By: Joe Strupp
Jacob Bernstein was six years old when he first saw All the President’s Men, the 1976 film that chronicled the Watergate work of his father, Carl Bernstein, and fellow Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. After viewing the movie, the young Bernstein had just one question for dad: Who is Deep Throat?
When his father declined to reveal the most famous unidentified source in journalism history, Jacob Bernstein said he was truly hurt. “It drove me crazy and it really bothered me that he would not tell me,” the junior Bernstein, now 25 and covering media for Womens Wear Daily, says today. “But later, it showed me the importance of confidential sourcing.”
Such is life for the child of one of America’s muckraking
legends. Jacob openly admits he still obsesses over the identity of Deep Throat, but offers an overall positive assessment of being a second-generation journalist. For Bernstein and others who chose ? accidentally or not ? to follow their parents into the newsroom, the effects range from difficulties living up to a parent’s reputation to happily using the old man to get the proverbial foot in the door.
“I’ve often accused him of subtly trying to indoctrinate me by taking me on trips each year with the national correspondents,” Andrew Rosenthal, deputy editorial page editor of The New York Times, says of his father, former Times executive editor and columnist A.M. “Abe” Rosenthal. “That produced in me an abiding image of the national correspondent as a great profession… it was all very glamorous.”
For others, the influence is minimal, with some children of newsroom veterans contending that their parents might as well have been doctors or accountants for all the pressure they received. “He let me do what I wanted to do,” says David Risser, executive editor of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore., and son of James Risser, the former Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Des Moines (Iowa) Register.
According to nearly a dozen parent/ child newspaper duos who spoke with E&P, the impact of working in the same profession, on both the older and younger generation, can be strong. None of the parents would admit pushing their offspring into the news game, or trying to keep them out. For the kids, however, the reactions can be mixed.
In almost every case that follows, the parent is male. We tried to find more top women in the newsroom with kids in the business, but found very few. This, of course, reflects the fact that until recent years women were terribly underrepresented among editors and elite reporters. The fact that many of the children in this story are female shows that times have surely changed.
With nearly 40 years in the newspaper business, it doesn’t surprise Rich Oppel, editor of the Austin American-Statesman, that at least one of his children would end up as a reporter. But both?
Despite Oppel’s claims that he did not push either child into the business, Richard A. Oppel, national correspondent for The New York Times, and Shelby Oppel, higher education reporter at The Oregonian in Portland, admit they were influenced growing up in an editor’s household. “He used to take us out of school every year to go with him to ASNE (American Society of Newspaper Editors) conventions,” Shelby, 30, recalls. “We really took advantage of that.”
Shelby also remembers watching her father oversee coverage of the PTL scandal in the 1980s involving Jim and Tammy Bakker. As editor of The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer at the time, her dad took a lot of heat, since the ministry was based nearby. The paper’s hard-hitting coverage eventually earned it a Pulitzer Prize in 1988.
“I remember, in 7th grade, answering the phone once and the man on the other end said my dad was a boil on the face of humanity,” Shelby says. “I remember telling my mom and it didn’t really rattle her.” She also recalls her parents’ house being under PTL surveillance for a time.
For her brother, however, the parental ties tightened in a competitive way when he worked in the Austin bureau of The Dallas Morning News between 1995 and 1999 while dad ran the competing American-Statesman. “We wouldn’t talk about stuff we were working on,” the son says. “There are still some things we do not talk about.”
The senior Oppel recalls his paper getting beaten on a story in 1997 by his son, involving a University of Texas scandal. “He was digging deeper and bit off a bigger piece of it than we did,” the father admits. The competition continues to this day: “If I know something (of national interest) that he might want to report on, I am still going to give it to the D.C. bureau of Cox,” Rich Oppel says, not to his son.
But fatherhood takes over when the kids find themselves in dangerous reporting situations, such as when Richard A. Oppel spent nine weeks in Iraq during the past year reporting on the war for the Times. “I was excited for him as a journalist, worried for him as a father,” says Oppel.
While competing in the same market may be unusual, a parent and child in the same newsroom is almost unheard of. But for Robert Braun, the longtime columnist for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., and his daughter, Jenifer, who covers fashion news for the paper, staying close has sometimes meant a walk to the other side of the building. “She was hired as a summer intern and it didn’t hurt that her father worked here,” the elder Braun, 57, admits. “But she got the job on her own.”
