In Memoriam: Post Editor, JIP Co-Founder Robert Alden, 1932-2020

 

Longtime Washington Post editor Robert Ames Alden died at age 87 in June, leaving an inspiring leadership legacy in journalistic and other civic affairs. Of particular note here, he was one of five founding directors of the Justice Integrity Project (JIP) a decade ago and provided active encouragement and other support until his final illness. 

He died on June 1 at his home in McLean, Virginia, from what his widow, Diane Alden, described as complications from Alzheimer's.

Robert Ames Alden (Marie Marzi Washington Post photo) He retired from the Washington Post in 2000 after more than 48 years as an editor, making him the longest-serving editor in the paper’s history until that point and one who had been personally involved in some of its more notable coverage.

As night news editor in 1963, for example, he put together the Post's first extra edition since Pearl Harbor to cover the assassination of President Kennedy. As world news editor in 1974, Alden  was the principal architect for the layout of the Post’s coverage of the resignation of President Nixon.

Alden is shown in Washington Post photo at right by Marie Marzi.

Culminating a seven-year effort in 1975, he co-founded and later led the National Press Foundation to improve journalism education. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was the leading advocate among National Press Club members for the admission of women into the Club, where he served as president in 1976.

Toward the end of a 1984 appearance on C-SPAN, he showed a mock souvenir edition of the Post that highlighted his leadership as Club president, among other career highlights to that point. The main headline extolled his "persistence."

The first native Washingtonian to lead the Press Club, he began his career as a sportswriter for the Cleveland Press in 1947. He helped innovate the use of more statistics in baseball coverage (think of the category RBIs: runs batted in) and was an award-winning writer.

Also, he was a visionary community leader in planning a green, central park, library, outdoor stage, community center and theater for McLean, VA, whose Alden Theatre carries his name.

robert alden 1959 post photo resizedAlden, shown at left in a 1959 Washington Post photo, earned bachelor and master’s degrees from the George Washington University, where he won the university's top history award as a student for 17 years in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 2005, university officials bestowed a distinguished alumnus award and described Alden as “a living legend” in Washington journalism.

This editor attended that ceremony with him after meeting him the previous evening at the Press Club bar, where he had exercised his raconteur's gift to describe his encounters with the great and near great through the decades, including such officials as Lyndon Johnson, heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano, and film stars Gary Cooper and Elizabeth Taylor.

In early 2010, Alden joined with four others (former U.S. Navy captain and businessman Ron Fisher, and former White House correspondents John Kelly and John Edward Hurley, plus this editor) in co-founding the Justice Integrity Project to investigate complex, under-covered news stories of importance. The bios, one of the most heavily read sections on this website, are here.

Our initial focus was on politically motivated federal prosecutions and similar actions by the U.S. Justice Department involving issues of unwarranted secret pressures. One controversy then was the "U.S. attorney firing scandal," whereby eight and by some counts nine presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys were fired because they acted ethically -- in refusal to use their regional criminal powers either to bring dubious cases against political targets or to protect friends of the president and his advisors.

Such cases are again much in the news, as evident in the controversies surrounding Attorney General William Barr and such defendants as Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Michael Cohen and such forced-out officials as FBI Director James Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and recently ousted New York U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Berman, below at right. Berman was head of New York's Southern District, which holds broad jurisdiction over Wall Street and many of President Trump's interests, supporters and several high profile suspected criminal confederates. 

geoffrey berman sdnyAt the outset of our project a decade ago, one such case arose out of the U.S. attorney firing scandal was the longstanding federal corruption investigation of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. He had been his state's most popular Democrat. He became a target by Alabama Republicans in the state attorney general's office from the first month that he assumed office in 1999. It was no coincidence that Bush senior advisor Karl Rove was pressuring the Justice Department personnel to use their powers for political purposes after Rove had been a consultant to Alabama business interests during their successful 1990s effort to flip the state's supreme court from all-Democrat to all-Republican.

Siegelman underwent relentless prosecution on dubious corruption charges ramped up during the Bush presidency beginnning in 2001. The core charge against Siegelman was that he had founded a foundation before his governorship to advocate for better K-12 funding in Alabama and that he had reappointed businessman Richard Scrushy, a donor to the foundation, to a state board on which the Republican Scrushy was already serving under previous Republican governors. 

The result? A seven-year sentence imposed on both defendants after Siegelman's second trial despite massive evidence including whistleblower revelations that the prosecution had been hoked up to remove him from elective politics, particularly because of his planned re-election campaign in 2006. 

