This is part II of an interview by Dick Harnett, retired UPI San Francisco bureau manager, with Wayne Sargent, former vice president and sales manager for UPI and later a newspaper publisher. It was taped at Carmel, Calif., on Nov. 6, 1995, and corrected by Sargent on Feb. 17, 1996 by Sargent)
Harnett: I used see these telegrams. I remember messages from the biz reps to New York telling them, "paper cost this, machine cost that, wire haul costs this." That was it, and it kind of assumed that the rest is gravy. The news report itself wasn't figured in there.
Sargent: That's right. It all depends on how you account. We would take the physical costs of the machine, which could run as low as $7, paper, ribbon, $3.36 a week, line haul at $1 per mile per month, and say, "That's all you've got involved. Anything you make over that is profit for UP or UPI, and we need it." I took a different position. I said, "No, we are entitled to a minimum price of $55 from the smallest guy in the world, and if he can't afford that, he can't afford to buy us, period."
Harnett: When Bob Crennen went on the business side here, one of first deals he made was with a Chinese paper on our wire. They were getting the A-wire. I don't know what they paid for it, maybe $50 or $60. He had worked on cables and had seen the Asia stuff coming in on the Tokyo wire. So he went over there and figured out cost of paper and everything and sold them the Asia wire by messenger for $12 a week. A few weeks later the Chinese came in and said, "That's the one we want to keep. Forget the A-wire."
Sargent: I set up all sorts of rules that certain things had to be sold. You could not buy the picture service unless you had a wire. You could not buy the sports wire unless you had the A and B wires. I put all those rules into effect. Maybe they weren't good.
Harnett: They dropped them after you left.
Sargent: They dropped them after I left and sometimes by disobedience even before I left. One violator of my black bible rules was Cal Thornton in Boston. I finally went to Beaton and said, "Cal is just a loose cannon. I can't make him sell on the standards that I've established for UPI nationwide so we can all begin to get a little bit more honest about our sales." Beaton said, "He's doing just fine. He's making more sales than you are and if he wants to sell at 35 bucks a week or 40 bucks let him do it." When I resigned and left, Beaton said, "What am I going do for the sales position?" I said, "Get Cal Thornton. You and he see things a lot the same way." He did get Cal Thornton, and six months or whatever it was later Cal was out and suing UPI. He filed a lawsuit against UPI. I don't know the details.
Sargent: Are you going to do the history chronologically or by subject matter? Either way you'll do a good job on it.
Harnett: What I'm trying to do is get a chronological outline at least, going through The New York Times, E&P, back as far as I can and just jot down what happened in various years. Then I will try to get stories to go with it.
Sargent: It is not important, historically, but you might get a kick out of this. Tom Curran had written a piece about price cutting way back in 1936, to the tune of Halls of Montezuma. It went like this:
"From the shores of San Diego, to the hills of Idaho. "We will sell the UP service, making eight cents as we go. "If the AP or the INS ever treads on our preserve, We will cut the goddamned rates in half to keep the clients that we serve."
The sales department formed a song group for fun called the UPI Chorale. We sang songs, parodies to well-known tunes. We played in Detroit and we played in Washington, and we played in New York. We went around the country, wearing our graduation robes and carrying a folder and so forth. The first song we sang was Tom Curran's. We also wrote other parodies. I played piano. You may be interested in some of the other things the UPI Chorale did. "Don't blame me, For falling in love with you." You know that song. Our version was:
"Don't blame us, "If we don't make dough this year. "Blame it on Mims, "Or somebody like hims. "Don't blame us."
Harnett: I think I have heard that one.
"Blame AJ, HX, BH or DA. "If things are not right "Blame Ernie Hoberecht, "But don’t blame us."
Harnett: You wrote that, didn't you?
Sargent: Yeah. I even wrote some stuff for an AP meeting one time, which had nothing to do with the wire service. We had one called "There is Nothing Like Tremaine" to the tune of 'There is Nothing Like a Dame' from South Pacific."
"We ain't got Montgomery, "We ain't got Bob Eunson, "We ain't got Keith Fuller, "They give us all a pain! "What have we got! "We've got Tremaine! "There is nothing like Tremaine, "Nothing in the World "That is anything like Tremaine! "There is nothing you can name "That is anything like Tremaine!"
