Rosenthal, editor of N.Y. Times, dies at 84

May 11, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK --A.M. Rosenthal, a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent who became executive editor of The New York Times and led the newspaper's global news operations through 17 years of record growth, modernization and major journalistic change, died yesterday at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 84.

He suffered a stroke two weeks ago, his son Andrew said. Mr. Rosenthal lived in Manhattan.

From his days as a campus correspondent at City College through his years as a reporter in Europe, Asia and Africa, Mr. Rosenthal's talent, drive and ambition propelled him to the highest echelons of the Times and American journalism.

Brilliant, passionate, abrasive, and a man of dark moods and mercurial temperament, he could coolly evaluate world developments one minute and humble an erring subordinate in the next.

He spent almost all of his 60-year career with the Times - he often called the newspaper his life - as a reporter, editor and columnist.

As a reporter and correspondent for 19 years, he covered New York City, the United Nations, India, Poland, Japan and other regions, winning acclaim for his prolific, stylish writing.

In 1960, he won a Pulitzer for international reporting a year after Poland expelled him for what the communist government there had called probing too deeply.

Returning to New York in 1963, he became an editor. Over the next 23 years, he rose from metropolitan editor to assistant managing editor, then to managing editor and executive editor.

At the helm of a staff of highly regarded editors and writers that included many young stars he had recruited, Mr. Rosenthal directed coverage of such major stories as the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate scandal and Middle East crises.

Publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 was a historic achievement for the Times. The 7,000-page secret government history of the Vietnam War showed that every administration since World War II had expanded the U.S. involvement while hiding the dimensions of the conflict.

The Nixon administration tried to suppress publication of the papers, and the case led to a landmark Supreme Court decision upholding the primacy of the media over government attempts to impose "prior restraint" on what may be printed.

After 17 years as a principal architect of the modern New York Times, Mr. Rosenthal stepped down as the top editor in 1986 as he neared his job's mandatory retirement age of 65.

Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger said at the time that Mr. Rosenthal's "record of performance as executive editor of the Times will last as a monument to one of the titans of American journalism."

Mr. Rosenthal then began the last phase of his Times career, nearly 13 years as the author of a twice-weekly column, "On My Mind," for the op-ed page.

As managing editor from 1969 to 1977 and as executive editor until 1986, Mr. Rosenthal guided the Times through a transformation that included brightening its sober pages, expanding coverage, introducing new technology, beginning a national edition, attracting new advertisers and tens of thousands of new readers, and raising the newspaper's sagging fortunes to the point where it reported unparalleled profits.

Mr. Rosenthal and his first wife, Ann Marie Burke, whom he married in 1949, had three sons, Jonathan of Clifton, Va., Daniel of Milford, N.J., and Andrew of Montclair, N.J., who is deputy editorial page editor of the Times. The couple divorced in 1986.

In addition to his first wife and sons, Mr. Rosenthal is survived by his second wife, Shirley Lord, whom he married in 1987; a sister, Rose Newman of Manhattan; and four grandchildren.

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