REMEMBERING SCOTTY RESTON
DECEMBER 7, 1995
Charlayne Hunter-Gault talks with R.W. Apple of the New York Times about the passing of one of America's most distinguished journalists, James "Scotty" Reston.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: James Reston died from cancer yesterday at the age of 86. He had retired from the "New York Times" only six years ago, after 50 years of reporting, writing, and serving as the paper's Washington Bureau Chief and Executive Editor. Joining us now to remember Reston and his work is R. W. Apple, Jr., the Washington Bureau Chief of the "New York Times" today. What made Scotty Reston one of the most distinguished journalists of his time?
R. W. APPLE, New York Times: Well, he had access that very few people had in an era before television. He would go and see the President or the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense, or for that matter, go to Moscow and see the leader of the Soviet Union or Paris and see DeGaulle, and not only did he see them, but he talked to them almost as an equal, as a man who, who understood their problems, who had a great skill for doing that, and who could synthesize the material, which is very complicated, especially during the Cold War, synthesize the material and present it to the reader shorn of bureaucratese. He had a great skill for making these big problems seem human-sized.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How did he get that access?
MR. APPLE: Great question. If I knew how he did, I'd do it myself. So would a lot of other people. He had a wonderful humility about him, nothing pompous or bombastic, small town boy from Dayton, Ohio.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Scottish background.
MR. APPLE: Scottish background.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: He was "Scotty."
MR. APPLE: Yes, indeed. Born in Scotland, near Glasgow, came here at an early age, and he also had a kind of dignity and moral authority about him. No custard pies fights for Scotty Reston, no social climbing on the Washington social circuit. He was a Presbyterian and a good Scots Presbyterian. He was the sort of person who would, as you well know, you used to work at the "New York Times," who set standards and lectured subordinates when they didn't live up to them.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: He covered some of everything. What were some of the stories that had the greatest impact? I know he won two Pulitzer prizes.
MR. APPLE: Well, one of the ones that I think will always be remembered among journalists is 1945, the Dumbarton-Oaks Conference, which was designed to and indeed did pave the way for the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco. Reston persuaded the Chinese nationalist delegate who was feeling very much left out that he could get his views, his country's views, his government's views, the kind of prominence they deserved if he'd give them to Reston, so Reston, Reston not only got the government's views, he got all the documents and put 'em in the paper day after day, after day after day, and everyone else was pulling their hair out and Reston's got all this stuff. He loved that kind of thing, and he did it many times. He found out about the Cuban missiles as in Cuban Missile Crisis. Eventually, he decided that the paper shouldn't print the story because the President said, well, if you print the story, I try to go on television, they already know about it, and they will have taken some preemptive action before I can act.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: President Kennedy.
MR. APPLE: President Kennedy indeed. There were many, many more. He was interestingly a man who wrote with equal authority about American politics and about foreign policy.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you also wrote in your obituary today that forgiving the frailties of soldiers, statesmen and party hacks, too forgiving, his critics said, because he was too close to them, that--and Ronald Steel, the biographer of Lipman, described him as the quintessential Washington insider.
MR. APPLE: Yes. He was a Washington insider. He was a friend of everybody from Felix Frankfurter to Chip Bolan, from Jean Monet to Antony Eden, Washington insider, world insider. And I suppose in a way that that hurt him, but he always said, my ideas aren't that great, my judgments aren't that great, I have to make it on information, and I'm glad to have this kind of access because I can give people good information.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Would Reston be Reston today?
MR. APPLE: Oh absolutely not. Reston couldn't be Reston any time in my view after Watergate and the Vietnam War, which forever, forever is a long time, for at least for the next twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years has changed the chemistry between journalists and government people. And Scotty recognized that himself. He--he was around. He flourished most at a moment when there was a consensus in this country, a broad consensus about policy. He was as close to Republicans as Democrats. This was during the era when our primary goal was to stave off defeat by the Soviet Union.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, thank you very much, Johnny Apple, for sharing all that with us.
MR. APPLE: Nice to be here, Charlayne.
|Support the kind of journalism done by the NewsHour...Become a member of your local PBS station.|