Who Is This Editor They Call Tom the Butcher?

By Jack Limpert

Gene Weingarten, the two-time Pulitizer Prize-winning writer for the Washington Post, occasionally mentions his editor, described only as “Tom the Butcher.”

In last Sunday’s Post column, Weingarten wrote about a speech he had given at Howard University where he talked about his “crippling neurosis bordering on mental illness” and winning the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He said: “As I often do when I am insecure, I sought reassurance from my friend and editor, Tom the Butcher. I explained that I feared I don’t deserve this honor, and Tom said, ‘Wait, is it a lifetime achievement award?’ When I confirmed that it was, he said: ‘It’s fine. Those are usually given out at the point in someone’s career when his greatest continuing achievement is a solid bowel movement in the morning.'”

After that exchange of Weingarten humor, Gene then went on Twitter to give Tom’s new book a plug:

The odious Tom The Butcher nonetheless gets a rave from Kirkus on his new book, Acid Test: http://tomshroder.com/2014/06/kirkus-reviews-acid-test/
Who is Tom the Butcher?

This is how he describes himself: “Tom Shroder was editor of the Washington Post Magazine from 2001 to 2009. He was the editor of Tropic magazine of the Miami Herald from 1987 to 1998. He is the author of three books, and the editor of a dozen.”

And here is how his publisher describes his new book:Acid Test covers the first heady years of experimentation in the fifties and sixties, through the backlash of the seventies and eighties, when the drug subculture exploded and uncontrolled experimentation with street psychedilics led to a PR nightmare that created the drug stereotypes of the present day. It proceeds to explore and answer the following question: Can a once-feared class of drugs heal our wounded warriors and liberate our souls? This astounding saga behind the renaissance in psychedelic healing is meticulously researched and astoundingly informative. Acid Test is at one a moving narrative of intertwining lives against an epic backdrop, and a striking and persuasive argument for the unprecedented healing properties of drugs that have for decades been characterized as dangerous, illicit substances. It’s a story that people may feel they know made fresh, surprising.”
How did Tom become an editor, most famously Gene’s editor? Here’s how he says it happened:

“I only ever wanted to write. First I wanted to write fiction, but I discovered I never actually WROTE fiction unless I had a hard deadline for a class. So I went in search of deadlines and joined the college newspaper, where I discovered that I actually preferred finding stories in real-life sets of facts to making stories up out of my head. I was lucky enough to get paid for that, and ten years later I was writing long-form enterprise stories for the Cincinnati Enquirer, which was a good gig, but I wanted to go to a bigger, more ambitious and accomplished paper.

“I applied to the Miami Herald feature section, and was disappointed not to get the job. A few months later I got a call from Gene Weingarten, then the number two editor at the Herald’s magazine, Tropic. Weingarten said that the feature editor there had shown him the clips of all the applicants for the feature job and asked his opinion. He said he told them there was no contest: they should hire me. They had ignored his advice, but now he was going to be promoted to Tropic editor, and he needed a number two, and he wanted me to apply.

“I told him the only editing I had done had been in college, and he said he didn’t care. He said what he really needed in an editor was someone who could write a magazine story himself, who understood what narrative nonfiction required and could take manuscripts from good reporters who didn’t understand that and make them over into full-fledged magazine stories. He said that if I took the job, he would be satisfied only if every story I edited turned out as fully formed as if I had written it myself.

“I had always admired Tropic, and Gene’s goal intrigued me. So with some regret at ‘giving up’ writing, I took the job. Within a month I realized that not only was editing for a magazine in many ways as creatively challenging, and satisfying, as writing, it was going to improve my own writing in the bargain. Instead of writing a handful of major narrative projects a year, I was managing the creation of scores of them, from the conception to the reporting to the mapping out and final execution. I was, in effect, getting hundreds of reps for the key writing muscles, as well as benefiting from the more elevated perspective that is the inherent luxury of being an editor—intimate with the guts of the story, but at one remove, a general surveying the gory battle from a hilltop bunker, above the smoke and clamor and fog of war that engulfs the infantry.

“In the end, I believe, that after editing for almost 30 years now, I am a better writer than I would have been if I had only been a writer. Also, I may have learned something about editing.”


  1. “Weingarten humor”always seemed to me to be an oxymoron, although I know others seem to see it differently.

  2. David M. Cole says

    Nice little story … except, it misses the point. Why does Weingarten call him “Tom the Butcher”? Why is Shroder “odious”? If it’s a little joke between the two of them, great. But maybe Shroder is an amateur meat-cutter who wears fright wigs? We never learn …

  3. I asked Tom: When did Gene start calling you Tom the Butcher and what triggered it?

    Tom says Gene’s recollection is this:

    I believe it was the first time I mentioned you in a column…just something to establish the adversarial comic tone of writer-editor. And you are always “the odious” or “the objectionable” or “the overly frugal” or something.

    Tom’s response to Gene: When in fact you bow at the feet of my genius.

  4. “When in fact you bow at the feet of my genius.” Wow. An oxymoronic anthropomorphism.

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