A. M. Rosenthal

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Abraham Michael Rosenthal (May 2, 1922 – May 10, 2006), also known as Abe Rosenthal, was a US journalist who served as The New York Times Executive Editor from 1977 to 1988, having served previously as the City Editor and Managing Editor. At the end of his tenure as Executive Editor, he became a columnist (1987–1999) and New York Daily News columnist (1999–2004).

He joined The New York Times in 1943 and remained there for 56 years, to 1999. Rosenthal won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for international reporting.[1] As an editor at the newspaper, Rosenthal oversaw the coverage of a number of major news stories including the Vietnam War (1961–1975), the Pentagon Papers (1971), and the Watergate scandal (1972–1974). He was instrumental in the paper's coverage of the 1964 Kitty Genovese murder case, which was widely influential and established the concept of the "bystander effect", but later came to be regarded as flawed and misleading.

Together with Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, he was the first westerner to visit a Soviet Gulag camp in 1988. His son, Andrew Rosenthal, was The Times editorial page editor from 2007 to 2016.

Early years[edit]

Rosenthal was born on May 2, 1922, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, to a Jewish family. His father was a farmer, Harry Shipiatsky, who immigrated to Canada from Poland in the 1890s and changed his name to Rosenthal. He also worked as a fur trapper and trader around Hudson Bay, where he met and married Sarah Dickstein.[1]

The youngest of six children, he was still a child when his family moved to the Bronx, New York, where Rosenthal's father found work as a house painter. During the 1930s, though, tragedy hit the family, with Rosenthal's father dying in a job accident and four of his siblings dying from various causes.[1]

According to his son, Andrew, he was a member of the Communist Party youth league briefly as a teenager in the late 1930s.[2]

Rosenthal developed the bone-marrow disease osteomyelitis, causing him extreme pain and forcing him to drop out of DeWitt Clinton High School. After several operations at the Mayo Clinic, Rosenthal recovered enough to finish public schools in New York City and attend City College.[1] At City College, Rosenthal wrote for the student newspaper, The Campus,[3] and in 1943, while still a student, became the campus correspondent for The New York Times.[1] In February 1944, he became a staff reporter at the Times.[1]

International reporting and Pulitzer Prize[edit]

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 there were honored by the Overseas Press Club and Columbia University.[1] 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 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."[1]

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, Rosenthal won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for international reporting.[1]

Kitty Genovese murder case[edit]

As Metropolitan Editor of The New York Times, Rosenthal was instrumental in pushing an inaccurate account of the murder of Kitty Genovese on March 13, 1964. Rosenthal heard about the case over lunch with New York City Police Commissioner Michael J. Murphy.[4] He assigned the story to reporter Martin Gansberg, who wrote an article published March 27, 1964, titled "37 Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police." (The article actually claimed there were 38 witnesses, but an error reduced the number by one in the headline.) The story was a sensation, prompting inquiries into what became known as the bystander effect or "Genovese syndrome."[5] Rosenthal wrote a book on the subject,[6] and the incident became a common case study in American and British introductory psychology textbooks.[7]

Immediately after the story broke, WNBC police reporter Danny Meehan discovered many inconsistencies in the article. Meehan asked The New York Times reporter Martin Gansberg why his article failed to reveal that witnesses did not feel that a murder was happening. Gansberg replied, "It would have ruined the story." Not wishing to jeopardize his career by attacking powerful The New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal, Meehan kept his findings secret and passed his notes to fellow WNBC reporter Gabe Pressman. Later, Pressman taught a journalism course in which some of his students called Rosenthal and confronted him with the evidence. Rosenthal was irate that his editorial decisions were being questioned by journalism students and angrily berated Pressman in a phone call.[8]

Decades later, researchers have confirmed the serious flaws in The New York Times article. Only a dozen people saw or heard the attack, and none of them saw the entire incident.[9] The New York Times admitted in 2016 that the witnesses did not know that a murder was taking place, assuming that two lovers or drunks were quarreling. Two people called the police, and one person went outside to Genovese and held her in her arms as she died.[10]

