Interviewee: Howard Kleinberg
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: December 4, 2003
P: This is Julian Pleasants, and I'm in Miami, Florida. It's December 4, 2003, and
I'm speaking with Howard Kleinberg. Tell me where you were born and where
you were educated.
K: I was born in Manhattan, New York. I was educated in the elementary and junior
highs in New York, but my high school education was in Miami [Florida] at
Miami High School.
P: As I understand it, very early on you got involved in journalism. How did you
develop an interest in journalism?
K: I always had an interest in writing, even when I was at the junior high school
level. In fact, I had several stories published in a junior high school annual. When
I got to Miami High, the counselor there picked up on that interest and put me in
a journalism class. The teacher there was a woman named Barbara Garfunkel,
who became legendary in local journalism education circles. She took me under
her wing. Anyhow, I went into her journalism class, and it wasn't that long after
that she got me in touch with somebody at the Miami Daily News, as it was called
at the time, because each high school had a sports correspondent to the paper
who did stories. There weren't that many high schools in Miami at the time. So
she got me the job as the Miami High correspondent to the Miami Daily News. I
worked for a guy named John McMullan, who later became a competitor at the
P: How old were you at this time?
K: I was seventeen, maybe eighteen. I think it was December 1949 when I got the
role, so I would have been seventeen.
P: And you graduated in 1951, is that correct?
K: I graduated in 1951, but I was one of those hanger-ons. I went down to the paper
everyday [and] I did everything I could. They were giving me assignments to do
things other than Miami High sports, and I actually became a member of the staff
of the Miami Daily News in December 1950, six months before I graduated high
P: You covered some fairly significant sports events, did you not?
K: I did. Of course [I covered] the usual with the University of Miami stuff and all
that, but I covered [professional] boxing matches, like Joe Louis against Rocky
Marciano, [Jersey Joe] Walcott and [Ezzard] Charles fights. I covered football
championship games before there was a Super Bowl. [It was] things like that. [I
covered] horse racing in Hialeah. One of my more interesting things, it wasn't a
major event, was spending the summer of 1952 traveling around covering Class
B baseball in the Florida International League traveling around with the Miami
Sun Sox. It was just a fascinating experience. I got to cover a lot of major sports
P: And back in those days there were C leagues, D leagues, Grapefruit League and
all of that. Minor league baseball was fairly significant then, was it not?
K: It was. The Florida International League was a Class B league. The Miami Sun
Sox were a farm club of the then Brooklyn Dodgers [of Major League baseball].
Then there were teams in West Palm, Lakeland, St. Pete[rsburg], [and] Tampa.
One started out in [Ft.] Lauderdale but wound up in Key West, and of course
there was Havana. It [the team] was called the Havana Cubans. As an
eighteen/nineteen year old, going over to Havana was pretty exciting. In fact
there's a wonderful story. There was a Miami team and a Miami Beach team,
Miami Sun Sox and Miami Beach Flamingos. The fellow who was covering the
Miami Beach Flamingos for the Miami Daily News, his wife would never let him
go to Havana. She feared what he might do in Havana because it's a pretty loose
town. The way the schedule worked out was that Miami Beach always came into
Havana for a three game series right after the Miami Sun Sox left. So the News
had to accommodate this fellow's wife, so I would stay on in Havana after the
Miami Sun Sox left to cover the Miami Beach Flamingos. So I got to spend a lot
of the summer of 1952 in Havana, and I liked it.
P: What was 1952 like? I guess Batista was still in power then?
K: Nope, [Fulgencio] Batista came into power at the beginning of that season. In
fact, we stayed at the Sevilla Biltmore Hotel in Havana, and I had a room that
looked out; if you looked off to an angle from the balcony, it was the presidential
palace. I distinctly remember the revolution. There was supposed to be an
election [between] Batista, [Roberto] Agramonte, [and] Benitez. In fact the ball
park in Havana had advertisements along the outfield wall [suggesting] this guy
for president and that guy for president. Well, one morning we got our story in. In
those days we used to phone the story into the Miami News and some
dictaphone would pick up the story on a little plastic disk and then the secretary
would come in and transcribe it in the morning for that day's paper. So at about
five in the morning I would call in with my story on the game. You have to
understand the games in Havana didn't start till nine at night, [and] as a
youngster I did a little carousing before I got down to write the story. But I was
dictating one of these stories when I saw troops and tanks moving up the street
towards the presidential palace. I sort of got to cover the Batista revolution
takeover right from the phone while I was dictating a baseball story. The
interesting part of that night was, when we went out to the ballpark, it was
baseball as usual. So what if a president got overthrown?
P: They didn't cancel the game.
K: No, it was baseball as usual, but all the presidential election signs in the outfield
wall already had been painted out and only the Batista sign remained. As a
young sports writer, I thought this was the weirdest stuff I'd ever dealt with.
P: Back in the 1950s, crime syndicates had quite a bit of influence in Havana. I
guess Meyer Lansky and others were there in fairly large numbers, were they
K: I don't know. I was too young. I never went to the casinos. We went out to the
ball games, the games didn't end till after eleven at night, and then the
ballplayers, who were my age, we'd just go out drinking and carousing along the
Prado [promenade]. I never went to a Cuban gambling casino until after [Fidel]
Castro [Premier and President of Cuba, 1959-present] took over; one of those
earlier casinos before he closed them down.
P: Talk about the status of boxing. During this time with Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard
Charles, certainly Joe Louis, and Rocky Marciano, it had a different feel to it. It
had a different response from the public than it does now, I think.
K: Well, it wasn't as complicated. By that I mean they didn't have all these different
organizations with their different champions. It wasn't as "foreign" as it is today.
In those days almost all the ranked boxers were Americans, they weren't from
the Phillipines or Mexico or so on and so forth. I could rattle off the top of my
head in those days the top ten ranked boxers in each of the divisions. There
weren't that many divisions. You had lightweight, light middle weight, middle
weight, light heavy weight, and heavy weight, and that was it.
P: There was Sugar Ray Robinson, who fought in several weight categories.
K: Sugar Ray Robinson kept moving around and all that. So you knew all these
things. Of course, I was covering boxing for the Miami News at the time, so I
knew a lot of these boxers. I also knew what was running boxing. [It was run by]
the International Boxing Club, the IBC, [formed by] Jim Norris and people like
that, and its mob [organized crime] ties. In fact, Norris lived down here in Miami
most of the year. He had a horse farm out in Sunset Drive. [You had] people like
Frankie Carbo, known mafia bosses and things like that. [Then you had] the
great Dundee Brothers, Chris and Angelo. So you knew a lot about boxing, and
there were lots of boxing clubs here. Chris Dundee began promoting boxing in
Miami Beach in 1950. There was a gentleman named W.H. Peeples, "major." I
don't know what the [title's] from, it may be a southern colonel or it may be
something from the war, but it was always Major Peeples. He was promoting
boxing at the Coral Gables Coliseum, which is no longer around. Then Peeples
and Norris got together and they built a small arena right opposite the Miami
baseball stadium in Northwest 10th Avenue for Friday night fights. It was built
specifically for television. It didn't last long because the IBC was broken up and
all that, but boxing was big.
P: That was Gillette that sponsored those?
K: Gillette sponsored so much of that boxing, yes.
P: And people really watched.
K: Yes, [they did watch]. Friday night fights, I think it was; it was the big thing.
P: A lot of people I've interviewed who are publishers and editors and writers started
as sports writers. Al Neuharth started in sports. Fred Pettijohn started as a sports
writer. How does that influence or impact a later career, since you ended up
being a managing editor and editor?
K: This is true that so many did start out in sports. James Reston is the one I like to
cite the most. In fact, he was even a PR [public relations] man for the Cincinnati
Reds [professional baseball team] before he became a columnist for the Times.
We all like to say that it gives us a greater freedom to express ourselves in the
writing technique, but I found later in life what the key to it was. It was after I had
become an editor and I had to deal with sports writers [that I found out the key].
When you're in sports, you have a schedule. You know there's going to be a
baseball game that day, you know there's going to be a football game [or] a fight.
You do your preparation, you plan on it, you can get your stuff together, [and] you
can do your advanced research on it. If you're a city side reporter covering a
murder, you didn't have time to plan [for] it. So there's an opportunity for a person
in sports to be better prepared for his or her story than somebody who is in the
business section or the city side or things like that. At least that's what I came to
find out in later years. I won't name the fellow, [but] when I had a sports
columnist who I had to move out of the sports department for other reasons, he
was a fairly good sports columnist, and I made him the local columnist and he fell
flat on his face because he didn't know what was coming up. He couldn't initiate
something. In sports, it's there for you, it's all scheduled for you. There's nothing
in sports that's unscheduled except maybe these drug busts they're coming up
now [with], or murders, but in those days you knew what was coming up and you
were able to plan for it.
P: A lot of people got out of sports partly because of the travel and the time that it
took going to sporting events.
K: You can ask my wife. She claims she raised all four kids alone because I wasn't
around. I didn't get out of sports because of the time, I got out of sports because I
felt there was more to the newspaper business that I could do. My wife thought
there was more; she was very much behind me. There was a golden opportunity
to move over to the news side in very exciting news days, the Kennedys, the
space program, [and] things like that. I had moved from sports writer to executive
sports editor, [the] inside man of the skunk works, and then I had the opportunity
to become a news editor.
P: Your journalistic work in sports, ended in 1957, right?
K: I guess somewhere around in there. I had come back from the [military] service.
Before I went into the service, I was a writer. I came back from the service and I
got interested in desk work and I loved it. I loved newspaper design and layout. I
was really early in on this thing. I saw them doing lots of experiments with the
sports pages of the Miami News in the days of hot type. In fact, one of the people
who I trained as an intern was a young man named Mario Garcia. I don't know
whether that name means anything to you, [but] he's the leading re-designer of
newspapers in the world today. He's at the Poynter Institute, but he's re-designed
the Miami Herald [and] the Wall Street Journal. He travels all over the world, and
everywhere he goes he gives me the credit of being the guy that influenced him
because I liked newspaper design and layout. So, because of that experience
and becoming executive sports editor under those circumstances, it was an easy
move to become the news editor of the paper. Today I still consider the finest job
in newspapering [to be] the fellow who lays out those inside pages, lays out page
one, [and] checks the headlines. I can't think of anything that I would rather do. If
somebody asked me today what I would rather be in the newspaper, an editor, a
columnist, a sports writer, or the news editor, I would say the news editor.
P: Tippen Davidson said that's the best job on the news, the most exciting job, but
at the same time a lot of pressure.
K: Oh, the pressure is tremendous. Especially, again, as I was saying, in those
years that I was the news editor starting in 1963, you had the Pope dying a very
slow death, the Kennedy thing [assassination], and God how I remember those
Kennedy days, and the space shots. Everything about it was exciting. Then right
afterwards [you had] the civil rights stuff, Bobby Kennedy's death , [and]
Martin Luther King's death . [It was] morbid stuff, but insofar as being a
news editor, the responsibility, the pressure, and the excitement was
P: Talk about your military service. Did you go to Korea?
K: No. When the Korean War started I had gone with a friend and joined the Marine
Corps Reserve. I did a couple of years out at Opa-locka going out there on
weekends. I was in air intelligence [and] Ted Williams [professional baseball
player] was in our squadron. I went into the army in March 1953 and I was
ordered to Korea in July or August of 1953 as a field radar operator in an
anti-aircraft artillery battalion. The night before I was to ship out to Camp Ord, or
wherever I go in California to go over to Korea, the war ended. So they said, stay
where you are. I often say that I think I would have rather have gone to the
Korean War than to spend the next two years at El Paso, Texas.
P: No, I don't think so. If you'd gotten up in the mountains in Korea in the wintertime,
I think El Paso might be a better prospect.
K: Were you there?
P: No, I've just read a lot about it. I talked to Edwin Pope, who I'm sure you know,
and he said that he was not really that much of a sports fan, but he loved to write
about sports because there's so much drama. What he enjoyed more than
anything else was not going to the games per se, but writing about sports.
K: No, I don't agree with Edwin in the least. Edwin may be that way, but I had
always been a sports fan. My father was a great sports fan and was taking me to
major league baseball games when I was four years old. I was a sports fan
before I became a sports writer, was a fan as a sports writer, and I still am a
P: Talk to me a little bit more about being the news editor. Did you change the news
coverage at all once you became news editor?
K: No, and it wasn't my job to change the news coverage. My job was to determine
what went into that A section of the paper, where it went, what kind of play it got,
what photos we were to use, [and] what the headlines would say. Again, all [of
this was] under the managing editor's approval, but most of the time the
managing editor just acquiesced to whatever we wanted to do. We didn't shape
the coverage other than I guess I could bury a story if I wanted to. Could I
overplay a story? Yes. If you call that shaping the coverage, then I guess to a
degree [I could change it].
P: How was the news changing during this time? You just talked about the radical
1960s and you have President John Kennedy's assassination, Mario Savio and
the University of California at Berkeley, and you have all these extraordinary
events. Were those events just more difficult to cover, or was it more exciting?
K: Well, you forgot the most extraordinary event in Miami, and that was Fidel
Castro. We spent a lot of time on Fidel Castro and the results of Fidel Castro. We
had an immigrant society coming in. We had a very fierce anti-Castro society,
and much of our coverage was shaped that way, unlike anywhere else in the
country. We were different. So there was constant rubbing of the plates so to
speak in Miami on news coverage. I remember an example. We had a fellow
named Tony Solar, who has long since passed away. We decided we needed to
have a simple column of news everyday in Spanish in the Miami News so that
these immigrants who would come in and not read a word of English could find
out what was going on. Tony would submit his copy, and, of course, I couldn't
read it. I can read at it, and I can certainly spot proper nouns so I'd know what he
was talking about. This was the period when Pope, I forget which number he
was, the 23rd?
P: Yes, Pope John XXIII.
K: [He] was dying that very slow, agonizing death. After awhile, I realized that Tony
had never mentioned that Pope in his stories. I said, gee, all these Cubans are
Catholic, why isn't he writing about the Pope. So finally I went back to his desk
and I said, Tony, you haven't mentioned the Pope. He said, well I'm not going to
either. I said, what are you talking about? He said, he had lunch with [Soviet
Premier Nikita] Khrushchev's son-in-law, and nobody that has lunch with a
Communist is getting in my column, whereupon I had to go to the managing
editor and have the managing editor order him [to write about the Pope]. That is
the kind of things that was starting to happen in Miami. They were still talking
about freedom of speech in this community. In fact, the Miami Herald's got an
editorial today on that very issue, that the news is managed very differently down
here by certain aspects of the community than it is anywhere else. I find that [to
be] very true.
P: Discuss a little bit your coverage of John Kennedy, since it's the anniversary of
the Kennedy assassination.
K: Those were seventy-two remarkable hours. If you want to waste a tape, I'll tell
you. We had just finished putting out the final home edition, that's the home
delivery edition, and I usually had a sandwich at my desk. I'd come in about four
in the morning, it being an afternoon paper, drift through all the stuff, the wire
editor came in earlier and gave me all that stuff. We'd come out with a
metropolitan edition, which everyday kept coming out earlier and earlier as they
kept changing our deadlines. Our final home edition we had just put to bed, and
I'll never forget the lead story was one of the most absurd stories I'd ever chosen
to lead the paper. I have no idea [why I did that]. It had to do something about
Gina Lollobrigida [Italian movie actress] going to be engaged to some guy who
lived in North Miami Beach, some rich insurance guy, and I was embarrassed
enough with that thing.
Well, I was sitting at my desk at one something in the afternoon, and the head of
my copy desk, my chief copy editor, a fellow named Mel Frishman who's with the
[Miami] Herald Broward Bureau now, came over and whispered in my ear that
Kennedy has been shot. I turned and said, where the hell did you hear that? He
said, my wife, Mattie, called me. Where'd she hear that? She said, on television.
So I hollered for a copy boy. You remember those guys? I said, will you go into
the wire room and see if there's anything on the wire? The next thing I know this
kid came running out and jumped on, it was a traditional copy desk, a horseshoe
board, and he jumped on top of the desk and screamed out, Jesus Christ,
Kennedy's been shot. Whereupon I knew the presses were running, so I got up
from my desk. We were not in the Herald building at the time, we were in a
building on Northwest 7th Street, our own building. I went running through the
newsroom, out in the back into the composing room, down a flight of steps into
the press room, and screamed, stop the press. The dream of everybody, right?
P: Yes, everybody wants to say that.
K: Yes, [I said], stop the press, the president's been shot. To which a guy named
Scotty said, well, you silly son of a bitch, why didn't you call me? I said, you
know, I never thought of that. So they stopped the press and that's when we
started doing re-plates and re-plates. That was a Friday afternoon. I did not leave
the office until about two in the morning on Sunday because we kept putting out
editions and editions. We had dispatched our two top reporters, and they were
great reporters. Milt Sosin was a legend down here in reporting. We sent him out
to Dallas. In some pictures of the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald [who was
accused of killing Kennedy], Sosin is in that circle [of people around Oswald].
