Wednesday, 7 December 2011


My obituary of the New York Times columnist Tom Wicker is in today's Guardian, though online it's dated last Friday (2 December); you can link to it here. Wicker was a fine writer; I've enjoyed a number of his novels very much, and my praise of A Time To Die is honest and if anything understated; I've never understood why it didn't win a Pulitzer that year. But the point I was trying to make was that he was by no means the outsider some of his writing (and his presence on Nixon's enemies list) would make him out to be. But unlike many columnists, he was in most cases a writer who refused to bend reality to fit preconcieved ideology--he was hugely critical of Jimmy Carter, and was one of the few important opinion writers who refused to let Ronald Reagan skate on Iran Contra. If his fiction had a flaw, it was a tendency toward worthiness, an echo perhaps of the strong morality in his columns. Thus it was a surprise to discover his three Gold Medal paperbacks written as Paul Connelly--pulpy fiction was a good way of working out some of the kinks in those moral positions.

Although his career might be said to have been made by the JFK assassination, his position on the killing was one instance where he avoided his own dictum (in On Press) against over-reliance and trust in official sources. Wicker supported the Warren Report without equivocation immediately upon publication; and when the Times published its version of the House Assassination Committee's report, Wicker's introduction contradicted the report's own findings, that JFK's assassination was likely a conspiracy. I had written about a confrontation at a 1980 New York literary cocktail party at Jean Stein's apartment, where Anthony Summers and Norman Mailer took pot shots at Wicker, with Robert Blakely, chief counsel to the Committe in the crowd (Blakely would write a book concluding the Mafia, and no one else, killed JFK). Summers accused Wicker of having written his critical introduction before studying fully the evidence; Wicker, by then having read Summer's own excellent book, acknowledged that there were questions but opined a conspiracy had not yet been fully proven. It was an odd position for a journalist as critical and probing as Wicker to take, but I suspect it had more to do with the leaning against the Manichean world-view the establishment ascribes to conspiracy theories of any sort, than the actual evidenciary trail.

Finally, in my obit I did mention his step-children as survivers; I worked with one of his step-daughters at ABC in London for a number of years, and I'm sorry Kayce didn't get mentioned in the piece as published.

No comments :