Fox Butterfield

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Fox Butterfield
Fox Butterfield.jpg
Fox Butterfield
Born 1939 (age 78–79)
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Occupation Journalist, author
Alma mater Harvard University
Genre Journalism, non-fiction

Fox Butterfield (born 1939) is an American journalist who spent much of his 30-year career[1] reporting for The New York Times.

Butterfield served as Times bureau chief in Saigon, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Boston and as a correspondent in Washington and New York City. During that time, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize as a member of The New York Times team that published the Pentagon Papers, the Pentagon's secret history of the Vietnam War, in 1971.

Butterfield won a 1983 National Book Award for Nonfiction for China: Alive in the Bitter Sea.[2][a] He also wrote All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence (1995)[3] about the child criminal Willie Bosket.

In 1990, Butterfield wrote an article on the election of the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, future president of the United States Barack Obama.[4]

Butterfield is the eponym for "The Butterfield Effect", used to refer to a person who "makes a statement that is ludicrous on its face, yet it reveals what the speaker truly believes", especially if expressing a supposed paradox when a causal relationship should be obvious.[5][6] The particular article that sparked this was titled "More Inmates, Despite Drop In Crime" by Butterfield in the New York Times on November 8, 2004.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Butterfield was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania,[8] the son of Lyman Henry Butterfield, a historian and a director of the Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Virginia.[9] The Canadian industrialist Cyrus S. Eaton was one of Fox Butterfield's grandfathers.

Butterfield graduated from the Lawrenceville School in 1957.[10] He received a bachelor's degree summa cum laude, master's degree, and doctorate of philosophy in Chinese history from Harvard University. In 1979 he was granted an honorary doctorate from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA.

In 1988, Butterfield married Elizabeth Mehren, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times.[9] He has two children, Ethan and Sarah, from a previous marriage and a son, Sam (1990–2013), with Mehren.[11] Michael Moriarty played Fox Butterfield in the 1993 television movie Born Too Soon, based on Mehren's book about their daughter Emily, who was born prematurely in the late 1980s. Mehren was played by Pamela Reed. The couple live in Hingham, Massachusetts, about which Butterfield has sometimes written in The Times.


Butterfield was noted for writing a sequence of articles[12] discussing the "paradox" of crime rates falling while the prison population grew due to tougher sentencing guidelines, without ever considering the possibility that the tougher sentencing guidelines may have reduced crime by causing criminals to be imprisoned.[6][13] "The Butterfield Effect" is often brought up by James Taranto in his column for the online editorial page of the Wall Street Journal called Best of the Web Today, typically bringing up a headline that displays the effect with the joke "Fox Butterfield, Is That You?" and later switched to "Fox Butterfield, Call Your Office."


  • China: Alive in the Bitter Sea (1982)
  • All God’s Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence (1995)


  1. ^ This was the award for hardcover "General Nonfiction".
    From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Awards history there were several nonfiction subcategories including General Nonfiction, with dual hardcover and paperback awards in most categories.


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