By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
July 2, 2003 (Updated November 16, 2014)
I went looking the other day for references to the most influential teacher I ever had, Edwin Diamond. You find a lot of his book reviews, and some of his seminars, all of them in the present tense, before you get to this notice at the University of Chicago web site:
Edwin Diamond, PhB'47, AM'49, a journalist, author, and NYU professor, died July 10, 1997 in New York City. He was 72. After starting his career as a science writer with the International News Service in Chicago, he joined Newsweek in 1957, becoming a senior editor in 1962. He was an on-air commentator for the Washington Post Co., editorial director of Adweek, and cofounder of the Washington Journalism Review. A WWII veteran and a Korean War Army intelligence officer, Diamond received both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. An associate editor of the New York Daily News in the early 1980s, and a media columnist for New York magazine for 10 years, Diamond was a visiting professor of political science at MIT before joining NYU's faculty in 1984. He wrote a dozen books and won numerous awards for writing, editing, and classroom teaching, as well as a 1994 Professional Achievement Award from the U of C's Alumni Association. He is survived by his wife, Adelina Lust Diamond, AB'47; three daughters, including Ellen Diamond Waldman, AB'73; a sister, Natalie Diamond Peiser, AB'50; and six grandchildren.
Now those are the simple facts, but when someone Googles Edwin Diamond, I want them to find more than "just the facts, m'am."
He was the single finest professor I encountered during four years at MIT. He made me what I am today. I think he was and would be proud of that; I know I am proud to have served him in a staff capacity.
Edwin was a raconteur. He used to tell us he spoke Russian because he learned it while playing basketball in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., when he was called back to active duty during the Korean War. Do the math; he was less than 20 years old when he served in World War II, an experience he never talked about.
Edwin had a sense of humor and drama, and he was a lucky man. As a science writer at the Chicago bureau of the International News Service, he wrote many great stories, one of which was headlined in many Hearst Newspapers as "A-Powered Locomotives and Smokeless Cities," about the future of atomic power. It was dated Sept. 15, 1954. He did talk about his wire service experience. He would tell wonderful stories of his days at INS. In 1957, Dick Winslow was science editor of Newsweek, and recruited Edwin. INS locked him in a room and tried to convince him to stay. Within weeks of his departure, United Press bought INS and fired virtually its entire staff. Edwin just dodged the bullet.
Edwin rose to become a senior editor at Newsweek, and was promised the job of executive editor, but was overthrown by a palace coup while he was making a long-planned trip to Novosavirsk, the science city in Siberia. That might seem unlucky.
But when the Newsweek editorship fell through, Edwin, through his friendship with MIT Prof. (and later president) Jerome Wiesner, got a job as a visiting lecturer in the Political Science department at MIT. Plus he kept a string of freelance gigs (including a long stint as media critic of New York Magazine). I know he loved the MIT job--so much that I wanted to become a college professor. Unlike Edwin, I didn't have the education, intelligence and connections. In any case, it was at MIT that I met Edwin. Cathy Buckley took me to one of his lectures in the spring of 1971. It was love at first sight. The rest is history.
Edwin was an unrecognized pioneer. In 1970, he became the media commentator at WTOP television in Washington, a Post-Newsweek station. No matter what the history books say, Edwin was the first media analyst at a major American news outlet.
By the way, he wrote a LOT of books. He started writing them when he was at Newsweek and continued to write them until he died. In the early years, they were about science. In the later years, they were media criticism--sometimes collected New York Magazine columns, sometimes original research by the Network News Study Group (later the News Study Group) which I helped launch.
Edwin always trusted the young men and women he taught. He made me his consiglieri; he hated paperwork and details. As a sophomore, I handled these things for him at MIT, along with my trusty lieutenants, the late Richard Parker (I need to do an obit on him one of these days too) and Norman Sandler. It was heady power.
