Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Reflections On The Career Of Anthony Day

As its editorial page editor, Anthony Day, who died Sunday in Santa Fe at 74, was involved in a long and ultimately not completely successful struggle at the side of publishers Otis Chandler and Tom Johnson and editor Bill Thomas to make the Los Angeles Times a truly independent, nonpartisan newspaper, capable of endorsing the best candidates as it saw them, regardless of party.

The struggle goes on. It suffered a reverse in 1989, when, after 18 years on the job, Day was removed as "too liberal" at the behest of right wing elements of the Chandler family who had eased Otis Chandler out of his position as publisher and then, just two months before Day was ousted, got rid of Tom Johnson as publisher. An important issue in the Johnson ouster was his insistence on protecting Day.

When Day, son of the famed Baltimore Sun editor Price Day and a Harvard graduate, was hired away from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and came west, it was another step in Otis Chandler's wide ranging effort to make the L.A. Times one of the nation's preeminent newspapers. It could only be done by dropping the paper's historic baggage, as a tool of the Republican party and, often, of reactionary interests. Day joined him in that effort.

In his career as editorial pages editor, Day had many remarkable successes. His writer, Phil Kerby, won a Pulitzer in 1976 for campaigning against government secrecy and judicial censorship. He developed an Op Ed page. He assembled a class staff, with such writers as Kerby, Al Shuster, Roy Ringer, Lou Fleming, Marv Seid, Ernest Conine, Jack Burby, Sid Bernstein and Frank del Olmo. He often protected the prizewinning cartoonist Paul Conrad against his detractors. He stood for honesty in American government, honored diversity in Los Angeles, and, even before he became full editor of the pages, he had authored for the Times the editorial, on June 7, 1970, that called for U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. In 1974, one of his editorials urged the impeachment of Richard Nixon.

But there were things that Day could not do. For a long time, reluctant or perhaps unable to challenge his family's Republican tradition head on, Otis Chandler mandated that the Times not endorse at all for major offices, thus abdicating its responsibility to let its readers know how the newspaper felt editorially about the merits of the candidates.

It took awhile even to get that far. In 1972, Day was forced to endorse Nixon for reelection against his better judgment, and in other political areas too, he had to compromise. So that even before the newspaper entered upon days of difficulty and ultimate sale, after the ouster of Johnson and Day, it was not everything it could have been, or everything Day wished it to be.

Still, as so many of us, Day did the best he could do to make the Times one of the nation's greatest newspapers. And, after an interregnum of less distinguished editorial page editors, the newspaper today sees the present editor, Jim Newton, carrying on the struggle for a truly independent editorial page, capable of making any endorsement it chooses.

On a personal note, I had many associations with Day, who I first met when we were in our 30s, covering the 1968 presidential race. In 1972, he made me his Op Ed Page editor, (although I proved ill-suited temperamentally to sit at a desk in an office all day, and after only six months went back to political reporting). Still, we remained friends. We frequently discussed between ourselves our respective viewpoints at the newspaper, and we often socialized. Once, he drove me to and home from a minor operation. After he retired and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to live closer to his son, John, Tony and his wife, Lynn, invited me to visit them, and I spent a week at their lovely home. During my stay there, I bought a Navajo rug that still adorns the entry way in my home, a purchase that Lynn remarked upon just last night when I called her to express my sorrow at Tony's death.

Tony and Lynn Day, who were married 47 years, bore with great sorrow and fortitude the tragic loss of their daughter, Julie, in 1989, and his body will be brought home to be buried near hers in Pasadena, Lynn said last night.

Day was a dedicated and perseverant professional. Even after he was ousted as editorial page editor, something he never really got over, he remained for awhile as a senior correspondent and then, in retirement, wrote book reviews for the Times. For many years, he edited columns written for the newspaper and its Opinion section by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Kissinger declared this week, "Although he was a constant critic of the policies of the administrations in which I served, I always considered him a critic of exemplary fairness, ability and honesty."

A newspaper like the Times needs Anthony Days to survive and prosper. He lives on as a true Timesman in the memories of those of us who respected him and counted him our friend. He was always a newspaperman. Like the late Paul Weeks, who died recently, Day wrote to the end. His last book review appeared in the Times Aug. 1.

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