Tribute to Former WSJ Editor Robert Bartley

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On December 10, Robert L. Bartley (search), former editor of The Wall Street Journal, died of cancer at the age of 66. Here is a tribute to Bartley written by David Asman that appeared in the New York Post.

Bob Bartley was a great newspaperman. He has been called many other things -- both grand and disparaging. But this is the achievement in which he took greatest pride.

Once I was offered a corporate job at Dow Jones that offered more pay and the perks that come with a VP title. But it wasn't journalism. So I went to Bob and asked his advice. He pulled from his personal history: "I've always tried to rise as high as possible," he told me, "without leaving daily journalism."

I stayed with Bob and left the corporate perks behind.

Bob managed to achieve that perfect balance between policymaker and journalist by always focusing on news gathering. He was never satisfied with just opinion, even though he ran an opinion page. He looked for a balance of about 80 percent news and 20 percent opinion on his edit pages, and very often would break news in what he called his "reported editorials."

He required from those of us who worked for him the same discipline, saying that we should editorialize no more than the front page of The New York Times -- and probably considerably less than that!

Bob also insisted on putting the reader as close to the story -- not the interpretation of the story -- as possible. And that meant using direct sources. Bob hated stories that relied on unnamed sources. (Read the Seymour M. Hersh article in the current issue of New Yorker for an example of what he despised.)

For many years I covered Latin America, where stories fly on the wings of rumors by unnamed sources. But Bob insisted that my articles -- or those I edited -- contain no more than 20 percent unnamed sources. In the name of consistency, I usually chucked all the unnamed sources. It made research tougher, but kept the stories bulletproof.

And, while his critics will find this hard to believe, Bob Bartley never allowed ideology or prejudice to get in the way of the facts.

In 1986, I was sent to cover an election in Chihuahua, Mexico. Before I went, Bob came to my office and told me that he didn't want another piece just focusing on election irregularities. We had spent a lot of ink criticizing the corrupt Mexican government to no avail and Bob wanted to try a different tack. "Look for something different this time -- something that hasn't been discovered."

The problem was that the election turned out to be one of the most corrupt I'd ever seen. Despite Bob's instructions, I knew this had to be the story's focus.

I flew back to New York and asked to meet with Bob. For an hour I laid out the details of what I had seen and heard. I was prepared to spend as long arguing with him and was fully prepared to defend my position by offering my resignation.

That drama wasn't necessary. In typical taciturn Bartley fashion, he just said, "Write it up." I did, and he changed not a word. The facts talked him out of his argument.

This may be a minor point, but for some reason it stands out in my mind. The only time I ever heard Bob Bartley curse was the day I told him I was leaving my post as op-ed editor to become a Fox News anchor. "S---!" Bob said, turning his head away from me. What shocked me most was not what he said, but my realization that I'd never heard it from him in 14 years of almost daily contact.

Bob didn't have to curse for emphasis. He could make enemies wince with nothing more than the facts and a pincer-like construction of those facts on paper. He would box his arguments so completely that no one could back out of them without tripping over them.

With a mind that sharp, a skill that well honed, and a genius for uncovering fresh new ideas in the most hopeless quagmires, the awards and recognition he received were all but certain. So, too, is there certainty in this: Those happy few who worked with him will regard the experience as the most rewarding and productive of their lives.

FOX News anchor David Asman was hired by Bob Bartley in 1983 and worked with him until 1997.