Bulletin: Scores arrested! Fred is there!

KU students were a rowdy bunch, even in the mid 1960s (or especially in the mid-1960s). I recounted how they hung football coach Jack Mitchell in effigy because of his team’s string of losses. When a boxy replacement was announced for gothic and universally beloved Fraser Hall, students walked a picket line and sought a moratorium on a decision. Alas, at that they were unsuccessful, and I miss what is now remembered as Old Fraser. The Student Peace Union picketed the Military Science building around the clock to protest the spreading U.S. involvement in Vietnam (the vigil flopped, its leader bemoaning the apathy of KU students).

But the granddaddy of all protests began at 10:30 on the morning of March 8, 1965. Seventy members and supporters of the KU Civil Rights Council marched unannounced into the office of Chancellor W. Clarke Wescoe, their numbers spilling into the corridor of Strong Hall. I must have been right behind them or known of this in advance—I cannot recall—because their appearance got me a rare front-page byline in that afternoon’s Star and the next morning’s Kansas City Times.

Fraternities and sororities at KU then were tightly segregated into ones for whites, blacks and Jews. Wescoe had stated for years that he would stand by any Greek organization that broke the segregation barrier (or as I stated in my piece, “pledges a Negro”). The Civil Rights Council sought for Wescoe to immediately abolish discriminatory practices and require of Greek organizations that they sign notarized statements of nondiscrimination.

At first, Wescoe refused to meet with the entire group, preferring instead to talk to its five leaders in a nearby conference room. But rebuffed, he gave in and a civil but emotional dialogue began. Word quickly got around, and soon the hallway was clogged with what I estimated to be 125 protestors. Among those drawn to the confrontation was my fiancé and soon-to-be wife, Maggie Hughes.

The whole affair was quite orderly. Regarding the demand for nondiscrimination statements, Wescoe said, “This university has said that disclaimer affidavits are distasteful and contrary to the principle of academic freedom.” To which Nate Sims, president of the CRC, replied. “You have made statements which sound good to Caucasians but not so good to Negroes.”

On and on this went until Wescoe demanded that people leave by 5 p.m. Of course, that was taken as a dare. Campus and city police moved in and arrested 110 people, charging them with disturbing the peace. Maggie said her heart was with the CRC, but she left before police moved in.

This was a big story for that time. Only months earlier, the calm across American college campuses had ended with the historic eruptions at the University of California at Berkeley, which became known as the Free Speech Movement. The sit-in and arrests at KU came right on the heels of that.

Who should drive on campus the next morning in his little Triumph sports car but Harry Rosenthal, a star reporter for the Associated Press. Harry parked his car illegally and walked straight to Wescoe’s office, gaining an immediate interview. For his spunk and confidence, I became an instant admirer of the man. I thought to myself, so this is how it’s done in the big time?

I expected that the Douglas County attorney would quietly drop the changes, which were minor misdemeanors. But no, the protests must not have gone over well with voters because Ralph King scheduled all the cases for trial that May. It turned out not to be a good idea. A jury was chosen to decide the fate of the first three defendants. Wescoe was one of many who testified, for more than half an hour. And when the jury returned after almost three hours of deliberation, it announced an acquittal of all three defendants. Humbled, King asked that charges against the other 107 students be dismissed. Thank you, everyone, because the verdict got me more front-page bylines in the Star and Times. I guess you have concluded by now the truth, which is that I measured my march through life then by the number of times I landed on the front page.

Of course, in the end, nothing changed at KU, at least not in my time. It seems quaint in today’s cable-news and opinion-disguised-as-news-analysis world, but I held to the belief than my opinions had no place whatever in news stories I wrote. As with Maggie, however, I privately rooted for the Civil Rights Council and its goals. Unlike Maggie, however, I was a Greek, belonging to Kappa Sigma. I wasn’t brave enough to leave over the overt discrimination we practiced, but I’ve wished all my adult life that I had.