And so forth. And we had one called "Mimi." It was about Mims. And the one that I liked best of all was "Glory, Glory, Harry Lewis!" sung to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. This was: "Glory, Glory, Harry Lewis!"
That was the chorus of course. The verses went:
"I'm singing you the praises of the man we all admire. "His name is Harry Lewis, and he worked the bureau fire. "The copy flamed about him, but he got it on the wire. "His soul goes marching on!"
Then the chorus. Then the next verse:
"Although the tape was burning, he was not the one to quit. "He banged it on the B-wire and punched each word a bit. "While NX wrote a second lead, he filed a split. "His soul goes marching on!"
Then another chorus, and another verse:
"When city firemen got to him, they found him trapped between "A 19 automatic and a burned out RO machine. "His widow got some overtime, to keep the record clean. "His soul goes marching on!"
And then finally, very quietly and silently and softly:
"So bow your heads for Harry, boys, he's gone to his reward. "He had the finest funeral the UP could afford. "Up there somewhere, with teletype he's filing for the Lord. "His soul goes marching on!"
Harnett: Who was Harry Lewis?
Sargent: Non-entity. It sounds like "Halleluja."
Harnett: There was no Harry Lewis?
Sargent: No. It was just a word.
Harnett: I have not heard that, but I think I heard the one you did at the Detroit Downhold, from a guy who worked for Ford.
Sargent: Not Ford, General Motors. They were all UPI people there. The vice president was Tony DeVincenzo, and then there was former bureau manager in Washington, Ernie Barcella. And then, a guy who died here, lived right here, about eight months ago. His wife just died less than a month ago.
Harnett: From GM?
Sargent: Yes, he worked with that same group. Her name was Margaret. His name was . . .
Harnett: That's where a lot of this Downhold stuff came from, those guys.
Sargent: (calls Mrs. Sargent) Marybeth. Margaret, who died recently whose husband worked for UPI and then General Motors. What was his name?
Sargent: Thanks so much. Ed Steeves.
Harnett: I didn't know him. I guess Barcella is dead too.
Sargent: Now the reason I sing Tom Curran's song to you is because it was written in 1936. UP then in '36, '46, '56, '66, was having the same problems with getting their rates up. I used to draw graphs, the large papers paid AP more than twice as much. As the papers got smaller the gap narrowed. When it got down to the little paper where things were really competitive, AP would do it very cheap on occasion to take one away from us. They used lots and lots of devices to justify what they did. But at any rate, what you're saying is true, selling the service at the price which you would have liked to have had was not as easy as it seemed. You sold it at what you could get. In some cases you felt bad about it, but you'd rather have that than nothing.
Harnett: Another question about accounting that was never clear in my mind is cost allocation. Beaton told me that when he went to Europe Europe was losing money. Does that mean you're supposed to get as much revenue to cover news gathering in that area? Did they expect Europe to produce enough revenue to cover all these capitals, Rome etc., or was the cost internationalized in some way?
Sargent: There were two divisions, domestic and international. I know very little about the international end of it. How they cost accounted I don't know. I used to just see the final figures for myself domestically and would see some figures for them. I know South America made money, Bill McCall and the people down there.
Harnett: Same thing in Alaska. We opened up a bureau, and we'd get a client, and then get a lot of news, a lot of stuff we could use. We would lose the client and close the bureau. Did that mean there was no more news in Alaska?
Sargent: I opened that bureau.
Harnett: How many times?
Sargent: Once. and I sent that mad Russian up there. I can't think what his name was. He didn't realize how expensive things were up there, and when he quit I sent Bob Miller up there. I remember Bob saying to me, "I was wounded in the war. I have a bullet in me. I'll stay until the first snow falls. When the first snow falls I'm outta there. You better have somebody else by then."
Harnett: What year was that?
Sargent: 1957. We could not afford the wire haul into Alaska. No client that was up there would pay us as much as the cost of getting the wire, but Bartholomew thought we needed a bureau up there, that it wasn't right not to have a bureau there. He wanted one. It wasn't even in Juneau which is the state capital. It was in Anchorage, which is where the big newspapers were, two of them at that time. Woods and the other guys, then Kay Fanning took over the one and McClatchy now I think owns both of them. I'm not sure.We used to ride up there on Army Communications Service, ACS. That's the only way we could feed stuff in and out of there and come anyplace to breaking even. Obviously the news side always wanted more bureaus, more personnel, obviously sales always wanted more sales personnel and more promotion and more backup, obviously the top management just didn't want the losses, and everybody had to downhold and in some case the downholds were very well known, silly things like pencil stubs, and then others like in my case the reduction of sales effort to take care of technology. It was a very major move. I said, "I tried everything I knew to diversify the base, audio, education, books, and I've even met secretly with AP guys trying find some combination between us that would preserve us both, and I was not able do it. I said, "Let somebody else have a try at it" and accepted the job with Gannett.
