John Seigenthaler

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John Seigenthaler
John Seigenthaler Sr. speaking.jpg
John Seigenthaler, speaking in Nashville in 2005
Born
John Lawrence Seigenthaler

(1927-07-27)July 27, 1927
DiedJuly 11, 2014(2014-07-11) (aged 86)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
OccupationJournalist, writer
Years active1949–2014
Spouse(s)
Dolores Watson(m. 1955–2014)
(his death)
Children John Michael Seigenthaler

John Lawrence Seigenthaler ( /ˈsɡənθɔːlər/ ; July 27, 1927 – July 11, 2014) was an American journalist, writer, and political figure. He was known as a prominent defender of First Amendment rights. [1] [2]

Media of the United States consist of several different types of media: television, radio, cinema, newspapers, magazines, and Internet-based Web sites. The U.S. also has a strong music industry. Many of the media are controlled by large for-profit corporations who reap revenue from advertising, subscriptions, and sale of copyrighted material. American media conglomerates tend to be leading global players, generating large revenues as well as large opposition in many parts of the world. With the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, further deregulation and convergence are under way, leading to mega-mergers, further concentration of media ownership, and the emergence of multinational media conglomerates. These mergers enable tighter control of information. Currently, five corporations control roughly 90% of the media. Critics allege that localism, local news and other content at the community level, media spending and coverage of news, and diversity of ownership and views have suffered as a result of these processes of media concentration.

Politics of the United States political system of the United States of America

The United States is a federal republic in which the President, Congress and federal courts share powers reserved to the national government, according to its Constitution. The federal government shares sovereignty with the state governments.

First Amendment to the United States Constitution Law guaranteeing freedom of speech, religion, assembly, press and petitions and prohibiting establishment of an official religion

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the government from making laws which respect an establishment of religion, prohibit the free exercise of religion, or abridge the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.

Contents

Seigenthaler joined the Nashville newspaper The Tennessean in 1949, resigning in 1960 to act as Robert F. Kennedy's administrative assistant. He rejoined The Tennessean as editor in 1962, publisher in 1973, and chairman in 1982 before retiring as chairman emeritus in 1991. Seigenthaler was also founding editorial director of USA Today from 1982 to 1991. During this period, he served on the board of directors for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and from 1988 to 1989 was its president.

<i>The Tennessean</i> newspaper in Tennessee

The Tennessean is the principal daily newspaper in Nashville, Tennessee. Its circulation area covers 39 counties in Middle Tennessee and eight counties in southern Kentucky.

Robert F. Kennedy American politician and brother of John F. Kennedy

Robert Francis Kennedy was an American politician and lawyer who served as the 64th United States Attorney General from January 1961 to September 1964, and as a U.S. Senator from New York from January 1965 until his assassination in June 1968. Kennedy, like his brothers John and Edward, was a prominent member of the Democratic Party and has come to be viewed by some historians as an icon of modern American liberalism.

<i>USA Today</i> American national daily newspaper

USA Today is an internationally distributed American daily, middle-market newspaper that serves as the flagship publication of its owner, the Gannett Company. The newspaper has a generally centrist audience. Founded by Al Neuharth on September 15, 1982, it operates from Gannett's corporate headquarters on Jones Branch Drive, in McLean, Virginia. It is printed at 37 sites across the United States and at five additional sites internationally. Its dynamic design influenced the style of local, regional, and national newspapers worldwide, through its use of concise reports, colorized images, informational graphics, and inclusion of popular culture stories, among other distinct features.

Early life

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Seigenthaler was the eldest of eight siblings. He attended Father Ryan High School and served in the U.S. Air Force from 1946–49, achieving the rank of sergeant. [3] After leaving the service, Seigenthaler was hired at The Tennessean . While working at The Tennessean, Seigenthaler took courses in sociology and literature at Peabody College, now part of Vanderbilt University. He also attended the American Press Institute for Reporters at Columbia University. [4]

Nashville, Tennessee State capital and consolidated city-county in Tennessee, United States

Nashville is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Tennessee. The city is the county seat of Davidson County and is located on the Cumberland River. The city's population ranks 24th in the U.S. According to 2017 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the total consolidated city-county population stood at 691,243. The "balance" population, which excludes semi-independent municipalities within Davidson County, was 667,560 in 2017.

Father Ryan High School is a private, Roman Catholic coeducational high school in Nashville, Tennessee. Founded in 1925 as Nashville Catholic High School for Boys, Father Ryan is located in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville. It was the first racially integrated high school in Tennessee.