The passions of youth

All hell erupted at the University of Kansas School of Journalism in early 1965. The editorial page editor of the University Daily Kansan, Rick Mabbutt of Shoshone, Idaho, had penned an editorial late in 1964 entitled “Your Right—A Responsible Kansan.” In it, Rick wrote that the campus newspaper had withheld news about the effigy hanging of football coach Jack Mitchell and campus civil rights meetings. But the chief complaint seemed to be that news of the impending resignation of the student body vice president had been withheld.

For this, the School of Journalism faculty accused Mabbutt of libeling the faculty advisor and the former managing editor, violating journalistic ethics by showing nobody the editorial before its publication and disregarding the newspaper’s constitution. The faculty voted to place him on disciplinary probation.

So much for free and open discussion!

By the time L’Affair Mabbutt ended two weeks later, I had written four stories without ever having really disclosed what this was all about. And the reason may be that I had my own conflict of interest. I was a student at that School of Journalism, and the faculty that pursued Mabbutt could also pursue me.

Rick’s real beef appears to be that the student body vice president who was going to resign was the girlfriend (and later the wife of) the Kansan’s managing editor, Roy Miller. She was transferring to another university, in Chicago, at the end of the fall semester and didn’t want it known until the semester ended because the news might affect her grades. I don’t know what reason Roy gave for declining to spread this news, but I would have told Rick that until she had resigned, there was no news to report.

But passions run high in the hothouse of a university campus. Rick wrote his editorial, and the faculty smited him.

Mabbutt appealed the punishment to the university disciplinary committee, which was a student-faculty board, and an assistant professor of law volunteered to argue his case, saying it involved the issues of academic freedom of students and freedom of speech. After a six-hour session, the committee decided “censure” and not “disciplinary probation” was the proper punishment. Mabbutt said it was a satisfactory outcome.

By then, the people who had succeeded Mabbutt as editorial editors of the campus daily couldn’t even agree on the issue and took different sides in print. Wrote co-editor Gary Noland: “The vaguely defined reasons for the punishment, the punishment itself, and the purpose of the punishment have not been adequately justified.” Countered his associate, Leta Roth: “The journalism faculty cannot be denied the right to punish a student. For the campus readers also deserve a responsible editorial page, an idea which the faculty felt had been violated.”

I read these yellowed clips now and for the life of me cannot recreate the furor and indignation that must have roiled that proud old School of Journalism. I say much ado about nothing, on the part of both Mabbutt and the faculty. And has anything really changed about the passions that get stirred up on campuses? I think not, just the topic that arouses those passions. As for my own conflict of interest, the Star would have been better off sending a staff reporter to Lawrence to write about the controversy. But I wasn’t about to request that; I was to be married at semester’s end, and needed every buck I could earn.

Oh, a footnote. At the end of the academic year, a story of mine appeared in the Star about an awards dinner at the School of Journalism. There was an award recognizing the best work in editorial writing. It went to Rick Mabbutt.

Why I hate basketball

Being a university reporter for the Kansas City Star and Times meant writing about sports much of the time. During football season, each Monday through Thursday at 5 o’clock, I’d meet with coach Jack Mitchell near the practice field. He’s brief me and the sports editor of the Lawrence Journal-World on preparations for the next game. I’d go straight to the Western Union office in downtown Lawrence to tap out a short piece, to be Telexed to the sports desk in Kansas City for the next morning’s Times.

On those five Saturdays each fall that the Jayhawks played in Memorial Stadium, I’d join two Star sports writers in the press box—a big step up from the little shack atop the bleachers in Sulphur Springs. All three of us had specific assignments. One of the visiting writers wrote the main game story, the other a feature piece. My task was first to write a short piece to appear on the front page of the last edition of that afternoon’s Star and then to go to the visitor’s locker room to interview its coach and whichever players had a standout day.

Sitting next to the three of us in the press box was a Western Union employee with his Telex keyboard, which resembled that of a typewriter. The game would end right on the deadline for Saturday’s last edition. So my drill went like this: At the half, I’d type two paragraphs summarizing the game thus far and hand it to the WU employee to transmit to Kansas City. At the end of the third quarter, I’d write another paragraph, to be appended by the sports desk to the first two paragraphs. And at the closing buzzer, I’d rip from my typewriter a fourth paragraph to lead the story, and off it would go. Some weeks these little narratives would be top story on the final edition’s front page (alas, without a byline). Then off I went to the locker room, my notes from interviews to be given to the two writers from the main office. I’ve always liked football, so these tasks were enjoyable.

