William F. Buckley
Only one in a thousand Americans brushes up against such foreign bodies as newspaper writers and editors. Some bylines become recognizable, but unless the reporters have a life on television, they are sheer palimpsest, and this is the reason for the surprise, here and there registered, with the huge attention given to A.M. Rosenthal, who died on Wednesday in New York, age 84.

Notwithstanding that his name was not known to the many, what Abe Rosenthal did touched the lives of everyone who reads newspapers. He was the commanding figure in the evolution of serious daily journalism, which he influenced as decisively as William Randolph Hearst influenced the tabloids, and Henry Luce the weekly newsmagazines. He did it through The New York Times, where he worked for 55 years, rising from stringer at his college campus to executive editor.

In 20 years he altered journalism by hugely increasing the range of public notice -- everything interested the Canadian-born journalist whose father, an immigrant from Byelorussia, was an indigent fur trapper and house painter. By the time Abe was named executive editor of the most influential newspaper in the world, he had changed not only the purview of the daily press but also the idiom in which it was written. The Times, by general acknowledgment, had become a model for journalists, and Abe did that.

His obituaries tell that he was often an angry man, that his tempers were violent, his manners often oppressive. We were friends from the time he returned home from Japan, after nine years as a prize-winning foreign correspondent, to begin his administrative career at the Times. He was co-founder of a little club. The reasons for its formation are not chronicled and not known, but the alluvium was a half-dozen New Yorkers, some of them decisive voices in American journalism, meeting for lunch five or six times every year.

Only once, that I remember, did we have the flavor of Rosenthal anger. I myself had it once for a blistering five minutes on the telephone when he accused me of misrepresenting The New York Times in a news story. But that mode of A.M. Rosenthal was all but unknown to most who experienced him as a friend.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

Be the first to read William Buckley's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.