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Monday, 15 May 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Sad

[Abe Rosenthal died last week in New York at 89].

PM : A.M. Rosenthal

From: RD Carreño
To: Clyde Haberman
Date: 15.v.06

I had a similar encounter with AM Rosenthal as yours (the firing part, that is) when I was NYU's college correspondent in the late 1960's -- the period of campus revolt, as you recall.

At the time, it was the good and the bad.

Later, just the sad.

I'll explain.

I was a correspondent for almost two years, and it was heady times for a callow reporter.

Demonstrations, riots, sits-in, you name it. I was there at the old Loeb Student Center when James Reston and Viet Nam Ambassador Chi, in a joint appearance, were attacked by rampaging anti-war demonstrators. Most of my on-site reporting made Page 1. But in those days, unlike today, contributors to stories got no credit. I think John Kifner got the line.

Then there was NYU's Freedom House, a leftist anti-war meeting place on Waverly Place. This Freedom House was NOT to be confused, of course, with the other Freedom House, a prominent, well-connected New York-based organization that monitors rights abuse by countries 'round the world. I learned about the confusion part the hard way.

Freedom House -- the prominent, well-connected one, that is --complained to Mr Rosenthal about my reporting. So did Sidney Hook, the right-wing, NYU-based philosopher. Hook -- God bless 'em -- was particularly fiery. He told Rosenthal -- as related to me by Arthur Gelb -- that I was radical SDS member. Actually, I was neither. But never mind.

I was called to 43rd Street. Gelb told me that he and Rosenthal were concerned. Was I a radical? No. Was I member of SDS? No. Well, that was enough assurance for The New York Times, they said, and I was sent on my way.

About year later, I was expected to cover NYU's main graduation. This was a given. Every correspondent covered graduations. Well, I never said I would, or wouldn't -- officially, that is. I was a bit cagey, knowing that I would be away with girlfriend in Quebec on graduation day.

When I returned to New York, and called in.... Suffice it say I was informed in no uncertain terms that my 'services', per Mr. Rosenthal, would no longer be needed by The New York Times, and that in fact I shouldn't bother thinking that they ever would be.

Sacked! Fired! My ticket was punched! Huh? Of course, I knew I let down the team. I felt guilty about this. But how about a second chance? I called THE Desk for mercy. None was forthcoming.

The following year, my senior year, I coincidentally did what Rosenthal did 30 years later -- I moved to The Daily News. Again, I was an NYU correspondent. I got my 'revenge.' Well, not really. My heart had always been -- and was yet then -- with The Times.

As things turned out, my life's work turn from journalism -- after stints at some newspaper jobs in New England -- to education. So I was never was able to test Rosenthal's threat at 'blacklisting.' I suppose you know that better than I. Is there a list? Was there a list?

About five years ago, I attended a reception at the British Consulate on Third Avenue. I was there because of my work as a lecturer at a Brit university and former Visiting Scholar at Cambridge. I was wandering a room with a drink in hand when I spied Rosenthal equally alone -- and ignored. What to do? Talk about the past? When he ordered me to go Columbia during the demonstrations. When he ordered me to go 'undercover' with SDS at Columbia? My dismissal, even? No. I ignored all that.

Yes, I approached him. But we wound up talking trash about London, etc. He had no idea who I was. I suppose I didn't want to open an old wound -- especially for this grand man who now no one seemed to recognize. Media stardom had passed on to the grandees of the evening, Harold Evans and Tina Brown.