We took a guy who I knew was a great writer, but he was a humor columnist for
us, but I knew he could paint a picture. Even though I wasn't assigning these
people, I had a lot of influence with the managing editor. We sent a fellow named
John Keasler to Washington to cover what was going on in Washington, and
Keasler did a tremendous job. Then they had a fellow on the city desk named Bill
Tucker, a rewrite man, old UPI [United Press International], maybe INS
[International News Service] guy. He was just putting together [everything].
These mounds and mounds of material were coming in from AP, INS, UPS or
whatever it was called then, and the New York Times' service. He was doing all
the rewrite stuff. I guess every newspaper was like that, but people were coming
in on their day off. They knew they had to be a part of this story.
It was just a remarkable thing. I remember I got home and I went to sleep very
late early Sunday morning. The next thing I knew my wife was shaking me and
saying, Howard, wake up, Lee Harvey Oswald's just been shot, to which I
remember saying, good. I tried to roll over but she wouldn't let me. I saw it on TV,
so I got dressed and went back downtown for another couple of days. You didn't
get tired. I guess there's a difference between tired and exhausted, but you're
working by rote. The stories were so great and so changing. I've saved every one
of those editions. It's certainly the greatest story I've ever dealt with, and I never
wrote a word about it. I was just the inside man at the skunk works.
P: A lot of people, Peter Jennings at ABC, Dan Rather at CBS, made their
reputations with these stories. They were TV people obviously, but some other
individuals covering that also made their reputations. Do you have an opinion on
who was the assassin?
K: Yes, that guy alone. I'm one of those guys. I don't believe in all these
conspiracies, and I don't think LBJ [Lyndon Baines Johnson, vice-president who
succeeded to the presidency with Kennedy's death in 1963 and served until
1968] did it and so on and so forth. I think it was just this one guy. That's my
opinion, but what does that matter? I don't have any special knowledge.
P: Talk a little bit about how the war in Vietnam was perceived in Miami, what
reaction there was to the war and how your coverage of the war developed.
K: I like to say I was one of the first casualties of the Vietnam War. I don't know
whether you've heard that. You probably don't know it, [but] I left the Miami News
for one year as a result of the war. [I was] news editor, and we'd been having
these advisors getting involved in the fighting. LBJ got a bunch of troops
committed, I guess it was right after Gulf of Tonkin, and we got involved in our
first major pitched battle in Vietnam. It was the battle of la-Drang Valley. They
said that [Secretary of Defense] McNamara [1961-1968] was going to announce
the casualty figures at eight in the morning several days after the battle. Being an
afternoon paper, this was our story. So McNamara did, and I forget, [but] we lost
200 and something guys in the battle. So this was one hell of story.
The ME [managing editor] called me into the office close to the deadline and
said, what's our lead heads [headlines] going to say? I said, 225 Americans killed
in Vietnam. We'd only lost one a week prior to that. He said, well how many of
the enemy did they kill? I said, well, just a minute, and I went back out to the
desk and I looked it up. I said, I don't know, they're estimating 1,000. He said, we
won. I said, what are you saying? He said, we won the battle. I said, don't you
understand? And we went at it, whereupon he ordered me to use the angle that
he wanted. I'd lost some respect for him earlier, prior to that, and I went into the
editor's [office] at the time, Bill Baggs, who I had a great deal of respect for. I
said, Bill, can you and I have lunch in the next day or two, and he agreed. We
went to lunch, whereupon I told him I was quitting because I couldn't work under
such circumstances, and I did quit the Miami News without another job at the
moment. I went twenty-four hours without a job, but again, I consider myself a
victim of the Vietnam War.
I will tell you personally that in the beginning I very much believed in what we
were doing in the Vietnam War, but I'm one of those guys who came around and
later realized what a horrible mistake [we made]. Then when McNamara wrote
his book, I wrote a column for Cox saying that the man ought to be put in jail for
prosecuting that war knowing that we had no chance and that leaves 50,000
guys dead. I got very involved in that Vietnam War. I guess I went from being a
hawk [war supporter], and I was a hawk, to being a dove [anti-war advocate] over
that whole issue. It cost me my job, and it's my own doing, but I stayed out of the
Miami News for one year until Baggs brought me back with the promise that I
would be the managing editor within six months of coming back. He brought me
back as the executive sports editor, back in the sports department. I wound up
covering the Miami Dolphins [professional football team].
P: While we're on that subject, talk about Bill Baggs. He is legendary in Florida
K: He's an amazing man and he's a mysterious man. To this day, and at the time I
was close to him, I couldn't understand his connection to the Kennedys, to
Averell Harriman [U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, 1961, 1965-1969; Governor
of New York, 1955-59; Ambassador to Soviet Union, 1943-1946], [and] who fed
him the stuff on the Russian missile build-up in Cuba [which led to the Cuba
Missile Crisis of October 1962]. Of course, it was Baggs that passed it on to our
guys. I remember his quote in Time magazine when we won the Pulitzer Prize for
that story. They asked him, who was it that told you? He said, it was Roseate
Spoonbill from the Everglades [a bird indigenous to the Florida Everglades], and I
always remember that line. [Laughing] Bill was a mysterious man. His
connections in Washington were astonishing. I remember at one point he had
come back from Hanoi [Vietnam], it was his second mission to Hanoi. He went
with Harry Ashmore.
P: Who was the writer/editor from the Arkansas Gazette.
K: [That's] another prince of a guy. Bill called me from Tokyo [Japan] just after he
got out, I was already his managing editor, and he called me from Tokyo to meet
him in Washington to pick up his copy because he had to do some things in
Washington. Well, this was right after Martin Luther King, [Jr.; civil rights leader;
President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 1957-1968] had
been assassinated [in 1968], and Washington was on fire. I said, Bill, I don't
know how I'm going to get to Washington, the town's closed. He said to me,
listen, brat, he always called me brat, if I can get my ass bombed in Hanoi, you
can get your ass up to Washington. So I got a flight to Baltimore-Washington
airport and managed to get a cab into town and got through to the Hotel
Jefferson, which is where Baggs and Ashmore and all those guys would hang
out. He handed me his handwritten copy, which I have since donated to the
University of Miami [because] they have a Baggs collection there, and a bunch of
Russian 35mm film they had shot in Hanoi and brought them back. I said, how
am I getting back to that airport? This whole trip was like [President George W.]
Bush's trip to Iraq [in 2003]; in, grab, out. He called [Senator] Bill Fulbright, [and
snap], like that, and I had some official government car pick me up in front of the
Jefferson, take me through all the blockades and the fires and everything else,
back out to Baltimore-Washington airport, and back to the Miami News where we
started running Bill Baggs's series on Hanoi.
He had remarkable contacts, and yet I wasn't sure and at times I didn't believe
him. Then, when he died, and I had a lot to do with making the arrangements for
the funeral service and all that I sort of tried to take over, it turns out [Edward]
Teddy Kennedy [U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, [1962-present] shows up as
one of his pallbearers. Governor [LeRoy] Collins [of Florida, 1955-1961] shows
up as one of his pallbearers, and I'm one of the pallbearers and all that kind of
stuff. Then, I started getting letters from everybody, Hubert Humphrey [U.S.
Senator from Minnesota, 1949-1964, 1971-1978; U.S. Vice-President,
1964-1969], Averell Harriman, politicians from all over the world, diplomats, and
so on and so forth, coming to me because my name had been used somehow in
all this stuff. I realized how significant this man was. I have turned all the original
letters over to the Baggs collection at the University of Miami. It's just
remarkable. And yet, I always had a suspicion about whether Bill had any formal
connection to the government or to the CIA or to the state department. There's a
guy named Gil Cranberg who was an editorial writer for the Des Moines Register,
who later became a professor of journalism at the University of Iowa. He wrote a
piece years ago either for the Columbia Review of Journalism or the other
journalism review, in which he sort of said that the Miami News should give back
its Pulitzer Prize on the Cuban Missile Crisis and give it to the CIA instead. So
there was all kinds of innuendo there. I once filed an FOI [request] out of curiosity
P: FOI stands for freedom of information.
K: [I asked for] everything having to do with Bill Baggs and the FBI [Federal Bureau
of Investigation], the Kennedys, Bill Baggs and missions to Hanoi, and things like
that. Well, years went by, and in fact Janet Reno had already been appointed
Attorney General [of the United States, 1993-2001]. I know Janet, her mother
worked for us at the Miami News, and I felt I wasn't getting anywhere going
through the normal circuits. I called Janet, and Janet being who Janet is, made
me feel ashamed that I called her to try to get at the head of the line. And I was
ashamed by the time I finished talking with her. Finally, years later I got this big
thick thing and it was almost all blacked out; there was nothing readable. So to
this day, as much as I knew Bill and had lunch with him everyday, I am still
P: Well, since it was all blacked out, so obviously there was something of
importance in there.
K: I'm sure there was. There were other things about Bill, like when he died we all
said he was forty-eight, [but] he was really forty-six. He had told me that he had
lied [about] his age [by] two years to get into the Air Force during World War II.
He was a bomber pilot.
P: When he died, wasn't he considering going to the New York Times?
K: You never know. Yes, he [said he] was going [and] he was taking me with him.
He was going to be the editor and I was going to be the managing editor.
Frankly, I couldn't see it. I would have gone. I don't know whether that story was
ever true, but I was heading for the New York Times with him. I was very close to
him and he liked me. Bill was a great writer [and] a great individual, [but] he was
one of the worst administrators in the history of American journalism. When I
became managing editor, he flipped that budget at me. I looked at it and it was
remarkable; it was in ruins. Bill didn't care about the nickels and dimes of the
newspaper. He had things to say, and he said them so well.
P: He was very loyal to his employees, wasn't he?
K: Well, yes and no, I guess. For example, we had a local columnist named Jack
Roberts. [He was a] good man, had been a city editor, tough as nails, old
Georgia boy. He hadn't had a raise in nine years. And I looked down [the list] and
there was no money. I was wondering why everybody was grousing. I was
getting my raises fairly well, I was moving up a ladder, but there were other guys
that would seem to be a plateau. You couldn't get past it. There was no hill to
climb anymore; it was flat. [It was] things like that. I had to do a lot of reworking
on the financial stuff and cutting down things. I had had no experience on that
either, but I realized I had to do something. Bill was going to continue to go out to
Hanoi and Washington and do all these other things, local fights and all that, and
here I was inside man of the skunk works again.
P: I understand that he could talk to the Kennedys and the Harrimans, but he also
could talk to the press people and could relate to just about everybody.
K: He was just so good at it. We had a writer named Jack Mann, a very good writer.
He was a sports writer [and] he apparently had a drinking problem. He'd worked
for most of the major newspapers in the country. His last job was at the Detroit
Free Press, where he drank himself out. He got a job as a bartender and he tried
to kill himself. I can't remember who got in touch with me, but I got in touch with
Mann and I hired him to come down and be a city side reporter at the Miami
News. Baggs never much interfered with who I hired. So that first day that Mann
came out to the paper, I went to Bill and I said, we have a new guy at the paper,
Jack Mann, and I told him everything about Mann. [I told him about] his problems
and his qualities, and the fact that he had once tried to commit suicide in his
despondency over his career. Baggs walks straight out to Mann's desk and said,
hi, I'm Bill Baggs, and we always welcome suicidal types to this newspaper.
He used to call us a portable newspaper because we moved from here to here.
Baggs had a great rapport with the staff. A lot of managing editors resent editors
going out into the newsroom and being with folks. When I became editor, I had
some managing editors that didn't like the idea of me going out into the
newsroom, which I resented. I was never unhappy with Baggs going out into the
newsroom because the man was idolized. He knew how to really tweak people.
There was a club called the Miami Club. It's a downtown luncheon club, exclusive
and all that, and Baggs was a member of the Miami Club. Most of those guys
hated what Baggs was writing about the Vietnam War, just hated it. He had just
come back from his first mission to Hanoi, and he decided to go to the Miami
Club wearing his Mao Tse-tung [Chinese Communist leader, 1949-1976] button
in his lapel. One of the seersucker suit type guys, Baggs was one as well, came
up and was talking to him and saw the Mao Tse-tung button and got so upset
that he actually threw up on Baggs. That's the kind of guy Baggs was.
Baggs also had to do a lot with the environment in this town. The whole southern
tip of Key Biscayne could be a bunch of condos now if it wasn't for Bill Baggs
talking the Aleman widow, Mrs. Garcia, into selling the southern tip of Key
Biscayne to the state for a state park. That's called Bill Baggs State Park. He was
instrumental in that.
P: I also understand that he would go to this club and they would all complain about
the editorial. He would say, well, I just can't control those guys.
K: Oh, yes, Bill was so sharp. I've heard this expression about others, but he's the
kind of guy that could call you a bastard to your face but you wouldn't realize it
until twenty minutes later. I loved him. When I became managing editor in 1968, I
was living in a ticky-tack over in Weschester. He said he didn't want his
managing editor living in a ticky-tack. I said, well, Bill, with what you pay me I
can't afford a hell of a lot more. He said, we'll go out and look for a house, brat.
So we came and we started driving in this neighborhood. It was just Baggs and
me, my wife wasn't even with me. We came, and we came to this house. It was
a model house for the development. We had four houses on this block. We both
fell in love with the house. He said, well, then, get it. I said, but Bill, I can't afford
this house. He said to me, don't worry, as long as I'm alive, you'll never have to
worry about money. Then we went and got my wife and talked her into this
house. And, of course, six months later Bill died, so the pledge was gone, but I
was already well established.
P: How did the newspaper treat civil rights during the 1960s. In 1963, it was
Birmingham, and Martin Luther King.
K: [Do you] mean coverage-wise, or editorial?
K: Well, obviously in the early 1960s I was on the news side, so I didn't involve
myself with editorial coverage, but I could tell you what the editorial coverage
was. It was extremely liberal. The Miami News, the Atlanta Constitution with
Ralph McGill, and the Arkansas Gazette with Harry Ashmore, that was three
guys who were in bed with each other on this issue. They were very strongly in
favor of civil rights. The news side gave it major coverage. Of course, I didn't
become news editor until 1963, and by then some things had gone on. I think the
Birmingham bombing was before then. I remember getting my fanny chewed out
by the news editor that had preceded me. I was executive sports editor at the
time, and they were having a memorial march in Miami in Overtown for the three
little girls that got killed in Birmingham. It was a huge march and I felt an
obligation to march myself, so I did. That was the good news. The bad news is
the Herald ran a picture of it the next day and there I was in the forefront, which
is why I got my fanny reamed out for participating and things like that. [He said],
newspaper people aren't supposed to do that. Well, I don't give a damn, I'm glad
I did [it]. Our news coverage obviously played up civil rights quite a bit.
P: What about the Liberty City riot? When was that?
K: Well, we had a few.
P: There was one in 1968, I think.
K: That was when the Republican convention was going on here, yes. That was
nasty. That was quite nasty. I can't remember which one I went with [civil rights
activist] Jesse Jackson out to meet [the local blacks who could turn the trouble
spigot on and off]. We had so many [riots] I can't keep them up. I went with Jesse
Jackson out to Liberty City to bring back the list of demands by, certainly not the
rioters, but the guys who had their hands on the faucet. Those were nasty riots. I
hate to condone violence, but I'm saying a hell of a lot of it was justified
[because] this was a very segregated town. Blacks couldn't get anywhere around
in this town.
P: The golf courses, the hospital, the beaches, were all still segregated.
K: Yes. Listen, I went to segregated high schools here. People say to me, how
could you go to a segregated high school? I say, well, how the hell did I know it
was segregated at the time? That was the law of the state, it wasn't anything to
do with Miami. The same thing was going on in Tallahassee and Jacksonville and
anywhere else. Our news coverage at the Miami News, I would say that we were
certainly in the forefront of playing or overplaying the civil rights story because it
was big here and because our own minorities here were so oppressed. You'll
remember, this was a town that had a reputation not only for discrimination
against blacks, but in earlier years for discrimination against Jews and
Catholics. All these clubs were off limits to Jews, and some of them were off
limits to Catholics. This was a town that depended on tourism, and the country
was starting to wake up to civil rights, and it behooved this community to
P: There were also some charges of police brutality during this time.
K: There were always charges. Look what went on during the free trade stuff [2003
protest of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas]. [There was] a great
cartoon in the Herald by Jim Morin. I don't know whether you saw it. It was a
cartoon that showed this huge line of police with their shields and everything
else, and then right in front of them was this huge line of TV cameramen, and
behind them was one little guy that said protestorr."
P: I talked to Garth Reeves of the Miami Times. He complained that the Miami
Herald in the 1960s was not strong enough in supporting civil rights.
K: I can't comment on that, I'll be honest with you, because I just never did pay
attention to that. But there's no way that Garth, and I've known Garth for years, I
don't see any way that Garth could criticize the Miami News. In fact, many will tell
you that that was the doom of the Miami News. In addition to the problems
created by being an afternoon newspaper in a television growing community, that
our editorial positions on civil rights and Vietnam were our undoing.
P: Did they say you were too liberal?
K: Yes, [they felt we were too liberal].