Harnett: That was down in San Bernardino.
Sargent: No, I went to Nashville Tennessee, first. I was hired to become the very conservative publisher --I am conservative politically -- and Al Neuharth knew that, and we bought the Nashville Banner from Jimmy Stahlman. You have to know Jimmy Stallman in the history of that paper. It had to be really a conservative who took over that paper because that's what it was. It was a conservative voice in the South.
Harnett: The Nashville Banner?
Sargent: The Nashville Banner. That's a whole other story.
Harnett: There something about the accounting, if we don't have any clients there, let's not go. There's something wrong with that.
Sargent: How would you have had it?
Harnett: I am wondering how it was done.
Sargent: Vietnam was a charge against general income. We had to go because that's where the action was. Initially we sent very few people, and then more as our military buildup or bureau operations built up. It was a helluva drain. We used to try to put money away for what we called the "quadrennials," the Olympics once every four years, presidential election once every four years, national conventions once every four years. We knew in those years the expenditures were going to go way up but there was never any surplus money set aside. So what you really were doing was tucking a paper figure away every year and saying, "This is what we are reserving for use in that quadrennial." When Vietnam came along it didn't increase the prices of our service It didn't increase the news consumption.
Harnett: You had war assessments, didn't you?
Sargent: We had a very small war assessment -- I wasn't there -- for Korea. We had none for Vietnam.
Harnett: Lets say North Dakota, you don't have any clients. They just put a big air base there, discovered a lot of oil. Did Tatarian or anybody say, "We should cover that and maybe there will be some clients at some point." Or is it, "Well, if there's enough demand for that news we'll send somebody up from Minneapolis." I am just wondering.
Sargent: There were always two schools of thought, the purists news said you have to go where the news is. If there's a big news reason you have be there whether or not you have any clients. The other side said we pay as we go, we can only have news bureaus where you have support. I opened the bureau in Las Vegas. I got both newspapers to pay us more money if we had a bureau in Las Vegas. Everybody agreed Vegas wanted the publicity. The newspapers get it back from the gamblers, and we got it from the newspapers. We opened the bureau and paid for it from day one. When we opened the bureau in Vegas the real reason was not that we could get more money from it but because working out of Los Angeles we could see that Las Vegas was becoming the entertainment center of the world and Hollywood was collapsing. Hollywood studios weren't what they used to be, and they're even less now.
Harnett: They had a bureau here at the Monterey Herald, right?
Sargent: Yes. Walt Barkdull came down and was the bureau manager. You know how we did that one?
Harnett: I don't know.
Sargent: We had worked for years to get Colonel Allen Griffin, who owned the Monterey Peninsula Herald, to buy UPI service and he wouldn't do it. He was a real staunch supporter of AP, always had been. Finally Dick Litfin whose idea it was, he said, "Colonel, I'll tell you what we will do." Salaries then were running say $100 a week. He said, "We will open a one-man bureau in Monterey. It will be the first wire service bureau and we will get all the beauties and virtues of your wonderful peninsula out to all the other people in the world, and you'll have the prestige of a wire service bureau. We will send you a very good guy, and we will pay him $60 a week if you will pay him $40. Now you can't buy a reporter for 40 bucks, but you know that anything that reporter does that's good enough for the wire is also good enough for your newspaper because if he can get it printed in Redding or Red Bluff you sure are going to print it in Monterey. Chances are as he works every day producing stories probably 70 percent of what he produces will be of more use to you than it will be to us, but we only want you to pay 40 percent of the salary. How can you get a full time reporter added to your staff for 40 bucks?" Griffin said, "It's a deal." So we did it, and we thought, of course, that this would eventually result in some sort of UP service going into the Monterey Herald. It never did.
Harnett: We never had the paper as a client?
Sargent: Never as a client, but we did have a one-man bureau. Lefty Leonard ran it, and Walt Barkdull, who's still alive and works for the state of California in the prison systems I think.