He developed a personal mentor relationship with many of his students. Edwin had me to his apartments in Cambridge and New York, and to his home in historic Sands Point, Long Island. I met his wife Adelina (his three daughters were all grown or off to college by the time I knew him). He was the only professor I knew personally. I know now that most students are never admitted into any professor's life.
Edwin served as a role model. As a sophomore, I had to choose a major. I asked myself; who did I want to be like when I was 47; Edwin Diamond, or my other professors. That cinched it. I became a journalist because of him. I wrote for WJR, the New York Daily News and AdWeek during the time he was an editor at those publications.
Edwin was always loyal and helpful to people who were loyal and helpful to him. After leaving Newsweek, Winslow later became an editor at Walker & Co. and asked Edwin to write a book about the use of aspirin to prevent heart attacks. Edwin wasn't interested, but he convinced Dick to let me write the book. That book got me out of UPI, made me a published author, and enabled me to move to San Francisco, where I eventually met the love of my life, to whom I am still married at the 23-year mark.
MIT never offered him tenure; NYU did, and working there meant no more weekly commute to Cambridge, so Edwin took his enormous talent to another university for the last phase of his life. We drifted apart, speaking irregularly, but with lingering affection. He dropped me a note the morning of the day he died, which arrived the day after his memorial service. He was way too young to die.
Ever since Edwin died, when I read an obit I ask myself (if the person was older than 72), "did they deserve more time than Edwin?" The answer is rarely yes--not that they deserve less time (usually) but that Edwin deserved more. He is the standard by which I judge the lives of people of achievement.
Edwin was a towering figure, and I miss him almost every day, six years after his death.
For another perspective, check out this thoughtful and well written appreciation of Edwin which appeared in Technology Review under the byline of Mike McNamee. Edwin is on page 2 of the story.
Mike's article inspired me to add a few notes:
When I was a sophomore and trying to decide whether to major in EE or "Ed Diamond," I looked around at middle-aged EE types, and looked at Edwin, and said "Whose life would I rather have?" So, I majored in management and vowed to be a journalist. Edwin supplied nearly one-third of my credits as an undergraduate. ...
While preparing the appreciation, Michael asked me: "What exactly was Ed's connection with the 'Tute? Was it that he'd gotten to know Wiesner when he covered science for Newsweek? How did he happen to become a part-time academic?"
Edwin was a visiting lecturer in the political science department when he arrived in 1969 and was a Senior Visiting Lecturer when he left in the late mid-80s for NYU. You may recall he always corrected us when we called him "Professor Diamond." He left because NYU offered him tenure, and MIT said that, without a doctorate (he had an MA in history from Chicago) he would never be granted tenure at MIT.
He did, indeed get to know Wiesner when he covered science for Newsweek and Wiesner was Kennedy's science adviser. They continued to see each other at the Pugwash conferences, where scientists from the USA and USSR met to work on disarmament (Edwin was taught Russian by the Marines during Korea, but the war ended before he could be sent out. You may recall that he won a silver star in WWII.). Pugwash was where Diamond met Eugene Skolnikoff, the chairman of the poli-sci department in 1969.
Edwin didn't much like to discuss his departure from Newsweek, but here's the story (confirmed, albeit as a blind item, by Osborn Elliot in his memoir The World of Oz.)
Update July 14, 2014
I finally made the effort to find the blind item in Osborne Elliott's book The World of Oz which refers to Edwin's aborted promotion: p. 196, in the chapter "On Being Boss." Note that Elliott compliments Edwin and shifts blame away from himself.
I made plenty of mistakes, both in hiring and promoting. My most egregious error was when we were about to reshuffle the top editorial talent, and I assured one of the senior editors that if any promotions were involved, he would certainly be among those moved up. The man was able, tireless, and full of ideas. But people who worked for him found him unpredictable and difficult. As word of his impending promotion got out, a firestorm of protest swept the staff. I reneged on my promise. I didn't blame him at all when the disappointed senior editor angrily quit.
I also corrected a few words in the narrative below.
