Walter Cronkite and Jack V. Fox—Both Legends in Their Own Way

By Mike Feinsilber

Every  journalist who ever worked for UPI—and their number is legion—has a UPI cheapskatedness story. It was an overworked, underdog, underpaid, under staffed, and under-the-gun news service. My penny pinching story involves two men, one who became legendary within UPI and one who became legendary around the world: Jack V. Fox and Walter Cronkite. Fox was my source for this story.

In the late 1930s, Cronkite was the United Press bureau manager in Kansas City. (UP became UPI later with the merger with Hearst’s International News Service.) Fox, working alone at night, was one of his underlings. He got word of a fire at the stockyards—potentially a big story because the stockyards were a big deal in Kansas City. A stockyard fire in 1917 had killed 11,000 cattle and 6,000 hogs.

Fox calls the boss: “Walter, there’s a fire at the stockyards across town. I’ll close the bureau and take a taxi and cover it.”

Long pause.

“Jack,” says Cronkite, “couldn’t you take the bus?”

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Fox became  one of UPI’s most important writers, the guy you’d want on the story when the news was monumental. In the early 1960s, he was my boss in the features department at UPI’s New York headquarters bureau. On one November afternoon in 1963, he was drinking lunch when word of the Kennedy shooting reached him.

Fox put on his hat, crossed the street, and sat down at a typewriter. No one assigned him the story, as far as I know; it was natural and automatic that Jack Fox would write it, with Merriman Smith (who won a Pulitzer for his work in Dallas that day) and Washington pouring out the details.  He remained at that seat for hours.

My memory is uncertain and I can’t find verification but I think Jack’s lead for morning papers—at least in the early version—was simplicity itself. No adjectives needed, just the awful fact:

DALLAS (UPI) — President Kennedy has been killed.

The genius of that lead is the verb’s tense. “Has been” put the deed into history.

———-

Mike Feinsilber spent about a quarter century with UPI in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Harrisburg, Newark, New York, Saigon and Washington and about a quarter century with AP in Washington, with a spell as assistant bureau chief and a stint as writing coach. He was a deskman, reporter, and editor, and he covered Congress and 18 political conventions.

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