Just as enjoyable was talking to Jack Mitchell. He was a personable fellow liked by almost everyone. Too bad he wasn’t really very smart or even a very gifted coach. With Gale Sayers gaining almost 4,000 yards in 1964, the Jayhawks won six games, but without Sayers in 1965, just two. Alumni were not happy, and after the 1966 season (2-7-1) a job was found for Mitchell as publisher of the Wellington Daily News in southern Kansas. Hugely ironic for me is that Jack’s replacement was Pepper Rodgers from Georgia Tech, whose son Rick would marry my stepdaughter Nicole many years later. By the way, Pepper took the Jayhawks to the Orange Bowl in his first season as coach.

Not so enjoyable was basketball season. K.U. basketball then and now had a huge following, but this sport has always left me cold. In addition, I had little to do at these games except to watch them from the press table and then go to the visitor’s locker room to chat people up and type my notes quickly for the writer sent to cover the game. Mainly I let other, more knowledgeable people ask the questions and quietly took notes. I did this 15 or so times a season for two years. Small wonder I couldn’t watch a compete basketball game again until I was in my 50s.

But there was one big sports event in 1965 that got me on the top of page one, this time with my name attached. After basketball, track was the signature sport at KU, and for 18 years Bill Easton directed this program, with great success. But on the morning of April 20, word got out that Easton had been sacked by the school’s new athletic director, and I bolted my classes to report the story and call it in for that afternoon’s Star. The long and short of it: Easton had become something of a prima donna, and had vowed that his track budget was untouchable. That worked with the former athletic director, but not with Wade Stinson. Easton told me, “I had no choice. I had to let him fire me.”

That afternoon, I was on the field at Memorial Stadium as Easton, his voice often breaking, explained to the track team what had happened. He said he would finish that season and told the team: “What we have to do is to get together. We’ve got to do the greatest job now we’ve ever done. We did it before and we’ll do it again.” Then he walked off the field.

Great hue and cry followed on campus, earning me a lot more money filing stories. Students even hung a dummy named “Wade Stinson” in effigy. But four days after the firing, as petitions circulated to restore Easton to his job, KU hired his assistant as the new track coach. So much for Bill Easton, and it concluded a dramatic sports story for this kid, one whose final score was Wade 1, Bill 0.

Daring to be dull







The Kansas City Star and Times in the 1960s were visual throwbacks to the newspapers of the Spanish-American War. Multi-deck headlines were the rule—as many as six for front page stories. To me, captivated by evolving newspaper designs, especially those of the New York Herald Tribune, they were an embarrassment. So at some social event when I was the new University of Kansas correspondent for the Star, I got up my nerve and cornered the newspaper’s managing editor, Cruise Palmer. Why, I asked, do the Star and Times persist in this antiquated design?

Palmer knew me as one of his minions and could have swatted me off. Maybe he noticed I asked the question with a smile. He happily launched into a multi-minute defense of the newspaper’s design (I sensed I was not the first to confront him on this matter). We could look like every other newspaper, he said, but who could distinguish us from the pack? Our design may look old, he said, but it is unique to us and our readers know us for it. I was wise enough to thank him for the explanation and shut up. Today the Newseum posts online      http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/          the front pages of hundreds of U.S. newspapers. It is depressing how alike they look. Maybe Cruise Palmer (he died in 2011 at age 93) had a point. The fact was, visually antiquated or not, the Star was very easy to read.

But if you dare to be dull, you had better damn well be good. That the Star and its sister the Times certainly were. The newspapers, owned by their employees for 51 years, until sold to Capital Cities/Disney in 1977, appeared to me not to be managed for the bottom line alone. The newspapers seemed to feel the burden of civic leadership, a debt all great newspapers owe their cities and regions. They set the civic agenda for Kansas City, often opposing but also coexisting with the city’s Democratic Party machine.