Update November 16, 2014
During a recent visit to Edwin's widow Adelina, she told me he wasn't up for the editorship, but for some other high position. She recommended some avenues for further exploration to nail down the details. At the start of 1969, there were three editors atop the Newsweek masthead:
Editor Osborn Elliott
Managing Editor Kermit Lansner
Executive Editor Lester Bernstein
By the end of the year it looked like this:
Editor-in-chief Osborn Elliott
Editor Kermit Lansner
Managing Editor Lester Bernstein
Executive Editor Robert Christopher
A friend of Adelina's, a former Newsweek Boston bureau chief, pointed me at p. 153 of Ed Kosner's memoir, It's News To Me. He described Edwin's departure and, unlike Elliott, whose item was blind, Kosner named names.
But I wasn't immune to office intrigue. One day, Lester Bernstein, who had become a Wallenda [an editor atop the masthead], called me in and closed his office door. Oz Elliott, it turned out, had privately agreed with Ed Diamond, a senior editor who oversaw Science, Education, Medicine and all the other non-cultural back-of-the-book sections, to elevate Diamond to the Wallenda Wire. Diamond was a high-energy editor, but Lester and many of us hated his harum-scarum style. Ed thrived in chaos and was happy to create it when it suited him. More to the point, Diamond was a natural rival for Bernstein, and for me down the road.
As we met, Diamond was on his way to Moscow for a reporting trip, but before he left, he couldn't resist leaking the news of his promotion, even scribbling the new pecking order on a napkin. Soon the magazine was buzzing with the word. Had Diamond kept his mouth shut, his promotion would have been proclaimed to the staff as a fait accompli on his return. Instead, Lester had time to maneuver. We were soon in Oz's office telling my that it was, of course, his prerogative give Diamond any title he liked, but that we wouldn't work with him as a Wallenda. Others felt that way too.
This put Elliot in a miserable bind; two of his best people were challenging his decision to reward a third. To rescind the promotion would be to break his word to Diamond; not to would cause a rebellion. Oz hated to have his authority questioned, but he folded. When Diamond returned from Moscow and heard the news he left the magazine (and turned up years later as a valuable contributor for me at New York magazine.
As Edwin told it, Elliott had decided to name Edwin, then a senior editor, to be executive editor of Newsweek--the fourth position on the masthead. Edwin had a long-standing trip scheduled to Novosibirsk, the Soviet "Science City" in Siberia. Elliott told him it was OK to go. As soon as he left, word leaked of his impending promotion and a staff revolt began to grow. It quickly reached the point where Elliott felt Edwin's promotion had become untenable. I vividly remember Edwin saying that he was "Standing in the middle of nowhere in Siberia, wearing one of those Russian hats, when I got a telegram that said, "Come home quickly or all is lost." He came home quickly, but all was already lost. He was not fired, but, in light of what happened, he quit.
As a consolation prize, publisher Katharine Graham offered him the position of media critic of the Post-Newsweek television stations. During most of the time we knew him, he went to Hartford once a month (the nearest Post-Newsweek station) to tape commentaries. He is widely considered to be the first of the "new wave" of media critics, and was second only to A.J. Liebling of the New Yorker in having that title. Clay Felker also named him media critic of New York Magazine.
Wiesner commiserated with Diamond, and got Skolnikoff to offer him the lectureship in poli sci "as a nest in which to recuperate" while figuring out what to do next. He liked it so much he stayed 15 years.
Mike asked: "Who were some of the guests that he brought in for Politics and TV class on Thursday nights?"
- Joe Kennedy--not as a guest, of course; as a Harvard student, he audited the class.
- Chuck Scarborough (WNBC 4 anchorman), who told stories about his days as a vacuum cleaner salesman.
- Dan Rather. Tightly wound, even then.
- Nixon speech writer Ray Price (believed by some to be Deep Throat)
- Diane White of the Boston Globe
God, I wish I'd kept a list...