P: While we're on that, explain to me why afternoon newspapers died out in
K: Well, I think there are several reasons, and I would not put political positions in
the top because some surveys I read somewhere said only 34 percent of people
even know where the editorial page is located, although I'll tell you about the
continuing battle I had with Bill Baggs about his columns. But television had a lot
to do with it, commuter time had a lot to do with it, [and] the growth of the city
[also contributed]. It was just that people didn't come home, put their feet up, and
read the afternoon paper anymore. In fact, in this town it became obvious to me,
just in my own neighborhood, that people were having to go to work so early in
the morning to beat the rush hour, that they were leaving before they read their
Herald. So when they got home at night is when they first started reading their
Herald, so who needed the Miami News? I don't know whether the same thing is
true in Denver or Dallas or other cities, but that was one of the things that I kept
seeing Heralds on the lawns still at nine and ten in the morning. These people
had gone off to work.
P: What was your circulation during this time?
K: We lied. I have come to find out [we lied]. I don't know how we did it, we padded
figures and all that, but the peak circulation that I have ever seen for the Miami
News when I did a whole bunch of research on it, and I may have figures tucked
away somewhere, was 112,000. [That] was back in the early 1960s. But I have
been told we had all kinds of padding on those things. I know when we went out
of business at the end of 1988, we were down to the forties. It was pathetic.
P: Did you ever become a morning paper?
P: You always stayed an afternoon paper?
K: Yes. We were in this terrible joint operating agreement with the Miami Herald
Publishing Company. I say terrible, and yet had we not gotten into that joint
operating agreement, I doubt whether we would have lasted until 1988 because
of the way p.m. [afternoon] papers were dying. So in a way that joint operating
agreement helped us, but I would tell you that it's my observation, as an active
participant, that the Herald didn't do a damn thing to improve our lot during the
years of our joint operating agreement.
[End of side Al]
P: What were the main reasons that the Miami News went under? Was it that they
were losing money and had no other option?
K: Well, we weren't losing money; we were making money because of the deal we
had with the Herald. The Herald was losing money with us, so when it came time
to work on a renewal of the operating agreement, they had some terms that were
more difficult for us. But the Cox people pretty much outsmarted them because
there was nothing in there that said we couldn't accept their terms and that we
still had to publish a paper.
P: What was your relationship with Cox?
K: We were a Cox newspaper.
P: They owned it totally?
K: The Cox owned the Miami News from 1923 till it was finished, yes.
P: When you became managing editor what changes did you make? We talked
about the budget, but how else did you change the paper?
K: We were constantly changing, because when you're a failing newspaper, you've
got to keep coming up with something all the time. We redesigned the paper. We
used that silly thing, curtain down, curtain up; it never seemed to work. We went
into team reporting. We tried to concentrate on so many things. We had a
reputation of being the best sports section in town, so we spent a lot of our
energies in making the sports section even better. Things kept changing [with]
the circumstances. We actually proposed, and I have those proposals in my files
here, the first Spanish language edition. What is now El Nuevo Herald was first
proposed by us, but in our joint operating agreement with the Herald Publishing
Company, we had to go to them for those things. We had to go to them for a lot
of things, including budget. They turned us down, and then later came out with
the same thing. I had a lot of problems with Herald Publishing Company and the
way they dealt with us. In the late 1960s we wanted to have a quarter-fold TV
book on Sundays, sort of like TV Guide. We came up with the whole proposal,
[but] we had to go to the general manager of the Herald Publishing Company for
it. We were told, well, we could give it to you, but then we'd have to spend
$25,000 or something like that on new equipment, and of course the Herald has
the right to demand the same thing, so whatever advantage you'd have you'd
lose it in a few months, so don't bother with it. So we didn't; we got turned down
for that. Our business editor at the time, Larry Birger, had an idea for a Business
Monday section, a special section just on Mondays. He went to Cox up in
Atlanta, [but] they turned him down, and so on and so forth. One thing led to
another, and all of a sudden the Herald decided to have a Business Monday and
hired Larry Birger away from us.
P: Was this John S. Knight, Jim Knight?
K: No, it was Post Them. John S. Knight very much believed in two newspaper
towns. He went into that JOA [joint operating agreement] not with an idea to
make the Miami Herald richer or the Miami News richer, he went into that joint
operating agreement for the community. I am a great believer in John S. Knight,
even though I spent my whole life fighting the Herald. And I had talks with him at
points, especially after Bill Baggs' death. It was after, when the Herald Publishing
Company became much more bottom line conscious and had their dance with
the stockholders and things like that. I couldn't find any fault with John S. Knight
other than the fact that he beat our brains in.
P: How would you compare the quality of the two papers, particularly when you
were managing editor and editor?
K: Listen, there was no comparison. The Herald had much more funds, they had a
far bigger staff, [and] they had far more newsroom, and news hole. It was very
difficult to compete with them, and they were bringing in some of the really top
notch reporters who we couldn't afford to bring in. We just couldn't afford it. It
was an unfair competition; it just wasn't there. We had ideas about going tabloid
and all that; we just got turned down. We tried everything in the books and it just
didn't work. In the last five years of the Miami News, it was like trying to hold it
together with a Band-Aid. It was just very difficult.
P: One thing I wanted to talk about, you brought it up earlier and I'd like to follow up
on it, is the Republican National Convention of 1968, which was here in Miami.
Talk a little bit about your coverage of that event.
K: We over covered [and] we overspent tremendously. Sylvan Meyer was the editor
at the time. Sylvan Meyer replaced Bill Baggs as editor of the Miami News. He
had come down from Gainesville, Georgia. He was the owner of the paper in
Gainesville, Georgia, the Gainesville Times, and he had been hired by Jack
Tarver, who was in Atlanta at the time for us in Miami. I'm not criticizing him or
anything, but [Sylvan] thought that we were going to sell 10,000 papers a day
extra. We budgeted and got a lot of extra funds, we hired boats to bring copies
back through the canals of Miami Beach across the bay to us. We had all these
plans, [and] we had all these overtime hours. It was that convention that met till
two and three in the morning where they didn't even go out for sandwiches. I
don't think we sold twenty papers in the entire thing, and we had spent the whole
year's budget on it. The whole thing was absurd. I'm not saying that the Herald
didn't do the same thing. I think it was shortly after that where I sort of said,
wouldn't it be nice if these conventions were held on a cruise ship and we just
didn't have to worry about all this?
P: What was the reaction to the protests against the Vietnam War? You had the
Gainesville Eight [8 members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War were
tried for conspiring to riot at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami
Beach], there were quite a few protesters, and a very large police presence. It
was nothing like Chicago of course, but what was it like?
K: I apologize, [but] the 1968 and the 1972 [conventions] blur in my mind. One of
them [had yippies present], [but] I can't remember [which one]. Which one were
the yippies at?
P: The yippies were in 1968 in Chicago.
K: No, in Miami Beach.
P: Yes, they were in Miami too.
K: I had heard so much in 1968 about what was going to happen, sort of like we
heard just before this trade conference here in Miami, that I went down with my
assistant managing editor, a fellow named Jack Cort, to Flamingo Park in Miami
Beach to walk among the yippies and the schluppies and all those other named
people. I saw for myself that they were cutting up two inch doweling sticks into
club length things. What else were they going to use [it for]? They were too short
to be canes or staffs. They were there for some ulterior purpose, so I sort of
developed a hard attitude about it. If I'm not mistaken, they were also the ones
with the ice picks that were punching holes in the tires of the buses bringing the
Republican delegates to the convention hall. There was enough provocation.
Now, I say that, and yet one of my photographers was clubbed over the head
and was bleeding profusely while trying to cover one of these street protests
outside the hall. I know he was clubbed by a Florida Highway patrolman. I began
a telephone and letter campaign with whoever was head of the Florida Highway
Patrol up in Tallahassee, and I got nowhere with this belligerent guy. I mean, he
was just nasty. The photographer's name was John Peele. He took stitches and
everything else for just being out in the street, which is some of the stuff that
happened here in Miami just a couple of weeks ago with the trade conference.
Yet there's the other argument, and that was advanced at the trade conferences:
if we did not react as quickly and as powerfully as we did, how much worse
would it have been? So who knows what the answer to it is. But each day I keep
finding more and more evidence, at least on this latest one, that there was a
police over reaction.
[In] 1968, I don't know [if there was an over reaction]. You had Liberty City
burning, you had all these other people over in Miami Beach. It was a nightmare.
It was just an absolute nightmare. I don't think I went into Liberty City in the 1968
thing with Jesse Jackson, I think I went in in 1972 with Jesse. [It was] more likely
P: Now in 1976, you become editor. By that point, the Miami News was having
some financial problems. Why did you take that position?
K: I really didn't want it. I was very happy. Let me back up, okay. Bill Baggs dies,
and for three months or so a troika runs the Miami News; me as the managing
editor, a fellow named Clarke Ash as the editorial page editor, and a fellow
named Jack Kassewitz as an editorial writer. The three of us ran it, but Clark and
Jack sort of let me run the newsroom because that was my province, and they
had the editorial page. Then, Sylvan came in as editor of the paper, and Sylvan
had a lot of ideas. He and I were just different kind of newspaper men. I'm not
saying he was wrong, I'm not saying he was right, but he felt that the Miami
News could no longer try to be the national and international paper that Bill
Baggs was setting it up as. He wanted to be much more local and provincial in
coverage. Maybe that was the right route. No, it wasn't the right route, no route
we took was the right route. But I disagreed with him and he and I did not strike it
off as far as coverage goes. He elevated me to executive editor. It amounted to
being in charge of buying typewriters and first computer screens; I was pretty
much on the shelf.
A fellow named Jim Whelan became the managing editor. Sylvan and Jim were
Nieman [Foundation] fellows together. Jim had a career with the wire services
and all that. He was [an] extremely hawkish, right winged type guy, and Sylvan
wasn't, and I thought it was a strange marriage. But anyhow, so I was on the
shelf for awhile. That was the period where Jim Cox ordered all his newspapers
to endorse Richard Nixon over George McGovern [for President of the United
States]. The editor in West Palm Beach quit over it, Greg Favre. We at the Miami
News wrote an editorial in about sixteen paragraphss condemning Richard
Nixon, and in the last paragraph endorsed him. Sylvan Meyer gave an interview
to the New York Times about this issue, and although it was never stated to me
by any other Cox people, that I think was one of the chief reasons why Sylvan
was fired. I remember one night, Dan Mahoney, who was publisher of the news,
and Jim Fain, who was editor in Dayton, called me in the middle of the night to
come out to this hotel in Miami Beach. I went out there and they told me that they
were going to dismiss Sylvan in the morning and so on and so forth, and I should
be ready to do some damage control. [They also told me] that Fain would be the
editor at the Miami News; he would be editor both in Dayton and Miami. I'd
known Fain and had a great deal of respect for Jim, so that's what happened.
Then the next morning Fain came in and fired Whelan too. He asked me what
would I like to be, executive editor or managing editor? I said, well, we've got all
the typewriters we need, I'd rather be the managing editor. So I wound up being
managing editor for Fain, which was [wonderful].
Jim moved back and forth between Dayton and Miami. In fact, at one point,
whoever the editor was of the Atlanta Constitution at the time got fired, and
somebody asked Fain if he'd also like to be editor of the Atlanta Constitution. He
said, why not, I have to change planes in Atlanta anyhow going from Dayton to
Miami. Anyhow, Fain stayed for awhile and then Cox bought the Austin American
Statesman and offered Fain the job of being publisher, which he took. Fain and I
had become really good friends. I really liked Jim. The Miami News had an
apartment for Jim over in the Rickenbacker Causeway, and [one night] he asked
my wife Natalie and I to come over. That's when he told me that he was leaving
to go to Austin. I said, well who's the new editor, and he said, you are. It was
more like an appointment. I said, gee, I really don't want to be the editor. He said,
you don't? Then he said, well, then, you know we'll bring in some other jerk from
some small town and get you all irritated again. He said, you be the editor. So
that's how I became the editor, just like that. [Then] all of a sudden [I go] from
[being] the guy who was laying out papers and doing the budgets, [to] running
the editorial page, at which I had no experience. Then Fain tells me, by the way,
you've got to write three columns a week. Whoa.
P: Was it common for Cox Newspapers to determine the editorial policy of the
K: No, it was totally uncommon. In fact, for many years Cox was not called a
newspaper chain. They were very careful to call it a league of newspapers; the
Cox Newspaper League. When you get down [to it] and you find out that
everybody's separate. This Nixon thing was the only time that happened, and all
kinds of pledges were exacted out of management afterwards that this would
never happen again, that Cox [would] never dictate [what to write]. In my years
as editor, nobody at Cox dictated to me what the Miami News should be. We'd
discuss it, certainly. I mean, what the heck, they've got their money invested in
the thing. We'd go to editors meetings. Cox became more chain oriented after
Jim Cox died and after Jack Tarver retired. A fellow named Garner Anthony
came in as chairman of the board of Cox Newspapers. This was a great guy.
He's still alive. He lives in Hawaii [and] he's retired now. His stepson, Jim
Kennedy, is the CEO of Cox Enterprises now. That's when it changed.
P: Who was the publisher of the Miami News at this time?
K: Well, we had Dan Mahoney, Jr., was the publisher of the Miami News and the
Palm Beach Post [because] we owned the paper in Palm Beach. Except he was
the publisher of the Palm Beach Post [and] he rarely came to Miami. [The] guy's
gone, I don't want to say things too bad about him, but when he'd come down to
Miami on his short visits, all I had to do was have a six pack of ice cold Coke in
the refrigerator and a package of Lark cigarettes. Dan would come in my office,
put his feet up on the desk, smoke a cigarette, drink a Coke, and talk about the
Cincinnati Reds. Insofar as any of the dealings I had to deal with with the Herald
Publishing Company, they were harsh dealings. Dan would always say, give
them what they want. Then I became a sort of acerbic thorn in the Miami Herald
Publishing Company's side. Things got too overwhelming for me. I was handling
business, newsroom, and editorial page, and A) I wasn't up to it, and B) I'm not
sure I was qualified. At one point I appealed to Cox for help, and that's when they
brought Dave Kraslow in as full time publisher as the Miami News. That was in
1977, I think.
P: You became editor in 1976. Discuss your editorial policy in general. Did it change
from what Bill Baggs did?
K: I tried to keep it the same as Bill's. I'm not sure I did [succeed]. I'm not as liberal
as Bill. I consider myself more moderate. In fact, I consider myself pretty liberal
on domestic issues, but somewhat conservative on international [issues]. But
nevertheless, we had an editorial board, as newspapers do, and editorial boards
are phony things. Editors create editorial boards in their own image. You don't
bring in another editor on your editorial board. I remember I got on the editorial
board of the Miami News when I was executive sports editor. Baggs asked me
one day to become a member of the editorial board. I said, well, what do you
want me on your editorial board for? He said, well, I've made some mistakes and
I've got too many right-wingers. He wanted another vote on his side. So my
editorial board was essentially moderate to liberal people. I tried to run what I call
a democratic editorial board.
P: Were there some outside people on the board?
K: No, sir.
P: They were all newspaper people.
K: [They were] all paper [personnel], all editorial page [personnel]. I did not want the
newsroom involved in decision making on opinion. I really believe in that
separation of newsroom to editorial. No, they were my editorial writers. I certainly
had veto power over any decision the editorial board had, and certainly the
publisher, Kraslow, had veto power over that. But you had to be very careful
when using that veto power. In my years as editor of the Miami News I used it
once, and it was over a silly little state house representative endorsement. That
was it. But the board, again, was probably more liberal than I am, but in the
tradition of the Miami News and Bill Baggs, I felt that we should stay that way.
That was just the way I felt. It's strange to say that because before Bill Baggs, the
Miami News was not a liberal newspaper; it was anything but. It was a red-
baiting [staunchly anti-communist] newspaper. I remember in the early 1950s,
this paper did red-baiting like you can't believe.
P: A big fan of Joe McCarthy [U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, 1947-1957].
P: Did you write editorials, or did you just write your columns?
K: I only wrote my columns. I read every editorial before it appeared in the paper. I
approved every editorial, suggested changes and so on and so forth. After going
through a series of editorial page editors, one who was handed to me by Dan
Mahoney. I couldn't believe it, just handed to me without my interviewing him, I
wound up with a fellow named Lou Salome, who was my editorial page editor for
most of the time. He was great. He just retired from Cox, and he and I are very
close. He would go through these editorials himself. Our editorial board meetings
in the morning would not just read things, we would really discuss the issues.
There were a lot of issues that we came down on that I wasn't necessarily in
favor of, but I accepted them. If you can't tolerate it, that's another matter. It's
rare that I came to intolerable positions. So Lou would bring the stuff in to me and
then I would make the final approval, and I was responsible for it. The publisher
did not ask to see the editorials.
P: How important was an editorial endorsement for political office by the Miami
K: [It] was, in years earlier, quite important. In the later years [it was] not important
because, in the first place, we were the darling of the community's liberals, and
they were a fast shrinking group. I mean the Cubans were not liberals; they were
anything but. So there was a small cadre. Those are the same people who tell
me today that they miss the Miami News. I always say to them, if all of you who
say you miss the Miami News really bought the Miami News, we'd still be in
business. Before the editorial board, when Dan Mahoney, Sr. was publisher, he
was with the paper in the 1920s and through into the 1960s, there wasn't any
need for an editorial board. You [had] to pass muster with Dan Sr.; Big Irish, they
called him. If he endorsed you, if the Miami News endorsed you, remember in
those days this was a Democratic town, with the Democratic primary tantamount
to an election. So when Dan Mahoney told us through the paper who to endorse
in the Democratic primary, that was a lot of points in this town. Years later,
neither the Herald's or the News's endorsements, I don't think, meant a damn. I
don't think the Herald's endorsements today mean a damn.