In my two years working for the newspapers from the University of Kansas, I made numerous trips to the newsroom on any pretext I could dream up. I drifted from desk to desk and struck up conversations with reporters. The remarkable memory I carry to this day is the lack of cynicism from these men and women. They loved their jobs. They loved or at least tolerated their employer. They thought the Kansas City Star and Times a good place to work. Years later, working for employee-owned U.S. News & World Report magazine, I would experience similar feelings of pride and accomplishment.

I loved writing for the Star and Times. Few aspiring journalists had the advantages I did, working for those newspapers. These were not classroom exercises associated with report card grades. I was writing almost daily for real big city newspapers at age 20, run by real editors who were unwilling to put up with people who couldn’t pass their high bar. And believe it or not, the University of Kansas was a constant source of news. More about that in subsequent posts.

My rising Star



(My journalism training at the University of Kansas owed some to the classroom, but a lot to covering the campus during two academic years for the nearby Kansas City Star. Being its KU correspondent was at least a half-time job, one that paid enough to finance my last year of college. I helped the sports writers cover football and basketball games. But I was also there when students staged sit-ins and other controversies erupted. All in all, the Star was a wonderful introduction to big-city newspapers for a young man anxious to get out of school and get on with things. These are my tales of this experience.)

Luck counts for something in life. When I got to the University of Kansas in the fall of 1962, I knew I wanted to be a newspaperman. I looked for ways for my college years to jump-start that ambition. And I very quickly discovered a path that might lead me to a job on a big city newspaper right after graduation. That was to be the KU correspondent of the Kansas City Star. The evening Star (its morning edition was the Kansas City Times) was then a great regional newspaper, easily the equal of the Des Moines Register or Minneapolis Tribune or St. Louis Post-Dispatch. And it had a tradition of treating its correspondents at Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri universities like junior staff members. Whereas its other stringers were paid 10 cents per column inch, the campus correspondents earned $1 for each inch published. The earnings could easily pay for a state university education.

I noticed that doors of employment opened up for KU correspondents to the Star. Fred Zimmerman was the Star’s man at KU my freshman year. Fred, the son of a Baptist minister in suburban Kansas City, was quite the Big Man on Campus. His editorials and news articles at the University Daily Kansan so infuriated the university’s chancellor, Dr. W. Clarke Wescoe, that when I encountered Dr. Wescoe decades later and dropped Fred Zimmerman’s name, the poor man became red-faced and apoplectic. Fred went right from KU to the Wall Street Journal and ultimately was editor and publisher of the Asia Wall Street Journal, where he regularly angered the government of Singapore. Oh yes, in 1962, in his junior year, Fred took first place in the Hearst Journalism Awards Program.

Okay, maybe I’d never be a BMOC or give Chancellor Wescoe angina. But I did want to follow in Fred Zimmerman’s footsteps with the Star. Here’s where my good luck came into play. Zimmerman’s replacement as KU stringer was Roy Miller, who held the position before he, too, graduated at the end of my sophomore year. Roy and I got along well, and he knew of my ambition to be his successor at the Star. The following spring, as Roy prepared for graduation, he recommended to the state editor, Frank Whitsitt, that I replace him, starting in late March of 1964. I drove to Kansas City to meet the Whitsitt and stare in wonderment at that institution’s huge newsroom.

My first stories followed immediately. On March 22 and again March 27, I wrote about picketing of Sigma Nu fraternity, whose national organization forbade its chapters from pledging black members. On April 1, I covered a speech delivered by Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, predicting (correctly) that America’s growing involvement in Vietnam’s civil war would end in failure. On May 18 came a milestone: my first front page story, about the 36,000-mile world tour of the 18-member KU Brass Choir. By the looks of the pile of clippings I saved, I earned hundreds of dollars that spring. But if I’m to believe those yellowing clips, I left Lawrence, Kan., in late May to again work on my dad’s newspaper in Texas for the summer without getting a single byline in the Star. That would change come fall.