In admirable journalistic precision, it did not take Sam Roberts long to get to the point about Arthur Gelb.
“Sheer force of personality.” Words 5 through 8.
Gelb was a whirlwind, make you crazy, make you work better. He was our boss, our captor, our rabbi, and now he is gone at 90. So soon?
If anybody wants to know about The New York Times – why one passionate sliver of society is paying so much attention to the current changes – it is all contained in Arthur Gelb’s obituary in today’s paper. He personified the power and the glory, the curiosity and the authority, of the Times.
Just read Sam’s obit. But let me say a few personal words.
I went to work for him on Jan. 2, 1973, after choosing to come back from a great job in Appalachia. Needed to get home. I was taken in by the Metro editor, long and twitchy, whom I did not know but would soon come to think of as a stork on speed. Arthur had a zillion ideas, half a dozen of which were brilliant, and he was capable of great enthusiasms and innate wisdom.
“Cover Long Island like a national assignment, the way you did Appalachia,” he told me. He got it. Whenever other editors tried to change my direction, I would quote him. He loved to hear about things outside his urban experience.
People fish for snappers and bluefish less than an hour from Times Square?
How long has this been going on?
Get photos! Write long! We’ll put it on the second front!
Every day he promised 10 or 12 reporters that their literary efforts would be on the second front. The next day, from the obscurity of B17, most of the reporters wanted to throttle him.
He was sometimes kind, liked to reward people, in a job that necessitated hard decisions, in a newsroom stocked with talent (and still is.)
Sensational new recruits got heavy play. One year it was the wonderful Anna Quindlen. The next year it was the marvelous Alan Richman.
“There goes Alan Richman,” Quindlen once quipped, but nicely. “He’s the new Anna Quindlen.” She did all right. So did Richman. So did a lot of Arthur’s people.
There was one way to get through to him. I tried acting disturbed, but how would anybody tell in that setting? Grace Lichtenstein, one of our hardiest reporters, who could go anywhere, do anything, found a way to get through to Arthur. She would complain to him in the center of the newsroom – until tears started welling in her eyes.
“Don’t cry! Don’t cry!” he would plea, hustling her into a conference room. She did fine. He was a big softy, under that manipulative armor.
(THIS JUST IN: Check Grace's letter in the NYT Thursday:)
(GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE; WE HAVEN'T COMPARED NOTES IN A FEW YEARS. GV.)
He took care of his people. I had somebody who knew me, as long as he was in the building. It was a comforting thought.
When he retired from the news operation, there was a gathering of his people, hundreds of reporters and editors who had suffered and thrived under him. Charlayne Hunter-Gault was the lead speaker, telling stories of the mythical second frontings, the weird assignments, the dead ends, the forgotten promises.
In the front row, the old rascal sat there, a huge smile on his face, surrounded by his people.
Yes, his smile said, I did all that.
Just read Sam Roberts’ piece:
And read Pranay Gupte's piece, too. Pranay was there.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.