I remember the strangest thing, we operated independent of each other, we had
nothing between us, yet we both endorsed John Anderson for president [in
1980]. The public said, oh, these guys sleep together and all that. I wasn't a big
fan of John Anderson for president; it was a statement. That's the question, when
you endorse are you saying, this person is the person we think can win, or is this
the person we think is best. We like to say at the news it was the guy who we
think is best.
P: But obviously John Anderson had no chance of winning.
K: [He had] no chance of winning. It was a wasted endorsement. I'm always of the
position, and my editorial [page editor] Lou Salome disagreed with me, that if we
didn't think either guy was worth a damn, take a pass. But Lou said, no, you've
got to guide them on something. So when we came to that position where we
had to guide them on something even though we [didn't like anyone], we said it
P: It might have some impact on local offices, judges and that sort of thing, where
the individual citizen probably doesn't know very much about them.
K: Well, the reporters take care of that, not the editorial writers. Like in the judicial
thing, you get a judge into the editorial board meeting [and it] is the biggest waste
of time in the world. [The judicial candidate would say,] I can't respond to that
because of the canon five and all that sort of stuff, and you sit there and
[wonder], why am I listening to this thing? Meanwhile the reporters are out getting
the stories about how many appeals these guys have been reversed on and this
and that and so on and so forth, so it's the reporters who are really doing the
story on the judges. I don't think the editorial writers are doing anything with the
judges. I think it's a silly waste of time.
P: I remember the Miami Herald did something called Operation Broom Sweep, and
they found a lot of the judges taking bribes. Did you do a lot of what we would
call investigative reporting?
K: Oh, yes, we did a lot of investigative reporting, but we didn't have the resources
to do six tons of it. My city side consisted of twenty reporters covering
everywhere from Ft. Lauderdale to Florida City. [That's] thirty-seven
municipalities and I've only got twenty reporters, and that's not counting fender
benders and murders. So you can't get all that investigative stuff done. Of course
investigative reporting sometimes will take a year or two years on one story.
P: Talk about your columns. What did you write about?
K: [I wrote about] any damn thing I pleased. I loved that. I would write sometimes
about my kids, which I'm sure people couldn't stand. I would write about a cup of
coffee. I used to love to write about health, medicine, and the hypocrisy of all
these studies, whether this is with bad cholesterol or so on and so forth. But
obviously most of the stuff I wrote was on national and local affairs.
P: Were they mainly human interest stories?
K: No, hard, nasty columns. In fact, Maurice Ferre, when he was mayor of Miami, I
really went after [him] on a few things even though I liked him. He just kept going
into Overtown trying to get votes. They kept saying, well, when are we going to
get this and when are we going to get this, and he kept saying, next time, next
time, next time. I went after him.
P: So your columns would be somewhat like Carl Hiaasen writes.
K: Yes, or DeFede or whatever his name is. I remember when McMullan retired
from the Herald, somebody asked Ferre for a reaction. Ferre said, well, now that
leaves Howard Kleinberg as the nastiest man in town. But I've since made up
P: Ultimately in writing your columns you became interested in the history of Miami
and Dade County.
K: I've always had a sense of history, any newspaper man's got to have a sense of
history. What got me involved in history was when the Cuban migration came in.
I told you I was born in New York, but I'm not a New Yorker, I'm a Floridian. I've
grown to be an anti-New Yorker. I hate to say that, but I have. I keep saying I'm
an accident of birth. But Miami had no roots. You'd go to somebody and say,
where are you from? They'd say, I'm from Cleveland. Well how long have you
been living here? [They'd say], sixty years. Well, when the hell are you going to
be from Miami? Right after I became editor I brought in a managing editor in
named Gloria Anderson. [She's a] really sharp woman who is now with a New
York Times Syndicate. She was one of those people that didn't like editors out in
the newsroom. I sort of lost the war. Kraslow, the publisher, sided with her [and
said], stay out of the newsroom, Howard. It got a little boring. I said, God, there's
got to be something for me to do that's productive besides being the editor of this
paper. I was starting to get bothered by all this lack of roots in Miami, so I
suggested that I write about six articles on successive Saturdays about the
history of Miami just to let people know their roots. God, it was a hit! They went
from 1980 until the last day of the Miami News every Saturday. I think it was 300
and some odd consecutive [stories].
P: I have that it was 398.
K: [It was] something like that, yes. Where are you getting all this stuff? (Laughing)
It became a hit, and I became known more as a historian than as an editor. I
don't know whether that's insulting or not, but ...
P: Well, since I'm a historian, I think it's a compliment.
K: My line was, when I talked to groups, and even when I wrote, was that the
crackers in Miami think this town began in 1896, which it did. I said, the Yankees
and those World War II guys think this town began in 1946, and the Cubans think
it began in 1960. I said, well, the truth of the matter is it began in 1513 when
Ponce [de Leon] came in for a drink of water. (Laughing) That's where I started.
This history thing just grew. Then they asked me to put out an anthology of some
of my columns in a book, Miami: The Way We Were. And God almighty, the
orders were unbelievable. It wound up in its third printing. I still get people asking
me for the book. If you go on Amazon [.com on the internet], somebody's asking
$144 for the book. It's a $25 book and I got plenty for $144. (Laughing) Certainly
the people who seized the most on it were the long time Miamians, there's no
doubt about it. I'm catering to a dying breed.
But lately, and that had a lot to do with this Miami High book [Stingaree Century] I
just did, what we call the Hispanics of Miami have become interested in it too,
and why not? They've been here for forty years. There are kids who have been
born here who have names like Gonzalez, but they've been here longer than
some of those Yankees that came down from New Rochelle [New York] and they
have a greater sense of roots. So I find that more people are discovering the
roots of a local history than have in the past. I think it's prevalent in that there's a
lot of books coming out now. People are writing books on Miami history, about
pioneer Miamians, and so on and so forth. I think that's good. When this Miami
High book came out, I had about five or six readings or whatever you want to call
them, book signing and book sales. I find that the interest is great and I find
there's many Hispanics as well as Anglos, which I hate to be called. I've never
heard of an Anglo named Kleinberg, but I'm an Anglo. [Laughing.]
P: When you look back on your newspaper career, what do you see as the most
important functions of a newspaper?
K: [The most important function of the newspaper is the] dissemination of news.
This thing about biased news, can I get into that?
K: Yes, reporters essentially are liberal in their earlier years, they change later on,
but you've got copy editors and assistant editors and managing editors who try to
make sure that that bias doesn't creep in. I think that in most cases where people
see bias in news stories, what they're really seeing is stupidity, mistakes, [and]
errors. [It's] not an intent by the writer to divert somebody's thinking.
P: Do you mean lack of research and factual support?
K: [It's] bad writing. There's a southern journalism education group, I forget what
they're called, but I went up to the University of Kentucky [during the Vietnam
War] for a week with a bunch of editors. It had to do with bias in Vietnam
reporting. The program was that somebody came in and read off a bunch of
facts, so many killed, name of the place, and all the basic facts, no adjectives,
and now each of us was to go up to our little corner and write this story. We put
out a little sheet of paper, it was a broad sheet, eight columns, and it was called
As You Like It, and each of our stories appeared. Not one of the eight were alike.
Not one of the eight said the same thing in the lead or anything else, and
everyone of them was said to be biased.
P: Of course.
K: I think that this thing about the biased media is a thing that grows on you. I guess
we've made our own bed with our own stupidities. It's just like anything else, it's a
trendy thing to say that we're biased. [Then] Rush Limbaugh [conservative radio
personality] goes on the air and complains about the media all the time, what the
hell is he? [It was] Spiro Agnew [U.S. Vice-President, 1969-1973] who gave [the
term media] to us. I'm the press. I don't consider the newspaper to be in the
same vein as a television station or a radio station. [It's] certainly not [the same
as] a radio talk host.
P: Do you see newspapers as being "nattering nabobs of negativism", to quote
P: Bush talks about the reporting from the Iraq war [of 2003] being all negative.
K: Yes. [I was talking with] John Keasler [and] we were going through this stuff
about bad news, bad news, we've got to get rid of the bad news. One of my great
ideas, and when I say, great, it's just the opposite, was, we were going to come
out with an edition with no bad news, the good news edition. We even censored
Little Orphan Annie [cartoon] that day. Well, a couple of months earlier there had
been a guy who killed a cop, I forget the guy's name, and there was a manhunt
out for him. Well, just as we're coming out [with the paper], and we had promoted
this good news edition, just as we're going to press with it, we didn't even run the
fight [boxing match] results in the sports section, this guy gets caught in Memphis
in a shoot out with the cops. The city editor comes in to me and says, what the
hell are we going to do? So we came up with a concoction. [In] the lower right
hand corner of the front page we said, this is the news you're not getting today
because we're the good news edition. [So] we talked about this guy that got shot,
the shoot out with the cops, and all that sort of thing. [Laughing.]
P: Actually, it was good news he got caught.
K: Yes. We used to talk about that. John Keasler used to say, what are you going to
use instead in your headline? John and I talked a lot. One day he did a thing, I
can't remember what the occasion was, but he grabbed up a bunch of
newspapers and walked around the copy desk screaming, here you are, here
you are, read all about it, sewer bond vote today in North Miami! News is what it
is. It's things that are out of the ordinary. You say, what's news today? If you say,
nothing, that's not news. Something has to happen to be news.
P: But also there's public information. There's information about healthcare and
there's information about Social Security.
K: Fine, fine. Your paper will last about twenty years less if you keep leading the
paper with that all the time. Again, I'll go back to the original argument of why I
left the Miami News. What was the more important thing, two hundred and
twenty-five Americans killed at la-Drang, or 1,000 Viet Cong [Vietnamese
Communists also known as the People's Liberation Armed Forces in South
Vietnam]. It's good news that 1,000 Viet Cong got killed, but what's the news?
What are you conveying to the public?
P: Do you see a newspaper as the social conscience of the community? You talked
about Bill Baggs and his pro-environmental editorials.
K: You can call it social conscience and I call it holding up a mirror to the community
and saying, here, this is who you are. In fact, my last column in the Miami News
when we went out of business, because it was sort of like an open letter to the
Herald without saying it, was what a newspaper's responsibility was. Do you put
out a newspaper to please the Cuban community, to please the Jewish
community, to please the Catholic community, [or] to please the pro-abortion or
the anti-abortion [community]? No, you hold up the mirror and you say, this is
who you are, this is what's happening in this town, this country, this world, and if
you don't like it, do something about it, but this is who you are. We're not going to
placate anybody on the news pages.
P: But should you take the leadership in trying to provide for a better environment
and, better schools?
K: [You should do it] on the editorial page, yes, [and] also through investigative
reporting in a way. I'll give you an example. Shortly after I became managing
editor, I had to go out and give a talk at a junior high school in the black
neighborhood in Overtown, Booker T. Washington [school]. It was a very cold
January day, very cold. I got to the school and I looked out, and almost all the
windows were broken. The kids were inside, all black, shivering. The clothes they
got, God knows where. I said, this is a horror. I said, now I went to Miami High,
which was built the same year as Booker T., and our school is in magnificent
shape. They'd already spent $600,000 to refurbish the auditorium, it's a
masterpiece, and here's this school [in such disrepair]. So I started writing some
columns about it.
P: I remember Garth Reeves telling me about that school and how they had
secondhand books and desks.
K: [It was] terrible. Even under the worst days of separate but equal [phrase from
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that validated racial
segregation] it wasn't even close. So I started writing columns about it and I was
getting quite a reaction. Then, I went one step further. I said the whole Overtown
thing, what this 1-95 expressway coming through has done, and so on and so
forth, [is sad]. I sent a reporter and a photographer on an investigative thing
about the whole situation in Overtown and what we've done to this place. So
through investigative reporting and presenting this mess, [it] was doing
something to the conscience of the community. Then, the same thing happened
later on in the Hispanic area. There's an elementary school called Riverside
Elementary, which is an historic school. I went out there at the behest of one of
the teachers who called me. There were rats and there was mold. The place was
falling apart. [It was] also from the 1920s. I wrote a series of columns on that
because what it was, the inner city schools, whether it be black or Hispanic, had
no parental pressure. They couldn't bring the pressure onto the school boards
and things like that, so we had to do it, either editorially or through innuendo in
the news stories. But just presenting it, here it is, [helped].
P: Otherwise people would not know about those conditions.
K: Out in the suburbs, the Palmetto High School, the Southidge High School, they're
doing fine because everybody's living in $300,000 homes [and] they've got rich
PTAs [Parent Teacher Associations]. They don't have a PTA at these schools, so
they can't complain about that stuff. I found out a lot of this even more when I
was doing the research on this book of Miami High, which has become an inner
city school. It's ninety-six percent Hispanic, most of them foreign born. [It's] the
same old story that whoever oils the squeaking wheel or makes the most noise,
whatever it is. So we did a lot of that. I was quite proud of that.
P: How did reporters change from the time you started until the time you quit the
K: They all wanted to be columnists the day they got out of college. None of them
wanted to do the obits [obituaries]. It's just amazing. They all finished, they got
this masters degree from Columbia [University in New York], [and] they thought
they were Scotty Reston or Red Smith. It's just amazing. I had a guy, a Columbia
graduate, [who] wanted to live for a week like a migrant because we were doing
pieces on the migrant workers.
P: Wasn't there a Pulitzer Prize for the Palm Beach Post's coverage of migrant
K: Well, we won a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for it.
P: Okay, that's it.
K: But this is a different issue, this is in the 1960s. So he went and lived for a week
down in South Dade somewhere. He came back and I kept waiting for a story out
of him. The first thing I got was an expense account for $300 and some odd
dollars. I said, well, wait a minute, what is this? [He said], well, I had to buy
brooms and I had to buy this and I had to buy that. I said, there's no migrant
that can spend $348 in a week, they don't have that kind of money. The guy
never wrote a story, and I fired him. That's the kind of people [you get
sometimes]. They don't want to do the little things in the beginning. No, that's not
the rule. See the Herald, when it's got its neighbors edition, it takes its young
reporters and puts them out there in neighborhoods so they do the chicken
suppers and things like that. That's good training, but we didn't have that kind of
thing, and a lot of papers don't have that kind of thing. They don't believe in going
out into the hinterlands for about five years working on papers in Ada, Oklahoma,
and things like that before they move up to the big time. They want the main
column on the New York Times op-ed [opinions and editorial] page from day one.
P: They would be probably better educated now than they were previously, would
that be accurate?
K: [They're] far better educated. I'll give you an example, I never went to college. I
came right out of high school and my college was the University of Miami
Newsroom. Even when I was editor, it was very difficult for me to not consider
anybody who didn't have at least a masters degree, and that got them the job as
the copy boy. They really had to be better educated and had to take classes in
political science and all that sort of stuff where I started out taking the dog
[racing] results on the phone, and not a day at college. Well, I spent a week at
Texas Western while I was in the service, but that was it.
P: Has the attitude changed a little bit? I talked to one publisher and he said in the
old days you had these tough, hard-bitten old reporters who'd turn out ten or
twelve stories a day, but as the time has gone on, reporters expect that they
need to do more polishing and more research than they used to do.
K: I can't answer for today's reporter, because you have to understand I haven't run
a newsroom since 1988, but you saw it then. Yes, I think a lot of reporters do ten
stories a day. My son Elidt is from that genre, and he'll do five, six, [or] ten stories
[a day]. He's the kind of guy who will drive around in his car and go to five
attractions in Disney World in the same day in Orlando and come up with five
different travel pieces. There's no depth to it or anything else. So there's
something to be said about a reporter who does five or six stories as to how
much he knows about his subject. But if he's covering a fender bender, a murder,
or something like that, it's in and out, it's the police report. How many reporters
hang out at the police station these days and read the blotter? You [can] get ten
stories off the blotter in five minutes, and they're all one paragraph, two
paragraph things like that. Now they all have to be these in-depth stories. I had a
guy at the news one time [where when] I got a story out of him once every six
months I felt happy. He was doing this in-depth stuff. Yes, they've changed, but
not all have changed. There's still a lot of good guys. There's a guy who's a
sports writer for the Miami Herald, and the only reason why I point it out is
because he's prolific. [He's] a guy named Barry Jackson. He does sports TV stuff
[and] he does regular stories. Everyday you look up and there's a couple of Barry
Jackson's all over the place. That's the old fashioned reporter.
P: How did the audience change from the time you started, say from 1963 to 1988?
K: Well, in the first place, most of them don't have English as their native language
anymore, so that's a big change. A lot of the audience changed because they
bought their papers based on what they thought our political position was on
something, even though they didn't read the editorial page. Much of our audience
today, and I would say at the Herald as well and the Sun Sentinel as well, I can't
speak for the others, is sports based. The sports sections are bigger than the A
sections now, especially in the south Florida area where we've got teams at
every major sport now in the big leagues, plus the University of Miami. You pick
up a Monday Herald and in the A section you've got nothing to read, [but] you've
got two sections of sports. One [is] all about pro football, and the [other is] all
about the rest of the other sports. A lot of the other audience is predicated on
that. Are people buying the paper now to get the stock market? Hell no, they
don't need it anymore.
