In The Know

Veteran journalist shares his advice, memories in new book

Wilson Center

A veteran journalist — who counts The Hill among the news organizations he helped found — has some advice for today’s reporters: “Be courageous.”

Martin Tolchin worked his way up from a copy boy making $41.50 a week at The New York Times to a 40-year career at the Gray Lady. After founding The Hill in 1994 with Jerry Finkelstein, he helped launch Politico.

Now, at 91, he’s adding to his résumé yet again, with a new book called “Politics, Journalism and the Way Things Were: My Life at the Times, The Hill and Politico.”

In the memoir, which Tolchin says his daughter urged him to write for his 10-year-old grandson, he details his decades-long experience in journalism, how the industry has changed and laughs and memorable moments from along the way.

But he likely wasn’t chuckling during the prolonged silence he once received from then-Speaker Tip O’Neill.

“I was covering Congress, and I wrote a story he didn’t like, and he didn’t talk to me for a year,” Tolchin recalls of the Massachusetts Democrat, who died in 1994. “And a year to the day later, he gave me an interview and at the end of the interview he said, ‘You know, Marty, I’m Irish. And we Irish never carry grudges.’ ”

“And I said, ‘The thought never occurred to me, Mr. Speaker.’ Of course it had,” Tolchin remembers with a laugh. “After that, we were on speaking terms again.”

While at the Times covering the local health department, Tolchin received a tip that two patients had died in the office of a Park Avenue dentist “who was good at putting people under general anesthesia but not good at getting them out of it.”

Editors at the time, Tolchin says, initially recommended he wait for a third death before reporting anything. The infuriated correspondent then took the story to a top editor, who said, “I go to a Park Avenue dentist, who was this guy?”

“I said, ‘If you don’t think the readers of The New York Times are entitled to know his name, I don’t think you are.’ So they changed their mind, they ran the story.”

President Trump, Tolchin says, has inspired some “very good reporting.”

“There’s nothing like adversity to get fearless,” Tolchin says of how reporting has changed in the Trump age, “and Trump has done that.”

The nine-time author says the story of journalism “really has been the history of democratization.”

Tolchin says today’s members of the press should be “thorough” and “creative.”

“Use shoe leather,” he advises. And be brave. “Courage is the No. 1 thing journalists need.”

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