United States Air Force Air and space warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial and space warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the five branches of the United States Armed Forces, and one of the seven American uniformed services. Initially formed as a part of the United States Army on 1 August 1907, the USAF was established as a separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces on 18 September 1947 with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947. It is the youngest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the fourth in order of precedence. The USAF is the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world. The Air Force articulates its core missions as air and space superiority, global integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control.

Career

Journalism

Seigenthaler began his career in journalism as a police beat reporter in The Tennessean city room [5] after his uncle encouraged an editor about his talent. [4] Seigenthaler gradually established himself on the staff among heavy competition that included future standout journalists David Halberstam and Tom Wicker.

David Halberstam American writer, journalist, historian

David Halberstam was an American journalist and historian, known for his work on the Vietnam War, politics, history, the Civil Rights Movement, business, media, American culture, and later, sports journalism. He won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1964. Halberstam was killed in a car crash in 2007, while doing research for a book.

Thomas Grey "Tom" Wicker was an American journalist. He was best known as a political reporter and columnist for The New York Times.

He first gained prominence in November 1953 when he tracked down the former Thomas C. Buntin and his wife. The case involved the son of a wealthy Nashville business owner who had disappeared in September 1931, followed six weeks later by the disappearance of his secretary. Seigenthaler was sent to Texas by The Tennessean after reports surfaced that Buntin (now known as Thomas D. Palmer) was living somewhere in Texas. While investigating in Orange, Texas, Seigenthaler saw an elderly man step off a bus. Noting the man's distinctive left ear, Seigenthaler followed him home. After three further days of investigation, he went back to the home, where he confirmed the identities of Buntin/Palmer, his wife, the former Betty McCuddy, and their six children. [6] Seigenthaler won a National Headliner Award for the story. [5]

Less than a year later, on October 5, 1954, Seigenthaler once again made national news for his efforts in saving a suicidal man from jumping off the Shelby Street Bridge in Nashville. Gene Bradford Williams had called The Tennessean saying he would jump and for the newspaper to "send a reporter and photographer if you want a story." After talking to Williams at the bridge for 40 minutes, Seigenthaler watched the man begin to attempt his 100-foot plunge off the bridge railing. Grabbing hold of his collar, Seigenthaler and police saved the man from falling into the Cumberland River. Williams muttered "I'll never forgive you" to Seigenthaler. [7] On April 29, 2014, the bridge was renamed the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. [8]

Cumberland River river in the United States of America

The Cumberland River is a major waterway of the Southern United States. The 688-mile-long (1,107 km) river drains almost 18,000 square miles (47,000 km2) of southern Kentucky and north-central Tennessee. The river flows generally west from a source in the Appalachian Mountains to its confluence with the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky, and the mouth of the Tennessee River. Major tributaries include the Obey, Caney Fork, Stones, and Red rivers.

John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge Pedestrian bridge in Nashville, Tennessee

The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge is a truss bridge that spans the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee, United States. The bridge spans 960 m (3,150 ft) and is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.

In July 1957, Seigenthaler began a battle to eliminate corruption within the local branch of the Teamsters, noting the criminal backgrounds of key employees, along with the use of intimidation in keeping news of certain union activities quiet. During this period, he contacted Dave Beck and Jimmy Hoffa, both top Teamsters officials, but the two men ignored Seigenthaler's queries. His series of articles resulted in the impeachment trial of Chattanooga Criminal Court Judge Ralston Schoolfield. [9]

Seigenthaler took a one-year sabbatical from The Tennessean in 1958 to participate in Harvard University's prestigious Nieman Fellowship program. [4] Upon returning to The Tennessean, Seigenthaler became an assistant city editor and special assignment reporter. [5]

Politics

Frustrated by the leadership of Tennessean publisher Silliman Evans Jr., Seigenthaler resigned in 1960 to serve as an administrative assistant to incoming Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. On April 21, 1961, Seigenthaler was the only other Justice Department figure to witness a meeting between Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

During the Freedom Rides of 1961, Seigenthaler was sent in his capacity as assistant to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Doar [10] to be chief negotiator for the government, in its attempts to work with Alabama Governor John Malcolm Patterson. After several days of refusing to return calls, Patterson finally agreed to protect the Riders, but their state trooper escort disappeared as soon as they arrived in Montgomery on May 20, 1961, leaving them unprotected before the waiting white mob. [11]

Seigenthaler was a block away when he rushed to help Susan Wilbur, [12] a Freedom Rider who was being chased by the angry mob. Seigenthaler shoved her into his car and shouted "Get back! I'm with the Federal government" [13] but was hit behind the left ear with a pipe. Knocked unconscious, he was not picked up until police arrived 10 minutes later, with Montgomery Police Commissioner Lester B. Sullivan noting, "We have no intention of standing police guard for a bunch of troublemakers coming into our city." [14] [15]

Seigenthaler's brief career in government would conclude as a result of Evans' death from a heart attack on July 29, 1961. A brief transition period followed, during which long-time Tennessean reporter John Nye served as publisher. On March 20, 1962, the newspaper made the announcement that Evans' brother, Amon Carter Evans, would be the new publisher.

