Quantcast

Herb Klein — the perfect man for Helen Copley

Where did he come from?

Herb Klein. Copley gave Klein leaves of absence to assist in the Nixon campaigns of 1952, ’56, ’60, ’62, and ’68.
  • Herb Klein. Copley gave Klein leaves of absence to assist in the Nixon campaigns of 1952, ’56, ’60, ’62, and ’68.
  • Image by Robert Burroughs

Between the Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., and the executive management offices of the San Diego Union and Evening Tribune lies a span of just over 2600 miles.

Klein with his book Making It Perfectly Clear

Klein with his book Making It Perfectly Clear

To anyone who has worked in both places, the one would seem to imply far greater prestige and influence than the other. But this is not necessarily the case if your name is Herbert Klein, you are now vice president and editor-in-chief of the Copley Newspapers, and you have spent many years traversing from newspapers to government and back again.

The physical facilities in the room remain the same as in Krulak's era, with the exception of the pictures and the political cartoons on the wall, the books on the bookshelves.

The physical facilities in the room remain the same as in Krulak's era, with the exception of the pictures and the political cartoons on the wall, the books on the bookshelves.

True, Klein no longer luxuriates in the trappings of power he once enjoyed as Richard Nixon’s director of communications from 1969 to 1973. His former suite in the Executive Office Building included a corner room facing Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House, off of which extended a magnificent old porch where private conversations could be held.

Klein: “I covered Nixon  in 1946 as a news editor and as a reporter. I covered some of the debates, though not all, between Nixon and Voorhis."

Klein: “I covered Nixon in 1946 as a news editor and as a reporter. I covered some of the debates, though not all, between Nixon and Voorhis."

In his large office adjacent to it, Klein had three large color television sets encased in one elegant piece of furniture which had been designed for Lyndon Johnson and had sat in the Oval Office, an enormous (though out-of-date) ten-by-twelve map of the world, and a beautiful fireplace which did not work because of a defective chimney system.

“The Tribune is independent of the Union. They are not one voice. . . . I’m in the position of having to know some of Gerry [Warren]’s secrets and some of Neil [Morgan]’s."

“The Tribune is independent of the Union. They are not one voice. . . . I’m in the position of having to know some of Gerry [Warren]’s secrets and some of Neil [Morgan]’s."

Today, on the fifth floor of 350 Camino de la Reina in Mission Valley, Klein’s new office reflects less a sense of history, more a sense of the large corporation of which he is a part. Enclosed by glass on two sides, it looks out on no symbol of a nation's power, but on the Fashion Valley shopping center. The television set near the door has just one, solitary screen. Over to one side, separated by a glass coffee table, sits a sofa set, the only place where Klein can now hold a conversation in comfort.

Klein’s office does reflect local, if not national, history. Its previous inhabitant was Victor “Brute” Krulak, the reportedly heavy-handed former Marine Lt. General who served as director of editorial and news policy for Jim Copley. (Demoted after Copley’s death, Krulak is now resigned to writing the occasional hawkish Op-Ed piece.) The physical facilities in the room remain the same, with the exception of the pictures and the political cartoons on the wall, the books on the bookshelves. Yet even in these small changes is there significance, for on one shelf lies a book. The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse, an irreverent look at presidential press coverage by a former Rolling Stone reporter, that could never have found its way onto a Krulak bookshelf.

Behind the large desk to the right of the room as you go in the door sits sixty-three-year-old Herb Klein, whose features are not at all like the short, tough, Napoleonic Krulak's. Dressed nattily in a blue suit and pinstripe shirt and tie, the smiling Klein — though he is an ex-Navy man himself — seems more like someone’s prosperous, affable uncle than a military man, the sort of guy who would have a kind word for everyone. That is, until he starts talking.

What he brings up, for openers, is a new biography that has just been published. Written by the late historian and frequent Nixon critic Fawn Brodie, its title is Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character. “I’ve been reading proofs of my good friend Brodie’s book,” says Klein, as if she were still among us (she died in Los Angeles January 10, 1981, shortly after finishing the work). “It has a lot of inaccuracies. Like, you couldn’t buy a drink in Whittier. She has the wrong football game for Duke in the Rose Bowl. Little things like that.”

Klein has not bothered to read in its entirety the book that took Brodie the last six years of her life to research and write, but has “sort of skipped through” it. He comments, “She takes some theories she had and tries to prove a point, which isn’t necessarily the fact of the case. Like, Nixon’s problems originated when he was a boy because of his relationship with his mother and father. She’s into a lot of theories, some of which are probably correct ... but as for a lot of them, she really doesn’t know.” Alluding to Brodie’s “psycho-biographical” approach to writing, which, in this case, means that she used the traumas of Nixon's youth as a springboard to explore the later events of his political career, he adds, “She’s a psychiatrist and I’m not. But if you’ve known somebody a long time, you know some things of his nature, good and bad.” Klein now regrets having allowed himself to be interviewed by Brodie. Nixon, of course, was suspicious; he declined the opportunity. Although Klein does not know exactly why Nixon did so, had the ex-President asked his opinion after the night he resigned (when Klein and Brodie appeared on the same TV show together).

“I would have advised him not to talk to her,” he says.

On the surface, it might seem surprising that Klein would now be so protective of the man who scorned him on the infamous “smoking gun” White House tape of June 23, 1972, as someone who “doesn’t have his head screwed on,” as “absolutely, totally unorganized.” However, those who have read Klein’s 1980 memoir. Making It Perfectly Clear, will perceive the sense of appreciation he holds for Nixon for having provided him with many “irreplaceable, memorable moments.”

