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Chandler, Otis 1927–2006

Chandler, Otis 1927–2006

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born November 23, 1927, in Los Angeles, CA; died of Lewy body disease, February 27, 2006, in Ojai, CA. Journalist, publisher, and author. The publisher of the Los Angeles Times through the 1960s and 1970s, Chandler was credited with turning an oft-criticized family-run periodical into one of America's most respected newspapers. His family originally bought the newspaper in 1882, and it passed down from father to son through the decades. Groomed to take over in his own time, Chandler attended Stanford University, where he proved himself a very athletic man who was a swimmer and star shot putter. Graduating in 1950, he enlisted in the Air Force, serving stateside during the Korean War and achieving the rank of first lieutenant. He participated in track while in the military, but an injury kept the athlete out of the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. Joining his father's company in 1953, Chandler was an assistant and reporter who was trained over the next seven years to lead the company. In 1960, he took the reins from his father as the new publisher. Up until that moment, the Times had a poor reputation as a biased, conservative paper that promoted businesses and shunned liberal causes and the Democratic Party. As the new publisher, Chandler would change all that dramatically. He took the New York Times as his model for good journalism, and started running more and more stories on such issues as racism, immigration, and poverty. Because of his privileged upbringing, he was at somewhat of a disadvantage when trying to sympathize with the less fortunate, however. This sometimes drew criticism, such as after he once confessed that he did not know where Watts was, a location of riots in the 1960s. He also delayed hiring any minorities to his staff for over a decade. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times earned a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Watts riots, and the paper won five more during his tenure. Chandler accomplished this by hiring some of the nation's most talented journalists and editorialists. One difficult chapter in his life came when he was accused of being involved in the GeoTek scam. GeoTek was a nonexistent company that was run by Jack Burke, a friend of Chandler's who was persuading people to invest in the fraudulent oil-and-gas-drilling venture. After being investigated for three years, charges were dropped against Chandler, but Burke went to prison for a year. In 1980, Chandler then stunned the journalism community by resigning from the publisher's desk and turning it over to Tom Johnson, the first person to run the paper who was not a member of the Chandler clan. Chandler took the post as editor in chief of the Times Mirror. In 1985, he took over as chair of the executive committee of the board of the parent company of the Los Angeles Times. Chandler finally retired from his board duties in 1998. Meanwhile, Chandler's former paper was drawing new criticism about running stories deliberately slanted to promote businesses that advertised in the paper, most notoriously by printing a long story glorifying the Staples Center. Chandler reacted by writing a strongly worded public letter in 1999 that criticized such policies. When the Times was bought by the Tribune Co. in 2000, the executives responsible for slanted coverage were fired, an action Chandler praised highly. Chandler, an extremely active man who loved surfing, hunting, and collecting expensive automobiles, created an image of robust energy at the paper that will remain his legacy for many years to come. Hale and hearty almost to the end, he developed Lewy body disease, an ailment that damages the neuromuscular system. He died only seven months after the effects of the disease finally became apparent.

OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Chicago Tribune, February 28, 2006, section 3, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times, February 28, 2006, pp. A13-20.

New York Times, February 28, 2006, p. A17.

Times (London, England), March 7, 2006, p. 67.

Washington Post, February 28, 2006, p. B7.

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