Rosenthal, A.M.

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ROSENTHAL, A.M. (1922–2006), U.S. journalist. Abraham Michael Rosenthal, who was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, went to New York as a child and was educated at the City College of New York. He became editor of a college newspaper, which led to a job as college correspondent for The New York Times. He became a reporter there in 1943 in his senior year, beginning a 56-year career at the paper, and quit college but got his degree six years later. In 1945 Rosenthal was assigned to cover the United Nations, where he developed an interest in foreign affairs. At the Times, he began to use the initials A.M. in what he described as an effort, common in those days, not to appear too Jewish, at least not to his superiors. In 1954 he was assigned to India, and also roamed about Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Ceylon. The next assignment was Poland, in 1958. There he produced a memorable article titled "There Is No News from Auschwitz," recounting his visit to the bleak remains of the infamous crematoria. Poland's Communist government at the time was in turmoil, and Rosenthal was expelled after a year and a half for "probing too deeply into the internal affairs" of the country and the Communist Party. In 1960 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Poland. He also authored the famous phrase: "Forgive them not, Father, for they knew what they were doing," describing German behavior in the Holocaust.

The death of Orville Dryfoos, publisher of The Times, in 1963 ushered in a quiet revolution at the Times that led to a shift in power in the newspaper's newsroom. Rosenthal returned from a choice assignment in Tokyo to become metropolitan editor and quickly shifted the focus to more in-depth reporting, interpretation and analysis, and brighter writing. One of the first major stories under his watch involved the murder of a young woman in Kew Gardens, ny in Queens, who cried out for help against her assailant. A reporter found that 37 witnesses had heard her cries and offered no help. The story shook the city and led to a book by Rosenthal about the case. In 1967 Rosenthal moved up to assistant managing editor, beginning a climb to executive editor in 1977. Under one title or another, Rosenthal was in charge of daily news operations at the Times for 16 years and daily and Sunday operations for about 10 years. The most important story he oversaw during that period was the publication in 1971 of the Pentagon Papers, a hitherto secret history of the United States involvement in the war in Vietnam. Rosenthal championed publication of the stories on First Amendment grounds and the publisher, Arthur Ochs *Sulzerberger, sided with Rosenthal against the advice of several lawyers. The Nixon administration tried to prevent publication of the papers, which led to a major victory for the press in the United States Supreme Court. In a 6-to-3 ruling, the court said that the government could not stop the press from printing stories and analyses about the Pentagon Papers unless it could prove that national security was at stake. Rosenthal also commissioned a study of the New York Times coverage of the Holocaust, which he found woefully inadequate.

During Rosenthal's tenure, the Times went through major changes to preserve the character of the paper but also to make it more attractive to its readers. The two-part newspaper became a four-part paper, with a full news report, a magazine with a changing focus every day (Dining, Home, Science, Weekend) and Business Day, a full-fledged financial section. As Rosenthal famously said, "We had a choice to put more water in the soup or to put more tomatoes in. We chose the tomatoes." The venerable newspaper of record found new economic life with the introduction of the new sections. Rosenthal, who was conservative in his approach to changes in American society, resisted calling homosexuals "gays" in the pages of the paper and also resisted using the honorific "Ms," much to the consternation of homosexuals, feminists and others. The Times eventually allowed both terms. Rosenthal was also involved in two internal suits at the Times, to give women more opportunities in the newsroom, and to hire more black reporters and editors. The Times reached settlements with those groups without admitting wrongdoing.

After Rosenthal's retirement, mandatory at age 65, in 1988, he became a columnist for the Times and wrote "On My Mind" until 1999. Then he moved to other newspapers, where he championed such causes as the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. He also publicized the war on drugs and championed the rights of young African women against genital mutilation.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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