If Helen Copley has read the book (which may be doubtful, since she is not known to be a heavy reader), she has understood one thing with perfect clarity: Herb Klein does not easily forsake a “personal bond.” These bonds reach far into his past, are deep and firm, cannot be disturbed. Klein holds them with many of the people he has worked for, nurtured, or aided in some way over the last thirty years, such as Jim and Helen Copley, Mayor Pete Wilson, and Peter Kaye and Gerald Warren, associate editor and editor, respectively, at the Union. Each of these bonds has in some way had some-

thing to do with the paper that Klein “loved to edit,” the San Diego Union. And taken as a whole, they contain a common set of human denominators: being white, male, affluent, successful in news or politics, and above all, being a Republican. The only figure who does not fit this mold is Helen Copley, but after all, she inherited the Copley empire from her late husband.

Herbert Klein was bom into a nonnewspaper family in East Los Angeles. His father worked as a railroad mechanic; for most of his career, however, he was an auto salesman specializing in trucks. Both of Klein’s parents are still alive, his father having recently celebrated his ninetieth birthday, his mother being in her eighty-seventh year. His brother, Kenneth, manages the Honeywell operation in San Diego. A single sister died of cancer in her early thirties. With the exception of one grandson bom in Bethesda Naval Hospital, everyone in the Klein family is a native Californian.

Klein became attracted to newspaper work as a teen-age boy who loved sports, loved reading the sports page and the ball scores. From youth all the way through college, he intended to be a sportswriter. At the Roosevelt High Rough Rider he served as sports editor, covered the high school games, wrote a column. He found this, as he says, “more interesting than covering student government”; besides, “you make a lot of friends covering sports.”

Klein went from high school straight to USC, where he worked on the Daily Trojan. In his junior year of 1939, he was appointed its sports editor, succeeding the son of football coach Howard Jones. On this staff were other young men who would later excel, such as Cleve Hermann, now of Los Angeles news radio station KFWB, and Mel Durslag, sports columnist for many years now with the Herald Examiner.

At USC Klein participated in field classes, coming down on a Saturday, for example, to put out the now-defunct San Diego Sun with only minimal assistance from the professional staff. Klein’s uncle Herbert, a San Diego resident, introduced him to Clarence McGrew, the long-time editor of the Union, “and a really, really fine one,” says Klein.

When Klein got out of college, the Depression was still being felt; jobs were scarce and the first he could find was not at a newspaper but at the Los Angeles County Fair doing publicity work before and through the fair season, which he looks back on nostalgically as great fun.

In the fall of 1940, however, he got a job on the Alhambra Post-Advocate, a Copley paper at the time. “I went to Alhambra,” he says, “because it was a job, not because it had anything to do with the Copley organization.” Starting out at a salary of $12.50 per week, he got a raise to twenty-five dollars per week when he got married. The editor there, named Clayton Ward, convinced Klein he ought to learn to write hard news, not just sports. From then on, he never went back to sports writing, although his interest in athletics today remains “extremely high.”

As World War II broke out, Klein joined the Navy, was commissioned an ensign, and went into communications. He spent much of the war stationed in San Diego doing public affairs work for the Navy. The commanding officer of his naval unit was E. Robert Anderson, later to become an assistant to Jim Copley. Klein’s duties included escorting around town members of officialdom such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Marine Colonel Evans F. Carlson (famed for leading Carlson’s Raiders into battle, he later died of war wounds), whom Klein describes as “probably the bravest man I ever knew.” During this time, he also got to know Colonel Ira Copley, Jim’s father.

After the war ended, Klein and a friend intended to start their own newspaper in the Pomona area. Lacking the capital, he returned to the Post-Advocate, where, he says, “They were anxious to have me back.” Indeed, they named him news editor upon his return. The decision to come back to the paper was critical for Klein; over the next few years as a newsman there in Alhambra, he would have his most formative journalistic experiences, among them being his acquaintance with Jim Copley, who was being trained by his father at the several Copley papers in the Los Angeles area.

Klein was determined he would be very active in civic affairs in Alhambra, and “try to help things move in town.” He became a member, then president, of the junior Chamber of Commerce, and had his first taste of politics, when he successfully managed the candidacy of a man named Cliff Cooper for the presidency of the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce. As a result, he was appointed U.S. delegate to the International Chamber of Commerce convention in the Philippines; his newspaper and members of the community put together a fund to finance his trip. There he got to interview the president of the Philippines, and then traveled first to Hong Kong and next to Tokyo, where he interviewed General Douglas MacArthur about his theories of war and peace, which Klein describes as “an outstanding interview” and which was “played all over the world.”

Perhaps the most unusual assignment he ever received was to cover the first public atomic bomb tests on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. He explains, “I was one of about a hundred persons on a ship called the Appalachian. We went out to sea for about a month and watched the A-bomb go off from about twenty miles away. There was a lack of knowledge about what was going to happen among both the Navy and the news people. There were rumors of a tidal wave. None of this came about, of course. We just wore a thin protective film, and we went aboard ships within thirty-six hours of when they were hit. I survived. I’m not atomized. I guess not very many people have seen an atomic blast go off and lived to tell about it.”

In 1946 Klein first met Richard Nixon, who had been selected by the Committee of 100 (the publisher of the Post-Advocate was active in this group of influential Los Angeles Republicans) to try to unseat five-term incumbent Democratic Congressman Jerry Voorhis in the Twelfth District, which then included such communities as Whittier, Alhambra, Pomona, Monrovia, and Claremont. Says Klein, “I covered Nixon as a news editor and as a reporter. I covered some of the debates, though not all, between the two men. But I didn’t know Nixon that well during the campaign; I got to know him far better as soon as he was elected. I did not at that time have a strong sense of political philosophy.”

