Authors: Gay Talese
“A landmark in the field of writing and journalism.”
“Beguilingly gossipy, intimately anecdotal … a grand epic that personalizes the impersonal and turns monolith to flesh.”
The New York Times
“An epic work … rich in anecdote, intimate in detail … a fascinating parade of personalities … a superb study of people and power and a profoundly influential institution.”
Women’s Wear Daily
New York Post
“Seldom has anyone been so successful in making a newspaper come alive as a human institution.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Far and away the best book about an American newspaper ever published and possibly the best ever written about any newspaper.”
Saturday Review Syndicate
2007 Random House Trade Paperback Edition
Copyright © 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969 by Gay Talese
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and colophon are trademarks or Random House, Inc.
Originally published in hardcover in the United States by The New American Library, Inc., in association with The World Publishing Company.
Some of the material in this book was previously published in a different form, some in the same exact form, in
magazines, between 1966 and 1969.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
The kingdom and the power : behind the scenes at The New York times : the institution that influences the world / by Gay Talese.
Originally published: New York, World Pub. Co., 1969.
1. New York times. I. Title.
ost journalists are restless voyeurs who see the warts on the world, the imperfections in people and places. The sane scene that is much of life, the great portion of the planet unmarked by madness, does not lure them like riots and raids, crumbling countries and sinking ships, bankers banished to Rio and burning Buddhist nuns—gloom is their game, the spectacle their passion, normality their nemesis.
Journalists travel in packs with transferable tension and they can only guess to what extent their presence in large numbers ignites an incident, turns people on. For press conferences and cameras and microphones have become such an integral part of the happenings of our time that nobody today knows whether people make news or news makes people—General Ky in Vietnam, feeling no doubt more potent after his sixth magazine-cover story, challenges Red China; after police in New York raided the headquarters of young hoodlums, it was discovered that some gang leaders keep scrapbooks; in Baltimore, a day after the Huntley-Brinkley Report mentioned that the city had survived the summer without a race riot, there was a race riot. When the press is absent, politicans have been known to cancel their speeches, civil rights marchers to postpone their parades, alarmists to withhold their dire predictions. The troops at the Berlin Wall, largely ignored since Vietnam stole the headlines, coexist casually, watching the girls go by.
News, if unreported, has no impact. It might as well have not happened at all. Thus the journalist is the important ally of the ambitious, he is a lamplighter for stars. He is invited to parties, is courted and complimented, has easy access to unlisted telephone numbers and to many levels of life. He may send to America a provocative story of poverty in Africa, of tribal threats and turmoil—and then he may go for a swim in the ambassador’s pool. A journalist will sometimes mistakenly assume that it is his charm, not his usefulness, that gains such privilege; but most journalists are realistic men not fooled by the game. They use as well as they are used. Still they are restless. Their work, instantly published, is almost instantly forgotten, and they must endlessly search for something new, must stay alive with by-lines and not be scooped, must nurture the insatiable appetites of newspapers and networks, the commercial cravings for new faces, fashions, fads, feuds; they must not worry when news seems to be happening
they are there, nor must they ponder the possibility that everything they have witnessed and written in their lifetime may someday occupy only a few lines in the plastic textbooks of the twenty-first century.
And so each day, unhaunted by history, plugged into the
, journalists of every creed, quality, and quirk report the news of the world as they see it, hear it, believe it, understand it. Then much of it is relayed through America, millions of words a minute, some thousands of which penetrate a large fourteen-floor fact factory on Forty-third Street off Broadway, the
New York Times
building, where each weekday afternoon at four o’clock—before it is fit to print, before it can influence the State Department and perplex the President and irritate David Merrick and get the ball rolling on Wall Street and heads rolling in the Congo—it is presented by
editors seated around a conference table to one man, the managing editor, Clifton Daniel.
