of us raise our glasses and cheer in agreement. But we don't really believe it.

The New York Times was thebetter newspaper. In 1966, the year the Trib died, the days of glory and national prominence for The Washington Post, or respectability for the Los Angleles Times, and of legitimacy for the Chicago Tribune still lay ahead. No, the Times was the best, by far. The Trib was a distant second. No contest, really. We all knew that.

But we also knew we were workingfor an American institution, for a publication rich in prestige and accomplishment, and, most of all, for the best written daily newspaper in the world.

Somebody had to write a bookabout it all, and, lucky Trib, the man who did it is Richard Kluger, the paper's last literary editor. The Paper is a very long book, carefully researched and well-written, a fair but critical history.

It is a complicated story becausethe rise and fall of the Trib is connected to all the changes that have swept so rapidly over the nation during the past half century, changes that carried the paper, most often like a bobbing cork, along with them.

And superimposed on that, thestory of the paper is a story of strong-willed and colorful editors, reporters right out of The Front Page, wrong-headed owners, a benevolent and indulgent millionaire--an endless list, a cast colorful enough for any network mini-series.

Who in his right mind likes to seea good newspaper die? Bad newspapers, mediocre ones, non-papers, die and are dumped into hastily dug holes in some journalistic Bott Hill and are quickly forgotten. Except for workers who lost their jobs, I don't know many people who mourned the loss of New York's Mirror, Journal American, or even the World Telegram. Consider this: what if the New York Post didn't publish tomorrow?

It is different with the death ofgreat newspapers. They are remembered long after their demise both by those who produced them and those who read them; remembered, no doubt, because there have been very few truly great daily newspapers published in our country that did not survive and prosper. So when one dies, when the ever popular, although greying prince consort gets wasted, questions are raised, charges are hurled, what-ifs are asked.

Television didn't do in the Trib. Televisiondoes offer the person home from work the news, sports, weather, even comics ("Gomer Pyle" re-runs). That, along with rush-hour circulation problems, its drive-accomplice, is the mass murderer of afternoon, not morning dailies.

Neither was the paper done in bymillionaire John Hay Whitney, who owned it from 1959 until its death. As an editor, to have had Whitney as your publisher was, as they say under the hair dryers at Garfinkel's Spring Valley beauty salon, to die for.

No, the key players in this tragedywere the paper's previous owners, the Reid family. Imitating J. Breslin, some Greek playright would have had himself a field day with this one. You got here your arrogance, your ignorance, your snobbery, your, well, thirst for profit, your basic lack of vision, and all the rest of those lacks. Throwing in much dumbness, and what you got was the family, playing like a child with a precious jewel taken from mummy's case, and flawing and cracking it beyond any possible restoration. What fun. The rich and indulgent do that all the time. The Binghams just self-destructed in Louisville, didn't they?

The Herald Tribune was gut-shotgenerations ago, and after that it was only a matter of time until it died. But what a death, like John Wayne at the Alamo. There will never be another major daily newspaper quite like it. I was its last White House correspondent. It was an honor. And Dick Kluger will receive a warm welcome at this year's reunion.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Washington Monthly Company
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Copyright 1987, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Kiker, Douglas
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1987
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