Historians have said that this was the first of Nixon’s numerous “dirty tricks” campaigns, in which he distorted his opponent’s voting record, accused him of communist leanings, and influenced newspapers to slant their coverage in his favor. Klein says he knew of no shenanigans. When he was preparing his book, he had his researcher dig up old newspaper clippings of the campaign. His findings: while the papers in the district “undoubtedly” favored Nixon editorially, they did not show any bias in news coverage. The issues in that campaign, says Klein, were primarily housing, GI rights, inflation, government regulation, and Nixon’s conservatism versus Voorhis’ liberalism.

Others recall the campaign, and Klein's place in it, differently. Paul Bullock, the author of Jerry Voorhis, the Idealist as Politician, says that, as news editor of a pro-Nixon paper that ran fifty-six articles on Nixon in the campaign compared to only eighteen on Voorhis, Klein “aided Nixon considerably. He went out of his way to do favors for the Nixon campaign. The Post-Advocate was one of the worst papers in the district.”

Mrs. Zita Remley, a Voorhis campaign manager, distinctly remembers going in to see Klein regularly to try to get some coverage for her man. She says that she “had to fight for every single thing,” that although the news editor was easily accessible, dealing with Herb Klein was like “dealing with the enemy.” She recalls, “Herbert Klein was a tight-lipped, quiet young blond. He was pro-Republican, though. He was a Republican, period.” Like Bullock, she insists that communism was a major issue in the campaign, with papers like Klein’s smearing Voorhis editorially. Klein, she says, is now “purposely forgetting” his role in the campaign.

In any case, once Nixon won the election, the young congressman tried to cultivate a good working relationship with the five dailies and several weeklies in the district. He would hold a breakfast and invite the newspaper people, and he started coming in to Herb Klein’s office. This may have been because, as Klein says, “The Committee of 100 looked at me as a sort-of comer in the area.” Nixon also started calling him from Washington and confiding in him about the inside story on national and international events. Klein reciprocated by advising Nixon on the 1948 campaign, during which, while still news editor, he did very little reporting, he says.

In 1950, Klein faced a crossroads. He didn’t know whether he should leave the

Copley organization and go to work for the old Los Angeles Examiner, or get out of the newspaper business entirely. Bill Shea, who worked in San Diego as the new general manager of the Copley interests, asked him seriously to consider coming down to work for the Tribune. Both Shea and the new publisher, Jim Copley, spoke glowingly of Klein’s future should he accept the offer. He did.

He stayed at the Tribune nearly a year as a feature writer, then moved over to the Union to write editorials. In this job, he recalled in his book. “I often had to depend on sketchy Associated and United Press reports to gain the facts I needed. As a result, the editorials were often too shallow.” Despite this admitted flaw, Klein quickly climbed up the ladder, from editorial writer to editorial page editor, to associate editor, executive editor, and finally, editor, a position the Union announced in its edition of January 20, 1959.

The Union in those days was not highly regarded as a newspaper. Wrote Ben Bagdikian in his book The Effete Conspiracy, “In the 1950s, when the Nixons and the Haldemans and the Zieglers and the Kleins were soaking up journalism, all of Southern California was right-wing journalistic territory. Herbert Klein, Nixon’s impresario of the media, was editor of the San Diego Union, a Copley property edited by retired military men for other retired military men. It is a case study in biased journalism.”

During these years. Klein was bringing along young hopefuls like Peter Kaye and Gerry Warren. He had met Kaye in the late Forties, after Kaye graduated from Pomona College. Kaye held Klein’s old job at the L.A. County Fair; Klein was moonlighting there at the same time, and the two “became very good friends,” says Klein. After the fair ended, he persuaded Kaye to "come to work for me” at the Post-Advocate, a job to which Kaye would return after a tour of duty with the National Guard in the Korean War.

By then, of course, Klein was already in San Diego. He recalls, “I talked to one of the editors here and persuaded him that Pete would be a great asset to us. He came down here in this fashion. The same is true of Lew Scarr [the Union's medicine writer]. Lew worked for me in Alhambra and then eventually I got him to come down here.”

Gerry Warren, says Klein, “came down here in the Fifties after being in the Navy as a reserve pilot. He was first a trainee, then assistant city editor, then left to work for the Copley News Service in the syndication department. I asked them to allow him to come back to the Union, and eventually I made him city editor. After I had gone into the ’68 campaign, Gerry was promoted to assistant managing editor.

“When he was being recruited to go to work for Ron Ziegler in the White House, I did not participate because I felt that I was going against my own company to some degree, although I thought he was a tremendous asset. Some other mutual friends of Gerry and mine persuaded him to take the job. He really was the steadying newspaper factor on Ron’s staff.

“So that is the beginning of the association that all of us have.”

During the 1950s, Klein was also solidifying his position with Jim Copley, whom he had known since Alhambra. Copley, Klein says, expressed confidence in him early on. Indeed, his boss sent him to Chicago in 1957 to cover the conclusion of the suit Bill Copley (Jim Copley’s other, similarly adopted brother) had brought to try to liquidate the Copley estate. The decision, which Klein was instrumental in persuading the judge to render at 3:00 p.m., so Klein could meet his deadlines, gave Jim Copley full control of the Copley newspaper properties, “the works — lock, stock, and barrel,” as one outside publisher commented.

“Jim Copley,” says Klein, “was one of the most thoughtful people I ever knew. He remembered little details about individuals.

“I built a house in La Jolla in the late Fifties. I was stretched for money, so I was trying to do some of the things on my own, with my limited skills, like putting in a concrete wall. One Sunday I was there, digging a ditch. My youngest daughter was with me, playing in the dirt. Jim and his [first] wife came by in their Cadillac limousine. He took one look at my daughter and said, *I think you ought to let me take Patty up to take a swim.’ Here was this dirty little muffin! So they all went swimming together. Jim thought it would keep her busy, that she’d enjoy it — he wasn’t worried about the fact she had a little dirt on her.

