A. M. Rosenthal, memo to staffer


A. M. Rosenthal memo to staffer 9-21-1987

The memorandum posted here (PDF file above), from A. M. Rosenthal, Executive Editor of The New York Times, to a veteran reporter on the City Desk, Frank Lynn, was dated September 21, 1987.



Roger W. Smith email to an acquaintance, January 24, 2016:

Abe Rosenthal wasn’t a good writer. I used to read his columns regularly, and they left a whole lot to be desired, for various reasons.

I think Rosenthal’s memo to his underling Frank Lynn, a city reporter on the Times, was atrocious, out and out horrible in many respects, both in what it reveals about Rosenthal the person and because he is so inept and crude in his writing. This ineptness was on full display when he became, after stepping down as executive editor, a Times op-ed columnist. It was like The Emperor Has No Clothes.

I had been discussing Rosenthal’s memo to Lynn with someone the other day, someone who noticed that I had a category devoted to Rosenthal on my blog.

On my rogersgleanings.com site, I wrote:

Please note the extensive material about New York Times editor A. M. Rosenthal. It is posted here not because I am a fan of Rosenthal, but because I followed him closely in an attempt to detect his shortcomings as a writer and (to some extent, at least) as a person.

One of the things I posted was a memo dated September 21, 1987 from Rosenthal to a New York Times reporter Frank Lynn.

I had a professor in journalism school at NYU, Maurice (Mickey) Carroll. He was a city reporter for the Times. When I was in his course, he had just moved over to New York Newsday.

Newsday, which is a Long Island paper, was trying to start a city edition called New York Newsday. (It folded.) I worked there briefly.

One day at Newsday when I was there, I was told to use Mickey Carroll’s desk; he was absent. On Mickey’s desk, there was a copy of the memo from Rosenthal to Frank Lynn (Mickey’s friend).

Frank Lynn was also a city reporter on the Times. He spoke to our journalism class as a guest lecturer. Mickey Carroll told the class that Frank was the best city reporter on the Times.

The memo from Rosenthal to Lynn is an example of one human being (Rosenthal) treating another (Lynn, his subordinate) horribly. It is callous, mean spirited memo, totally insulting and very poorly written, and shows Rosenthal, the executive editor of the Times, in the worst light; shows him to be narrow minded and clueless about human relationships (besides being unable himself to write).

Rosenthal can’t write! Can’t even begin to express himself. He says (for example):

… I wept on the day that he [Mickey Carroll resigned. I wept the day that Frankie Clines [a Times reporter] went to London. I wept when Bill Farrell passed away. I wept when Deirdre Carmody married Peter Millones [why did he “weep”?] and I wept [!] when their first child was born. l I wept when Ron Sullivan married his wife, whoever she is [!]. I even wept the night that Paul O’Dwyer lost the mayoral election. My first wife is Irish. I may have rejected her, but I did not reject her because she was Irish. [Frank Lynn was Irish.]

 I have never wept for you. I may never weep for you. [Translation: I like and care about all these other people, but I don’t give a shit about you.] …

Rosenthal should have used another word than “wept.” He was trying to be profound. He comes off as ridiculous and stupid.

This is the worst kind of writing imaginable. Horrible. Insulting. Mawkish. And, totally off the mark. Rosenthal did not “weep” all these times. He might have simply (and more accurately) said, “I felt sadness” … when.

The rest of Rosenthal’s memo is just as crude and poorly written. And, by the way, his op-ed pieces for the Times sucked.

The memo is awfully revealing. It is a very pompous and indeed fatuous [“I am only mortal and we mortals make mistakes.”] It clearly shows the shortcomings and great weaknesses of Rosenthal as a person and writer.

Back when I discovered it, in 1988, I showed Rosenthal’s memo to exactly one person besides my wife: my psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Colp Jr., a regular Times reader. I told him, “Don’t ask where or how I got this, just read it.” Next week he said that Rosenthal’s memo was just about as revealing about a person as any document could possibly be.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2021

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