David Hoffman

Saul Friedman

To be a great journalist in confusing times, in moments of chaos and uncertainty, requires a steadfastness, a curiosity that can’t be easily quenched, and a deep well of passion. Saul Friedman, who passed away Dec. 24 at 81, was a paragon of these values, and taught them to many of us who knew him. ...

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To be a great journalist in confusing times, in moments of chaos and uncertainty, requires a steadfastness, a curiosity that can’t be easily quenched, and a deep well of passion. Saul Friedman, who passed away Dec. 24 at 81, was a paragon of these values, and taught them to many of us who knew him.

Saul was a newspaperman whose work spanned decades from the civil rights movement to the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was a familiar figure on the campaign bus, wearing a multi-pocketed safari jacket, smoking a cigar, his eyes twinkling at some new idea or political turn of events. He was a liberal, but more than that, he was filled with passion about the world around him, angry at injustice and disdainful of incompetence, and he shared this exuberance with his colleagues and his readers.

I remember an autumn evening on my first assignment on a national political story. It 1979, and I was the Washington correspondent for the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, a Knight-Ridder newspaper. Saul was the Knight-Ridder national political correspondent. I had been sent to Maine to cover the short-lived presidential bid of Jerry Brown. I met Saul for dinner in Portland, and at his suggestion we drove to Freeport, talking politics all the while, Saul mentoring the new kid. I think it must have been very late when we pulled up to the steps of a modest shop that Saul said was open 24 hours a day because they served hunters and fishermen. The sign said: “L. L. Bean.” I had never heard of it.

Every campaign reporter should have one of those sturdy L. L. Bean corduroy jackets, with the large pockets for notebooks and tape recorders, and I bought one. But mostly I remember Saul that night: gracious to a young journalist just starting out, always full of ideas, always full of passion.

Saul covered presidents and the powerful, fearlessly, and often demanding they not fall short of his ideals. He could be unrelenting in his questions, but he did so in service of his journalism, not ideology. He wrote for the Houston Chronicle and Detroit Free Press before coming to Washington, where he served in the bureaus of Knight-Ridder and Newsday.  

At Knight-Ridder one day in the summer of 1979, Saul left an impression I could never forget. President Carter, in deep political trouble, had summoned a few power-brokers to Camp David for a summit to confront his deepening problems. Among the guests was the Democratic superlawyer and former defense secretary, Clark Clifford. Afterward, the lawyer confided to Saul how he was asked to go for a bike ride at the presidential retreat before the meeting. Clifford hadn’t been on a bike in a long time, and said they had been going downhill fast when he unceremoniously fell off, skinning his knee.

I watched how Saul wove this little emotional scoop into his story for the newspapers the next day. A great statesman falling from a bike, admitting his fallibility in a gentle aside, and Saul wrote it gracefully, a reminder, amid all the towering importance of public life, that we all are human.

Thank you Saul, and farewell.

 

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