Class of 1966
Clyde Haberman was still a student at the College when he was informed by no less a personage than A.M. Rosenthal, then the metropolitan editor of The New York Times, that not only would he never again write for The Times, but that he was “finished” as a newspaperman. Haberman was the Times’s campus correspondent and he had filed a lengthy piece on the 1966 commencement ceremonies, including a long list of students who had won prizes. In a moment of fatigue and self-described silliness, he had inserted a fictitious name and award, intending to remove them before filing. He forgot. Despite Rosenthal’s pronouncement, Haberman spent close to half a century as a newspaperman — a decade with The New York Post and 37 years with The Times, becoming one of paper’s most distinguished reporters and columnists. He was part of a Times team that won a 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for coverage of the scandal that led to Eliot Spitzer’s resignation as governor of New York. A year earlier, the Society of the Silurians, one of the nation’s oldest press clubs, had given him its Peter Kihss Award, presented to journalists who combine personal integrity, impeccable reporting and the willingness to mentor younger colleagues.
At The Times, Haberman was an editor in the Week in Review section, a metro reporter, City Hall bureau chief, and, for 13 years, a foreign correspondent based in Tokyo, Rome and Jerusalem. In 1995, he launched a twice-a-week column called “NYC,” and it became required reading for those who care about New York. Like Haberman himself, it was an amalgam of skepticism, optimism and a sly sense of humor. In 2011, he went digital, writing “The Day,” a column that appeared on the paper’s web site. In 2013, he wrote a new series of articles under the rubric “Breaking Bread,” in which various newsmakers were interviewed at lunch; starting in 2014, he revisited key events of decades past with a series called “Retro Report.” He also makes regular appearances on “The New York Times Close Up,” a weekly television news and interview program.
Haberman was born in the Bronx on May 18, 1945. He attended a yeshiva through the eighth grade and went on to the Bronx High School of Science. When he entered the College, he thought he wanted to be a chemist, but he saw a notice in The Campus announcing that the student paper was looking for new reporters. “I like it from the git-go,” Haberman said. He also found a considerable gap between high school science and the famously rigorous courses at CCNY. “I realized I probably did not have enough talent to do more than work in a P&G lab and design deodorants,” he said. He became campus correspondent for The Times and in eight months filed some 60pieces, a remarkable number of stories to dig up on one campus. He was on track to become a full-time hire at The Times until his commencement article — and its prankish addition — was published. Instead, after serving two years in the Army, part of it in Germany, Haberman became a reporter for The Post, handling stories that ranged from the uprising at Attica to Jimmy Carter’s path to the White House. He joined The Times in 1977 and has covered such major events as the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986, the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and 1991 Persian Gulf War, the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the P.L.O., the rise of Islamic terrorism in the Middle East and the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
In 1998, Haberman was assigned to write an advance obituary of Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger. He began a series of interviews with him that year. When Sulzberger died in 2012 — 14 years later — The Times published Haberman’s piece. It was a monumental 7,741-word obituary that gave readers a remarkable picture of the publisher and the paper, from “the era of hot lead and Linotype machines to the birth of the digital world.” Haberman said he isn’t sure why he was asked to write it, but he can guess.
“I suspect it’s because I have been with The Times for a good long while, going on 36 years,” he told the Poynter Institute, “and because [executive editor] Joseph Lelyveld felt that I had a pretty good feel for the paper and what made it tick.”
An interesting assignment for someone who was once told he’d never be allowed to write for The Times.