One of the new Evans' first acts would be to bring back Seigenthaler as editor. The two had worked together before at the paper, when Seigenthaler served as assistant city editor and Evans was an aspiring journalist. On one occasion during that era, the two nearly came to blows over Seigenthaler's assignment of Evans to a story.

Evans named Seigenthaler editor of The Tennessean on March 21, 1962. [16] With this new team in place, The Tennessean quickly regained its hard-hitting reputation. One example of the paper's resurgence came following a Democratic primary in August 1962, when The Tennessean found documented evidence of voter fraud based on absentee ballots in the city's second ward. [9]

Seigenthaler's friendship with Kennedy became one of the focal points of Jimmy Hoffa's bid to shift his jury tampering trial from Nashville. Citing "one-sided, defamatory" coverage from the newspaper, Hoffa's lawyers were able to get Seigenthaler to admit he personally wanted Hoffa convicted. However, the journalist noted that he hadn't conveyed those sentiments to his reporters. Hoffa's lawyers gained a minor victory when the trial was moved to Chattanooga in a change of venue, but Hoffa was nonetheless convicted in 1964 after a 45-day trial.

The following year, Seigenthaler led a fight for access to the Tennessee state senate chamber in Nashville after a resolution was passed revoking the floor privileges of Tennessean reporter Bill Kovach. The action came after Kovach had refused to leave a committee hearing following a call for executive session.

In December 1966, Seigenthaler and Richard Goodwin represented the Kennedy family when controversy developed about historian William Manchester's book about the John F. Kennedy assassination, The Death of a President . Seigenthaler had read an early version of the book, which led to Jacqueline Kennedy threatening a lawsuit over inaccurate and private statements in the publication.

Seigenthaler then took a temporary leave from his duties at the newspaper to work on Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. During this period, the journalist was described by the New York Times as, "one of a handful of advisers in whom [Kennedy] has absolute confidence." [17] Moments after a victory in the California primary, Kennedy was shot by an assassin and died on June 6, 1968. Seigenthaler would serve as one of the pallbearers at his funeral, and later co-edited the book An Honorable Profession: A Tribute to Robert F. Kennedy.

Remaining focused on the cause of civil rights, Seigenthaler then supported Tennessee Bishop Joseph Aloysius Durick in 1969 during the latter's contentious fight to end segregation, a stance that outraged many in the community who still believed in the concept.

The New Yorker described Seigenthaler as being "well connected in the Democratic Party." [18] He was called a "close family friend" of the Kennedys, [19] a "longtime family friend" of the Gores, [20] and a friend of former Democratic Senator James Sasser. [21] In 1976, after having encouraged Al Gore to consider entering public life, [22] he tipped off Gore that a nearby U. S. House representative was retiring. [23] In 1981, Seigenthaler urged Sen. Sasser to return to the Democratic party's "liberal tradition": "I keep telling him that Reagan's going to make it respectable to be a liberal." [21] In 1984, Reagan's reelection team vetoed Seigenthaler as a debate panelist for being too liberal. [24]

In publishing

On February 8, 1973, Seigenthaler was promoted to publisher of the Tennessean, after Amon Carter Evans was named president of Tennessean Newspaper, Inc.

As the publisher, Seigenthaler worked with Al Gore, then a reporter, on investigative stories about Nashville city council corruption in the early 1970s. [25] In February 1976, Seigenthaler contacted Gore at home to tip him off that he had heard that U.S. Representative Joe L. Evins was retiring, [23] telling Gore "You know what I think." [18] Seiganthaler previously had been encouraging Gore to consider entering public life. [22] Gore decided to resign from the paper and drop out of Vanderbilt University Law School, beginning his political career by entering the race for Tennessee's 4th congressional district, a seat previously held by Albert Gore Sr., his father.

