Johnson, Haynes Bonner

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JOHNSON, Haynes Bonner

(b. 9 July 1931 in New York City), noted journalist and writer on national politics and affairs who established a reputation in the 1960s as a political writer who goes beyond the facts of the news to include opinion and commentary.

Johnson was born to Malcolm (Mike) Malone Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the New York Sun, and Ludie Adams Johnson, a homemaker. He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri in 1952 and then served in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1955. Johnson married Julia Ann Erwin in 1954 (they were later divorced), with whom he had three daughters and two sons.

Johnson's career in journalism began in 1956, when he joined the Wilmington News-Journal after completing a master's degree in American history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1957 he moved to the Washington Evening Star, where he worked for the following twelve years successively as city reporter, copy editor, night city editor, and national and special assignment reporter. During his tenure at the Star, Johnson earned a number of awards, including the Grand Award for reporting and public service from the Washington Newspaper Guild (1962 and 1968), the Front Page Award for political reporting by the American Newspaper Guild (1964), and the Headliners Award for national reporting (1968). In 1966 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, making Johnson and his father one of only two pairs of father and son to win it.

Johnson's Pulitzer Prize for national reporting was awarded for "Selma Revisited," published in the Star on 26 July 1965. In this front-page article Johnson wrote about his visit to Selma, Alabama, four months after the nation's attention had been riveted there during the civil rights march to the capitol in Montgomery. The events of the march—or more accurately, marches—of the previous February and March had drawn much attention to the civil rights movement and had speeded President Lyndon Johnson to deliver his voting rights legislation to the U.S. Congress. What the journalist found in Selma four months later was the civil rights forces "in disarray" and the African-American community divided. In the article, Johnson chronicled the lack of material or economic change in the lives of African Americans in Selma since the march and scandals within the civil rights movement as well as the continued success of voter registration drives. He ended the article by quoting a local African-American man "respected throughout Selma," who expresses his continued hopes for a better future, in which Selma would be "a tremendous place to live." More than just a curious glimpse at the city, the article serves as a measure of the civil rights movement through contrasting bitter realities with dearly held hopes and dreams.

Throughout the 1960s Johnson wrote about race and politics in America in the Star, as well as in several books. Dusk at the Mountain—The Negro, the Nation, and the Capital: A Report on Problems and Progress (1963) was based on a series of articles, entitled "The Negro in Washington," published in the Star. In it, Johnson looks critically at the social, political, and economic situation of African Americans living in the nation's capital and their struggles for equality and a better life. The book was generally well received, with several reviewers commenting on it as a thorough and serious analysis.

Johnson co-wrote The Bay of Pigs: The Leaders' Story of Brigade 2506 (1964) with Cuban exiles who had participated in the attempted overthrow of Fidel Castro in 1961. The book is based primarily on interviews with the invasion leaders and creates a human narrative out of a story about which the American public had little information. Though not all reviewers agree with Johnson's conclusion that the Central Intelligence Agency had ultimate responsibility for the failed invasion, journalists and historians concur that the book is "detailed and well written." In the New York Times Book Review, Tad Szulc called it "unquestionably the most coherent, detailed and complete account of the brigade's adventures." In 1967 Johnson provided the historical background on the Ku Klux Klan for David Lowe's documentary of the Klan after Selma, Ku Klux Klan: The Invisible Empire. In a somewhat different vein, in 1968 he published Fulbright: The Dissenter, co-written with Bernard M. Gwertzman, a critical view of the Arkansas senator that was praised for its fairness and sharp criticism.

In 1969 Johnson was hired by the Washington Post, where he served as a national correspondent (1969–1973), assistant managing editor (1973–1977), and columnist (1977–1994). He has taught as the Ferris Professor of Journalism and Public Affairs at Princeton University (1975 and 1978), as the Professional in Residence at the Annenberg School of Journalism at Northwestern University (1993), and as Political Commentary and Journalism Professor at George Washington University (1994–1995). He is still well known as a commentator on such television programs as Today, Washington Week in Review, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Among the books Johnson wrote or collaborated on since the 1960s, the most noted are In the Absence of Power: Governing America (1980), an examination of President Jimmy Carter's first thirty months in office, and Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years (1991). As with his other writings, while not all reviewers agree with Johnson's opinions and conclusions, most praise him for his thorough research and willingness to include opinion and judgment in his work.

A political independent, Johnson's knowledgeable, perceptive, and opinionated approach to news and events has been his greatest strength as a political reporter. While tackling the thorny issues and events of the day, he managed to impress even his critics with his thoroughness and evenness. The Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Journalists quotes Johnson as having once written that newspapers have "two functions, both vital: to report what is the news of the day, fully and fairly, and also to go beyond these events and draw a larger portrait," something he has done throughout his career.

A useful overview of Johnson's career and a thorough bibliography of writings by and about Johnson can be found in Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, vol. 48 (1995). Excerpts from his Pulitzer Prize–winning article are in John Hohenberg, The Pulitzer Prize Story II (1980). Reviews of Johnson's books are in many publications, including the New Republic (27 June 1964) and the Times Literary Supplement (7 Aug. 1969).

Mariana Regalado

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