I'm on the internet all day. I hate to tell you how many papers I'm looking at all
day. So there has to be a reason why you want to read that newspaper, and I
would say in a lot of cases it's the sports section [and] it's the entertainment
news. Look at Time magazine. I was a devoted reader of Time magazine, [but]
I'm letting the subscription run out this month because 50 percent of the
magazine is what I call soft news. It's not a news magazine anymore.
P: It's the same for Newsweek.
K: The Herald runs a segment everyday on page 4A called the People Column. It's
not a people column, it's all about entertainment people. Who's buggering who
and who's on this drug and who's marrying who. I keep telling the people at the
Herald, would you stop calling it the people column, it's the celebrity column. But
everybody's celebrity crazy. Look at these shows on TV on celebrities, and these
reality shows. So newspapers, those who want to be successful, tailor their
coverage patterns to those markets.
[End of side A2]
P: Do you see the audience as less sophisticated, they want to be entertained as
opposed to educated?
K: I guess the overall answer would be yes, unless you're reading the New York
Times or the Washington Post or the Washington Times or the Chicago Tribune
or papers like that. So many other papers just want to entertain you and want you
to agree with them and love them.
P: Those papers you mentioned are generally considered the best papers in the
country and they spend a lot of time on foreign news and investigative reporting,
so obviously there is an audience for that.
K: Right, but you see, the New York Times, which has tremendous resources,
they've got that audience, and yet they can also give you a ton of entertainment
news and soft news and book reviews and things like that, but not at the expense
of the news coverage. There were periods in the last years of the Miami News
where we had to take news hole cuts based on loss of advertising or whatever.
The word was, you don't touch the sports pages. Cut the A hole, cut the local
news hole, cut everywhere but the sports pages.
P: Many papers just pull the story off the AP [Associated Press] wire and take the
story and reduce it by half and put it in the paper, and that's all you get. For a lot
of people, that's all they want.
K: That's true. I remember when USA Today first came out, somebody interviewed
Gene Patterson. Gene was editor of the St. Pete[rsburg] Times at the time. They
asked Gene what he thought of USA Today, and his response was, it's bad
television. That's a great line. It's all they want, sound bytes.
P: What do you think of USA Today?
K: I don't read it that much. When I'm out of town, I read it. It's a traveler's
newspaper. Do I read it for its news? If I'm out of the country, it's very important
to me because I don't have a local newspaper to pick up. But, if I'm in the United
States and I'm traveling around, San Diego or Chicago, I'll pick it up for sports.
P: For sports, it's probably as good as any paper, isn't it?
K: It's superb. Their business section is good. Their general news section doesn't
do a thing for me. Then their state by state thing is the silliest thing. I only look at
Florida; I don't look at Montana or New York. I read some innocuous thing from
Pensacola and I said, what the hell has this got to do with me?
P: They do some investigative reporting now, but not a lot.
K: My former lifestyle editor is the editor of that paper, Karen Jurgensen.
P: It was innovative in terms of the stories that jumped and the color and the
weather maps and all that.
K: It's caused so many newspapers to expend fortunes now putting out color comics
when black and white was just fine for many years. USA [Today] has changed a
lot with all these little brief columns, short things, and sound bytes. And yes, I
think the public has lost its ability, well, it hasn't lost it, just generations change,
it's a different generation now and they couldn't care less about in-depth stories
about educational situations at Booker T. Washington High School. They want to
know about Paris Hilton and her sexual exploits, who I never heard of until she
P: And now they have a new reality show where she is on a farm.
K: My wife watched that the other day. It's only a half hour, I didn't watch it. She
said, it's the saddest excuse for anything that she's ever seen.
P: And it drew a huge audience.
K: And a prurient interest.
P: When I asked about the greatest competition with newspapers, one publisher
told me, rather than saying television, that it was time and convenience. She said
what people want is a limited source of information.
K: We're such a rushed society now. We're working more hours. We have so many
things [going on]. We've got the soccer moms and the kids that have got to go off
to dancing lessons and all. Nobody's got time to sit down and read the paper as
a person would. I devote my Sunday mornings to the Sunday New York Times
and the Miami Herald. It takes me about two hours to go through the Herald and
about five hours to go through the New York Times, but I have leisure time on
Sunday morning. Even me in a retired state, what do I have time for now? Well,
I'm an early riser, so at six in the morning I'm out there and I'm reading the
Herald and I'm through with it fairly quickly these days. But there are other
people who are just getting up and they've got to get the kids off to school,
they've got to have breakfast, and then they themselves have to go off to their
personal trainer or whatever they're doing. They don't have time. Then you get
down into the evening and mom's working, so she's got to put together dinner
and dad's got to help her with dinner, and they don't have time to read the
Herald, and oh, Peter Jennings [anchor of ABC's World News Tonight] is on now,
we'll hear it from him.
P: What's the future of the newspaper as we know it now?
K: I have said for a lot of years, and I'm certainly not an expert on these kind of
things, that I think that maybe beyond my lifetime, but not far beyond it, that we
will wind up with about five or six major regional newspapers. Again, [it will be]
the Washington Post, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, [and the] LA [Los
Angeles] Times. I don't know whether it's [going to be] the Atlanta Constitution or
the Miami Herald, [but] I doubt [it will be] the Miami Herald because of this
community. They'll be the major [papers], but the rest of the papers are going to
have to retreat to very local news because that's what television can't give them
[and] that's what the internet doesn't give them. Sylvan Meyer back in 1968 may
have been right when he tried to turn the Miami News that way. Miami wasn't
ready for it at the time, but it may evolve to that.
P: That's why local weekly papers are successful.
K: Yes, a lot of weekly papers are successful, but some of them are the worst trash
in the world. It's one of those buy an ad, get a story things. They're just terrible.
We have a series of them here in this town that are just embarrassing.
P: Somebody told me that it might eventually be that a subscriber could make an
agreement with the newspaper so that if I want the editorials, the comics, and the
sports, they would print it out at your printer every day. You would get some
portion of the paper because you say, I don't want the ads, I don't want the stock
market, or whatever. Is that possible?
K: I think it's probable. I have to tell you that going back into the 1960s, when I was
managing editor, there was a combine [of] Cox Newspapers, the Washington
Post, the [New York] Times newspapers and a couple others [that] had got this
thing going where they were going to try to do a Japanese paper. They were
working on a thing where you would call up just whatever page of the newspaper
you wanted to print out. I can do that right now with the New York Times front
page on the internet and not have to pay a dime. That's the next question, when
are newspapers going to stop giving it away for free on the internet, because
more and more people are seeing that they can get everything they want from
any paper in the world free on the internet, or most of them [are] free. One by
P: However, there's still an advantage, I think, in a good newspaper. Let's say you
get the Washington Post, it's advantageous they have all of that news right there
for you and you don't have to work your way through the internet and search
what you want.
K: That's very true, but as the internet becomes more accessible and we learn how
to do things more, that may not be the case. I don't know, we may be able to
print them out [soon]. They're coming out specifically [with] internet editions. You
call up your internet edition and you get a lot of promos telling you what stories
are inside, so you pick and choose right now, and whether you want the whole
page printed out I don't know. But everyday I read online the Sun Sentinel [and]
the New York Times; I only buy the Times on Sunday. I'll read papers depending
on what story I'm looking for from anywhere. I can look at all the New York
papers, all the Chicago papers, [or] small town papers in Texas for things. It's
just a great research tool, and more and more people are going to discover it.
P: I understand how important Pulitzer Prizes are for newspapers. How important
were they for the Miami News. I know, from talking with Don Wright, that he won
two Pulitzers while he was there. The Miami News didn't get enough awards to
save the paper, but they were still important I presume.
K: I guess within the newsroom it's important. I'm not sure the public gives a damn,
I'm just not sure. In fact, I was so impressed by the time we won our fifth, which
was Don Wright's last, that I made it a standing ear on the front page, "Five Time
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize," and I had a reproduction of the gold medal on the
cover and all that. I don't know that anybody bought the paper [because] they
said, oh, that paper won five Pulitzer Prizes, I'll buy it. I don't think so.
P: But certainly professionally it's a big deal.
K: Within the paper, oh, [it's] very important.
P: Have you ever been involved in the choosing of Pulitzer Prize winners?
K: I've never been on the Pulitzer committee if that's what you mean. I have a thing
about the Pulitzer Prize. I am so tired of reading some of the stories about people
being Pulitzer Prize nominees. I mean, what does it take to be a Pulitzer Prize
nominee? It takes a simple letterhead from your editor. So every year there are
1,300 [nominees]. I am a Pulitzer Prize nominee; I wouldn't dare tell anybody
[that]. What has that got to do [with anything]? Things like that [irritate me].
P: For the public who doesn't know, it sounds impressive? It sounds like you were
runner-up or something.
K: Right, but that's distortion. Well, now they've got New York Times Pulitzer Prize
finalists. That has some significance, but I don't think the public knows the
difference between a finalist and a nominee.
P: They don't know. How did the letters to the editors change during your time with
the news, and how important were they?
K: They certainly became more acerbic based on our editorial positions. There's a
wonderful book out, and if you haven't seen it, I've got it here somewhere. It's
called Shocked and Appalled. It's 150 years of letters to the editor of the Toronto
Globe and Mail. It is the most delightful reading. I loaned it to somebody once
and I never got it back, and I went and paid an outrageous price at some out of
print book place for it. It's interesting, letters to the editor are only as good as
they are edited. How many people have told you they wrote a letter to the editor
and the editors cut it so short that their point wasn't made. That's what you're
seeing a lot of now because they are trying to get more and more letters in on a
page. So the nuance of a letter, if it's a serious thing, a lot of it can be lost in the
editing of the letter. Now the Herald is doing something which I find both
interesting and disinteresting. In its Sunday Neighbors section they have
consecutive pages, I think three or four, of letters, really they're soap boxes, of
people writing about local issues, about the zoning thing in Palmetto Bay and all
that. The Herald lets them run on and on and on interminably. I mean, they're
jumping for God's sakes. So while it's interesting where you finally get to hear the
public's position on an issue in depth, sometimes it's too deep and I sort of get
turned off. I was reading last Sunday's [and] somebody went on and on and on.
P: When you were editor, there was somebody who chose the letters and then
made sure they were able to fit in to the printed page?
K: Priority one is, you don't run a letter that's complimentary to the paper, unless it's
congratulations on the Pulitzer [laughing]. But that was priority one. We don't
want to hear what they like about the paper, we want to know what they don't like
about the paper or what they feel about issues in the community. Priority two is,
[you should have] no two letters from the same person within six months. You've
got these people that just write and write and write. Then comes the editing and
the brevity. In the first place, some people can't even put a sentence together
and you really have to edit it to make it understandable, and then they'll say, well,
you distorted my thing and things like that. I read letters to the editor everyday. I
think it's great. But these in-depth letters are getting a little too deep for me in the
Neighbors section of the Herald.
P: Did you have an op-ed page in your paper?
K: We had an op-ed page. The New York Times did not discover op-ed pages as
they claim they did. No, we had op-ed pages, and that's a major change in
newspapers today, I'm glad you brought that up. We used our op-ed page
essentially for nationally syndicated columnists. We had a great stable. The
Miami News had the New York Times syndicated columnists and so on and so
forth, so you got a lot of varying view points. Also we sometimes put in a piece
about an issue, nuclear disarmament or whatever, that's not from a syndicated
columnist. That is changing. What you're finding in a lot of papers now, I know
the Atlanta Constitution [and] the Miami Herald [are doing it], is, you're having a
lot of local input stories. [For example], the head of this commission on this is
writing why this is good, you've got the pros and cons, and the syndicated
columnists [are in there less]. I haven't seen Art Buchwald in the Herald in years.
You don't see a lot of these [columnists like William] Safire. The Herald gets New
York Times' wire service, [but] you don't see those Times columnists in there
because it's mostly local.
P: Is it too costly?
K: No, they've already bought it. They buy the service. No, they want more of a local
input. It seems to me that local issues have started to take over on op-ed pages.
Well, we don't care what you're thinking in Iraq, we already got that with fighting
with somebody online in the chat room on Iraq. [They say], we want to know
about should Miami build a new baseball stadium with taxpayer money. Alright,
George Will [syndicated conservative columnist] isn't going to comment on that,
so you get pros and cons. I wrote a national column for Cox Newspapers from
before 1988-2001, three a week. I never appeared on the op-ed page of the
Atlanta Constitution. I don't think it's because I was a crappy writer. In fact, I kept
winning the Best of Cox Columns Award. What I was writing about couldn't get in
because in Atlanta they want to run stories on Atlanta-based issues. I don't know
how these syndicated columnists are making it anymore because there's so
many of them and so few of them being used.
P: How important are comics to a newspaper? When you were editor, who made
K: This stupid individual made the choice, [and] most of them were bad. I have
never been a comics reader, and therefore I never should have been the one
making this choice. As the news hole kept shrinking, I kept shrinking comic strips
to the point where they weren't readable. In the first place, the way the
syndicates work is that they go first to the paper of dominant circulation. This was
a two newspaper town, so whatever guy came in to me to sell me a comic strip, I
knew had already been turned down by the Herald. I had him. He couldn't tell
me, well, I'm going to take this to the Herald then, because I knew he'd already
been there. Then he would tell me how much it cost to put out this thing and [I
would tell him] how terrible my circulation is. So the negotiations would begin.
Lots of times I think I was buying comic strips based on price, and the quality
[showed]. Although George Beebe, when he was managing editor of the Herald,
and he was a great guy, always used to bemoan to me that he let B.C. [comic
strip by Johnny Hart] slip through his hands into my hands. He didn't think B.C.
was very good, and then they came to me and I bought them for a nickel or
whatever it was. I think comic strips are important to newspapers, [but] I'm not
one of those guys. And yet look at the New York Times.
P: They have none, but the Washington Post has many comic strips.
K: I don't look at the Washington Post that often, so I can't comment. It's very
important to readers, and I tell you, cancel a comic and you'll know.
P: You'll hear more about that than your editorial probably.
K: Oh, lord!
P: One of the things I wanted to talk about, I believe it was in the 1973 Arab-Israeli
War, you went for five weeks to the Middle East to do some reporting.
K: [That was] 1968.
P: It was 1968? Okay, I'm sorry, I missed that.
K: I'll tell you why I did that. The only thing I had ever written before I became
managing editor was stupid little sports stories. I'd never covered anybody
getting killed, I'd never covered conflict or hard news stories. So what happened
was, I got an invitation from [a Jewish organization]. I forget the name of the
Jewish organization, United Jewish Appeal or whatever it is, [but they offered me]
a free trip to Israel for three weeks. In those days it wasn't taboo to take freebies,
although I was one of the leaders in eliminating freebies later on. I said, well, this
is a mission. [Maybe the name of the organization was] Greater Miami Jewish
Federation. I was on a mission to Israel. No, it was [a] national [organization]
because it was guys from all over the country.
P: This was right after the 1967 war?
K: Right, the war was over but it wasn't over. There was still shooting. I said, gee,
we've had people go there already and they keep writing the same damn stories
about the kibbutz [communal settlement] and the women in the army. I am not a
Zionist [Israeli nationalist]. Hardly. I'm a believer in Israel's right to exist, but I'm
not a Zionist. So I said, well, why the hell would I want to go to write the same old
crap? I said, but, maybe if I went to the Arab side. If I go out there and I talk to
Israelis and I talk to Arabs on the same question, on both sides, I'll be able to
come up with something that's different than the annual mission. So I wrote the
Jordanian embassy in Washington saying I had an opportunity to go to Israel, but
I didn't want to just do the Israeli thing, and if they could give me the names and
phone numbers of some Palestinians in the [Israeli-]occupied territory, I'd like to
interview them. I got a letter back. I got all of this in a scrapbook in my room by
the way. I got a letter back saying, we appreciate your position, [but] we don't
really want to expose people in the occupied territories for fear of reprisal. [But
they said], but if you want to hear our side, come on over, we're inviting you to
come to Jordan. He had spoken to the ambassador of Egypt, and they said I
could go on to Egypt from there.
So, I went back in and I said to Baggs or Sylvan Meyer, I don't know who, that I
got this opportunity and I want to take it. So I did that. I went over there and they
told me that when I get finished with Israel [I could come over]. The Israelis took
me up to the Suez Canal [in Egypt] because the Israelis still had [territory] up to
there. Here I am, I have a Marine Corps discharge, I've got an Army discharge,
[but] nobody ever shot at me. Now I'm in a bunker on the Suez Canal and I'm
getting shelled, for three hours I'm getting shelled, terrible pounding from across
the other side of the canal, and there's two Israeli soldiers in the bunker with me
studying for their law exams. They [were] immune to this stuff, [but] I'm not.