Having spent nearly 10 years at the newspaper, Jenifer, 31, believes she has earned her place, but admits people still link the two writers. “A lot of people use me to get to him,” she says. “People give me things to give him and ask where he is, as if I keep track of him all day.”
The junior Braun admits she saw the excitement of a reporter’s life growing up when her father covered education and often received information or tips from sources in his home at night. “Men would come to the door and hand me documents to give to my father,” she says. “It was all very X-Files.” When Robert Braun was arrested in 1993 while covering superheated meetings over the potential state takeover of Newark schools, he “used his one call to call me from jail so I could help him,” she remembers. “It was exciting.”
Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, they found themselves working the same tragic story. As fashion reporter, Jenifer happened to be in Manhattan the day of the attacks covering New York City’s Fashion Week. After the planes hit the World Trade Center, she turned news reporter and started working out of her room at the Paramount Hotel, where she had been staying. Robert Braun, who got into Manhattan from New Jersey via an accommodating ambulance driver, ended up working out of Jenifer’s hotel room as well.
“I used her laptop and her phone and was able to file from there,” he says. “She was doing her thing and I was doing my thing, and we loved every second of it.”
In almost every instance of a parent/child news link, the younger generation can’t help but pick up tips from mom or dad. But in the case of Walker Lundy, the former editor of the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press and Philadelphia Inquirer, and his daughter, Sarah Lundy, who writes for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., the lessons have actually worked both ways.
For Sarah, 30, who started at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and worked at The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., before signing on in Fort Myers early last year, the editing lessons began as early as junior high school. “He would bleed all over my school papers with a red pen,” she says. “When I asked him to say something nice about it, he would say, ‘it was nicely typed’.” The critiques often continue today. “When I use passive voice in a story he will drop me an e-mail,” she says.
But the newspaper education worked in reverse when Walker Lundy was still running newsrooms (as recently as last year). Hearing Sarah remark about how an editor had almost ignored her on her last day on the job at another paper, Walker says he began to make sure he sent employees off on a positive note when they left his staff.
During his time in St. Paul, the senior Lundy also instituted a routine of throwing a barbecue at his home each summer for interns after Sarah complained one year that she and other interns at a different paper were not treated well by management. “I think it made the editor a whole lot less intimidating for them,” Walker Lundy says about the practice. “I would not have thought it, if she had not told me.”
The Lundys also have a strange connection to the Oppels, which occurred when the two fathers worked together in Tallahassee: Young Shelby Oppel and Sarah Lundy shared a first-grade class.
Growing up the daughter of a journalism icon, in the city where he made his legendary mark, you’d think Tali Woodward would either follow right behind him or avoid his shadow as much as possible. Turns out she did a little of both.
Now 26, the older of Woodward’s two daughters says she never wanted to be a reporter, seeking to go into book publishing instead. But during her time at the University of California, Berkeley, she interned at the San Francisco Bay Guardian and came to like the alternative news route, eventually landing a job at the paper.
Five years later, she says this, not her father’s mainstream newspaper approach, fits her well. “I like being at a place that isn’t afraid to take a position,” she says. “There is a place for objective journalism, and a place for alternative journalism.”
Although she did not purposely try to take a different road from her father within the business, she admits his stature may have played a part, if unconsciously. She also admits that she did not seek help from her father when she first got into news, but welcomes his input as she gains more experience. “I know that I am going to be compared to him,” she says. “But I like news too much to let that keep me away.”
The senior Woodward says he is as supportive of his daughter’s work as he would be if she were at a mainstream paper. “The business has many facets to it,” he says. “She learned to write extremely well and she decided to stay with it.”
Dad emphasizes that he never thought about pushing her in or out of news. “She knows my life and has seen my life and knows that it is interesting work. It is like any profession,” he adds. “You have to make a commitment and stay with it, and she has.”
While many reporters who joined newspapers during the past 30 years will credit Woodward and Bernstein for infecting them with the news bug, Jacob Bernstein says his dad’s influence had more of an effect later, after he got into the business. “When he went to college,” Carl Bernstein says, “I think it was the last thing he wanted to do.”
Jacob says he first sought to follow his mother ? former New York Post reporter turned novelist, screenwriter and movie director Nora Ephron ? into film production, scoring several jobs as a location scout for producers she knew. His entrance into journalism actually came through her as well, when connections she had at The New York Times Magazine helped him land a clerk job out of college. “I sort of fell into it,” Bernstein recalls. “But it is always on you to succeed or fail on your own.”
