Today is World Press Freedom Day, and it also is a few days from my 52nd anniversary of being a newspaperman.
That’s not exactly accurate. There was time spent getting the paperwork to eventually become a tenured professor and also time to earn money to support my journalism habit.
But I do remember the days when the government did not lie, abortion was a felony, television couples slept in separate beds and cocaine was not a party favor.
Wow! Have things changed.
We, the 1960s journalists, thought we could help end poverty just by supporting Lyndon Johnson. Medicaid was a big innovation from the Great Society that provided the poor with medical and dental care. Two years later we were writing about how medical professionals were gaming the system for six figure incomes.
The dust was just beginning to settle in post-Batista Cuba, and Fidel Castro and his associates really were making trouble in the hemisphere. In 1969 in Venezuela, I was writing about Cuban submarines making arms deliveries to Venezuelan rebels.
Being overseas then meant being ready to fight for a Sunday New York Times and await all the family news from the unreliable mails.
Back in 1964 a new publisher at my Binghamton, New York, newspaper wanted to make news by endorsing Johnson for president. He sent a reporter to the public library to research if the newspaper ever endorsed a Democrat. It had not. But the reporter, my friend, spent days in the library caught up with history. The newspaper was old enough to have reported the 1848 elections.
He was captured by the discrimination reflected in the newspaper. Racism against blacks would come later. But in the mid-19th century, the semi-humans were the Irish newcomers. They were great for digging canals, but when they fell into one and died, they rated about one sentence in the newspapers of the day.
There was a big battle in the Republican Party in 1964, then too. Conservative Barry Goldwater represented the right wing of the party. Nelson Rockefeller, the New York governor, sought the presidential nomination as a moderate.
Rockefeller, the rich candidate who could not be bought, did not make the cut. I covered Rockefeller when he was in a public relations battle with the new U.S. senator from New
York, Robert Kennedy. Both men had staff members who immediately called reporters with news of grants and government actions.
Once Rockefeller gave a speech about Kennedy’s favorite project, and I assembled my notes to leave. Instantly there was a goddess by my side inviting me to a hotel suite to learn Robert’s take on the speech. I looked over her shoulder and past her golden tresses to see my competition, a female reporter who worked for the afternoon paper being similarly invited by a matinee idol type.
Until then, I did not know that politics was that ruthless.
That also was the year when America was jolted by double assassinations. Martin Luther King, Jr. died in Memphis, Tennessee, April 4 and Robert Kennedy in California June 6.
Vietnam war deaths were the grim news of the day, so much so that Johnson announced he would not seek reelection that March. Some nearby small towns had lost most of their young men.
All was not grim in the newspaper days of the 1960s. I met my bride, a backtalking news source at a local hospital who demonstrated her skill at blackjack to the dismay of newsroom companions. And she was so loyal she even plunged into Latin America with me the next year.
And so it was in the 1960s when things were not as they are now.