“That was a thoughtful thing. There were a lot of occasions like that. If he erred in any way, it was in that he was maybe too kind-hearted to people.” (Copley in fact was notorious for keeping old cronies on the payroll long after they had outlived their professional usefulness.)

Nixon and Jim Copley were on very good terms, according to Klein. “They weren’t close friends,” he says, “but they knew each other extremely well. They thought very highly of each other, there was a strong friendship and a great mutual respect. They agreed on a lot of things in the political world and would have lots of very long conversations.” Copley, says Klein, was a publisher Nixon could count on. Perhaps as a consequence, Copley gave Klein leaves of absence to assist in the Nixon campaigns of 1952, ’56, ’60, ’62, and ’68, and allowed him to work out the details of how the Union staff would operate while he was away. That last campaign, however, resulted in Klein’s being away from the paper for more than a decade.

When Nixon won the presidency, and named Klein director of communications at the White House, the paper responded enthusiastically with what proved to be one of the more clearly inaccurate forecasts ever penned. On November 30, 1968, it stated that Klein’s appointment was significant because “Klein will be the people’s watchdog, so to speak; his task will be to eliminate and make impossible during the presidency of Richard Nixon a ‘credibility gap.’” Just two years earlier Klein himself had delivered a speech in which he recommended that then-President Johnson set up a “truth code” to

give the American people the facts about government policy and action. Ironically, he was later unable to enforce such standards in the Nixon White House.

After Nixon's repeat victory in 1972, he made it clear soon thereafter that Klein’s job would be substantially reduced. Thus would be stripped from Klein whatever remaining influence he had with the President that H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Charles Colson had not shorn away from him already. So Klein let it be known that he was now available to the private sector, and out of this quiet move resulted thirty-two job offers. Since Klein really wanted to get to know the business side of television, he decided to go to work for John Kluge at Metromedia in Los Angeles. Jim Hagerty, Eisenhower’s former press secretary, counseled Klein to buy stock options, which, says Klein, “turned out to be a good thing.”

Intriguingly, Klein had discouraged anyone in the Copley organization from making him an offer because “I felt it wasn’t the right time for me to come back into the situation here.” Jim Copley was suffering from cancer when Klein left the White House in July, 1973; he would die a few months later, on October 6. On October 8. Klein delivered a eulogy for his late boss at a conference of editors and publishers in Mexico City.

While Helen Copley was putting the corporate operations back in order, making key personnel changes and eliminating any potential rivals to her new-found power, Klein was out of the scene, in Los Angeles, working for Metromedia. His responsibilities there did not include any direct dealings with the news department at KTTV (Channel 11), the company’s Los Angeles TV station. Rather, he did “consulting” work for Kluge “on a variety of things, from government to public relations,” and developed a plan to acquire major newspapers around the country, which ultimately Kluge decided not to pursue.

Klein then struck out on his own, as Herb Klein, Media Consultant, Inc. He had three major clients. Two were corporations: Fluor in Irvine (the tenth largest company in California, with revenues of $3.54 billion in 1979), and Wickes in San Diego. The other was the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Company, then trying to decide what to do about its losing proposition, Harper’s magazine. “I tried to save Harper’s,” says Klein. “I took it upon myself to convince corporations to spend some of their advertising dollars on Harper’s and The Atlantic as well. They could reach the audience they wanted and get a balance of views, from liberal to conservative.” Eventually, however, the company got rid of the magazine.

Throughout the years Klein worked in Los Angeles, he periodically drove down to have lunch with Helen Copley. “We just talked as old friends,” he says, “about things I saw happening in the country and things she wanted to talk about concerning the paper with an outside friend. We’ve had that kind of ongoing relationship. We’ve always been close. We’ve been friends since before she got married to Jim. I was sure, when she took over the paper, she would be a very strong leader because I had watched and heard her in meetings with Jim. A lot of people misjudged that.” At a newspaper convention in Hawaii in April of 1980, Mrs. Copley told him she had something she wanted to discuss with him. He was traveling in the East a lot at the time, so two months elapsed before the meeting took place. Once again over lunch, she told Klein, as he relates it, “She’d been thinking a lot about it — she needed someone to come in as editor-in-chief. She had already talked to her directors about it and had gone quite a ways before she discussed it with me. I was surprised, and pleased.” (Another former Copley employee says the offer was not quite so unanticipated as Klein makes it sound. “She had been courting him for years,” he says.)

She sketched for Klein an outline of what his duties would be. He would work with the editor of the Union. Gerald Warren. and the editor of the Tribune, Neil Morgan, representing her and reporting directly to her, with the understanding that either editor could have direct access to her any time he chose. Secondly, Klein would have the responsibility of overseeing the editorial product of the other papers in the Copley chain, suggesting specific ways they could be improved vis-a-vis their competitors.

Klein hesitated. He enjoyed a good deal of freedom as a media consultant, and the money he made from doing that kind of work was, in a word, “sizable.” He enjoyed being in the Los Angeles area because, as a (JSC alumnus, he worked with the university trustees and occasionally lectured there as well. Ultimately, however, he could not resist the temptation of rejoining the Copley organization.

It is said that both Gerald Warren and Peter Kaye felt bitter over Mrs. Copley’s having passed over them to fill this new position — they had, after all, been toiling away at the Union for much of the time Klein was away. Among staff writers, the reaction was mixed. Many did not learn of the appointment until just a few days before the announcement was made in the July 20, 1980 edition of the paper. One reporter, who has since left, says, “We were surprised that Mrs. Copley had reached back into the paper's past to find someone to lead it into the future. We were proud of the strides the paper had made in the last few years. Around the country, people commented that we had made a major turnaround from the old days. We hoped for the selection of a real pro newsman with impeccable journalistic integrity and lots of energy. For her to select Herb Klein meant that she had little sense of symbol.”

