May 1, 2005 (best available version)
By Mike McNamee ’76
Throughout my career, people have asked, “How did an MIT graduate end up as a journalist?” My stock response: “I majored in The Tech.” Of course, that’s not what my transcript says. My transcript says I majored in Ed Diamond.
Edwin Diamond (1925-97) came to MIT as a visiting lecturer in political science in 1969. MIT was the foundation for his second career. A science writer and editor, he’d just been offered, then denied, the editorship of Newsweek. Quitting the magazine, he hooked up with former Kennedy science advisor and future MIT president Jerome Weisner to land a part-time spot in Course XVII. When I fell into his orbit in 1973, Ed was shuttling up from his home in New York for the academic life every Thursday and Friday.
Ed was the first real journalist I ever met. He embodied both the zest of a wire-service newshound and the world-weary omniscience of a newsmagazine pundit. In those tumultuous years of Vietnam and Watergate, he opened a window on the interaction between the press and politics at an institution largely indifferent to both.
On and off campus, Ed was a pioneering media critic. Today, analysis of maneuvers behind the news shows up in the second paragraph of every political story. Then, Ed’s column in New York magazine and his TV commentaries were eye-openers. He taught his MIT students how to find our own insights as we dissected newspaper stories, TV coverage, and political commercials.
Ed’s weekly 30-hour stint in Cambridge was a whirl. Thursday night was “Politics & Television,” in which Ed and his guests—from a young Dan Rather to a rising state legislator named Barney Frank—would expose the blossoming business of message management. Most weeks, the guest would venture up to Ed’s Eastgate apartment, trailed by 20 or 30 students, to talk well past midnight.
Ed and his acolytes would reconvene at 8 a.m. Friday for the media seminar. (The name and number changed every semester, confusing the registrar so Tech editors could chalk up six more hours every semester.) There, Ed would lead us in ripping apart The Globe, The Times, and The Tech with equal zeal. It could be painful: Ed never hid his opinion that The Tech’s pallid news columns and quavering editorials betrayed our tabloid heritage. But the standards he set spurred us to become real journalists.
Ed’s courses were the un-MIT: There were no problem sets on Nixon’s “Checkers” speech or statistical analyses of Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate scoops. The Thursday-night scene sometimes seemed more like a mixer than a class. Whenever Ed felt obliged to lecture, we could puncture his pomposity by calling on “Professor Diamond.” Only later did I discover how cruel that needling was: Despite his teaching skills, his many books, and the attention and funding he brought, Ed could never prove himself to MIT’s “real” academics. In 1984, New York University made him an offer—with tenure—that got him off the LaGuardia-to-Logan shuttle for good.
Fortunately for me, that was long after I’d graduated. Being the math genius of Frankton (Ind.) High School got me to MIT and opened up the world. Connecting with Ed opened up another world—the juncture of politics, economics, and communications where I’ve made my life. No, MIT will never have a journalism school. But for a while, we had Ed.
Mike McNamee ’76 was editor in chief of Vol. 95 of The Tech. He is now deputy Washington bureau chief for BusinessWeek.