Alden provided vital advice to the project on that story, which was published May 2009 as front page exclusive by the Huffington Post under the title Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows.  Another headline, $300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company, pointed the way to the trial judge's conflict of interest and likely financial corruption, both factors that helped explain the vast number of irregularities in the prosecution and courtroom procedures.

Our project, JIP, published scores of stories on the Siegelman / Scrushy case that generating many hundreds of thousands of page views. Among the headlines were: 

  • Siegelman's Judge Accused Of Beating Wife, Affair With Clerk
  • Wife-Beating Siegelman Judge Resigns, Ends Horrid Career With Civic Lesson 
  • Alabama Judicial Scandal Could Taint Many Cases, Not Just Siegelman's 

Expanded Focus

The stories expanded in those early years to similar federal cases where there existed substantial evidence that the prosecutions were deeply flawed and politically influenced. As a non-partisan organization, our stories and revelations focused on abusive conduct targeting such Republican victims as Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska and former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, as well as officials with flawed civil rights track records. 

don siegelman stealing cover higher resSiegelman, at one point so popular in Alabama that he was regarded as a potential presidential candidate, for years has also pointed to his experience as a warning about the threat to country posed by corrupt prosecutions and elections. Our project, among others, has reported that some 3,000 votes were electroncially flipped after Alabama polls closed in his 2002 gubernatorial race, costing him re-election.

His account is provided in his memoir Stealing Our Democracy, written in prison and published last week. Its publisher summarizes the book as revealing "how Siegelman’s political enemies — including politicized prosecutors and a corrupt judge — stripped him of his freedom and his career, and more importantly brought an era of progressive Democratic populism in Alabama to an end. Don Siegelman is the only politician in Alabama history to hold all the state’s top constitutional offices."

I endorsed the book with a comment on its back cover and participated with Siegelman on June 14 in one of the launch events, a 90-minute edition of the Talk Back radio show hosted by James Williams on KSSS-AM in Birmingham, Alabama. The abuses in his case had been featured by CBS 60 Minutes in a major segment in 2008 and an unprecedented petition by 113 former state attorneys generals to the U.S. Supreme Court. But nothing deterred the prosecution momentum and he served more than six years. Why?

The research inevitably led to the issue of why presidents and other top officials from both parties would tolerate abusive actions by the U.S. Justice Department and other federal authorities. That research resulted in this author's 2013 book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters, which documented largely hidden relationships that U.S. presidents and top contenders have had with elites for the past four decades.

Robert Alden generously provided advice and strong book endorsements.

The project's work has since expanded into the complex areas of social justice, foreign policy, regime change and political propaganda. The expanded focus was necessary to tell our story about corruption in the justice system.

That's because "law" does not exist in isolation. Law is interpreted and otherwise applied by human beings, who at times can be affected by such considerations business deals for their families and cronies, political zealotry, including the activities affecting foreign countries, and the overall political climate, which is affected by media coverage, propaganda, dirty tricks, and sometimes fake news or even threats and assassination.

For new readers here, that comment about assassination is not a "shot in the dark." Substantial evidence has been revealed through the decades that the 1964 Warren Report findings on the death of President John F. Kennedy, for example, were neither thorough nor otherwise credible, as evident from scientific evidence, witness accounts and any of the estimated three thousand books in whole or part about the topic.

At this point, several sobering realities continue to exist just on the topic of JFK's assassination.

First, decades of public opinion polling show that large majorities of the American public do not believe the Warren Report, creating an environment whereby charlatans can exploit doubts about the news media on other topics, sometimes using the generic insults "fake news" and "conspiracy theory" without reference to any actual evidence.

stephen breyer wSecond, little known to the general public, current U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer, left, the most senior justice nominated by any Democratic president, started his public career by serving as the Warren Commission's "fact checker" upon his graduation from Harvard Law School in 1964. Breyer's continued endorsement of the report and his near-complete silence otherwise regarding the specific evidence illustrates the inherent secrecy maintained even regarding some of the nation's most important legal and democratic issues.

Research into such complex topics -- including the impeachment and trial of President Trump and the onset of the coronavirus -- have helped limit the number of original new articles by our project, as did an onslaught of technical difficulties (now solved) limiting our reporting earlier this month. 

There was no more appropriate or important topic, however, than this tribute to our founding director. It includes excerpts and links to obituaries, published below, by the National Press Club's Gil Klein, a journalism professor and former Club president, and the Washington Post's Bart Barnes, an accomplished author of news obituaries.

Both of them recognize Alden's survivors, whose experiences inevitably help support any such career filled with accomplishment. In 1958, he married Diane Heidkamp, as the Post reported. In addition to his wife, of McLean, survivors include four children, William Alden of Princeton, N.J., Thomas Alden of Manchester, Vt., Jennifer Alden of Chesterfield, Va., and Martha Alden of Reston, Va.; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. 

