Have been serenading Murray Kempton, the...


April 01, 1993

NEW YORKERS have been serenading Murray Kempton, the Newsday columnist -- he turned 75 recently, yet the guy's still on staff, still working. A long profile of him led off the New Yorker's Mar. 1 issue; it even included his Baltimore upbringing.

"Newsday has lured a bevy of columnists from the other papers -- Breslin, Liz Smith, Sidney Schanberg -- but I think Kempton ranks at the top," writes Spencer L. Davidson, an Evening Sun staff member until 1956 when he moved to Long Island.

"I read him regularly, not only for thoughtful comment but for that unique writing style."

Why no Murray Kempton Day in Baltimore? Well, Newsday has no street boxes here; Kempton, no syndication outlet. Syndicate managers think a reader wants to feel sure, before investing time in a column, what its viewpoint will be. But you don't predict Murray Kempton. He was a leftist, long ago (and a redhead, long ago); now he peers into a situation for signs of honor, or sorrow, or mercy, not for flat-footed rightness or wrongness.

Someone who was there during Kempton's star turn as editor of the Johns Hopkins News-Letter might call his the Charles Street Avenue Extended approach to sentence structure. But clause after clause was sometimes the great-authors' method too -- he still reads them.

Manhattan marvels that Murray wears a three-piece suit (while riding his bicycle from office to story scene); that he addresses friend or foe, vocally, as "sport"; that the count of his columns nears 10,000. And in reply? Murray Kempton's reaction to the FBI's self-styled "remarkable day in [our] history" when it arrested two suspects in the World Trade Center bombing was to write that "law enforcement will need a few more days no less remarkable before it can make a case that can carry the burden of proof."

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