- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — Former New York Times editor A.M. Rosenthal was remembered yesterday as a fierce defender of human rights and a passionate journalist who strove to ensure his newspaper stayed free of bias in its reporting.

“He was the greatest newspaper editor of our age,” said Arthur Gelb, a longtime Times editor and close friend of Mr. Rosenthal, at Mr. Rosenthal’s funeral.

“Abe often said he wanted his epitaph to read, ‘He kept the paper straight.’ And that you did, my dear friend.”

Mr. Rosenthal died Wednesday at 84, a month after suffering a stroke. His career at the Times spanned 56 years, during which he rose from campus stringer to executive editor. He was a columnist after his mandatory retirement in 1986 until an abrupt 1999 dismissal. He then wrote a weekly column for the New York Daily News, a longtime rival, and for The Washington Times.

The hundreds of mourners who gathered at a Midtown Manhattan synagogue included Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former Mayors Edward Koch and Rudolph W. Giuliani, opera star Beverly Sills, and journalists Mike Wallace and Gay Talese.

Andrew Rosenthal, a New York Times reporter and one of Mr. Rosenthal’s three sons, spoke for the family. The service, and private conversations, were full of personal recollections of an editor who was famous for his temper, intellectual brilliance and unabashed passion for reporting the news.

While Mr. Rosenthal was better known for bluntness than subtlety, Miss Sills recalled that after a Times reviewer wrote of her that he would have “preferred a different singer in the role,” Mr. Rosenthal put a big poster of Miss Sills on his office wall, then called in the critic to discuss an unrelated subject.

“He told me later, ‘I never mentioned you or the poster,’” Miss Sills said.

Mr. Wiesel and others noted that as a New York Times op-ed columnist from 1986 to 1999, Mr. Rosenthal passionately expressed his feelings about injustices and violations of human rights around the world. On a visit to the Soviet Union, he upbraided a KGB official, who told him, “Mr. Rosenthal, we are not in a court of law here.”

Mr. Rosenthal reportedly replied, “Yes, you are. And free people are your judges.”

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