Harnett: I remember as our stringer, Dave Leonard called one day and said he got direct orders. He said, "If I call you I am going to be fired."
Harnett: Was there too.
Sargent: Dave Leonard became editor of the Monterey Herald. I know about the Kennedy thing. And I have a historical perspective on the thing that which most people don’t realize. When Horace Greeley broke the end of the Civil War he was lauded as a hero and given a parade through the streets of New York, a tickertape parade. He was a great man. When Roy Howard prematurely broke the end of World War I, some say by mistake, some say on purpose, there were different stories. Some people thought he was a great man and some people thought him not so good. When Ed Kennedy did the same thing -- and you have to read his story as to why he did what he did -- some people think he was just the worst villain. You had a piece (in the newsletter).
Harnett: Boyd Lewis.
Sargent: Boyd Lewis is still irate over Ed Kennedy. He didn't get a tickertape parade in New York. He didn't even get a position. AP gave him a $1,000 bonus and fired him. There were some papers that were so strong AP that they would pick up AP rejects and hire them. Kennedy was one with the Herald. You remember Pete Arthur?
Sargent: When he developed cancer the Herald hired him here. He died here, spent his last years here. Remember when the reporter down in Oxford, Mississippi, made an erroneous report about the integration of the campus, and General Ted ... sued AP and got a judgment for $9 million and AP had to fire this young kid 22 years old? Who hired him? The Monterey Herald had him six months and Paul Miller had him up in Rochester six months. That's where they hid him out. Those were strong AP papers.
Harnett: It was the AP club that did that?
Harnett: Aline Mosby, I'm trying to remember that scandal down in Hollywood.
Sargent: I know about it and where she went and what she did wrong and so forth. She and lots of Hollywood reporters in Los Angeles were getting paid under the counter by Confidential Magazine. They took cash from the publisher of that magazine. Aline took checks. She took checks. Confidential Magazine was hauled up by the Justice Department on charges of circulating pornography through the U.S. mails, which was illegal. The publisher of that magazine, when he was on trial, said, "I'm a legitimate magazine and I have legitimate people working for me." Like who? He said so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so. They all denied it. Aline couldn't deny it because he had the canceled checks. What had she provided him? I'll tell you what I think she provided him, and a beautiful story it was. She was sent down to Palm Springs at the request of the Paris Match, one of our big clients in Europe, a magazine like Life. They wanted "a week with Frank Sinatra." They wanted move by move, everything the guy did. He was hot stuff. Aline slept in her car. She went down there and what she saw was Frank go into his house and he had three little starlets with him, all cute little things. They went in the house and they just stayed there, and just stayed there and just stayed there. They didn't come out, and she wrote the piece for Paris Match. Then she told Confidential Magazine that Frank was shacked up with three cutie pies in Palm Springs, had been in there for three days. Confidential Magazine wrote a wonderful piece called "Breakfast of Champions." The theme of the piece was, and this was always a technique with that magazine, half truth and half lie and the subject can't deny the half lie because he has then got to reveal the half truth.They wrote a piece. How could Frank Sinatra have three girls all day and all night for three days? How did he keep his energy up? How did he manage to be virile enough to do it. The answer was that Frank would go out to the kitchen and have a bowl of Wheaties, the "breakfast of champions." The Wheaties would restore his vigor and then he'd go back to the girls. Then he'd go have another bowl of Wheaties and then go back to another one. They reasoned that Frank could not object, and he did not file suit, because they had a witness that he was with the three girls for three days. He didn't deny that and what the hell difference does it make whether he denied the corn flakes and the Wheaties? So the magazine got away with the piece and it was really fun to read. But Aline was caught with the checks so Hank Rieger had to fire her but he and UPI got her a job with the World's Fair in Brussels, and that's where she went.
Harnett: She wasn't hidden over there by UPI?
