Murray Kempton, R.I.P.
Jude Wanniski
May 6, 1997

 

Memo To: Barbara Epstein, co-editor NY Review of Books
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Murray's passing at 79

I note in the NYTimes obituary this morning that you were as close as anyone to Murray in his last years. I want to share my condolences with you and his family, by sharing with you my own recollections of his influence on me. I'm 60 now, and when I asked my 80-year-old mother, Connie, to read the obituary at the breakfast table, she looked up after going over all five columns and said, "He sounds like you." What a nice thing for her to say. Murray Kempton was not my first hero in American journalism Max Lerner, James Reston, and I.F. Stone were my first teenage idols. But the lessons I learned from Murray in standing aside from the crowd were more important than any I took away from the other three. I began reading him in 1950 in the NYPost (which of course is also where I read Max Lerner), on the subway coming home to Borough Park from Brooklyn Tech. Murray Kempton was different because he was always careful to look at the other side of the coin, to be clear in his opinions, but never, ever mean. He would always be the last man to join a wolfpack or lynchmob. The story about how he was hard and soft on Nixon at different points of RMN's life was later reflected in my coverage of the same man. I had the pleasure of meeting Murray one time, at the 1976 Democratic convention in NYC, and was shocked that he not only knew who I was, but treated me with a sweet deference, instead of glowing at my words of homage to him. In a way, that reinforced what I had learned from him on the printed page, reminding me that excellence in journalism requires, even demands, personal humility. Murray never achieved the fame of the journalistic stars of his time, but I think the five columns in the Times testifies to his continuing influence in his chosen field. And early though the laurel grows, it withers quicker than the rose .