Anyhow, so I did that. They said when I get through [to] go to the Allenby Bridge,
which wasn't the Allenby Bridge anymore, it was a pontoon bridge, and there will
be somebody on the other side in a jeep to take me on to Amman [Jordan] So I
talked the Israelis into taking me out to the bridge, which was open until two
o'clock in those days, I don't know what it is now, [but] it was opened till two in
the afternoon because the Arabs, the Palestinians, were allowed to traffic back
and forth across the river because the West Bank had the produce and the
vegetables, so they allowed them to have them. It's amazing, they had the
guards standing next to each other in the center of the bridge, the Israeli and the
Jordanians. At two o'clock in the afternoon, boom, they both leave each other,
each one stands behind his respective sandbag and points the rifle at the same
guy he was standing next to for five hours. It's so crazy.
So anyhow, I didn't tell my parents I was going. My mother would have had a
heart attack. Of course, my wife knew. Then Egypt, or the UAR [United Arab
Republic], and Jordan, did not have relations with the United States, they had
broken off relations, so I didn't have an embassy to run to if I got in trouble.
P: That was Gamal Abdul Nasser [President of Egypt, 1952-1967].
K: Yes. So I got to the bridge, the Israelis drove me to the bridge. I remember there
was a guy named Isaac Austrian, a hard name not to remember and he had a
very gruff voice. [He said], give my regards to Hussein [King of Jordan,
1952-1999], and he left me standing there. I'm standing in front of this bridge and
I've got a small suitcase, portable typewriter, and a small tape recorder, and I'm
looking at the other side. The Israelis are gone and I don't see any jeep, but I do
see an old Mercedes sedan. So I start walking of course, and I'm talking in the
tape, and I have the tape still, and my voice is quivering. I'm talking to myself,
and then some Arab woman comes across and she starts screaming at
somebody and I'm hollering, don't holler lady, you're getting everybody upset.
Anyhow, what the hell was I doing walking across that bridge? And I went and I
got to the other side and a guy in civilian clothes comes over and he said, are
you Mr. Kleinberg? I said, yes. He says, how are you doing? My name is R'afat
R'amze, I'm the information minister for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,
welcome. I had a feeling of thank God!
Anyhow, they drove me into Amman past a couple of road blocks. This is when
the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] was a government within a
government in Jordan. I had to endure a couple of road blocks, but I came out all
right. I was in my room and I knew I was being spied on. I had three house boys
sitting in chairs outside my door at the Intercontinental Hotel in Amman. I was
sitting there typing notes. Everything I had done in Israel, all the notes, all the
pictures I had taken, I had shipped back to the United States. I wasn't taking
anything over with me, although I had a copy of the Arab World Magazine, which
the Jordanians tried to impound because they thought it was an Israeli thing. I
said, no, no, it's from you guys, Aramco [A petroleum company]. Anyway, I'm
sitting in my room and all of a sudden I hear cannon fire. I said, what the hell is
going on? I'm still typing and the cannon fire is getting louder and louder. Did I
pick the day that the Israelis were going to invade Jordan? Are they checking into
this frickin hotel? Finally, I open the door and I ran out to the hallway and the
three houseboys, G2 guys, stood up, [and] I said, what is that cannon fire? [They
said], Ramadan [Muslim holy month]. I didn't know beans from Ramadan, and at
the end of the day this same guy went around in a pick up truck with a small
howitzer in the back firing off this cannon to let them know it was time to eat, to
break the fast of Ramadan, but at the time I was clearly panicked.
Anyhow, it was a fascinating trip. I was taken blindfolded to the PLO office and all
kinds of things happened there. I spent a good deal of time with the PLO. They
were called the Fatah [at some point], [but] it was still PLO because I've got the
slip that has the PLO address in Arabic for the cab driver to take me to
blindfolded. I met some interesting people there who were later killed by the
Israelis I know. I went on to Egypt and I came back and wrote this series called,
the "Two Faces of the Middle East," which was not a journalistic success as far
as the community was concerned, but it got me in good stead with my staff. I did
the job, I walked the walk, and that's what I wanted to do.
P: Sometimes you have to build up your credibility with other reporters who've been
in the line of fire.
K: That's what I needed to do. They said, all this guy did was cover the [Joe]
Louis-[Rocky] Marciano fight, why is he managing editor?
P: So this was your baptism [of fire], as it were?
P: How do you get young people to read newspapers today?
K: If I knew, I'd still be in business. I don't have an answer. The answer, I assume,
unfortunately, is, give them more entertainment news. Give them more Brittany
Spears, give them more Paris Hilton, give them more movie reviews, [and] give
them rock music reviews. I hired, I think, the first rock ['n' roll] reviewer that any
daily newspaper ever had. [It was] a guy named Jon Marlow who was just, I
guess, freaky is the word. I said, Jon, if I can understand anything you're writing,
you're fired, and I never did. I had no idea what he was writing about, but it was
all this rock stuff. It was another language. I guess that's what gets young people
reading newspapers. Now hopefully newspapers will be able to figure out the
transition to get them off these rock groups like the Mucus Membrane; I had this
make believe mock rock group called the Mucus Membrane. [Hopefully they can]
start sliding them over into the A section where they can get involved in serious
things, but I don't know who's got the formula for that.
P: When I start a class, and usually these are senior history majors, I ask how many
people read a daily newspaper. Out of fifty there may be one or two or maybe
three students who raise their hands. That's really kind of shocking, isn't it?
K: I had a terrible experience. I guess sometime in the late 1980s I took on a role
one year as an adjunct professor at the University of Miami in journalism. I had
class and I'd start the class off with a ten question news quiz of current events of
the past week. What a dismal failure. They didn't know what was going on. I
was so discouraged that when they asked me to come back for the next
semester, I refused. I said, I can't deal with it. I haven't got the temperament or
patience or anything. I said, these are idiots, they're taking this class for credits,
not for journalism.
P: By the way, how important is a journalism degree for success in the newspaper
K: Again, you're talking to a guy without one. My son has a broadcast journalism
degree and a journalism degree. I've got a daughter with a journalism degree
from the University of Texas. So the degrees are there, they're on the walls, [but
they're] not mine. I've always considered, and I don't know why, people who
have degrees in political science to be more ready for a newspaper than the
J[ournalism]-school program. Don't ask me why, it's intuition. I know that when
Sylvan Meyer was editor of the Miami News and he was on the Pulitzer selection
committee, he'd go off to Columbia every year and recruit half the masters class
from Columbia University's school of journalism and hire them without checking
with me. They'd get them down here and they were dolts. They didn't know a
thing. They didn't even know the five Ws. One of those was the guy that went
out and spent $378 as a migrant worker.
P: So that you believe that a more general liberal arts education is sufficient?
K: I do, or the street of hard knocks. There are lots of times in those days where we
were fighting to get black reporters into the newsroom. I wasn't looking for J
degrees, I was looking for a guy that knew the streets and knew the problems. I
can remember one year I went up to Florida A&M to talk with a journalism class
there. I did my whole spiel and so on and so forth, and when I finished one of the
students came up to me and he said, I see you're wearing a blue star sapphire
ring, I have one, too. He said, that's about all we have in common, and he walked
P: How did you deal with that? Obviously, by the time you became editor there was
a push to get more minorities on the paper.
K: We hired some who, while they did not have the credentials, became fairly
decent. None of them were great, I will tell you that, because I didn't have that
many great reporters in the last years of the paper, white or black.
P: What about Hispanic reporters?
K: We had some fairly decent Hispanics, [but] they had a language problem. I had a
fellow named Leo Suarez who was my sports editor who died of a heart attack
very young. Leo was a great sports editor [and] a great writer, but you had to
read his copy carefully because he was raised in another language. There were
just errors not of quality writing, but errors because it was a second language,
that happens. Why does Elie Wiesel [Author and Nobel Peace Prize recipient]
write in French and not in English? Because he'd probably have a problem [in
English]. Anyhow, we had some black reporters who we hired who not only were
unqualified, but they couldn't write their way out of a paper bag and they didn't
know how to go out and do a story. We tried extra hard with them. But we had
the same thing with some white reporters. I remember once I hired an outdoors
editor who had all the great credentials, including Life magazine, [but] he couldn't
put together a simple declarative sentence. It was just a horror. We did a lot
through our intern programs. That was very helpful.
P: So you had one with Florida A&M?
K: We did not have an intern program with A&M. The Miami News did not have an
intern program with any university because the universities preferred to deal with
the Miami Herald [and] the St. Pete[rsburg] Times. It was sort of like the comic
strip salesman, we took what was left over, not in a formal way. But I had Ana
Veciana-Suarez, who has turned out to be a superb columnist for the Herald and
a novelist now, she was an intern for me from the University of South Florida.
This fellow Mario Garcia, who again is the world's leading re-designer of
newspapers, was an intern for me also from the University of South Florida. We
got a lot from the University of South Florida in those days.
P: What about women in the newsroom? How did that change over the time you
K: When I first joined the Miami News, there were women reporters on the paper
who were the stars of the paper. Were they the management? No. In those days
when I first joined the Miami News, you had to be from Georgia to be any kind of
a department head. I think I was the first non-Georgian to become a department
head when I became executive sports editor in 1957. I think I was the first
non-Georgian to ever do that. But it was a slow climb [for women], obviously, but
I think women have had a greater opportunity in journalism than in most other
fields. I'm not talking about the women's department off on the side, I'm talking
about as reporters. When I joined the News, the star reporters were women like
Rose Mallory Rice and Bella Kelly, who still lives around here, and people like
that. They were the star reporters. They were all Brenda Starrs [comic strip
character]. When did they first start achieving department head status? Well,
they always had it in the women's department, that's for sure. Later on some of
them became assistant city editors and so on. I hired, in my period as editor, two
female managing editors. [I hired] Gloria Brown Anderson and Reisinger. Janet
Chosmir was managing editor of the Herald in the 1980s. I think they had greater
opportunity than in other things. It wasn't that thing about women can't run a
newsroom or can't run the city desk or can't run the business section, because
they have. If you ask me who was the first female executive we had, I have no
idea because it didn't matter, it didn't mean that much, at least [it didn't] to me.
P: In many other papers in the state, it was an old boy's club, and a lot of women
were not given the opportunity [to advance].
K: Miami was a different [environment]. Miami's not Jacksonville or Tampa. I
remember when I first started out there were places like the Florida Times Union
and the Tampa Times and papers like that, and the Tribune, [that] were different
worlds. I know that. Frankly, if you were Jewish you couldn't get into one of
those papers either. So things change.
P: How important was it for you as an editor to be involved in community affairs?
Did you feel like you needed to be in the Rotary Club or on the board of the Boy
Scouts or that sort of thing?
K: No, no, I didn't. When Jack Tarver was the boss at Cox Newspapers in Atlanta,
he was very unhappy with me about that, but I don't believe we should have
because I think something like that would have influenced our editorial people
and so on. No, I did not belong to any of those things. I didn't become a member
of the Orange Bowl Committee, which is a good old boy's club here too, until it
was announced that the Miami News was folding. Of course, I don't think
anybody nominated me either, but I never belonged to any of those things.
P: Did you do that because of a possible conflict of interest?
K: Yes, [that's why I didn't join any community clubs]. Let me give you an example,
and I hate to talk about a dead man. When Sylvan Meyer was editor of the paper,
in those days, if you remember the buy-out of Lockheed, it was a big issue.
K: Sylvan had our editorial page support the buy-out, which I thought was unusual
for the Miami News' tradition and Sylvan's basic liberalism. [It didn't make any
sense to me] until one day I saw he was reading the stock market pages. One
thing led to another, [and I discovered] he had stock in Lockheed. What a
conflict. That's another thing I will tell you, I never owned a stock when I was
editor of the Miami News. I never owned them before because I couldn't afford
them, and when I became editor, because of the Sylvan Meyer experience, I
never owned a stock because I could be held up to conflict of interest. This is
what led to my big change from being a guy that took a freebie to Israel to do
those things, [to] putting in a very stringent no freebie policy at the paper,
including things like that on donations to political campaigns. I gave my first
money to a political campaign just this year. In all my years [I've never given
money] because I was writing columns and things like that. I never bought an
Israeli bond because of what that implies.
P: Even if there's no inherent bias, it gives the appearance of a bias.
K: Absolutely, or you never know what's going to come back and haunt you ten
years from now. You just don't know.
P: Did you ever get any pressure from advertisers based on an editorial that you
wrote or your paper wrote?
K: I can tell you that it can go back as far as sports. [For example], we got pressure
from a dog track because they didn't feel we were carrying enough stories about
dog tracks. They pulled their advertising, whereupon I pulled what little they were
getting until they got back in line. We got tremendous pressure from the Jewish
community. We had a syndicated columnist named Georgianne Geyer, who is
quite Arabic in her ways. That's what an op-ed page is supposed to be for,
divergent viewpoints, but people don't see it that way. We got a tremendous
amount of pressure, and cancellations, not only of advertising but of
subscriptions, that we should get rid of Georgianne Geyer. Well, I didn't like
Georgianne Geyer either, and then I found out she was doing some things for the
USIA [United States Information Agency] and I wrote a column about it and I
wanted to fire her. Not only was Georgianne doing it, but I found some other
newspaper people doing it and I did the piece on it. I couldn't fire her because I
didn't want these people to think they'd won. I kept her on for another couple of
years until the pressure eased, and then I dropped her. I didn't fire her; I dropped
her column. In fact [someone wrote on] that whole issue, some right-winger wrote
a book about that kind of stuff, and one of the chapters is about me and the
Georgianne Geyer issue. I had known Georgianne [before]. I didn't tell you.
When I finally got to Egypt after trucking through Jordan and all that I was met at
the hotel by Geyer. They were having a party for me on a houseboat in the Nile
River across from the Nile Hilton. Of course, it turns out I was the first journalist
to succeed in this game of going from Israel into Jordan.
P: Because at that time it was forbidden.
K: Yes. I meant to tell you, at the time when the Jordanians invited me they said,
look, when you get through in Israel take a plane to Cyprus down to Beirut
[Lebanon] and so on and so forth. I said, I'm not playing your game, I can pee
across the Jordan River.
P: Well you could go through the old Mandelbaum Gate, could you not?
K: Mandelbaum Gate, where's that?
P: That was in the center of Jerusalem.
K: No, no, [that was in] occupied territories. The Israelis already had the West Bank
up to the Jordan River; the Mandelbaum Gate was nothing. Anyhow, I told the
Jordanians, I said, look, I'm not going to play this game. I said, I'm either going to
cross that bridge or I'm not going at all, it's up to you, and so they acquiesced. So
when I got to Egypt, these people threw a party for me. [It was] Georgianne, I
don't know whether she was based in Cairo at the time or not, [and] a guy named
Rosenberg, who was an AP reporter on the Middle East. We had a grand old
time and I turned out to be some sort of a hero even though I didn't know I was
being some sort of a hero. But anyhow, that began my association with
Georgianne. Then she and I sort of got a little bitter with each other over the
USIA stuff, which I thought to be a terrible conflict.
P: What about the new changes in the newspaper business? For example, the key
word nowadays is a converged newsroom, where you have the Tampa Tribune
and WFLA television sharing reporters and sharing information. The Sarasota
paper is online [and] they have their version of SNN/CNN [Cable News Network].
How do you see that changing newspapers?
K: I don't see that changing them at all. I think in the newspaper business you still
have to go through the process of getting that story in through a network of
failsafes that aren't necessarily always failsafe. Can a television reporter do the
same kind of job on a story that a newspaper reporter can? The answer is, no.
Can they gather the facts like a newspaper reporter can? The answer is, no. Do
they have the ability to do it, yes, but that's not what their training is. So I've
never been a fan of that. Way back in 1986-1987, we set up a cable TV show in
our newsroom. [We] hired a guy to come in because there was some idea that
our publisher had, but none of the reporters would appear on it. I didn't want our
reporters to be entertainers, and reporters were thankful for that. Some of them
might have wanted to be, but too damn bad. They're reporters, they're writers,
[and] they're investigators. To go on TV, put on pancake makeup at four o'clock
in the afternoon and go in the other room and be on cable and do some
reporting, pitching a story that might be in the paper, I wasn't in favor of it.
P: Well, certainly it would help the television stations because they would have
quick access to news.
K: Why would I want to help a television station? [Laughing.] They are a death knell.
I will never forget, this is when I was still a sports writer, when TV came into the
locker rooms. You have to understand, on an afternoon newspaper, our domain
was the post-game. The morning paper did the five W's, who won the game and
so on and so forth. It was after the game, the quotes and things like that, that the
PM's [afternoon newspapers] used for their ammo. Here came TV into the damn
locker room standing next to me, and they're going to have it on at eleven
o'clock, and I'm not coming out until tomorrow. [It was] the same damn quotes. A
fellow named John Crittenden, who was a sports writer for me then and then later
became a sports columnist, he used to do that. We used to make guttural sounds
at the press conferences. [We used to make] the most horrible guttural sounds,
clearing our noses, belching, if we could, flatulence, everything we could to upset
the TV thing. We never succeeded.
P: Media General thinks it's more efficient because they own both the TV stations
and the newspapers.
K: I know. This is all after my time. Cox has done the same thing. We had a
Washington bureau and then Cox radio and television had its bureau. Now we're
all in the same place. I've never been in it so I can't tell you, all I know, maybe it's
just us, but I don't think newspaper guys think a hell of a lot of radio and TV guys.
