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Harry Rosenfeld, who saw news of ‘third-order burglary’, dies at 91

Harry M. Rosenfeld, who injected his brash brand of journalism into The Washington Post, where he oversaw the two journalists who turned a local criminal story into the national Watergate corruption scandal that toppled the Nixon administration, died on 16 July at his home in the upstate. Slingerlands, NY He was 91 years old.

The cause was complications from Covid-19, her daughter Amy Rosenfeld Kaufman said.

As The Post’s deputy editor for metropolitan news, Mr Rosenfeld directly supervised Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they exploited secret sources in their unraveling of the Watergate break-in, which the press secretary of the President Richard M. Nixon had described. as a “third-rate burglary attempt” and which led to Mr. Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

At one point, Mr Rosenfeld shielded the two reporters from attempts to remove them from the story once its broad implications became apparent. Post editor Benjamin C. Bradlee had sought to replace “Woodstein,” as the duo were known, with Post veterans steeped in government and politics.

As quoted in Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein’s book “All the President’s Men” – a line spoken by Jack Warden playing Mr. Rosenfeld in the 1976 film version – Mr. Rosenfeld defended reporters by asking a rhetorical question to Mr. Bradlee.

“They are hungry,” he said. “Do you remember when you were hungry?” “

The Post won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Watergate. In an indelible moment, Nixon, responding to a question Mr Rosenfeld asked at a press conference the president held with publishers in 1973, said he never enjoyed the exercise of public functions. “I’m not a crook,” he said.

Mr. Rosenfeld’s jobs at the Post were sandwiched between 18 years at the Herald Tribune in New York City and, starting in 1988, a long tenure as editor of Hearst Corporation’s two newspapers in Albany, The Times Union. and the afternoon Knickerbocker News.

An immigrant who fled Nazi persecution in Germany in his youth, Mr. Rosenfeld joined the Herald Tribune as a shipping clerk – a summer job before college – and was an overseas editor when the newspaper closed in 1966. He retired from the Times Union in 1996 (the Knickerbocker News ceased publication in 1988), but continued to contribute to the editorial page.

At the Post, the dynamic of presenting articles at history meetings was so robust that Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her review of “All the President’s Men” in the New York Times Book Review in 1974, wrote that – beyond the Watergate scandal itself “there is an even more powerful second story” told in the book – about the inner workings of a newspaper as editors “play the role of prosecutor and judge.”

“Journalists’ meetings with city editor Barry Sussman; metropolitan editor Harry Rosenfeld; editor Howard Simons and editor Benjamin Bradlee – to decide which stories would be printed – are the best parts of the book, ”she wrote.

In his book “From Kristallnacht to Watergate: Memoirs of a Newspaperman” (2013), Mr Rosenfeld proudly recalled that at the Post he was “part of a team that took a mediocre newspaper and raised it to the top. rank of magnitude ”.

While Post Editor Katharine Graham called him “a true Watergate hero for us,” he left the newspaper in 1978 after being reassigned to edit the Outlook and Book World sections, which he saw as a downgrading. .

Twelve years earlier, however, he had rocked journalism in a decent Washington with a nervous New York sensibility that made some colleagues uncomfortable. Some still point to the cover of Debra (Muffin) Mattingly, a 14-year-old runaway from Arlington, Virginia, whose boyfriend hit her father to death with a crowbar. Mr. Rosenfeld assigned six reporters to the story and pursued it for 18 months.

“I like to say that when the Herald Tribune closed its doors and moved to the Washington Post,” said Peter Osnos, former reporter and editor of the Post, “he brought brash connoisseurs of New York to Washington. York before you can buy a decent bagel there.

Hirsch (Harry) Moritz Rosenfeld was born on August 12, 1929 in Berlin to Polish Jewish parents, Sam Rosenfeld and Esther (Szerman) Rosenfeld. His father was a furrier. Although the family applied to emigrate to the United States as early as 1934, their request was not approved until March 1939, after the Nazis ransacked Jewish-owned businesses and torched the Rosenfeld family synagogue.

Mr. Rosenfeld attended Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and received a BA in American Literature from Syracuse University in 1952. He served in the military from 1952 to 1954 and then went on to graduate school in history at the Columbia University and in Poetry at New York University. .

Besides his daughter Amy, he is survived by his wife, Anne (Hahn) Rosenfeld, whom he married in 1953; two other daughters, Susan Rosenfeld Wachter and Stefanie Rosenfeld; and seven grandchildren.

There was no “scribe” among his ancestors, he recalls in his memoirs, but in his high school yearbook he chose journalism as his dream profession. In a career that he said had been influenced by his childhood under the Nazis, he “discerned a theme that underlies much of my journalistic work: holding those responsible to account, the more powerful they are, the better.” is “.

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