Today, after two years on the job and developing a reputation of his own for breaking stories, Jacob Bernstein says he doesn’t try to live up to his parents’ names, although he will ask for advice and help. In one instance, Jacob asked his father for guidance when he was trying to find out if a certain magazine was going to close down. Carl’s advice: call the last editor who left and ask him. “It worked,” Jacob recalls.
According to his dad, having a son follow him is the best thing that could have ever happened, although it can produce some odd twists at times. On one occasion, at a book party Tina Brown threw for Arianna Huffington, Carl Bernstein was well aware of reporter Jacob Bernstein’s presence. “He is sometimes patrolling the perimeter,” he observes, “but he is very careful not to bring his mother or me into his own ideas as a journalist. We discuss ethical issues sometimes, and questions about fairness, but I think he has traveled this route with amazing independence.”
Family connections can also get sticky when the child makes news that is covered by the newspaper of the parent. One such instance occurred in 1993 when young Jonathan Osborne was one of nearly 100 teenagers arrested at a party outside Dallas, a news event covered by The Dallas Morning News where his father, Burl Osborne, served as editor.
When the paper reported the story, it mentioned no names and did not reveal that the younger Osborne was among the arrested. Eventually, the incident resulted in a lawsuit against the police for allegedly mistreating the youngsters and improperly arresting them, which ended with the dropping of all charges and an out-of-court settlement. The follow-up report did name Burl Osborne as one of the parents.
“He (Jonathan) learned the fairness question the hard way,” says Burl Osborne, now chairman of the board for the Associated Press. “I think it helped him develop an acute sense of balance about coverage.”
Jonathan, now a City Hall reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, credits his father’s general advice about going into journalism more than that single incident with keeping him on the news track. After an internship at The Hill in Washington, D.C., he got a job at the Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times, whose publisher knew his father. “I never knew working could be this much fun,” the junior Osborne says. “I ended up getting hooked on it.”
If any parent-child team represents a generation gap, at least professionally, it is the Cliftons. While Douglas C. Clifton, top newsroom honcho at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, boasts a strong print career, his son Clay, Internet news editor at The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, is living the newspaper of the future ? on the Web.
“I get a kick out of the fact that we both go to news meetings,” says Doug Clifton, 60, “but he does it online. It is very clearly two different ways for two different generations.”
Clay, 30, originally sought to be a film writer, but says he fell into the mix of journalism and computer connections after growing up in South Florida when his father was editor of The Miami Herald. “We always had two or three newspapers in the house and news talk was always at the dinner table,” Clay says. “I also got to mingle with newsroom people before I was sent to my room during the Miami Herald parties at our house.”
In fact, two of the assistant managing editors with whom Clay Clifton now works at the Post ? Bill Rose and Bill Greer ? first met him during some of those house parties. “It makes it easier now because people are more willing to come over to talk to me because of my dad,” he says.
One thing both men agree on: They would never want to work in the same place. “I would not hire him,” Doug Clifton says of his son. “I would not want to put anyone on the spot like that.”
Clay agrees: “I wouldn’t want to work under him because of the conflict, and because I’ve heard he is a tough guy to work for!”
It would be hard to argue that Ben Bradlee, Jr., didn’t have some kind of instant advantage over other would-be reporters, simply by virtue of his name. “It is a double-edged sword,” says the younger Bradlee, who built a news career spanning more than 30 years and recently left a deputy managing editor post at The Boston Globe. “It is an ‘in’ with helping to start a job, but double the pressure to prove yourself.”
Ben Bradlee, Sr., the retired executive editor of The Washington Post, says he didn’t even think about what his son might go through bearing his name when he was born. “He used to tell me, ‘I wish you’d named me Herman’!” the elder Bradlee exclaims. “I don’t think I did him any favors at all. It imposed a barrier that he has had to conquer.”
Now 55, Bradlee, Jr. has penned several books and is currently writing a biography of Ted Williams. Ironically, he took his first job, at The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., just a few months before the Watergate break-in of 1972 catapulted his father and Woodward and Bernstein to journalistic fame.”I just decided to try it then with no pressure from my father at all,” says the younger Bradlee, who grew up in Boston and attended Colby College in Maine. “The Watergate thing was not really part of the equation.”
For dad, a family tradition of not meddling in children’s careers remained firm as a younger Ben grew up. “I never urged him,” Ben Bradlee Sr. says. “If he loved it, that is great. I am sure he saw that I did. I always said I would help him get a job, but would not help him keep it.”