He is a most interesting-looking man but difficult to describe because the words that quickly catch him best, initially, seem entirely inappropriate for any man who is a man. But the impression persists. Clifton Daniel is almost lovely. It is his face, which is long and pale and soft and dominated by large dark eyes and very long lashes, and his exquisitely groomed, wavy gray hair that makes him seem almost lovely. His suits are very Savile Row, his hands and nails immaculate, his voice a soft, smooth blend of North Carolina, where he was born in a tiny tobacco town, and England, where he came of age as a journalist and squire of fashionable women and
was sometimes referred to as the Sheik of Fleet Street. London in those days, during and just after World War II, was a great city for young American journalists. There was a feeling of warmth and common purpose with the British, a romantic bond built during the blackout and bombing raids; British society was democratic at every level, and if an American journalist, particularly a well-tailored bachelor, also possessed, as did Clifton Daniel, a certain formality and reserve and understated charm—Tory manners that in Daniel’s case were partly cultivated out of a small-town Southern boy’s shyness—then London could be an even more responsive city, and for Daniel it was. He was sought out by London hostesses, was often seen escorting distinguished women to the theater and ballet, and he generally avoided the men’s clubs for the drawing-room scene where, sometimes in the company of Bea Lillie and Noel Coward, Margot Fonteyn and Clarissa Spencer-Churchill, who later married Anthony Eden, he could listen to the latest gossip about politics and people as he had many years before when he worked behind the fountain of his father’s drugstore in Zebulon, North Carolina.
Today it is difficult to imagine Clifton Daniel, even as a boy, in a drugstore setting. His style of cool elegance, the courtly way in which he conducts corporate matters at
The New York Times
, the ease with which he occasionally rejects a bottle of vintage wine at the Oak Room of the Plaza, all suggest that he is a man bred from the very beginning into a world of privilege and power. And this impression, this outer layer of Daniel, his London layer, is all that is seen by most of his subordinate editors and colleagues on
The New York Times
. They rarely socialize with him outside the office, and so their closest personal contact with him is at the news conference held in his office each weekday afternoon at four o’clock, and not a moment later.
It is now 3:40. It is a sunny afternoon in early summer and Daniel sits in his large office off the busy newsroom on the third floor of the
building. He had arrived at
in the morning feeling relaxed and looking well, the beginnings of a deep suntan obscuring the circles under his eyes and accentuating the silver in his long wavy hair. He and his wife, the former Margaret Truman, had rented a summer home with a pool near Bedford Village, a somewhat exclusive and quiet community in New York State with plenty of trees and space and unpaved country roads for horsemen and with none of the frantic entertaining that
Margaret and Clifton Daniel try to avoid in Manhattan but not always can. They had married relatively late—she was thirty-two, he forty-three—and by that time they had both enjoyed the full fling of freedom and were ready to settle down. Margaret especially wanted privacy, having had little of it as a girl in Washington, and later she had to contend with rumors of her engagement to almost every man she dated more than a few times. The report that she had been a summer houseguest in 1955 of the bachelor Governor of New Jersey, Robert Meyner, was news that even
could not resist, but later that year she met Clifton Daniel.
She had been out to a dinner party, and afterward at the urging of her escort they stopped in at another party at the home of Mrs. George Backer, a friend of Daniel’s from the war years in London. Daniel had recently returned from a foreign assignment in Moscow, but at this point in 1955 he had given up reporting and had begun to move up the executive ladder of
. He had been introduced to Margaret by Mrs. Backer that night, and to this day he can remember very sharply the smallest details. He can remember the way Margaret wore her hair, her shoes, her wonderful complexion, never suggested in her photographs, and the dark blue Fontana dress with the plunging neckline, he not resisting the temptation of looking downward and being impressed with what he saw. They conversed in the corner for a good while that night, Daniel telling Margaret that if she, the daughter of a prominent political figure, had been reared in Russia she would be practically unknown because the politicians there shun publicity for their families. This interested her, and he continued to talk in his worldly way, and before she left he had made a date for lunch. Five months later, in the spring of 1956, in an Episcopal church in Independence, Missouri, where Margaret had once sung in the choir, they were married.