Klein began working on a part-time basis beginning in August, 1980, and full time as of last October. Meanwhile, Doubleday & Company published the book on which he had labored, off and on, for four years. Subtitled “An Insider’s Account of Nixon’s Love-Hate Relationship with the Media,” Making It Perfectly Clear hit a critical buzzsaw at two of the most important book review sections in the country. In a review published in September on page eleven of the L.A. Times Book Review, Times editorial writer Kay Mills termed it a “long, routine, self-serving and somewhat disorganized memoir.” On page twelve of the Sunday New York Times Book Review published on October 5, Boston Globe Washington bureau chief Martin F. Nolan wrote that Klein “was unable to discern the difference between press and propaganda, a distinction that also frustrated his boss.”

The San Diego Union, on the other hand, took an entirely different approach to the book of its new editor-in-chief: it ran a lengthy review (accompanied by two photographs of Klein) in “Currents in Books” on Sunday, September 7, 1980, which occupied the upper fifty percent of the front page of the section, and carried over to use up the entire back page. Written by the late John Osborne, who wrote “White House Watch” for The New Republic during the Nixon years, it showered praise on the book others would damn. “All who read this admirable book will be glad that Klein and a small troop of helpers finished it. despite the agonies of composition and recollection,” wrote Osborne. He scattered flowery adjectives on Klein, calling him “informed and perceptive,” “special,” “an extraordinary man,” “steely when steel was required,” “modest,” a man having “an adequate sense of his own worth.” In the review's most curious section, Osborne wrote, “The book’s organization by theme rather than sequence makes for a loose and annoying grab-bag effect in spots. In the galley proofs subject to correction in the final version, individual sentences, including some sentences conveying the author’s central thoughts, are so poorly written as to be nearly incomprehensible. But these are minor flaws.”

A reporter who worked at the paper at the time alleges that Klein hand-picked Osborne to review the book, that Klein made changes in the text before the Union published it, and that Klein viewed this as the perfect opportunity to get some good ink for his book — charges Klein flatly denies. “I had nothing to do with the selection of John Osborne,” he says. “I have no idea who picked him.” Admitting that Osborne was a friend of his, he quickly adds that he had many such friends among the White House press corps.

In Making It Perfectly Clear, Osborne, the reviewer, is described by Klein as one of “the few philosophers in the Washington press corps,” as “one of the leaders of the news herd.” In book review sections at other papers, this sort of flattering reference would be automatic grounds for disqualifying oneself from reviewing the book. At the L.A. Times Book Review, for instance, a friend of an author may not be picked to review that author’s book; if by chance a review copy is sent to someone who does have a personal relationship with the author. Times Book Review editor Art Seidenbaum expects him or her to have the integrity to return the book with a note saying he or she would not be able to provide an unbiased view. According to one of Seidenbaum’s assistants, many such review copies are routinely returned in this fashion.

Such standards were obviously not in force at the Union's “Currents in Books,” or — to give it the best possible interpretation — Osborne did not offer that type of reply. According to several staff reporters, the episode served as an early-warning signal: from that moment forward, a certain amount of neutrality and objectivity had been eliminated from the pages of the paper.

Klein, having been at his new job nearly a year, now finds that he is spending ninety percent of his time on matters relating to the two San Diego papers, though he expects this to taper off over the next few months so he can devote more attention to the other thirty papers (dailies and weeklies) in the Copley newspaper chain. For one thing, he has been heavily involved with the search for new talent. With his lifelong interest in sports, and the fact he was good friends with Union sports editor Jack Murphy (at whose funeral he delivered the eulogy), it made sense he would have more than a passing interest in locating someone who could approach Murphy’s capabilities, because, as he says, “this town is used to that kind of writing. I think we have that kind of person now,” in Barry Lorge, who was hired away from the Washington Post.

Being a member of the National Editorial Cartoonists’ Association, Klein likewise exerted his influence in the selection of Steve Kelley as the Union's new editorial cartoonist, replacing the maverick Lee Judge, who caused Mrs. Copley such consternation that he had to be fired. Kelley, whose work had appeared in such conservative journals of opinion as William F. Buckley’s National Review, “was discovered by Gerry Warren,” says Klein; however, Klein spent a day or so with the prospective new cartoonist in order to determine whether he could come up with a fresh idea every day, and whether he “understands our policy.” Asked if the paper specifically went looking for a conservative, Klein says, “Yes.”

Though personnel matters at the Union have taken up a good portion of his time, Klein says he doesn’t favor one paper over the other. He attends the Monday-morning editorial board meetings at the Union, as does David Copley (Mrs. Copley’s only son by a previous marriage, he is now the heir apparent), and Copley herself, if she’s in town. Klein does not regularly attend editorial board meetings at the Tribune, however. This reflects no lack of interest on his part, he says; rather, it is the result of the more informal structure at the afternoon paper, where Neil Morgan holds fifteen- to twenty-minute editorial board meetings each day. Klein says he has attended about twelve such meetings at the Tribune since he’s been back, about one per month.

Klein strongly objects to the expression, “the U-T,” because he wants the two papers thought of as separate and distinct, even though they share the same headquarters and the same owner. “The Tribune is independent of the Union," he says. “They are not one voice. . . . I’m in the position of having to know some of Gerry’s secrets and some of Neil’s, and not tell the other, because what we are trying to do here is to build up an even stronger rivalry than we had before.”

