Posts Tagged ‘Rebekah Brooks’

Journalism: By Murdoch and by Lowry

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

It’s been 10 years since the death of Bill Lowry, one of the great people of journalism. To appreciate how great, let us consider for a moment his complete opposite.

That would be Rebekah Brooks, until recently the CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s herd of British newspapers. Now, The New York Times reports, she’s about to be charged with withholding information in the hacking scandal.

Recently The Times noted Brooks’ testimony before a Parliamentary investigating committee and her perhaps unintended revelation that her professional life was everything it should not have been. She told her questioners that she “kept in touch by telephone, text message and email” with her favorite British politicians, including David Cameron, the current prime minister. Hmmm.

The Times continued, “They met at lunches and dinners. They socialized at cocktail parties, birthday parties, summer outings, Christmas celebrations and, in one heady instance, on a yacht in Greece.”

So there you are, a reader in Britain trying to get unbiased information when the person who runs your morning paper is having a high old time with the people she’s supposed to cover.

Enough of Brooks.

In the mid-seventies, Bill Lowry was the Sullivan County bureau chief of The Times Herald-Record. He made sure that if you were going to work for him, you understood certain rules that only a blithering idiot could misinterpret. No, um, if invited, you would not sail the Greek isles with the people you cover.

In fact, you accept nothing but words from the people you write about, and you always check the accuracy of those words. He insisted we stick to a bit of old Chicago wisdom: You trust your mother but cut the cards.

If Bill was interviewing a source at the local luncheonette, he would insist on picking up the check. No one in his right mind ever would have believed that Lowry could be bought with a cup of coffee and a cheese Danish but he worried how it would look if a reader walked in at the moment that a mayor or a political party leader grabbed the check. At such moments, if struggle was futile, Bill would leave a $5 tip.

We worked in an office a block from Kaplan’s Delicatessen in Monticello, a place that made great mushroom and barley soup. It was snowing and bitterly cold one night when Anne Kaplan – she owned the deli and was mayor of Monticello – was closing up. She brought two quarts of mushroom and barley to the bureau. “To keep you guys warm,” she said and walked out.

Lowry ran after her to return the soup. Then he went to a nearby diner and bought coffee and sandwiches for his reporters. Annie thought Bill was crazy, and of course he was no such thing. We loved Lowry.

He and his brand of journalism infuriated a lot of people who were used to being palsy-walsy with reporters and editors. An example: Bill and I were covering local court one night. A woman faced charges of prostitution and theft of a john’s credit cards. The john didn’t want the case to be in the newspaper and the judge ordered the courtroom cleared – of the press and no one else. Understanding a perversion of judicial power when he saw it, Bill told me to leave but he refused to budge.

As a cop escorted him out, Bill yelled to me, “Write this story!”

When he wrote about unusual patterns in racetrack payouts he was threatened with physical harm. On any number of stories he spotted headlights in his rearview mirror that may or may not have been back there a little too long.

His heart was as enormous as his conscience. One example: He allowed some local characters to pass the time in the bureau including an old man we knew only as Mr. Barash. Mr. Barash appeared to be about 80 and spoke with a thick Yiddish accent. He would sit and stare out the big front window. “Nice day,” he would say more than once no matter what the weather. When it was time for lunch, Bill would get an extra sandwich for his guest.

Bill chased important stories such as the fact that some of the most god awful slums in Newburgh were owned by some of the most respectable politicians. He wrote compelling stories about the trials and sentencing of the serial killer Son of Sam. He wrote about the treatment of poor people by the affluent, and about the conditions under which poor people had to live.

He sought to relieve misery by exposing it for as long as it took to change, possibly the result of his education by the Redemptorist Brothers at an upstate monastery where he came this close to becoming a priest. Instead he joined the Army. Later he switched to journalism, and practiced the brothers’ fourth vow after poverty, chastity and obedience – perseverance.

Later in his career, Bill went to The Record in Hackensack where some assignment editors liked his writing and sent him to write about the 1986 World Series. The Red Sox beat the Mets 1-0 in the first game, and Bill wrote: “So here it is, the opening of the World Series. Some 55,000 fans jam Shea Stadium to overflowing. Millions more watch on television across the country. Can Christmas be far behind? It’s The Game. And it’s a bore.”

He believed that animals – but especially dogs – had more integrity than people. He brought countless strays home to his place in Walker Valley. He once told a colleague that the only really important story he ever wrote was one that prevented a horse from being put down.