Sargent: No. We got her another job outside of UPI. She was publicity for the World's Fair in Brussels. Then she came back to UP in Paris and then went to Moscow and got in some more alleged trouble although every evidence is that she was set up, that she was slipped a mickey and dropped into a gutter and the Russians took pictures of her. What else should I be telling you about the larger thing? Oh, I was on my meetings with the AP and I told you about dividing up the clients, which they wouldn't accept, setting up the credit bureau, which they wouldn't accept, and finally I told the AP executives, "We have all got to standardize our rates because we're just killing each other underselling. You claim we are underselling, and we claim you undersell. If you will set a minimum price to radio stations I will go $5 higher and guarantee we will not go below that rate. If you tell me you will set a $50 rate, I'll set a $55 rate." I had set a $55 rate anyway, but I did want to get AP into setting a minimum so we would know where they are and so if a regional executive reports that some client bought the AP service for $45 a week it wouldn't be true. If AP says $50 minimum, that's where they are going to be. We would be at $55. They thought the idea was pretty good, but they didn't think it would work on a wide basis. So they cherry picked it and said, "If you are really serious about it let's try it in one area only." I said, 'What area?" They said "Washington City News Service, WCNS." That was the province of Ed Allen and the Special Services Bureau. It was run by a guy in Washington who both produced it and sold it, Johnny. They had been selling it regularly to government installations everywhere at $35 a week. Sometimes we put them on for four weeks, sometimes for six, some permanent or whatever, but the going rate for the Washington News Service was $35 a week. It was a good service. It was a daybook. I don't know if you ever read or heard of it, but you could watch that wire and you'd know where press conferences were being held, you'd know who said what at the press conference, events going on in Washington. It was a way of keeping track of Washington from one place, that printer, for $35 a week. Johnny's rate.
Harnett: AP didn't have that?
Sargent: They started one after we did but we were so well- entrenched everybody had UPI, and AP didn't want to sell it that cheap anyway. So we had the large clientele. I raised the rate on WCNS and put out a memo by the general sales manager, me, saying that certain new minimums were going to be put into effect and there would be no violation and that henceforth WCNS service would be $50 a week. No contract less than $50 a week would be accepted. Johnny went through the ceiling. He said I was trying to ruin his domain, his career, his empire. Ed Allen was irate and so forth, but it stuck and for a long while we didn't do anything. Minimum rate for WCNS was 50 bucks a week and it sold just was well at $50 as it did at $35. AP liked that. Now they sold some at $50, and even some at $45. But they knew we were no less than $50.
Harnett: That was an agreement with AP?
Sargent: That was an unwritten handshake agreement. We did it for about a year. It was an attempt to collaborate with the AP. Thomason said, and correctly so, it was price fixing and was illegal.
Harnett: That didn't go out?
Sargent: I said if it worked on WCNS we could go over to the radio stations, maybe even get the newspapers. Maybe we could start a structure which will allow the guys to sell the product on its merit and not have to wrestle over 50 cents a week.
Harnett: Why didn't they go beyond that? Why did it end?
Sargent: Because AP really wasn't interested in having it in effect in any place except where they were clearly the minority in sales, where they had something to gain. They certainly didn't want it in newspapers. They certainly didn't want it in radio stations. They were doing a bunch of other stuff, and when I found out we couldn't expand it to other fields, mostly to radio stations, I amassed a record of places where AP had undercut the UPI rate in order to get radio or TV station away from us, and I planted that with the AP board of directors through a friendly director who was on the AP board, a guy I knew very well. That guy took it to the AP and accused the AP management of cutting rates. He didn't like it. He was a newspaper guy. He told their board, "We are paying thousands of dollars a week and you are out here selling these rinky-dink radio station who are faster with the news and compete with us and they are getting it for peanuts. You guys are undercutting the radio rates." It damn near got the entire AP radio membership sales staff fired. The board was really hot about it because they were paying so much as newspapers.
Harnett: AP was undercutting.
Sargent: They were undercutting the rates, but that's the only satisfaction I got out of it, it caused some trouble internally for the AP staff.
Harnett: Beaton told me that you could figure out the rate that AP was going to charge. You had some kind of formula.
