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John B. OakesJohn B. Oakes
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Part:         Session:         Page of 512

Q:

Why?

Oakes:

Well, my own interpretation of it is that Harrison -- two reasons, I think -- Punch never explicitly explained to me why he was insisting that I name Harrison the first editor. There was never any doubt that the Op-Ed -- when it was formed in 1970 -- was part of and subject to the editorial department, of which I was the head, the editorial editor of the Times. The argument over where the Op-Ed page -- in which department it belonged -- had been settled by Punch himself after quite a lot of contest on the part of the news department to have control of it. But that issue had already been settled by Punch in May of 1970 -- four months before the first Op-Ed page appeared in September, 1970. The person who would be the actual editor of the Op-Ed page was to be in my department -- and symbolizing that was the fact that it was I who formally named the Op-Ed editor.

When it came to who it would be -- I had my own candidate from the editorial board of the Times -- Punch insisted that I name Harrison Salisbury, who was at that time an assistant managing editor on the third floor -- a deputy, really, to [Abraham] Rosenthal, the managing editor. My understanding is -- and here I certainly could not testify to this fact under oath but I believe and am quite convinced, from my memory of the situation -- that Harrison did not get along at all with Rosenthal, his boss -- that Harrison really didn't have an awful lot to do as assistant managing editor -- and it was, of course, universally recognized that Harrison was a superb reporter and a very distinguished one at that. He had made a terrific record as a reporter and his most recent exploit had been going to Hanoi in the middle of the Vietnam War.



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