Editor[edit]

In 1969, Rosenthal became managing editor of The New York Times with overall command of the paper's news operations.[1] During the 1970s, he directed coverage of a number of important news stories, including the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

Rosenthal played a decisive role in the paper's decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971.[1] 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.[1] Rosenthal pushed for publishing the papers (along with Times reporter Neil Sheehan and publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger). The Nixon administration sued to stop publication, resulting in a US Supreme Court decision, upholding the right of the press to publish items without "prior restraint" on the part of the government.[1]

Columnist Wesley Pruden said 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."[11]

Political views[edit]

Rosenthal supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and openly suggested that the United States should give Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and Sudan an ultimatum and order the 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."[12]

Rosenthal was also reported to be extremely homophobic,[13] with his views affecting how The New York Times covered issues regarding gay people (such as AIDS).[14] According to former 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."[14] One result of this is that the Times "initially 'ignored' the AIDS epidemic."[15]

Later career[edit]

Rosenthal had a weekly column at the New York Daily News following his run as a columnist at the Times until 2004.[1]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Rosenthal was a 1960 Pulitzer Prize winner for international reporting.[1]

Death[edit]

The headstone of A.M. Rosenthal in Westchester Hills Cemetery
The epitaph of Rosenthal

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, New York. His epitaph inscribed on his grave marker ("He kept the paper straight") was chosen to memorialize his efforts at The New York Times to deliver unbiased news.[16]

Titles at The New York Times[edit]

Awards[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o McFadden, Robert (May 11, 2006). "A. M. Rosenthal, Editor of The Times, Dies at 84". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Charles Kaiser, My Father, The Communist: The New York Times' Andrew Rosenthal on Iraq, Times Select, and his father's secret past, Radar (November 2007) (page 2).
  3. ^ Sandra Shoiock Roff, Anthony M. Cucchiara & Barbara J. Dunlap, From the Free Academy to CUNY: Illustrating Public Higher Education in New York City, 1847–1997 (Fordham University Press, 2000), p. 73.
  4. ^ Lemann, Nicholas (March 10, 2014). "What the Kitty Genovese Story Really Means". The New Yorker.
  5. ^ Dowd, Maureen (March 12, 1984). "20 years after the murder of Kitty Genovese, The question remains: Why?". The New York Times. p. B1. Retrieved July 5, 2007.
  6. ^ Rosenthal, A.M. (1964). Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21527-3.
  7. ^ Manning, Rachel; Levine, Mark; Collins, Alan (2007). "The Kitty Genovese murder and the social psychology of helping: The parable of the 38 witnesses". American Psychologist. 62 (6): 555–562. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.62.6.555.
  8. ^ Genovese, William (Executive Producer) (2015). The Witness (Motion picture).
  9. ^ Rasenberger, Jim (October 2006). "Nightmare on Austin Street". American Heritage. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
  10. ^ McFadden, Robert D (April 4, 2016), "Winston Moseley, 81, Killer of Kitty Genovese, Dies in Prison", The New York Times.
  11. ^ "Just the circus, and no elephants" by Wesley Pruden, The Washington Times, May 12, 2006, accessed May 17, 2006.
  12. ^ A.M. Rosenthal: How the U.S. can win the war, New York Daily News. September 14, 2001
  13. ^ "When The New York Times Came Out of the Closet" by Charles Kaiser, The New York Review of Books, Sept. 25, 2012>
  14. ^ a b "Larry Gross: Abe Rosenthal's Reign of Homophobia at The New York Times" by Larry Gross, Truthdig, May 16, 2006, accessed March 20, 2016.
  15. ^ A.M. Rosenthal (1922–2006): Ugly genius by Jack Shafer< Slate, May 11, 2006.
  16. ^ Jackson, Kenneth. "Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Google Books. Charles Scribners' Sons. Retrieved 12 September 2016.

External links[edit]

Obituaries[edit]

Books by Rosenthal and Arthur Gelb[edit]

  • 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.

Books about Rosenthal and/or The New York Times[edit]

Rosenthal articles[edit]

Archives[edit]