Sargent: Well, I could pretty much guess, after years of effort. I knew that if we served the client a long time, their (AP's) rate was going to be a few dollars less a week than ours. That isn't hard to figure out. I also had something else, which he is probably referring to. The Inland Press Association headquarters out of Chicago was covering all the Midwest states. They did a massive survey every year of their own newspapers and the cost accounting. They recorded by code numbers, not by name, the dollars that were paid by each newspaper for the various things they did, newsprint, promotion, whatever, down to and including wire services. Now the figures were right there. All you had to do was bust the codes and figure out which newspaper it was. And that wasn't so terribly hard to do because you had certain key figures like circulation. If some newspaper said they were 35,322 circulation and you go to the E and P yearbook, and go through all the papers and you see one that's 35,322 circulation audited report, you say that is this newspaper, it's Moline, it's Kankakee, it's Peoria, Illinois. So I could peg the amount that AP was paid. Beaton thought that was very cute. Actually, what we did, I did, I put out to all of our salesman in our area, "This is what the newspaper is paying AP and what they are paying UPI, their own testimony in this report. In some cases it represented an opportunity. If we found some newspaper had only the AP and was paying them a thousand dollars a week or something, and we knew we'd be delighted to have it, without violating any of our own surrounding structures we'd be delighted to have it at $700 a week, the guy would go in and make a helluva pitch, save them $300 a week by switching from AP to UPI. It was not terribly important philosophically. I charted it all. I charted all the newspapers and what they paid AP and where they had UPI, what they paid UPI. As I said, at the big end there was this huge discrepancy and as it got smaller, the figures between the two got very small. You got down to $75, $100 a week. There isn't much room for bargaining there. They will both be about the same rate. Competition was always at the low end, not the high end.
Harnett: In the old days, World War I, World War II, we had great correspondents. We had Henry Shapiro in Moscow who produced things. I don't see how papers like The New York Times could do without it. Did we deteriorate in getting really quality news, or was it something else?
Sargent: I'll tell you a Shapiro story. Shapiro was a quantity all of his own. The New York Times had a Russian expert named Harrison Salisbury, who had worked in Moscow and was a Pulitzer winner. He had also worked for UPI and he knew Shapiro There came one day -- I forget what year it was -- the AP had a report the Russians had launched a man into space. The Times said, "Get confirmation of it from UPI." Rockets went off to Shapiro. The pressure on him to duplicate that story was immense. Shapiro said, "I cannot do it." Harrison Salisbury said, "Until Shapiro says it's true it ain't true." The Times was one of the few papers in the country that did not run that story. It was exactly a year to two years ahead. The story was completely false. It had been planted with the AP in a way that made it look legit, the sources seemed legit. But Shapiro's sources were better. He couldn't confirm it and wouldn't confirm it. Papers all across the country went out with a story that just was not true. They modified it somewhat. I used that example in detail in the black bible. I showed, day by day, what had happened over two or three days.
Harnett: Did you make a lot of copies of that black bible?
Sargent: Well, at one time there were 50 copies, one for every regional executive and copies all around New York.
Harnett: Have you still got one?
Sargent: No, no I haven't. I had one section called "Myth," errors and so forth. I documented every major mistake the AP made that I knew about and that was certainly one of them. Another one, of course, was they killed Dag Hammarskjold. They had Hammarskjold making a speaking engagement, but he was dead in a plane crash. You can understand as a wire service reporter, how it happened. You got a copy of the speech prepared for delivery, and that's how that expression began, because a part of wire service-ese you would write: "In a speech prepared for Johannesburg tomorrow Dag Hammarskjold said." That's the way you covered your ass. Originally, what AP did was say, "Dag Hammerschold said today and so forth . . ." and he was dead. I documented all of those, documented every mistake AP ever made and put them all in a thing I said, "This is ammunition when the guy tells you that AP is more accurate."
Harnett: More recently, on Kennedy, the L.A. Times had a story by their media correspondent, I guess it was late '80s or early '90 when UPI was on the ropes. The mistakes that the country would have believed about that assassination if they only had AP. To me it was astonishing, none of that would have been corrected without a competitor.
Sargent: Yes. That's true. That's because Merriman Smith was under the dashboard of the car behind Kennedy dictating his story, and the AP story was coming from a photographer who was on the grassy knoll, and it wasn't accurate. They killed off Connolly. They did a number of things.
Harnett: He's in the book by William Manchester. I have been going to my library, picking up books like that, looking in the index, finding UPI. It is amazing how many references to UPI there are. In fact, the other day I found one with your name in it. You were quoted in there. You made some comment about the Binghams.
Sargent: That was in the book by Alex Jones of The New York Times who won a Pulitzer. I'll tell you a sidelight on this. He wrote a Pulitzer-winning series about the Bingham family for The New York Times. I talked to Alex and asked him whether I could use parts of his column in a column I wrote for the San Bernardino paper and for the Gannett News Service if they wanted it. He said certainly. I wrote that column and the publisher, Jerry Bean, said, "Nobody in San Bernardino is interested in the Binghams. He killed off the column and it never ran. Then Alex Jones got a Pulitzer prize for it. So I had Alex's, the best of Alex's Pulitzer prize winning thing. I thought I probably had it marked in red here someplace so I could find it easy, but I don't.