Robert C. Herguth, another son whose name so clearly evokes his father’s, traces his dad’s influence on his news career back to when he was nine years old and put out his own neighborhood newspaper for family and friends. Herguth, the 32-year-old transportation writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and son of famed Sun-Times columnist Robert J. Herguth, says his dad was effectively his first editor as the two put out the homemade product.
“We did it together, typed it up and sold it for a nickel,” the younger Herguth recalls. “He didn’t push me to do it, but I liked it and he helped show me that it could be fun.”
Growing up with a journalist parent also showed the Herguth offspring some downsides, such as when the family had to cut spending due to fears of a newspaper strike. “I used to hear my parents talk about saving money,” he says. “That makes it a little surprising that I did get into the business.”
As the son worked his way up, first as a stringer at the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Ill., before joining the Sun-Times five years ago, his father followed his progress, but never pushed. “I wanted him to do whatever his talent was,” Robert J. Herguth, now 77 and retired, says. “I never told him to stay out.”
The younger Herguth says working in dad’s field in the same city almost made him change his first name. “His name has opened some doors,” he says. “But it also causes some confusion. Recently someone I work with who had talked to Studs Terkel said he commented with surprise that Bob Herguth was still writing ? then he found out it was me.”
The two also have helped each other with stories. While in college, the younger Herguth recalls giving his father items for his column, including one about the winner of a bike-throwing contest in Wisconsin. Just two years ago, the son got a scoop that the local electric utility was killing a popular discounted light-bulb program after his father tipped him off. The Page One exclusive carried both men’s names on a double byline. “It felt great,” his father says proudly.
In the past, Sunday dinner at the Foderaro house might have been mistaken for a nightly news meeting. With parents Jane Foderaro, a former editor at several small New Jersey papers (and currently a journalism instructor at Farleigh Dickinson University), and her late husband, former Asbury Park Press editor Sal J. Foderaro, the conversation was already likely to swing toward events of the day. But when their children, T.J. Foderaro, an editor at The Star-Ledger, and Lisa Foderaro, a metro reporter for The New York Times, joined in, you were talking about four reporting minds trading thoughts. Add in the fact that Lisa is married to freelance photographer Don Pollard and that T.J.’s wife is local television reporter JoAnn Pileggi, and you may as well hand out story lineups.
“We’re all a little crazy and we have a lot of fun,” says Jane Foderero, 70. “It is wonderful.”
Although the various Foderaros worked most of their careers in the New York/New Jersey area, they rarely crossed paths. Still, they did bump heads on occasion. Jane Foderaro remembers when an oil spill in the late 1980s affected the lower New York Harbor and the Arthur Kill off Staten Island. Not only were T.J. and Lisa both covering the event, but Jane, as an editor at the now-defunct Daily Register of Shrewsbury, N.J., saw her own newspaper respond. “They both called to tell me they were on the story,” says Jane Foderaro. “In fact, T.J. was supposed to come for dinner and called to say he’d be late because he was reporting it.”
Lisa Foderaro, 40, says the family news bug bit early on. “I am amazed when I meet people who did not do what their parents do,” she says. “In our house, it was a common language.”
The last thing Andrew Rosenthal wanted to do was follow his father into the newspaper business and work at the same newspaper where he gained fame. Somehow, he managed to do both. “I was going to do anything but become a journalist,” says the younger Rosenthal, now 47 and deputy editorial page editor at The New York Times. “And he never pushed me.”
As far as Abe Rosenthal is concerned, his son could have chosen any profession and made him proud. When he discovered he wanted to be a newsman, the elder Rosenthal worried only that he could find a good place to work. “There aren’t a hell of a lot of good newspapers,” the father says. “I thought it might be difficult for him to get in.”
Still, either through destiny or sheer luck he found himself not only following his father’s path, but making a name for himself in the process. He says growing up as the son of a journalist ? who spent many years as a foreign correspondent during his youth ? showed both the good and bad of the business. “It was all very glamorous, but could be a hardship,” says Andrew Rosenthal, who gained his first job after college as a reporter in the AP Denver bureau. “I decided to be in Denver to be farther away from New York. I knew anywhere I went, I was going to be Abe Rosenthal’s son.”
After serving as the AP’s Moscow bureau chief, he joined the Times’ Washington, D.C., bureau in 1987, just after his father stepped down. Even then, his name dogged him. “People thought they knew me because they thought they knew my father,” the son recalls. “They thought I was going to be a son of a bitch, and they eventually found out I wasn’t!”