New Book Examines All-Time Great Editorials

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By: Greg Mitchell

Who are the greatest editorial writers of all time? Michael Gartner, who won a Pulitzer for editorial wiring in 1997, names his top four as Horace Greeley, Henry Watterson, William Allen White, and Vermont Royster, in a book due out next month that he co-produced with the Newseum.

The lavishly-illustrated book is titled ?Outrage, Passion and Uncommon Sense: How Editorial Writes Have Taken On the Great American Issues of the Past 150 Years? (National Geographic Books). It contains excerpts from dozens of famous — and not so well-known — editorials arranged by subjects, such as War, Race, Death, Politics, Freedoms, Passions, and Christmas. In the latter we, of course, find The New York Sun’s classic ?Is There a Santa Claus?,? along with a photo of the real-life ?Virginia.?

Gartner writes, ?The editorial is the soul of the newspaper. And, on a good newspaper that knows and understands and loves its hometown, or its home country, the editorial is the heart and soul of the town, or the nation, as well.?

But Gartner complains that today’s editorials ?inform, but do not inspire… . In this age of instant news reported without interpretaton or context ? strong editorials are needed more than ever.? But too many now are ?expedient and insipid.?

His top four writers represented papers from around the country: Greeley at the New York Tribune, Watterson at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, White from The Emporia Daily Gazette in Kansas, and Royster of The Wall Street Journal.

He says the most powerful editorial ever was ?The Prayer of Twenty Millions,? Greeleys critical letter to President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, chiding him for not freeing the slaves (he did so less than six months later).

Gartner won his Pulitzer when he edited The Daily Tribune in Ames, Iowa. He also was page one editor at The Wall Street Journal, and editor of the Des Moines Register and the Courier Journal.

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