Class of 1956
Michael Getler began his extraordinary career in journalism while still an undergraduate at City College, where he had enrolled at the downtown business school at the tender age of 16. But rather than toil on a student publication, Getler turned pro almost immediately, earning his first byline at a scrappy community weekly, The Riverdale Press, in his home borough of the Bronx. He worked at The Press during his junior and senior years, and though he never changed his major, spent much of that time devouring the liberal arts, taking American literature and writing courses.
Fast forward six decades and Michael Getler is still hard at work, today at the Public Broadcasting Service, where in 2005 he signed on as PBS’s first ombudsman, a job that he first helped define at The Washington Post. In that role, Getler serves as PBS’s independent internal critic, making sure the network upholds its own editorial integrity. He also writes a regular online column for PBS.org, addressing concerns of viewers and critiquing the network.
Growing up, Getler liked the feel of newspapers and recalls passing many nights with friends at a local newsstand, awaiting the early editions of those tabloid lookalikes, The Daily News and The Daily Mirror. After service as a Naval officer, he was a reporter for defense and aerospace magazines, winning recognition for reporting from Vietnam in 1966 and for covering the Apollo program in 1969. In 1970, Getler joined The Washington Post as a military affairs correspondent, the start of a 26-year stretch with the paper. In 1975, he was assigned to West Germany, covering Central Europe and most of what was then Communist Eastern Europe. He returned to Washington in 1980 as national security correspondent, went to London for two years, and then became foreign editor, assistant managing editor for foreign news and deputy managing editor. In those posts, Getler oversaw coverage of extraordinary international upheaval, during which the newspaper’s foreign reporting and analysis won three Pulitzer Prizes.
From 1996 through mid-2000, Getler was executive editor of The International Herald Tribune in Paris (at the time co-owned by The Washington Post and The New York Times), then returned to the nation’s capital and The Post for five more years as its ombudsman. It was an intense time to scrutinize the press, beginning with a deadlocked presidential election, followed by 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also wrote a column for the Sunday editorial page. In 1992, Getler received The Post’s Eugene Meyer Award for distinguished career service. In 2004, he was given an Award of Distinction for investigative reporting from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
Today, in addition to his work at PBS, he teaches a course on the media and international affairs at the Johns Hopkins University’s Graduate School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Somewhere in a storage vault near his home, he keeps a scrapbook full of his Riverdale Press clippings.