A. M. Rosenthal - Biography
Abraham Michael "A.M." Rosenthal (May 2, 1922 – May 10, 2006), born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, was a New York Times executive editor (1977–88) and columnist (1987–1999) and New York Daily News columnist (1999–2004). He joined the New York Times in 1943 and worked for the Times for 56 years - from 1943 to 1999. Rosenthal won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for international reporting. As an editor at the newspaper, Rosenthal oversaw the coverage of a number of major news stories including the Vietnam war, the Pentagon Papers, and the Watergate scandal.
Rosenthal was born on May 2, 1922, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to a family of Jewish descent. His father was a farmer named Harry Shipiatsky who emigrated to Canada in the 1890s and changed his name to Rosenthal. His father worked as a fur trapper and trader around Hudson Bay, where he met and married Sarah Dickstein.
Rosenthal was the youngest of six children. When he was still a child, his family moved to the Bronx, New York, where Rosenthal's father found work as a house painter. During the 1930s, though, tragedy would hit the family, with Rosenthal's father dying in a job accident and four of his siblings dying from various causes. Rosenthal developed the bone-marrow disease osteomyelitis, causing him extreme pain. After several operations Rosenthal recovered enough to attend public schools in New York and attend City College. In 1943, while at City College, he became the campus correspondent for The New York Times. In 1944, he became a staff reporter.
According to his son, Andrew Rosenthal, Rosenthal was a member of the Communist Party youth league briefly as a teenager in the late 1930s.
International reporting and Pulitzer Prize
As a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, Rosenthal spent a number of years overseas. In 1954, he was assigned to New Delhi and reported from across South Asia. His writings from this time were honored by the Overseas Press Club and Columbia University. In 1958, the New York Times transferred him to Warsaw, where he reported on Poland and Eastern Europe. In 1959 Rosenthal was expelled from Poland dispatch after writing that the Polish leader, Władysław Gomułka, was "moody and irascible" and had been "let down—by intellectuals and economists he never had any sympathy for anyway, by workers he accuses of squeezing overtime out of a normal day's work, by suspicious peasants who turn their backs on the government's plans, orders and pleas."
Rosenthal's expulsion order stated that the reporter had "written very deeply and in detail about the internal situation, party and leadership matters. The Polish government cannot tolerate such probing reporting." For his reporting from Eastern Europe and Poland, Rosenthal won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for international reporting.
Editorial coverage of stories
In 1969, Rosenthal became managing editor of the New York Times with overall command of the paper's news operations. During the 1970s he directed coverage of a number of important news stories, including the Vietnam war and the Watergate scandal.
Rosenthal reportedly played a decisive role in the paper's decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Because this secret government history of the Vietnam War was Classified information, publication of the papers could have led to charges of treason, lawsuits, or even jail time for paper staff. Rosenthal pushed for publishing the papers (along with Time's reporter Neil Sheehan and publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger). The Nixon administration sued to stop publication, resulting in a Supreme Court decision upholding the right of the press to publish items without "prior restraint" on the part of the government.
Editorial policy and political viewsColumnist Wesley Pruden said this about Rosenthal's editorial policy:
Like all good editors, Abe was both loved and loathed, the former by those who met his standards, the latter mostly by those who couldn't keep the pace he set as City Editor, Managing Editor and finally Executive Editor. He brooked no challenges to his authority. He once told a reporter who demanded to exercise his rights by marching in a street demonstration he was assigned to cover: "OK, the rule is, you can [make love to] an elephant if you want to, but if you do you can't cover the circus." We call that "the Rosenthal rule."
Writer Mark Hertsgaard cited the Times as having the Iran Contra story a year before it broke (in November 1986) but wrote that Rosenthal killed the story because of his support for Ronald Reagan.
Rosenthal supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and openly suggested that the U.S. should give Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Sudan an ultimatum that orders these countries to deliver documents and information related to weapons of mass destruction and terrorist organizations. Otherwise, "in the three days the terrorists were considering the American ultimatum, the residents of the countries would be urged 24 hours a day by the U.S. to flee the capital and major cities, because they would be bombed to the ground beginning the fourth day."
Rosenthal was reportedly homophobic, with his views supposedly affecting how the New York Times covered issues regarding gay people (such as AIDS). According to former New York Times journalist Charles Kaiser, "Everyone below Rosenthal (at the New York Times) spent all of their time trying to figure out what to do to cater to his prejudices. One of these widely perceived prejudices was Abe’s homophobia. So editors throughout the paper would keep stories concerning gays out of the paper."
Although Rosenthal was known as a Times correspondent in Poland, India, and Japan, the "On My Mind" column which he wrote for the Op-Ed page after stepping down as executive editor, was often not well received. According to Spy magazine, Times staffers privately retitled the column "I, Rosenthal" because of its author's frequent references to himself therein. Partly for this reason, Spy frequently used the locution "Abe 'I'm Writing as Bad as I Can' Rosenthal".
Awards and honors
Rosenthal was a Pulitzer Prize winner for international reporting.
He was a recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence.
A.M. Rosenthal died in Manhattan on May 10, 2006, eight days after his 84th birthday. He is interred in Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. An interesting epitaph is inscribed on his grave marker: "He kept the paper straight."
Titles at the New York Times
- 1943-1945—General assignment reporter: New York.
- 1945-1954—Reporter: United Nations.
- 1954-1967—Foreign correspondent: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Ceylon, New Guinea, Vietnam, Switzerland, Poland, Africa and Japan.
- 1963-1967—Metropolitan editor.
- 1967-1968—Assistant managing editor.
- 1968-1969—Associate managing editor.
- 1970-1977—Managing editor.
- 1977-January 1, 1988—Executive editor.
- Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting (1960)
- The Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award
- An honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College
- The Light of Truth Award (1994)
- The Guardian of Zion Award (1999)
- The Presidential Medal of Freedom (2002)
- "A. M. Rosenthal, Editor of The Times, Dies at 84", The New York Times, May 11, 2006 and video (4:48 min.)
- Obituary by Charles Kaiser, former NY Times reporter
- "A.M. Rosenthal, who reshaped the Times, dies in NYC", CBC, May 11, 2006
- "Just the circus, and no elephants", Washington Times, editorial with Rosenthal anecdotes
- "A.M. Rosenthal (1922-2006). Ugly genius", Slate, May 11, 2006
Books by Rosenthal and Arthur Gelb
- One More Victim: The Life and Death of a Jewish Nazi. New York: The New American Library, 1967.Rosenthal, A.M. (1964).
- Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21527-3.
- "How the U.S. Can Win the War", September 14, 2001
- "Get the Taliban & Saddam, Too", September 28, 2001