Historic News Story, British Style

Westbrook Pegler

Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY)/March 7, 1945

NEW YORK, March 7. No fair American newspaper hand would insist that Britain’s imitation of our journalistic methods and ideas has been altogether salutary. It is a fact that in the efforts of London’s popular press, as distinguished from the more stately blanket sheets, to jazz up news and features, British journalism produced some grotesque effects. They developed something which their conservatives called “the stunt press” and it was pretty awful.

Nevertheless, they did learn to put the punch in the lead and to publish the news quickly, instead of next week. They also adopted our professional rue against killing off a story by backing into it with some such introduction as “Last Wednesday, at the Shrewsbury Assizes.”

In the course of the education of the British there came to New York and Washington one of the friendliest and most entertaining individuals who ever delighted our craft. His name was David Blumenfeld, the son of an American and a West Pointer, at that, who had gone to England a long time ago and had become, as editor of the London Express, a noted exponent of both American hustle and directness and British restraint or dignity.

Dave had been a soldier in His Majesty’s forces in World War I, leaving the service with the rank of major, and by an arrangement with influential friends in New York, the young man was shipped out to America to learn our ways.

After a time they sent Dave down to Washington to learn our ways. There he wrote a historic lead on a story of vast importance for which he is as well remembered by those few who had the privilege to read it as Frank Ward O’Malley will ever be for his interview with the mother of the murdered policeman.

The United Press kept only a casual watch on Sunday nights in Washington in those days and Dave was sitting on the lid. The telegraph operator across the desk was the only other man on duty. Dave was beating out a long letter to his pater in London when the telephone rang.

Someone told him that Senator Boise Penrose had died suddenly.

“How unfortunate,” Mr. Blumenfeld exclaimed with just the proper degree of sympathy. “I’m dreadfully sorry. I am told he was a capital chap.”

He resumed his letter to his father.

After some time, an excited query came down over the wire from New York. The International News and Associated Press were out with the story.

“Opposition says Penrose dead.”

Dave scanned the message and resumed his letter to his dad.

Some telegraph operators are reluctant to cross the desk. They stay on their side and mind their own business and let the news people attend to theirs. This fellow was friendly however, and knew Dave’s ignorance of some of our abnormalities in the handling of news. A few minutes later he asked tactfully, “Dave, did you see that message from NX (New York)?”

“Yes, yes,” Dave said. “I am afraid it is only too true. Chap rang me up half an hour ago to tell me about it. A great pity. Awfully painful to the family, I dare say.”

“But, Dave, they want a story from you about it. Hadn’t ‘you better phone his hotel and check and then do a piece?”

“Of course, splendid,” Mr. Blumenfeld said. “Topping idea. Thanks for reminding me.”

So Dave telephoned the hotel and said he would like to speak to Senator Penrose. He was told that this was impossible. The senator had died within the hour. Over the phone he heard the music of an orchestra in the lobby.

Our student now spat on his hands and prepared to turn out something for posterity.

I will let you decide whether he did, for, after a long and mighty struggle, this was the lead, American style, that he tossed across the desk to the operator:

“Washington, D. C, Jan. 23 From where he lay, had he been able, he might have heard, were he alive, the strains of lovely music from the orchestra in the lobby of his hotel. But Senator Boise Penrose, alas, had expired some five-and-twenty minutes before.”

Dave gave up journalism and returned to England, where his talents, in a few years, earned him a salary that was fabulous to working newspapermen. He became editor of the menu of the Lyons Coiree Houses, the London equivalent of our one-arm luncheries, composing each week an essay on vitamins, calories, travel, and the origin of the term “porterhouse” as applied to steak.

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