Reminiscences of John Bertram Oakes, 1961-1998


Oakes, John B. (John Bertram), 1913-2001 (Interviewee)
Leish, Kenneth W (Interviewer)
Bruns, Scott (Interviewer)
Starr, Louis Morris, 1917-1980 (Interviewer)
Clark, Mary Marshall, 1917-1980 (Interviewer)
Reminiscences of John Bertram Oakes, 1961-1998
Topics covered by 1961 interview phase with Kenneth Leish include: journalistic experiences at school and Princeton; Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University; British press; Russia, 1936; Trenton-Times papers; Washington POST, 1937-41; United States Army, 1941; officers training; intelligence work; NEW YORK TIMES: 1946, "Review of the Week," 1949, to editorial staff, 1961, editor of editorial page. There is no audio for this phase Topics covered by 1964 interview phase with Scott Bruns include: influence of NEW YORK TIMES in news, editorial comment, opinion columns; "Topics of the Times"; separation of news and editorial functions; editorial issues; national security, endorsement of candidates, recognition of China, supersonic aircraft. There is no audio for the first two sessions of this phase Topics covered by 1978 interview phase with Louis M. Starr include: relationship of editor to publisher; editorializing in news stories; pressures from special interest groups; fair trial vs. free press; BEHIND THE FRONT PAGE; development of special features; introduction of Op Ed page, 1971; retirement as editorial page editor, 1976. Impressions of Arthur O. Sulzberger, A.H. Raskin, Fred Hechinger Topics covered by 1996-1998 interview phase with Mary Marshall Clark include: Family background in journalism: father, mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee (1893-1897), then editor of Philadelphia Public Ledger; childhood: born April 23, 1913; mother's death shortly thereafter; upbringing by father and aunt; 1917, move to New York: uncle, publisher, New York Times; father, editor, Current History magazine; World War I: father's patriotism, anglicizing of family name; National Guard membership; honorary A.B. in U.S. History; childhood travel: American West and Europe with father and older brother; importance of National Parks in developing interest in natural conservation movement; Audubon Society membership; education: Collegiate School, New York, work on school newspaper and annual; father's death, 1931; Princeton, 1934: editorial chairman of the Princetonian; Oxford, Rhodes Scholar, 1936; work experience, 1937-1941: Trenton Times, 1936; Washington Post, 1939; U.S. Army, 1941: drafted as private, work with Office of Strategic Services; residence at "Hockley House" with Princeton friends, 1939-1941; New York Times, 1946-1990: crucial role in development of Op-Ed page in face of intense opposition, others' subsequent attempts to take credit for it; New York Times as an institution, internal strife as documented in a published study; lifelong commitment to journalistic integrity and ideal of objectivity in news reporting; question of fair trial and free press; Vietnam War, the Times' editorial position, liberal political views; influence of Times in political world and with general public; reflections on Kennedy and Johnson Administrations; 1976 announcement of Oakes' successor as editor, over a year in advance of mandatory retirement at sixty-five, suspicion that more conservative advertisers and Board members influenced publisher's decision, difficult interim period between announcement and actual retirement in January 1977, conflicts with publisher, huge turnover in staff, forced transfer of Editorial Board members, possible sign of deliberate change in paper's editorial policy; Op-Ed page contributor, columns under own byline, 1977-1990; development of periodic "conservation column" to address environmental concerns, 1951; initial meeting with and impressions of President Carter; antipathy for President Reagan, reflections on the politics of that administration; importance of travel, editorial writers' engagement with world; affiliations: Natural Resources Defense Council, Human Rights Watch; John B. Oakes Award in conservation journalism
Collection Name
Individual interviews oral history collection
Journalists; Journalistic ethics; Newspaper publishing; Editorials; Newspapers--Sections, columns, etc; World War, 1939-1945; Oakes, John B. (John Bertram), 1913-2001; New York times
oral histories
Physical Description
537 pages
Note (Biographical)
Newspaper editor
Interviewed by Kenneth Leish on February 17, 1961 and January 23, 1962. Interviewed by Scott Bruns on March 18, 1964, March 31, 1964 and April 30, 1964. Interviewed by Louis M. Starr on December 7, 1977, January 4, 1978, February 15, 1978, and Septemb er 29, 1978. Interviewed by Mary Marshall Clark on December 3, 1996, December 23, 1996, June 24, 1997, and March 3, 1998, and April 7, 1998
This interview is featured in Columbia University Libraries’ Notable New Yorkers website. Notable New Yorkers was a project of Columbia University Libraries Digital Program. The original website was developed by Columbia University Digital Knowledge V entures and published in 2006
Note (Provenance)
John B. Oakes Gift 1961
John B. Oakes Gift 1964
John B. Oakes Gift 1978
John B. Oakes Gift 1998
Library Location
Columbia Center for Oral History, Columbia University
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Oral History Archives at Columbia
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Time-Based Media
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