On May 5, 1976, Seigenthaler dismissed Jacque Srouji, a copy editor at The Tennessean, after finding that she had served as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for much of the previous decade. The controversy came to light after Srouji testified before the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which was investigating nuclear safety. Srouji, who was writing a book critical of Karen Silkwood, had perused more than 1000 pages of FBI documents pertaining to the nuclear power critic. In follow-up testimony, FBI agent Lawrence J. Olson Sr. acknowledged that the bureau had a "special relationship" with Srouji. Tennessean reporters had been suspicious of Srouji's reporting coups, coming just months after she had joined the paper. These included such things as a late-night FBI raid on illegal gambling establishments, as well as one on a local business suspected of fraud. [26]

Afterwards the FBI appears to have collected rumors about Seigenthaler. FBI Deputy Assistant Director Homer Boynton told an editor of the New York Times to "look into Seigenthaler," whom he called "not entirely pure." After hearing this, Seigenthaler tried for a year to get his own FBI dossier, and finally received some highly expurgated material including these words: "Allegations of Seigenthaler having illicit relations with young girls, which information source obtained from an unnamed source." He had previously promised to publish whatever the FBI gave him, and did so. He flatly stated that the charges were false. The attorney general issued an apology, the allegations were removed from Seigenthaler's file, and he received the 1976 Sidney Hillman Prize for "courage in publishing". [27] [28]

In May 1982, Seigenthaler was named the first editorial director of USA Today. In announcing the appointment, Gannett president Allen Neuharth said Seigenthaler was "one of the most thoughtful and respected editors in America." [29] During Seigenthaler's tenure at USA Today, he frequently commuted between Nashville and Washington to fulfill his duties at both newspapers. [30]

The publication of author Peter Maas' 1983 book, Marie: A True Story, again put Seigenthaler under scrutiny over the investigation of a pardon scandal involving former Tennessee governor Ray Blanton. Marie Ragghianti was the head of the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles before being fired after refusing to release prisoners who had bribed Blanton's aides. Since the Tennessean had supported Blanton, the newspaper's initial reluctance in investigating the charges was called into question. However, editors and reporters had believed that Ragghianti's alleged broken affair with Blanton's chief counsel, T. Edward Sisk, was the motivation for her claims. [31]

Later life

Seigenthaler discussing media coverage of the Nashville sit-ins at a 2010 panel discussion Sit-in Media Forum 02.jpg
Seigenthaler discussing media coverage of the Nashville sit-ins at a 2010 panel discussion

In 1986, Middle Tennessee State University established the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies, honoring Seigenthaler's "lifelong commitment to free expression values". [32]

Seigenthaler announced his retirement in December 1991 from The Tennessean, just months after he made a similar announcement concerning his tenure at USA Today.[ citation needed ]

On December 15, 1991, Seigenthaler founded the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, [33] saying, "It is my hope that this center at Vanderbilt University ... will help promote appreciation and understanding for those values so vital in a democratic society." The center serves as a forum for dialog about First Amendment issues, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.

In 1996, Seigenthaler received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College.[ citation needed ]

In 2001, Seigenthaler was appointed to the National Commission on Federal Election Reform that followed the 2000 presidential election. He was also a member of the Constitution Project on Liberty and Security.[ citation needed ]

In 2002, when it was discovered that USA Today reporter Jack Kelley had fabricated some of his stories, USA Today turned to Seigenthaler, along with veteran editors Bill Hilliard and Bill Kovach, to monitor the investigation. [34]

In 2002, Vanderbilt renamed the 57,000-square-foot (5,300 m²) building that houses the Freedom Forum, First Amendment Center, and Diversity Institute the John Seigenthaler Center. At one point, USA Today and Freedom Forum founder Allen Neuharth called Seigenthaler "the best champion of the First Amendment." [2]

In April 2014, the Shelby Street Bridge was renamed the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge in his honor. [35]

Seigenthaler hosted a book review program on Nashville public television station WNPT, called A Word on Words, and chaired the selection committees for the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation's Profiles in Courage Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial's Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.[ citation needed ]

Wikipedia controversy

On May 26, 2005, an unregistered Wikipedia user created a five-sentence article about Seigenthaler that contained false and defamatory content. [36] The false statement in Seigenthaler's Wikipedia article read: [37]

John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960s. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.

When he was alerted of the article's existence, Seigenthaler directly contacted Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, who removed the false claims. As Seigenthaler later wrote: "For four months, Wikipedia depicted me as a suspected assassin before Wales erased it from his website's history" on October 5. [37]

Seigenthaler noted that the falsehoods that were written about him on Wikipedia were later posted on Answers.com and Reference.com. He later wrote an op-ed on the experience for USA Today in which he wrote, "And so we live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects. Congress has enabled them and protects them", [37] a reference to the protection from liability that internet service providers are given under federal law versus editorially controlled media like newspapers and television.

Death

Seigenthaler died of complications from colon cancer on July 11, 2014, at the age of 86, surrounded by his family in his home. [3] [38]

Publications

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