|Born||James A. Wechsler
October 31, 1915
New York City
|Died||September 11, 1983
New York City
|Cause of death||lung cancer|
|Alma mater||Columbia University|
|Occupation||newspaper columnist and editor|
|Employer||New York Post|
|Awards||James Wechsler Award|
James A. Wechsler (October 31, 1915 – September 11, 1983) was an American journalist who worked as a newspaper columnist, Washington bureau chief, editor-in-chief, and editorial page editor of The New York Post. He was a prominent voice of American liberalism for 40 years and was considered one of the most highly informed and responsible political writers in Washington.
Entering Columbia University just shy of age 16, Wechsler graduated in 1935 after rising to editor-in-chief of the Columbia Daily Spectator. In his first year he attended a speech by Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler, who said that democracies are incapable of choosing strong leaders like totalitarian nations could, which shocked him. He was shocked again when his friend Reed Harris was fired as editor of the Spectator for criticizing the professionalization of college football.
Between 1934 and 1937 Wechsler belonged to the Young Communist League and was a leader of the pro-Communist American Student Union. He left the League after "an eye-opening trip to the Soviet Union." He publicly condemned the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact and was repeatedly attacked by official Communist organs.
In May 1949, at the age of 33, Wechsler was named editor of The New York Post and, in an unusual arrangement, was in charge of both the news operation and the editorial page. During this period, The Post became known as a crusading liberal newspaper, undertaking investigate exposes of J. Edgar Hoover, Walter Winchell and Robert Moses, among others. In Sept., 1952, the paper published a story about a fund financed by wealthy California businessmen to supplement then-Senator and vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon's office expenses that led Nixon to respond in his famous televised Checkers speech.
In 1961, Wechsler was shifted to the position of editorial page editor after being replaced as editor of the news section by Paul Sann; he held that position until 1980. Besides editorials, Wechsler also wrote a regular column that continued until shortly before his death.
McCarthy and other accusations
Senator Joseph McCarthy questioned his conversion to anti-communism, and Wechsler testified before McCarthy's committee in 1953 on his past adherence to Communism, naming other party members. According to journalist Michael C. Moynihan:
When Wechsler testified before McCarthy’s Senate committee, the senator’s deep paranoia was on prominent display. He suggested that Wechsler’s well-documented hostility to Stalin was an elaborate ruse. As his quarry shifted in his chair, McCarthy speculated that Post editorials critical of his committee were planted by the Manchurian editor: 'Perhaps the most effective way of [propagandizing for communism] would be to claim that we deserted the party and, if we got in control of the paper, use that paper to attack and smear anybody who actually was fighting Communism.'
His work earned him a place on the master list of Nixon political opponents.
Personal and death
Wechsler died of lung cancer on September 11, 1983 in New York City.
- Revolt on the Campus (1936)
- War Propaganda and the United States (1940)
- Labor Baron (1943), a biography of labor leader John L. Lewis
- The Age of Suspicion (1953), an autobiography explaining his rebellion against the American university system and why he chose Communism, then why he renounced it, warning of the dangers of McCarthyism
- In a Darkness (1972), a memoir of his son's mental illness and suicide
In his honor, Columbia University launched the James Wechsler Award.
- Polner, Murray (January 5, 2004). James Wechsler: The Editor Who Dared Challenge J. Edgar Hoover. HNN
- Saxon, Wolfgang (September 12, 1983). James Wechsler, a Columnist and Ex-Editor of Post, Dies. New York Times