- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — A.M. Rosenthal, a demanding editor who lifted the New York Times from economic uncertainty in the 1970s, died yesterday of complications from a stroke he suffered two weeks ago. He was 84.

Mr. Rosenthal, known as Abe, spent nearly all of his working life at the Times, beginning as a campus stringer at City College of New York in 1943. He became police reporter, foreign correspondent, managing editor and finally executive editor, a post he held for nine years beginning in 1977.

“Abe was a giant among journalists,” retired Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger said last night. “He was a great editor with extraordinary loyalty to his troops.”

He is survived by his wife, Shirley Lord, a former editor at Vogue magazine; three sons, Andrew, an editor at the New York Times, and Jonathan and Daniel Rosenthal; a sister, Rose Newman, and eight grandchildren.

On Mr. Rosenthal’s watch, the Times published the “Pentagon Papers,” a history of America’s involvement in Vietnam, which won the paper one of the 21 Pulitzer Prizes it received on the Rosenthal watch.

In 1986, facing mandatory retirement, Mr. Rosenthal stepped down as editor to write a twice-a-week column on the op-ed page. Thirteen years later, he was abruptly dismissed, with no explanation, other than a remark by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, that “it’s time.”

Mr. Rosenthal made clear that the parting was not his idea, telling one questioner that to say he had retired “would imply volition.” When asked by The Washington Post whether he was fired, he replied, “Sweetheart, you can use any word you want.” He then wrote a weekly column for the New York Daily News, a longtime rival, and for The Washington Times.

The Canadian-born Mr. Rosenthal, who became a U.S. citizen in 1951, covered the United Nations for eight years from its founding in 1946 and later reported from India, Switzerland, Poland, Japan and Vietnam. His tough coverage of Warsaw’s communist regime in the late 1950s earned him expulsion from the country — and journalism awards: the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting and the first of two Polk awards.

In 1969, taking the editorial helm of a paper then in financial distress, Mr. Rosenthal, as managing editor and later as executive editor, made sweeping changes to expand readership, which resulted in increased advertising. He strengthened metropolitan coverage, added a daily business section and specialty sections on sports, weekend features and science.

Mr. Rosenthal’s famous newsroom maxim, “keep the story straight,” was prompted by his belief that he inherited a liberal tilt in the paper’s coverage. Several colleagues disagreed and said he gave short shrift to strife-torn Central America and the AIDS epidemic.

As editor, Mr. Rosenthal, a staunch defender of the language, barred the use of “Ms.” as a feminist contrivance and the word “gay” in reference to homosexuals because it changed the meaning of the word. Later editors suspended these rules. He began the paper’s practice, now imitated by many others, of running corrections as a prominent daily fixture.

In 2002, Mr. Rosenthal was one of 12 leaders in arts, sports, entertainment, politics and journalism to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Bush said his early and outspoken defense of persecuted Christians in Asia, Africa and the Middle East “truly made him his brother’s keeper.”


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