Neil Morgan comes in for praise from Klein for having brought about some “very good changes” at the Tribune. With the use of color photographs, new typography, and the condensation of news on the second page, the paper has been reworked in order to try to make it more visually attractive. The intent: to draw the readership of the paper away from its traditional blue-collar audience — which had abandoned it in favor of TV news — in order to attract a more affluent readership of both young professionals and senior citizens, who, says Klein, “read and get their news from sources other than just TV.”

According to Klein, these stratagems are succeeding. He cites his own circulation figures, which compare three days in mid-August, 1980, versus the same three days in August of this year. They show the Tribune's readership up from 122,000 to just over 124,000. These figures, however, have not been subjected to audit by the authoritative Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), a Chicago company which audits newspaper circulation counts on a semi-annual basis. ABC’s most recent figures show that the Tribune has slipped, not gained, from 130,702 in September, 1980 to 127,271 as of March, 1981.

The same holds true for the Union. According to the figures produced by Klein (again, from August of last year to August, 1981), the Union's readership has grown from around 202,000 to the 210-212,000-range. ABC does show growth for the morning paper, though their figures are less dramatic than Klein’s: from 203,739 in September, 1980, it was up to 207,172 as of March, 1981.

Either way, Klein does concede the growth of the Tribune has not kept pace with the Union. He himself remembers the days when the afternoon paper had 50,000 more readers than the morning paper. According to Editor and Publisher Yearbook, from 1964 to 1979 the Union grew seventy-four percent; the Tribune only eleven percent. This differential becomes meaningful in light of the fact that the population of the City of San Diego grew from 648,500 in 1965 to 870,006 in 1980. The inability of the Tribune to keep pace is similar to the plight of afternoon dailies elsewhere in the country, says Klein.

Gerald Warren, unlike Neil Morgan, is not on the list of close friends Klein named in the preface to his book, and there has been much speculation regarding the three men. For example: Warren cannot get along with Mrs. Copley; Morgan, a social confidant of the publisher, has been constantly undercutting Warren; Klein was brought in because Mrs. Copley felt Warren vacillated too much as a leader of the Union. Klein retorts, “Helen thinks he (Warren] is very, very good. It isn’t a question of bolstering up Gerry. We have a great potential here fat the Copley Newspapers] with nine dailies. We needed to have more of a leadership role over them all. Most large newspaper chains have an editor-in-chief or a vice president, whether it’s Knight-Ridder, or Gannett, or what-have-you. It’s a question of providing that kind of policy leadership. Where I’m different is that I'm also a hands-on manager.’’

Klein defines this as a person who does not sit up in an ivory tower, expressing his ideas only on paper, but rather meets with senior editors and has lengthy discussions with them on different sets of objectives for the paper. “What I'm trying to build here,” he explains, “is a kind of team management. Yet I am rarely there at the afternoon news conference to select the daily play. If I am, it’s still Gerry’s responsibility. I’m there as an observer. If I have a particular point of view, I express it. It’s that kind of operation.” On the other hand, when asked to assess Klein’s chief assets, Warren says he provides the Union with “more of a corporate voice” than would be the case if Klein’s office were at the La Jolla headquarters — thus leaving the impression, at least, of Klein being more a corporate executive than a “hands-on manager.” Klein, however, seems eager to point out his active role in the Union's editorial process. “On a couple of occasions,” he says by way of example, “when we’ve not been able to resolve a dispute between, let us say, someone on the editorial pages and, maybe, Gerry, and myself, I get all three of us and we go out to La Jolla, where we sit down with Helen and all talk it out.” (According to Warren, such an incident has taken place only once since Klein came back, and it happened when Warren was out of town.)

Whatever the perception of his role, Klein apparently has found it necessary to intercede personally in trying to improve quality at the Union. He brought in a writing coach, Roger Terterian (a professor of journalism at Fresno State) for six weeks this summer. Says Klein, “He came in and worked entirely independently in an office downstairs with any reporters who wanted to come in and talk with him about their stories. It wasn’t mandatory for anyone. The feeling is, if you talk to any of our staff, that having that kind of spurt makes them feel we are interested in having them advance professionally. We’ll be doing the same thing at the Tribune."

Despite this effort, the two papers have experienced a high level of turnover in the last eighteen months; at least twenty editors and writers have left. Yet to term this an exodus would be, in Klein’s words, “a gross misnomer.” Some of them, he says, were snatched away by other papers; others got out of the newspaper business; as for some of the remainder, Klein was either glad to see them go or at least would not want to hire them back. He’s not worried about finding replacements, citing the

sixty to eighty responses received recently from a help-wanted ad placed in Editor & Publisher for a city editor at the Tribune. Klein has also just hired two reporters from the now-defunct Washington Star.

In making decisions about the hiring of reporters, Klein draws on his philosophy of news. He sees a dangerous trend in American journalism today (particularly in the journalism schools, which are “overcrowded with activist reporters,’’- he claims in his book) toward advocacy reporting. He blames this on the status conferred on reporters as a result of Watergate. Besides bringing out the best in American journalists, Watergate, Klein feels, revealed another side to them as well. They were “printing accusations they hadn’t

checked out thoroughly,” thus damaging the reputations of the “more innocent” members of the White House. They turned the daily press briefings given by Ron Ziegler and his deputy at the time, Gerald Warren, “into an amateur circus.” The end result of a loosening of journalistic standards over the years, Klein believes, is the kind of atmosphere that permitted Janet Cooke to play her hoax on the editors of the Washington Post. To experience firsthand the results of inaccurate reporting, Klein thinks more reporters should do a tour of duty with the government. (Klein himself, of course, may have carried this a little too far. When he was in the White House, he would — against his better judgment, he admits — respond to Nixon hit-man Chuck Colson’s request for lists of twenty friendly publishers whom Nixon could call at the rate of three per day, as well as requests for lists of reporters considered unfriendly to Nixon.)