Harnett: I can get the book and look it up.
Sargent: At any rate I can give you the Manchester quote because I am positive that I am right. In this book Manchester says that the conspiracy theory on the assassination of JFK came about for two primary reasons. He said first the American people didn't want to believe that a pip-squeak like Lee Harvey Oswald could bring down this great man all by himself. And he said the second was because, quote, "The bumbling giant of journalism, the Associated Press," was so wrong for 24 hours in their initial report.
Harnett: That's what I gathered from story in the L.A. Times.
Sargent: It's in here. I also have over here someplace a rare item that I ordered up and that Ken Smith, who was then doing promotion for UPI, put together. I have a book of all of the tearsheets of page one of newspapers of the United States. showing how they handled the Kennedy assassination story. Of course UPI's was, is, featured on every page of that book. I have a few reproductions of those pages, which is kind of interesting. Manchester called them "the bumbling giants of journalism." the "bumbling giant of journalism." They were so wrong.
Harnett: I think one of the things the record of UPI should say, should dwell on mostly—how, things like that, how there was a chance for that, and now there isn't a chance. Now if AP says it happened, that's the way it is. If in Salt Lake City something happens, or Boise, they used to have 24-hour bureaus. The AP guy couldn't go home at two o'clock because he would be worried about the UP. Now he can go anytime he wants because if he doesn't have it, The New York Times and nobody is going to have it until tomorrow.
Sargent: It's true. Any error made by AP now is bound to have bigger impact because there is no check. There is no balance. There is no major other source to correct it. I think journalism would survive the relatively few number of major errors that happen over a year. It's kind of fun for us to talk about these things that happened from a competitive standpoint and say, "When the great UPI was around." With the possible exception of the Kennedy assassination, the other errors and the other stories didn't do any lasting harm. The drive for accuracy and immediacy is not in journalism what it used to be anyway. There is no huge rush to develop a story. Most newspapers I know, even when they got hold of a good one, feel safe enough in their circulation area and in their sources, they may hold it two three days to work on it. They won't rush to file a bulletin so to speak. The accuracy thereby is better than it used to be when you had that necessity of getting something out on the wire in the next few minutes and you have got to make that snap decision, is this right or is it wrong? We don't face that as much in newspapering and in journalism any more.
Harnett: You were a publisher, did you find a different kind of culture, certain different kinds of people in the wire service? Sometimes they talk about this unique camaraderie or gung-ho people who worked for nothing. Is it true, or is it one of the myths?
Sargent: No, and your newsletter proves it. A close camaraderie is built out of mutual adversity. When we suffer those adversities together we tend to cling to one another closer, and believe in one another. The union guys used to say, I remember, "We have got to hit the bricks about every three or four years," call a strike so people could gather into a cohesive unit through the adversity. If you don't have that strike and that adversity, the union is weakened. There's a lot of psychological truth in that. We in UPI always came closer to one another than anybody in AP did simply because we suffered a little bit more and consequently had more feelings for or admiration for, reveled more in things like "fire the crippled bastard" because we knew what it was to suffer.
Harnett: Some areas you still want to hit?
Sargent: I am just looking back over . . . the origins of UP are important to note; the attempt to elevate sales techniques I think is important; and the attempt to standardize down to and including actual liaison with AP and seeking their cooperation; then the death of UP, essentially not the death of UP, but the reduction of the sales effort in the need to free up money for technology; and how that technology gave rise to the supplemental services which became easy substitutes for a secondary service.
Harnett: They all ride on the AP lines now, don't they?
Sargent: Sure they do, or satellite. The attempt to create that super supplemental wire is never discussed. It was a great idea. It was approached the wrong way and didn't work.
Harnett: Were you there when this guy who started CNN was with UPITN? Beaton was telling me,and somebody else told me. I forget his name, the one who worked for our broadcast, UPITN, and wanted us to go digital across country with wires for the TV pictures, and UP couldn't raise the money, so he went to work for Ted Turner, and CNN was the result. Was that a missed opportunity?
Sargent: No, we really didn't have the money to do that. Indeed, the CNN was run in its initial days by guys from UPI and Movietone News. There was Mickey Greenman. That's not the guy, not the key guy.
(MORE IN PART III)