They're rip and readers.
P: What about the extraordinary change in terms of corporate ownership of
newspapers? Some of the chains now are really huge in terms of the number of
papers they own.
K: The biggest example, I think, is the Miami Herald. You've talked to Dave
Lawrence haven't you?
P: Yes, I have talked to Dave.
K: Dave Lawrence is a victim of corporate ownership, of stockholders who demand
a certain bottom line, and I think that Dave resigned rather than be shoved. I
think he did the most honorable thing.
P: That was one reason for it.
K: We never had that problem with Cox. Again, they didn't interfere. They didn't tell
us what we could write and couldn't write. Of course, Cox is a privately held
company. Cox Communications on the other hand, Cox TV or Cox Radio, they're
public, and I don't know what's going on in that area. But the newspapers have
always been able to maintain their integrity because we don't have to answer to
stockholders. We are the stockholders. I have stock options. In fact when I said I
never owned any stock, I got stock options for Cox Newspapers. That's not a
conflict of interests [because] I'm always going to defend the newspaper
[End of side B3]
P: In talking with Carl Hiaasen, he said that the Miami Herald has a specific profit
goal that they must meet every year. He said that it was between 22-25 percent.
K: That's my understanding.
P: He said, I know cocaine dealers who don't make that much profit. Do you think
that's an extraordinarily high profit? Why don't they put some of that money back
into making a better newspaper?
K: Well, [number] one, I think it is an extraordinarily high profit, and the reason why
they don't put the money back is, because they want to give that money to their
stockholders as dividends. [It's as] simple as that. It's a business, it's changed.
Again, I think the Miami Herald is one of the prime examples of that. Now, let's
talk about the New York Times. I hate to keep coming back to the Times. That's
a public company, but I think it's so big a public company that the stockholder
pressure can't change these people. It's a different world. It's how much power
you've got to start with as a newspaper in the newsroom. It's affected the Herald,
it's affected the Herald terribly. You can talk to anybody in Miami and they'll tell
you that the Herald ain't the paper it used to be. When I was competing against
the Herald when I was the managing editor and Larry Jinks was the managing
editor of the Herald, I don't mind telling you, we got our brains beat in. That was
one of the great newspapers. Every year they were one of the top ten
newspapers in the country. You can't find them on the list now. What does that
P: And they fired a lot of reporters and photographers, they're doing less coverage
of local issues, and as you know in Miami, there's always a lot of interest in what
goes on in city hall. They're just not devoting the time and effort to cover those
things these days.
K: A lot of people in Miami get a paper called Miami Today. Have you heard of that?
That covers the city, the Herald doesn't. In fact, the Sun Sentinel sometimes
does better coverage on Dade County than what the Herald has.
P: What did you do about errors in the newspaper? How did you correct them and
where did you put the corrections?
K: Let me tell you, if we accidentally left out the photographers credit line, we didn't
run a correction in the paper like the Herald. It's just absurd. Did we lead the
paper with them, no [laughing]. If the error appeared on the editorial page, [that's
where we put it]. Whatever we wanted to call it, correction [or] clarification. I don't
think we ever used the word retraction, I'm not sure, [but] that's a terrible word. If
it appeared in the local page we ran it there and so on and so forth. If was just in
the general news hole, we ran it I think on page 2A. Nobody could ever say we
ran it on page 18A because we never had eighteen pages [laughing].
P: Today it seems to me most newspapers put errors all in the same category. They
just list all the corrections. Rarely do you see in that list more than four or five,
and most of those would be fairly major.
K: Right. I find no reason to make clerical corrections and things like that. The New
York Times makes a ton of them every Sunday. Again, I was reading today's
Herald and they're telling about they didn't use this photographer's name on the
[picture]. Well, who the hell cares? Now, if they say, we have the wrong phone
number for this emergency number for something, yes, that's a different thing.
P: Why are there so many errors in newspapers today? I read newspapers, and I
won't get into specifics, but I could read a page of the newspaper and probably
come up with ten to fifteen either grammatical errors, spelling errors, or errors of
fact on almost every page.
K: [There are] two reasons: one, proofreaders, [and] two, computers. When we first
got our computers, we thought we were going to save a lot of money. But it's so
much more difficult to find an error on the screen even if you're using the stupid
spell check, which half the time can't spell, that we had to hire two additional
copy editors. Now [let's talk about] proofreaders. These were the great people.
These were the retired history teachers, the college professors looking for some
extra work. I remember when I was in sports writing, proofreaders would come in
from the composing room and with a galley proof [they would] say, in here you
said this, wouldn't it be better if you said this? They didn't come in and say, you
ass, look what you [did wrong]. They improved things. Those are the kind of
proofreaders we had at the Miami News and I really admired them. Then, of
course, as the computers came in, we started getting rid of the proofreaders.
That was the last place it was [scanned], that was the last stop before it got in the
paper. The people that were the proofreaders caught some of these things that
you don't catch on a screen.
P: The other day I read in a newspaper, Henry Jones will not be able to play in the
game Saturday because he enjoyed his ankle. Obviously, it was injured his
ankle, so the spell check won't pick it up. Doesn't that undermine the credibility of
newspapers if they can't the facts right? If you see that over and over and over
again, that's what you feel.
K: Absolutely. You hear people talking about, I saw so many errors here and so
many errors there. Now the use of a wrong word like that or the use of a
semi-colon instead of a comma, that's minutiae. The real problems are really
major errors of fact. Is that happening more often? Yes, I'm seeing it. There was
a correction in the Herald today about some story, even in the soft news section,
it was writing about two people [and] spelled both their names wrong. I mean,
P: That's pretty basic stuff, isn't it?
P: The first thing you should ask is, how do you spell your name? When you look at
newspapers today, what do you see as the future of the daily paper?
K: Metropolitan news.
P: Yes, that's it, not world news.
K: Metropolitan news, sports, obits.
P: How important was Nelson Poynter in terms of his contributions to journalism?
K: [He was] very important. What Nelson Poynter did with the St. Pete[rsburg]
Times and the Poynter Institute and things like that [are remarkable]. I never
knew Nelson Poynter personally. I knew a lot of guys at the St. Pete Times, Bob
Haiman, Gene Patterson. Poynter brings in a guy like Patterson, gives him carte
blanche, and says, put out a great newspaper, and they did. People over the
years have always asked me what's the best paper in the state of Florida and I
will say, the St. Petersburg Times. I've said it for thirty years. Poynter did that. He
put together a paper where he did not give it out, it didn't suffer the outside
pressure, brought in good reporters, [and] invented graphics. [He] invented it.
[He invented] informative graphics. There's two kinds of graphics. There's
informative graphics which help supplement or complement the story, and then
there's graphics just for graphics sake, which too many are doing. Then the
Poynter Institute, which I haven't had to deal with in quite a while, but when they
brought Roy Peter Clark, a writing expert, and people like that, [it became] quite
significant. I remember I had to go into a redesign of the newspaper, we decided
we could do another one of those curtains down and curtains up things. We met
and we finally came out with our new look. Somebody said to me,
congratulations, you've just invented the St. Petersburg Times. I said, you know,
in a way that's a compliment, although, yes, they did look alike.. [It was] modular
and things like that.
P: It is one of the few important independent newspapers in the country.
K: Absolutely, and I don't see it today like I used to see it. I'm here, I'm not in the
newsroom, but it's got all the credibility.
P: Including Cox, Chicago Tribune, Gannett, and the New York Times, somebody
owns just about all of them.
P: What do you think was the greatest contribution the Miami News made to your
community when you were the editor?
K: Well, you've got me thinking now. It's hard to come up with an answer like that.
What do I hear from the public, or what do I think?
P: What you think.
K: I think [my greatest contribution to the community was] local coverage, hard local
coverage, not chicken suppers. What does the public think? The greatest sports
section I ever saw. Even though I came out of sports, I resent it.
P: We talked earlier about the New York Times, what was your reaction to the
Jayson Blair plagiarism and false reporting incident?
K: I fear what has happened is that because of the Blair incident, all newspapers
have suffered, all credibility is gone from newspapers. They just say they're
making it up and so on. Even the Janet Cooke [Washington Post Pulitzer Prize
winner accused of false reporting] thing isn't going to have as lasting an effect as
the Jayson Blair [incident] because these were the New York Times' editors, the
top of the field, that didn't see through this guy or ignored the memos and so on
and so forth. I find it hard to believe that Blair got as far as he did without [getting
P: So it's lax editorial control?
K: Absolutely. Now would I have caught it? How the hell do I know? I have no idea.
P: So Howell Raines, the Times executive editor, should have resigned?
K: Yes, that was grounds for resignations in a lot of spots. Maybe even more should
P: Is it a problem of affirmative action? Do you think they gave him more
K: I think that probably had a lot to do with it, but where was the assistant to the
editor? Didn't he know the guy wasn't in Baltimore or wherever he was supposed
to be? How does he know? Where's the expense accounts? Where's the
receipts? I don't understand that part.
P: This is certainly fodder for people like Rush Limbaugh, isn't it?
K: Well, he's an entertainer. Yes, oh, sure.
P: But for the right wing they can say, well, here's the liberal New York Times, and
look at how effectively they present the information in that newspaper.
K: But I thought when the New York Times did the mea culpa of four pages, that
was an astonishing piece of journalism.
P: Was it an overreaction?
K: Within the journalism world, no. Maybe to some guy living in Westchester New
York, yes, [it might have been an overreaction]. I don't know.
P: Do you think they have restored their credibility? It certainly didn't hurt their stock.
K: No it didn't restore the credibility, it just gave the Limbaughs and the average
Joe, I just can't blame it all on Limbaugh, [something to talk about]. All over the
country, [if you] find an error in the Dallas Morning News, [people are] going to
say, well, you know these newspapers, you can't believe what you read in the
P: Somebody wrote that if the New York Times was in trouble, then all of American
journalism is in trouble.
K: Sure, this is the icon of American journalism, there's no doubt about that. The
New York Times is it.
P: Another person writing, I believe it was Anna Quinlan, said this is an example of
the ethical breakdown in American society. We have Enron [and] we have all of
these scandals. Do you see that as related?
K: The Blair thing?
K: No, no I don't. I just think it's some bad oversight and stupidity. It's got nothing to
do with ethics. [For] Blair, yes. I thought you were talking about the superiors.
P: No, I'm talking about Blair himself. In other words, he has no regrets. In fact, he's
going to make money out of this by writing a book.
K: Who the hell's going to buy it? Are you going to buy it?
P: In America? Somebody's going to buy it. No, I will not buy it.
K: Most people who would buy that kind of book can't read.
P: Look at Steven Glass who was with the New Republic. Steven Glass made up all
these stories. They've made a movie about him called "Shattered Glass". These
people come out to the better and have no remorse for what they did.
K: Is that a reflection of our society, yes. Is it a reflection of our society as relates to
the Enron people or to the guy on the corner? I think it's everybody, not just the
guy at the top of Enron or the mutual funds corporations.
P: What is your view of the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] decision,
which is now apparently going to be overturned, that local TV stations can
increase their ownership. The fear is that in some future time Rupert Murdoch
[Australian media magnate] might own all the newspapers, the TV, etcetera.
Look at Clear Channel radio. They must own what, 75 percent of the radio
K: As long as they don't own all of them in one market, I don't have a big problem
with that. In other words, if Clear Channel owned every radio station in Miami,
plus the Miami Herald, I'd have a problem with that. Clear Channel has about
three or four stations here in Miami. They're all garbage anyhow, there's nothing
to listen to on the radio.
P: It's the same station just about, isn't it?
K: They play music. Here in Miami English language radio is nothing. When you do
the Nielsen's [ratings] on them they don't show up. It's Spanish language radio
[that's prevalent], and I don't know what's going on [there]. Spanish language
radio is wild in this town, so I understand. At one point, I think Cox owned the
Atlanta Journal, Atlanta Constitution, WSB Radio, and WSB-TV. I'm not sure that
it did harm to Atlanta because there were others. You had other newspapers in
the Atlanta area, you had the Times try to start one up against them in Gannett
County, [and] you had the segregationists try to start one up with a paper called
the Atlanta Georgian. So everybody's got an opportunity to try to compete
against them, they didn't close the market.
P: But the Atlanta Constitution was and is a powerful newspaper.
K: It certainly is.
P: It certainly is going to have very little competition for their readership.
K: Well, that's true, but what does that got to do with them muscling in on SB?
P: The fear is, if somebody like Rupert Murdoch, who is not an American, could
come in and control the news, and theoretically the point of view of the
newspaper and the radio station and the television, then that would, at least for
the average citizen, restrict the information they need to make logical decisions.
K: Well, what is the point of view of a television station other than their network? I
mean, what is the point of view, whether they run the Reagan show or not?
K: That's a network decision, it wasn't offered to the communities. Okay, whether
they run Paris Hilton's new thing? That's a network decision, I guess. [About
controlling the viewpoint] of the news? The news on the local television is funny.
It is so superficial. It is so silly. It makes no sense to me. In this town, channel
ten, which is a Post Newsweek station, has an editorial on every day. What it
does every day is saying, God is good, country is good. They've been having
election problems in Broward County with this woman, Oliphant or whatever it
[the last name] is, and Broward County needs more money for its election
divisions and so on. Then this guy comes right out in an editorial and says, we
think Broward County should have enough money to run an election properly.
Well, no kidding! Wow, what a hard hitting editorial that was! So my question is,
what is the point of view of the television station anyway? Talk radio is another
matter, but television? I don't see any point of view in television at all. You've got
it at the network level. A guy like [Dan] Rather, who not so much because of what
he says but the way he says it has generated some problems. Any point of view
on the television station comes from the network. On these local TV stations, the
little ones, they just run reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies. What is the point of
I'll tell you where there is a real conflict, and I'm going back to the sports world.
When you get these TV stations to carry the Marlins [baseball] games or the
Panthers hockey games or the Miami Heat, they don't ever tell you that the
announcers are paid employees of those teams, and that anything they tell you
about those teams is because they are housemenn". We buy season tickets to
the hockey games and we went last night. The Florida Panthers are the most
horrible franchise in hockey. They've never done anything. They have a bunch of
people from Croatia who are no good. They can't score. They can't win a game.
We left last night at the end of the second period because it was such [a horrible
game]. It was four to nothing. It was horrible. We're driving home and we're
listening on the radio to the finish of the game. The color guy on the thing is
promoting next weekend's game against Atlanta saying that the Florida Panthers
are the youngest, most exciting team in hockey. They're in ninth place, they can't
win, and yet nobody understands. That isn't put across. Now if a newspaper guy
has a conflict of interest, he's either fired or they have a little precede or a
shirttail, and yet I'm listening to these whores, and they are whores on the sports
P: But they're highly paid whores.
K: Yes, but I think they ought to hang their certificate of prostitution up, and they
don't do it. That's a problem. I know that's off the subject.
P: No, that's good. Talk about your books. The first one we already discussed, The
Way We Were, which was an anthology of stories from the Miami News, but then
you wrote about Hurricane Andrew.
K: Yes, that was an interesting development. We got our brains beat in by Hurricane
Andrew. I had to evacuate this house. There's another one of my pets, and there
it goes. I had to be evacuated from this house and we went to my son's house,
which is out in the hinterlands. I don't know how familiar you are with Miami, and
the house came down around us. There were so many. It was a near fatal
situation where we were holding the last door. This house was very badly
damaged. We lost 100 percent of the interior, so we were sort of living like
animals. I can't think of a better word. [We were like] homeless animals. There
was sixteen of us living in one daughter's home because we had a son's house
destroyed, a daughter's house destroyed, and my house. So there was sixteen of
us living in one house, no electricity, no water, [and] that kind of stuff. [It was]
unbelievable living. I didn't know what the hell to do with myself. I have a friend in
town, Arva Moore Parks, who's a historian, fairly well known. For some reason I
phoned to work and I was telling Arva that we were living like animals. She said,
do you remember the book on Reardon? I said I did. There was a guy named
Reardon who wrote a book in 1926 down here on the hurricane. She said, you
sound like the same thing, why don't you write a diary along the same lines as
Reardon, [and] I said, that's a good idea. So that's what I did, as my wife says, to
keep from going crazy during this period of inactivity. Arva published the book.
She has a company, The Centennial Press. It turned out to be decent. I call it the
world's only flip top book. Have you ever seen it?
P: No, I've never seen it.
K: It's a flip top book. This is Reardon's book, and she got the rights or whatever it
was to reproduce these twelve pages, then I wrote this one. In fact, I wrote a
column about Reardon. It's a flip top book. When you get to the center for the
transition, this is the 1992 hurricane, there's the Herald, and then you switch over
and there's the 1926 hurricane and then you just go into Reardon's [book]. We
call it the world's only flip top book. The bottom line is, nobody bought it, nobody
wanted to read this stuff. My wife has never read it. She's psychologically scarred
from Andrew and she doesn't want to be reminded of it. Arva said to me,
probably right, she said in about twenty-five years this book will have a value;
today it has none.