Klein regrets that the term “news management” has come to have negative connotations, as an attempt to structure the news in such a way as to lavish attention on one figure or to show favoritism to one political candidate over another by the manner in which the reporting is handled and displayed. “Reasoned, logical” news management, writes Klein in his book, is not detrimental to the public interest; on the contrary, it often works to the advantage of the public, as when a Presidential trip to a foreign capital is so “managed” that the President lands just in time for prime-time American TV.

Klein says his relationships with newsmakers past and present have no effect on how the papers he’s worked for have handled reporting of these figures. This includes, for example, the way the Union and the Tribune are now covering Mayor Pete Wilson, a friend of Klein’s for nineteen years.

The two men met in 1962. Klein was working for Richard Nixon in his ill-fated gubernatorial campaign against Pat Brown; Wilson had just graduated from Boalt Law School at UC Berkeley and was awaiting the results of his first bar examination (he would fail three times before finally passing on the fourth try). Klein picks up the story from here:

“He came into our gubernatorial campaign as an advance man. Pete and I became good friends during this time. I recognized that here was a bright young man, trying to decide what he was going to do. So I persuaded him to take a good look at San Diego as a possible place to practice law. He was already interested in San Diego, so he came down here and I arranged for him to meet with two or three law firms. He eventually went to work, as whatever you do as a lawyer before you pass the bar, with Lewis Silverberg and Chuck Karpinsky. That is the start of our relationship.

“A lot of what Pete did in the assembly, and later as mayor, occurred while I was

away on the Presidential campaign, and in the first term in the Nixon White House. We always had a lot of contact, though. I was not advising him on races. We’d talk about issues.”

The relationship has continued. Wilson was among those who gave “sound informal advice” to Klein while the latter was writing his book; in that book, Wilson is described as an “astute mayor.” According to Klein, approximately a year and a half ago, he arranged a meeting between J. Robert Fluor (another of those who advised Klein on his book) of the Fluor Corporation (one of the major corporate clients Klein had as media consultant) and Pete Wilson. Yet, says Klein, his involvement had nothing to do with the $10,000 contribution the corporation made to the Wilson-for-govemor campaign. More recently, a few months ago Wilson’s San Francisco office distributed a news release which bore Klein’s name, among others, as one of the mayor’s key supporters. This was done without Klein's authorization, he says, which made him “very angry” when he found out about it, and he immediately insisted his name be removed. (According to a former staff reporter, this incident upset Union state editor Steve Green and political writer George Condon, who, until it got straightened out, felt they had been “set up” by Klein.)

In the pages of the Union, a Pete Wilson story usually appears on page one or three of the first section, and is lengthy. Titles attached to these articles are often upbeat, as in the June 12 report on page three, “Fund-Raising Success Buoys Mayor Wilson,” the July 1 report on page three, “Mayor Reaches Election Fund Goal.” or the page-one story five days later, “Pete Wilson, Eternal Optimist.” When Wilson goes elsewhere in the state for a fundraiser, this will usually trigger a prominent story in the paper the following day.

Conversely, when Wilson’s political adversaries come here for fundraisers, they are usually relegated to the back pages, particularly if they are Democrats. On June 12 (the same day of the Wilson fundraiser story), a report on a visit to San Diego by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to discuss his own campaign appeared on page twenty, ten pages behind the second half of the Wilson article. Jerry Brown and George Deukmejian have received similar treatment, as in the July 26 article appearing on page three of section B, “Brown Attends ‘Evening of Stars,’ ” or a report published June 13 on a visit to town by the state attorney general — when it was still possible Wilson and Deukmejian might

square off against each other in the Republican gubernatorial primary — which appeared on the last page of the same section.

When criticism of Pete Wilson does appear, it is usually treated as local news; consequently, it appears in the second section. There, on pages one or two, appear stories such as the genuinely thought-provoking June 21 article, “Sell or Lease? Council Must Decide How to Manage City Land,” critical of the mayor’s decisions to make land sales to selected corporations at prices below what the city could have earned through competitive bidding; or the June 20 report, “Mayor Shoulders Blame for Convention Center.” It was in the second section that the news Pete Wilson’s wife had filed for divorce was announced — the same day, incidentally, that a Wilson fundraiser appeared on page three of the first section.

In the Tribune, Wilson articles may be found in different spots in the first or second section; fitting in with the overall pattern of condensation of news in the afternoon paper, they are also briefer. A noteworthy exception was the August 24 page-one story (replete with a color photo of the mayor) saying he had “effectively revolutionized” city government by wrestling the power to run the city away from the city manager.

As in the Union, criticism of Wilson usually appears in the second section of the Tribune. Here, too, the news of the impending divorce was announced. “The timing could have been worse,” a staff reporter wrote on July 1, noting that the 1982 primary season was still nearly a year off. “That way, the separation will not be as fresh in the public’s mind when the election nears.”

Asked if this sort of reporting and positioning of news stories on Pete Wilson represents news management in the negative sense of the term, Klein answers, “Pete Wilson is the mayor of this city. The people are interested in him. Besides, there are not that many big political figures in San Diego.” Gerald Warren recoils at the very suggestion of news management. “Pete Wilson has dominated the news for nearly a month now,” says the Union editor. “Our reporting on him is as astute and as tough as, or tougher than, it has ever been.”

Klein says he has not discussed the coverage of Pete Wilson with any reporters at either paper, nor has he had anything to do with the way the stories are displayed. The mayor has called Klein twice to say he felt reporters had made remarks disparaging to his campaign for higher office. On those occasions, Klein says he has asked the mayor if there were any inaccuracies; if not, he has supported the writer. “While the mayor might gripe to me about stories,” he says, “that doesn’t change the stories.”