Journalists can have their own special bonds, as this column has suggested. The bonds are sometimes even rarer -- and thus more treasured -- when spanning the inevitable chaotic conditions, power plays and public necessities of a world capital. My friend, Robert Ames Alden, saw and generously shared many of those things through his long and impressive career that benefited many. 

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In Memoriam: Robert Ames Alden

 

Robert Ames AldenNational Press Club, 1976 Club President Bob Alden dies, Gil Klein, June 15, 2020. Former National Press Club President Robert Alden, who had been an active member for more than six decades, died June 7 at his home in McLean at the age of 87.

The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, his wife, Diane Alden, told the Washington Post.

Alden (shown in his Press Club presidential portrait) had been a Washington Post news and layout editor for 48 years, helping to design and lay out the newspaper’s first section with stories that included the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974.

Joining the Club in 1957, Alden took an active role in the Club’s governance in the early 1970s and was elected president for 1976.

Before his death, he was the most senior past Club president.

In 1970, he took a leading role in pushing the all-men’s Club to admit women. During a debate among members that year, Alden came down hard for finally including them.

“The Club is the most important non-government news forum in Washington,” Alden said. “Women are now an important segment of the national press. A court challenge under the 14th Amendment would be disastrous.”

In the final vote taken at the Club’s annual meeting Jan. 15, 1971, the measure passed 227 to 56.

After that, Alden became an advocate for advancing women into Club leadership positions.

“I will always be grateful for the moral support Bob gave me and other women journalists who joined the Club right after the official barriers to our membership came down,” said Vivian Vahlberg, who was elected the Club’s first woman president for the year 1982.

“Not everyone was welcoming, but Bob surely was,” Vahlberg said. “He fought hard for women to be admitted and was jubilant when we were. And, he supported me every step of the way as I moved up the ladder.”

During his year as president, Alden led the drive to create the National Press Foundation, a non-profit, tax exempt foundation that was designed to support the Club’s library, professional development and scholarship work. The Foundation later split with the Club, which then created the National Press Club Journalism Institute as a separate entity.

Alden was born in Washington on Feb. 5, 1933. He spent some of his childhood in Ohio and his first journalism job was with the Cleveland Press from 1947 to 1951.

He returned to Washington first as a statistician for the Office of Price Stabilization before joining the Washington Post in 1952.

While working at the paper, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1965 and a master’s degree in history in 1968 at George Washington University.

In 1958, he married Diane Heidkamp, who survives him along with four children, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

A resident of McLean, Virginia. since 1953, he was a longtime civic activist helping to plan McLean’s downtown, including a park and community center. The 386-seat community theater is named for him.

“I had the pleasure of getting to know Bob Alden later in his life,” said current Club President Mike Freedman. “I remember him as a gracious and dedicated person who was justifiably proud of his many contributions to both The Washington Post and the National Press Club. Our time together left a lasting impression of a good and decent man who made a positive difference personally and professionally. It was an honor to know him.”

 

washington post logoWashington Post, Robert Alden, Washington Post news and design editor, dies at 87, Bart Barnes, June 13, 2020. (excerpted) Robert A. Alden, a Washington Post news and layout editor for 48 years who helped design the inside pages of the newspaper’s first section, died June 7 at his home in McLean, Va. He was 87.

Mr. Alden retired from The Post in 2000. His career included the design and layout of newspaper pages containing stories, photographs and headlines about happenings that ranged from routine procedures of local governing boards to airplane crashes, natural disasters and historic events including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974.

On busy nights, the page designs and layouts had to be changed several times to keep up with fast-breaking events.

Mr. Alden was also president of the National Press Club in 1976, and he was a co-founder of the National Press Foundation, which supports educational programs for journalists. He was among the early advocates of the admission of women to press-club membership, which came about in the 1970s.

Mr. Alden had lived in McLean since 1953 and saw it evolve from a rural community of dairy cows and farms into a bustling suburb of shops and expensive houses. He was a longtime civic activist who helped plan McLean’s downtown, including a park and community center. The 386-seat community theater is named in his honor.

Robert Ames Alden was born in Washington on Feb. 5, 1933, and he spent part of his childhood in Rocky River, Ohio. As a high school student, he worked part-time at the Cleveland Press from 1947 to 1951 as a writer and reporter.

Returning to Washington after high school, he was a statistician at the Office of Price Stabilization before joining The Post news staff in 1952. While working at the paper, he attended George Washington University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1965 and a master’s degree in history in 1968. 

 

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