Newspaper notable shares glimpses of greatness
By Bret Bradigan
Greatness reveals itself in the
This is among the lessons Otis Chandler, publisher of the Los
Angeles Times from 1960 to 1980, and longtime chief of the Times-Mirror
chain, learned from the former schoolteacher from Milwaukee who
rose to become Israel's third prime minister. During one of many
visits to Golda Meir at her modest office in Israel, an aide
appeared, and whispered, "It's time."
"As I got up to leave, she
said, 'Please stay, you might want to hear this.' She reached
behind her, and pulled out a black binder," Chandler said.
Meir then ran down a list of names, and picked up the phone to
make a message of gratitude and reflection to a Holocaust survivor.
"Every single day of her life she would call a survivor
and ask how they were doing," Chandler said.
Otis Chandler, a citizen of the world, as well as a resident
of Ojai, shared these "intimate glimpses" into many
of the prominent people he has known in his storied life with
a packed house at Friday's meeting of the Rotary Club of Ojai.
He opened with an acknowledgment of Ojai's special nature. "We
would not move any place else," he said.
Chandler, only 30 when he took over the reins of the Los Angeles
Times from his father, was the fourth generation of his family
to run the flagship of the Times-Mirror Corporation. His great-grandfather,
Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, took over the paper shortly after its
founding in 1881.
His personal commitment to excellence, and talent for hiring
talented people, is widely regarded as the reason the Times rose
from regional obscurity to become one of the world's finest journalistic
institutions and Pulitzer Prize-generating machine. Annual revenues
rose from $60 million to $1 billion during his tenure.
One of Chandler's emphatic imprints was to make sure that he,
and his editors and reporters, would meet with world leaders
when they came through Los Angeles. He had a personal relationship
with the Kennedy family, spending many hours visiting with John
F. Kennedy, prior to and after his presidential election:
"He was fascinated by the
politics of California, particularly the right-wing politics
... we spent three hours together talking about the electorate
in California. I found him charming, bright, but a little naïve."
The Times-Mirror Corporation, which included the Los Angeles
Times as well as New York Newsday, devoted its entire resources
to the investigation of JFK's assassination. Chandler himself
even fired a rifle repeatedly to see that Oswald was able, in
contradiction to conspiracy theorists, to work the Italian-made
bolt-action rifle quickly enough to account for all known shots.
"I would stake my life on
the fact that there wasn't a second shooter," he said, noting
that, including all the television stations, newspapers and magazines,
as well as his directorship at the time of the Associated Press,
"as many as 10,000 editors and reporters have worked on
While Chandler gave Lyndon Johnson credit for the dignified way
he handled the assassination - "He did not grab headlines
or interfere with the family in any way" - he said that
LBJ "was not fond of Jack, and he disliked Bobby even more."
Nixon, a former favorite of the Chandler family, "could
curse better than any farmer I have ever known." Chandler
listened to Nixon's White House tapes, in which the president
and his top aides asked, "How can we get Otis?"
They sought to embarrass him
with his standing in Times-Mirror Co., or through his family.
One plan was to interview any Hispanics leaving his house or
office, "trying to see if I was hiring illegal immigrants."
Nixon also tried to get a remote listening device, a "bug,"
into his house in San Marino.
Chandler also dealt with the nearly daily phone calls from Nancy
Reagan during Ronald Reagan's terms of governor of California.
She regularly complained about his treatment by the paper, particularly
at the hands of legendary cartoonist Paul Conrad. Chandler proposed
a plan to her "that would solve everything. Have them (the
newspaper carrier) remove the metro and editorial pages."
Chandler also had the occasion to watch Fidel Castro in fine
form shortly after his successful revolution to oust Fulgencio
Batista in 1959. "He came to a meeting of the American Society
of Newspaper Editors in military garb with six soldiers.
It was a very terrifying moment,"
he said, "there was electricity in the air." Castro
spoke passionately and nonstop for an hour-and-a-half. "I
will never forget his anger and intensity. We knew then that
he was a force to be reckoned with."
During his school years at Stanford, Chandler wrote his thesis
on the Holocaust, using many original archive materials and interviewing
survivors. "Gen. Eisenhower knew that people could not accept
what happened, so he brought over five newspaper editors, and
my father (Norman Chandler) was one of them. My father was not
an emotional man, and he would have tears in his eyes as he described
That undergraduate thesis led to many reprints, as well as Chandler
winning an award from a Los Angeles organization affiliated with
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority
in Israel. "I will never forget what that meant to me,"
Larry Wilde, Rotary of Ojai president, said much the same thing
about the talk, "It is a great honor to have a man of Otis'
stature address our club. I just wish he had more time to talk
about surfing and cars."
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