That, in the past, reporters from the Tribune have been witnessed in the mayor’s office after hours, drinking wine from Pete Wilson’s private stock, is news to Klein. He has set up no rules regarding the manner in which reporters socialize with news sources — except he expects them to have the maturity not to permit it to affect their news judgment. But no one can deny the significant level of crossing-over that has occurred between the two newspapers and city hall. Otto Bos, the mayor’s press aide and campaign manager, was formerly chief political writer at the Union. Larry Thomas, also a former reporter at the Union who is now with Bechtel Corporation in San Francisco, preceded Bos in the mayor’s office. Former Tribune reporter Bernard Hunt worked this summer — however briefly — as administrative assistant to city council member Susan Golding, a close ally of the mayor. At the very top of this pyramid are Union associate editor Peter Kaye, Wilson’s former campaign manager. Union editor Gerald Warren, who calls Wilson “an old friend,” and Herb Klein.

“The connection between Pete Wilson and the two papers is solid,” says Bob Dorn, who spent eight years as a reporter at the Tribune. “He is their correspondent in city hall. Whatever he needs, he gets. There is a cheek-by-jowl relationship. If you’re a muckraking reporter, you have to make damned sure in advance just whose muck you’re going to rake.”

In Sacramento, Ed Salzman, editor of the California Journal (an independent monthly magazine analyzing state politics and government), says, “Now that he is an official candidate, the papers will go balls-out for Pete Wilson. They will lose sight of impartiality as the campaign progresses.”

Klein does not understand what all the fuss is about. He does, not interfere with reporters, and says, “No subject is taboo here.” Retired Copley editor Lyle Erb backs him up on this. “Herb Klein has absolute integrity,” says Erb. “He is the only man who came through the Nixon White House with his integrity intact.” Outsiders are more skeptical. UCLA economist and Voorhis biographer Paul Bullock says, “Integrity is the last word I would associate with Herb Klein or Richard Nixon.” A former reporter for the L.A. Times who does not wish to be identified says, “Klein is a flack. He talks out of both sides of his mouth. He has never had a full, complete career in the news because he was always going off like a good soldier to be an advocate for Nixon. He lacks the impartiality necessary to be editor-in-chief.”

This criticism strikes at the very heart of the matter. Herb Klein’s career is so entangled by personal relationships with newsmakers that the question of possible conflict-of-interest may only be able to reach a long-deadened nerve. Even in his book he admits of his days in the Nixon White House, “Loyalty clouded the view of too many of us.” And now Klein is back in San Diego as the editor-in-chief of the two biggest newspapers in tow n, maintaining a close relationship with the mayor. While this may not lead to a local version of Watergate, there are those who fear it could help create an atmosphere in which Union and Tribune reporters hesitate to dig after Wilson if they know that Herb Klein is privately touting the man for higher office.

It is not that Klein cannot distinguish between press and propaganda, as Martin F. Nolan wrote, so much as it is that he seems to confuse the difference between press and publicity, between the public’s interest and self-interest. His attitude has remained consistent for thirty-five years — from the current reporting on Pete Wilson in the Union and the Tribune, to the review of Klein’s book when he first returned here, to the reporting on Richard Nixon in the Alhambra Post-Advocate in 1946.

The real crucible for Klein could lie ahead, not as editor-in-chief (and he clearly seems to be in charge again at the Union) but rather in his position as a news executive, as vice president of the Copley Newspapers. In An American Life: One Man’s Road to Watergate, former Klein deputy Jeb Stuart Magruder called Klein “a terrible administrator. He wouldn’t delegate authority and when he was traveling, as he often was, nothing would get done. The President or Haldeman would ask for something, but no one in Klein's office was there to provide it.” White House legend had it that everything went into Herb’s briefcase; nothing came out. According to Magruder, on a coast-to-coast flight, Klein would toss a pair of airline slippers in the briefcase, right atop the President’s unanswered memos.

One source very close to Klein defends him this way: “He’s not an intellectual. But he has the ability to walk into a room where there are warring elements, and without knowing a thing in advance, figures out what needs to be done to solve the crisis. I’ve seen him do it dozens of times.” Helen Copley, who did not respond to a request to discuss Klein, might value that kind of diplomatic ability more than administrative skill or swiftness or response: she needed someone who could make editorial decisions without getting too big for the job in the process. Jim Copley’s son Michael, who, with his sister, successfully sued their stepmother in San Diego Superior Court for improperly managing their share of the Copley estate (the case is now in the state appellate court on appeal), says, “She can intelligently hire capable people. But she does not want a powerful, aggressive man to compete with her. She has no one like that working for her.” Including Herb Klein. He is a soft-spoken man who can call her two or three times a week to let her know how things are going in Mission Valley, yet he does not nag her with trivia. He has the experience to fill the vacuum that has existed ever since the day she demoted Brute Krulak, yet also the pedigree to be able to lunch with her easily in La Jolla (where he also resides, in a condominium). He goes back to the days when she was just one of three secretaries working outside Jim Copley’s office, yet showed the good sense not to try to muscle in on her in the aftermath of her husband's death. He is, in sum, a trustworthy, non-threatening individual who also happens to be a genuinely nice, likable guy.

With nearly twenty-five years of Copley newspaper experience in his background. Herb Klein has come back to San Diego to help out an old, old friend. But it is obvious this is no “sunset” job in preparation for retirement. If and when he does retire (he says he’s given no thought to the subject), he intends to write “a lot more books” dealing with his special area of expertise — the media. He also says he has yet to decide whether these will be works of fact or works of fiction.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader

Comments

Log in to comment

Skip Ad