P: Because it's still painful for people. Did you discuss at all the situation, for
example, with Lennar homes? A lot of the houses they built did not stand up to
K: This book wasn't that way. This book was a personal experience book. That
wouldn't have been in it. I mean I wrote about it, [but] I did not try to get into the
rights and the wrongs from it. That was right down the street here. You go 152nd
down the highway and further on down, and that's where those Lennar homes
are. We had the north wall of the hurricane come up this street, which anybody
now knows is the worst part of the hurricane. At least during the eye you get a
couple of minutes off.
P: Then you did a book on the history of Miami Beach.
K: Yes, that's an interesting thing. Before Hurricane Andrew a guy from the Miami
Beach Chamber of Commerce, and a couple of people like that, asked me to do
a book on the history of Miami Beach. A lot of people don't know, who don't live
here, that there's a heck of a difference between a Miami boy and a Miami Beach
boy. I'm a Miami boy, so I went into a learning experience because I didn't know
that much about Miami Beach. What history? Anyhow, so I went into research. It
was while I was doing the research on this book that [Hurricane] Andrew hit. I
placed this sort of in the back for a couple of months while I did that book, and
then went back to this book. This book did fairly well. It's out of print now and it's
ten years old and some people are asking me to update it. I said, fine, who's
paying for it and all that, and let me know when you get all that stuff and I'll get
back to you. I'm not a book writer. I will tell you, I spent my entire life saying
everything I had to say in eighteen inches. Trying to get it into 200 some odd
pages with pictures accompanying is not my bag.
P: Well, Miami Beach has a fascinating history.
K: It does.
P: I don't think people know that much about it. I think people know a little bit about
Coral Gables, but I think the history of Miami Beach is less well known, is it not?
K: [The history of Miami Beach is] far less well known. In fact, most people don't
know the difference between Miami and Miami Beach, I'm telling you. But yes, I
went way back to the beginnings. This is a true history with the proper end notes
and all the stuff. This to me is an almost academic work. I won't call anything I do
an academic work, but it's an almost academic work.
P: What was the impact of the 1926 hurricane on Florida?
K: [It was a] major [impact]. It had a national impact on Florida to start with because
of many of the distortions about what happened in the hurricane and what
buildings went over and all that kind of stuff. Everybody likes to think that that
ended the boom, and it didn't. The boom was over before then. The hurricane hit
in September 1926 and the boom was really over in January, 1926. When the
ship The Prinz Valdemar capsized in the channel, they couldn't bring the building
supplies in. You know all that stuff. But the 1926 hurricane did a lot to establish
south Florida as hurricane prone. There had not been another hurricane [that] hit
us, as far as I can tell, my son Eliot may know better, since 1909. The population
of Miami of 1909 was about 40,000, and when you get to 1926, you've got a hell
of a lot more people who had never experienced a hurricane, never knew
anything about it, [and] never knew anything about warnings. My son's book on
the hurricane of 1928, which came even after the hurricane of 1926 [where] we
learned [so much], and yet by 1928 people didn't know a lot of things, especially
the weather bureau. The weather bureau kept saying on the hurricane of 1928
when it was coming, [that] it's not coming. Now they wouldn't dare say that. A
lot of people relaxed. The 1926 hurricane had a significant thing in it was the big
one until 1992, and then that changed. Now our life and our thoughts are all
predicated on 1992.
P: What impact did the 1992 hurricane have on tourism in Florida?
K: I don't think [it had] any [impact on Florida tourism]. It had a tremendous impact
on the permanent population [of Florida], and I don't think anything on tourism. Its
impact is still being felt.
P: Talk a little bit about the dramatic change in Miami-Dade County, which is now
majority Hispanic. Have a lot of whites moved up to Ft. Lauderdale or away from
K: Sure, and that's the funny part. A lot of them left because of the Hispanic
invasion, and of course, the Hispanics are following them [laughing]. I have to
laugh. I have a lot of friends who left and went to Weston because they were
tired of all the Cubans, and now they've got two Cuban restaurants in Weston
and a Colombian restaurant and all that sort of stuff. But here's the interesting
thing, and this is what I realized when I was doing this book on Miami High
School, when you talk about Miami High School, which is the traditional school,
the good boy school or whatever you want to call it, there are more kids in the
graduating class of last May who were born in Florida, forget their names, forget
their ethnic background, than there were in the graduating class of 1935 when it
was an all white school. You've got to look at this Cuban migration, and that's the
brunt of the migration. That was happening forty years ago. Yes, it's been
dribbles since, and certainly you had a spurt in Mariel [Boat Lift], but I went
through the records of all the graduates of the class of 2002 at Miami High and
[an] overwhelming number were born in Florida. Their names may have been
Gonzalez and Martinez instead of Smith and Johnson. So the community has
changed and we're in that next generation now. Let's forget about for a second
the Jamaicans and the Guatemalans and Nicaraguans. The generation of the
anti-Castros, the Cubans who are the most politically active and the most
politically powerful are now in power. But it's this next generation who are going
to speak without a Spanish accent, or they may be able to speak Spanish, [that
are going to] act different. They're not [going to be] as political and all that. That's
going to change. There's a guy named Rich Garcia that plays quarterback for the
San Francisco 49ers. He's probably a fifth generation American, and that's
what's going to happen here eventually.
Now insofar as the people coming up from Central America, that's another story.
They're coming up to send money home. There are more kids who graduated in
Miami High in 2002 who were born in Nicaragua than were born in Cuba, so
that's changing. They're different. Yes, a lot of them are here to stay, but it's not
going to be a permanent powerful thing like the Cubans are.
P: How divisive was the Elian Gonzalez saga [Cuban boy rescued off the coast of
Florida in 1999 after the boat he and his mother defected in capsized. The U.S.
government returned him to his father in Cuba over the protestations of his
anti-Castro relatives in Miami]?
K: [It was] remarkably divisive. As divisive as you can imagine. To this day you can
not convince a Cuban that something wrong and horrible was [not] done, and
most of us Anglos [non-Hispanic, non-black] practically laugh at them over it. [It
was] remarkably divisive.
P: There's still a strong dislike for Janet Reno [U.S. Attorney General, 1993-2001].
K: [There's a] very strong [dislike]. I like Janet, I've known Janet, but Janet came out
last week and endorsed Betty Castor for the senate and I don't think it's done
Betty any favors.
P: It won't help Castor in south Florida much, will it?
P: When we look at the city government in Miami and Miami-Dade, you think about
Crazy Joe Carollo, all these mayors, and you have election fraud. Why has
Miami and Miami-Dade been so fraught with corruption? Then, you had the guy
who was in charge of the waterfront, I can't remember his name, taking bribes.
K: [His name was] Carmen Lunetta. Miami's been like that since the beginning.
P: Has it been like that since the 1920s?
K: The first election in 1896 was fixed; we have documentation on it. I'm serious. It's
always been [like that]. Miami is just like Chicago. In 1896, John Sewell, who was
[Henry M.] Flagler's henchman down here, [fixed the election]. They were going
to vote to incorporate the city, and then right then and there they were going to
vote for the mayor and the alderman. To make sure that his slate got in, there
was his slate and there was another slate; he kept 300 black laborers who were
doing nothing but digging railroad beds and all that around. When he thought the
election was going against him he got all 300 of them registered to vote, signed
to the city charter, and they controlled the election. Sewell boasts of it in his
book. We were born in corruption. The Miami News won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939
for exposing a corrupt city administration. There were no Cubans on that one,
there were no blacks on that one. We've always been corrupt. We have the S&G
syndicate running Miami Beach, the Mob. Hey, [Al] Capone had an address here.
So I don't know why there's a bias of sorts when people think only of Miami and
the Hispanic "Scar Face" [reference to Al Capone] era. Miami's always been like
P: Why hasn't it been reformed?
K: [It hasn't been reformed] because it's a playground and we want to be loose. I
don't want to be loose, but that's what [the city in general wants]. It's the same
thing as Las Vegas, it's a playground. People don't come here to be straight, they
come here to have fun and to make it easier to have fun. Miami had whore
houses all over the place. Even when there was no gambling allowed in this
state, there was open gambling all over the place in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami
Beach. When I was a kid, Blue Heron Inn and all that, I could name you all the
gambling joints. The town's always been loose. Anybody who tries to tighten it up
gets beat up. I don't mean physically [beat up].
P: What would be the most unusual incident that occurred while you were in the
K: In the city of Miami?
K: Oh, boy, I don't know, I've got to think of that.
P: Or it can be amusing or significant.
K: I guess it may have been along the J. Edgar Hoover [director, Federal Bureau of
Investigation, 1924-1972] lines when the police chief of Miami was keeping
secret stuff about his superiors on the city commission in a safe and it was
discovered. He had learned something from J. Edgar Hoover. I remember that
was a big scandal in which I had a lot of fun. In fact a column I wrote I did it as a
song. It could be sung to the tune of either the Wabash Cannonball or the Marine
Corps Hymn, which as you may know, or you may not know, you can sing the
Marine Corps Hymn to the tune of the Wabash Cannonball, it's the same. [Mr.
Kleinberg sings] "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we'll fight
our country's battle." Anyhow, I did this column along those lines because it was
so hysterically funny that the Miami police chief, Kenneth Hams, had these
secret dossiers in a safe on these politicians and he got fired in a confrontation at
the airport with [Mayor] Maurice Ferre and stuff like that. There's a lot of
humorous local things that go on in this town. I can't recall them all right now, but
some of these things border on the absolute absurd.
P: Carl Hiaasen told me, and I think Rick Bragg agreed with this, that this is the best
town in the country to be in the newspaper business.
K: There's no doubt about it. Guys like Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan, their novels
are really historical novels because so many of them are based on fact, on what
really [happened]. This CSI: Miami [crime scene investigation T.V. drama] that's
on now, have you ever seen this one?
P: Yes, I've seen it.
K: Every one of those shows, and I haven't seen that many, they're all based on
something that really happened here.
P: Well, that's all Edna Buchanan did. She went through the police blotter and the
ones she'd covered as a reporter, she sort of wove them into a story.
K: Have you talked to her?
P: No, she wouldn't talk to me.
K: Is that right? I have lunch with her every Tuesday.
P: Do you?
P: Next time you see her, mention this. Is there anything we have not talked about
that you would like to talk about?
K: Yes, you were talking about the history of journalism in this state. [One of the
biggest things is] within the newsroom; the fun you have, the hijinks, the
characters. In fact, if I were ever to write a memoir, it wouldn't be a memoir of
me, it would be a memoir of the characters that went through the Miami News
newsroom. I'm sure they've got stuff like that at the Herald. Gene Miller did a
piece on that on some of the strange characters that had gone through the
Herald at the time of the Herald's 100th anniversary. We had things that
happened, strange things. [There are so many] things that were said, practical
jokes. We had practical jokes in our newsroom that [were just crazy].
I have a file on absurd memos that John Keasler has sent me over years. Some
examples, and [Don] Wright [editorial cartoonist for Miami News and Palm Beach
post] probably never talked about this, but Wright is a very fastidious person.
Have you ever been to his office? His wife decorates it. They have art and all that
crap. Caroline's alright, but she goes a little too far. We always used to say that
she dressed Don all the time. We had to go to a dinner of the National
Conference of Christians and Jews, or whatever they call it, they changed the
name of their group. As usual, the Miami News bought a table, and it was a black
tie [formal affair]. So Caroline, of course, we knew, was going to take Don to a
tuxedo rental place and get him something very special. I knew where she was
taking him because I had recommended the place. So she did, and then two
days later John Keasler and I and Otis Wragg, who was my managing editor at
the time, went in there. We said, did Don Wright rent a tuxedo, [and the
salesperson answered], yes. What kind, and he told us what kind. In those days
you wore color. We said, [we want] three more just like it. Then we showed up at
the dinner and all sitting at the same table, and we looked like some rock quartet.
Caroline was flushed [and] Don was just fit to be tied. [We did] things like that.
Or [ in another one], Caroline [had] bought a little cactus for Don's desk in a little
ceramic pot. Don was the kind of guy that didn't come in till four in the afternoon
and then he'd work till four in the morning, but the rest of us were around.
Keasler, who was the great practical joker, every couple of weeks would go out
and buy a cactus just a little bit bigger, a pot that was just a little bit bigger. So
the God damn thing got bigger and bigger and bigger until Don happened to
mention to Keasler, he said, this cactus is amazing, I never watered it. [It was]
things like that. Or Don Wright's keys. Don would come to work in the [afternoon]
and throw his keys on the desk, and then like anybody else he walked around.
Keasler had these old keys he kept finding everywhere and he would add a key
to the ring. Every once in awhile he would add a key to the ring until Don, finally
one day said, my key ring is getting so heavy there's a hole in my pocket,
whereupon John confessed, but in a column.
P: I've heard about this horseplay in almost every newsroom, is it partly to reduce
the pressure of putting a paper out everyday?
K: No, it's a boys will be boys thing. Yes, we've had all kinds of [things]. My
assistant managing editor knew that I cannot stand the smell of raw onions. [I]
just can't stand it. He would sneak in my office, and you know how these regular
phones unscrew? He'd stick some red raw onions in there and then call me. It's
the old shaving cream thing, but this time it's raw onions. [It was] things like that.
It went on and on and on.
[It was] even in memos. Somehow Keasler got his hands on a 1926 calendar sort
of like this. He tore out some pages making believe it was Governor James Cox's
appointment book in 1926. One day it says, buy Miami News, buy my new
metropolis. The next day it says, get tuna fish. The next day it says, run for
president. [It was] things like that. Through all the hell, we had a lot of fun.
The best one [was when] we were going through a period in the 1970s of bomb
scares here. It was the Cuban bomb scares within the Cuban community it was
pro-Castro/anti-Castro or whatever it was. There were all kinds of bomb scares,
especially towards the newspapers. One day the Herald building got a bomb
scare that they believed to be critical, and they called the bomb squad out and all
that. We were up in the sixth floor of the Herald building. They came in around
three in the morning. The only people in our newsroom was a rewrite man and
Don Wright. They finally worked their way up to the sixth floor and they came into
our newsroom. I had been having a battle with Keasler because we had
converted to electric typewriters and I couldn't get him off that damn standard
typewriter. We needed the electric typewriter for those OCR machines or
whatever they were, horrible machines. I couldn't get him to take his electric
typewriter. I finally gave him an ultimatum. I said, if you don't have it by such and
such a date, no more columns, you're done. You have to have an electric
typewriter. Were you in the [military] service?
P: Yes, I was in the service.
K: Do you know what a EE 8 battery is from the service? Somehow he got his
hands on an EE 8 battery. He took it and he had a piece of electrical wire. He
undid the screws, [tied the wire on] and put it on to the undercarriage of his
standard typewriter. I thought that was so funny that I said, you can have more
time to get away [with it]. Well, here comes the bomb squad, and they're doing a
floor to floor search. They get up to our newsroom which is basically empty.
These guys come in and they're looking around, and all of a sudden they see this
thing wired to the undercarriage of a typewriter. [They said], everybody step
back. There's only two guys in the whole damn newsroom. They went
downstairs and they came up with these big doweling sticks and they're poking at
the damn typewriter until the two things that he hooked onto the bottom of the
typewriter [came loose]. What is that? Don Wright said, and Don will verify this,
that's John Keasler's typewriter, and the bomb squad guy said, oh, shit, no
wonder! [Laughing.] [That was] one of the funniest moments in the newsroom
ever, and there was only two guys to ever see it. We had things like that.
A fellow named Don Branning had been with the News, and he was a newspaper
tramp. He went to newspapers all over the country and never stayed long
enough for a cup of coffee. One day I came in the newsroom and there was a
huge bouquet of flowers sitting on the city desk, and there was a note from Don
Branning. It said, to good friends, from Don Branning. He had died, and it was in
his will that a bouquet of flowers be sent to every newspaper he ever worked at.
[It was] that kind of stuff.
P: Are newspaper people unique in this quality of practical jokes?
K: Not having worked anywhere else, I can't tell you.
P: Well, I can assure you, we don't have that in the academic world.
K: What was that journalism seminar they used to have at Columbia, but now they
have it in Reston? [Oh, it was the] American Press Institute. I had to go up [to
Columbia] and give a lecture on newspaper design. In those days you gave them
on a 35mm carousel on the screen. So I had all these slides made of various
newspaper designs. I had my chief photographer, a guy named Charlie Trainor,
whose son works for the Herald now, put them on the carousel. So now I'm in the
school of journalism at Columbia University, click on, and there's a picture of a
redesign page, click one more time, God almighty, I'm in the nudist camp.
Whoops! I click on it again and there's another newspaper design, click on it
again, God, I'm back at the nudist camp. He had peppered the whole damn thing
with that. It was just outrageous, but that's the kind of stuff [that happened]. And I
was his managing editor for God's sakes, and look what he's doing to me. But
that's what we did. We've always done it. [We had] guys who put fish on the
heads of guy's engines, so when they would drive off, they would fry and stink.
We put marbles in hubcaps down in the garage. [We] blew up a weather balloon
in a guy's very small office. We did it. That's what we did. Did it break the
tension, yes. Was it intended to break the tension? No, it was more just ...
P: To have fun. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?
K: God, isn't that enough?
P: Okay, on that note we'll end the conversation. Thank you very much.
[End of the interview.]