James, Michael, and Doug—the Remarkable Bennet Boys

By Jack Limpert


James Bennet returns to the New York Times.

Today’s media news flash: James Bennet is leaving as editor in chief of The Atlantic to become editorial page director of the New York Times. James is one of the two talented Bennet boys, the sons of the distinguished Douglas Bennet.

I knew Doug when he was the 29-year-old speechwriter for Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968. He then went on to become the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, president of National Public Radio, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, and from 1995 to 2007 the president of Wesleyan University.

Doug’s oldest son Michael, 51, is the U.S. Senator from Colorado. After graduating from Wesleyan University and Yale Law School, he worked in the Justice Department in the Clinton administration and then, after working in business, became superintendent of schools in Denver and in 2010 was elected to the U.S. Senate.

James, who turns 50 on March 28, graduated from Yale and worked at the New Republic and Washington Monthly before joining the New York Times in 1991, where he rose to be White House correspondent and Jerusalem bureau chief before becoming editor of The Atlantic in 2006.

Hubert Humphrey, a professor of political science before he became mayor of Minneapolis, U.S. Senator, Vice President, and again U.S. Senator, liked to hire smart people, and Doug was one of the smartest. But to show that smart people don’t always get what they want in politics, here’s a 1968 story about Doug, Vice President Humphrey, and me as a new Congressional Fellow.
In January 1968 I started as a Congressional Fellow in the Senate office of Vice President Humphrey. At that point in 1968 everyone assumed President Lyndon Johnson would run for re-election and Humphrey again would be his running mate.

My boss was Norman Sherman, the Vice President’s press secretary, and my first job was to send telegrams to organizations that had invited the Vice President to speak but he was saying no.

Writing telegrams quickly got old and I thought I’d try to write a speech for the Vice President. I went to Doug Bennet, Humphrey’s speechwriter, and he said sure, the Vice President is speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce next month, go ahead and write a speech.

I worked at the speech for 10 days. My first job in journalism had been writing the UPI broadcast wire in Minnesota so I thought I knew something about how to write words that would be spoken. I gave Bennet a speech draft—he glanced over it and said it read very well.

It came time for the Vice President to give the speech and early that day the text of Humphrey’s speech was released to the media. I eagerly picked up the advance text and discovered that Doug hadn’t used a single phrase I had written.

I went to the Chamber of Commerce dinner. Humphrey gave a good speech. He didn’t use a single phrase Doug had written.

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