The Madwag: Graduating from 202 York Street

A couple of years ago, a colleague walked into my office to tell me that, the night before, there had been a crisis at The Yale Daily News. It became clear that she was talking about the fictional News on the popular television series “The Gilmore Girls,” no doubt well enough known then to students on campus, but not to me — I had never heard of the show.

As my colleague explained, the fictional reporters had all quit in rebellion against the tyrannous reign of Paris, the editor in chief. A staff member told Rory, who would become the editor, “I’m going to have a ringside seat for the event of the century. Tonight will be the first time ever, in the history of The Yale Daily News, that the paper does not come out. D-day? The paper came out. Kennedy gets shot? The paper comes out. But three months of the … Reign of Terror, and the whole damn institution comes tumbling down.”

All of a sudden, I’ve become a part — all right, an anonymous part — of American pop culture. The day President Kennedy was shot, I, along with four or five others, put out a rare afternoon edition, a one-pager reporting on the assassination and cancellation of the next day’s Harvard-Yale Game. This was, of course, Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. (The “Gilmore Girls” scriptwriter got it slightly wrong, and hence missed the point: There had already been, as usual, a morning paper; the shooting was around 1:30 p.m. EST).

No one summoned us that afternoon. We just showed up. I didn’t have far to go. I had just left the News building and was in front of the Dramat when I heard someone yell that the president had been shot. I turned into the Pierson courtyard to discover people milling about with radios blaring out the news. I turned back. Joining me at the News were, among others, Robert G. Kaiser (former Washington Post managing editor and current associate editor), Chairman Joe (What is his last name? We’re not related, by the way) and Zick Rubin, now a prominent copyright attorney in Boston. We quickly divvied up the work, laid out the paper and sent it off to press so we could distribute it early that evening.

The News was then, as no doubt it is now, a great adventure — much more than I can relate in any single column. Earlier that fall, the administration “disinvited” Gov. George Wallace of Alabama from speaking to the Yale Political Union. The “disinvitation” caused an uproar on campus and a bit of a hubbub in the national news, as well. The day the story broke I was the one to put in the call, rather late in the evening, to Kingman Brewster, the provost who was about to become president of Yale. He picked up the phone on the first ring and said, with quite a chuckle, “Nice weather we’re having, don’t you think?” (He later backed down and Wallace came. Yale, and the Republic, stood.)

A year or so earlier, I was assigned to interview Charles Seymour, who had been president of Yale from 1937 to 1950. By the time I saw him, he was mostly forgotten, with an office high up in Sterling Memorial Library as the curator of the House collection of World War I papers. Col. Edward M. House was Woodrow Wilson’s aide-de-camp at the Paris peace talks, and Seymour was a delegate and close friend of House’s. Someone had endowed a chair in Seymour’s name, hence the story. During our talk, he sprang up to retrieve from a wall safe a large black folio tied in ribbons. In the upper right corner were four fading signatures. Seymour asked if I could read them. Two I could make out: Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau. Did I know what this was? I shook my head. “It’s the Treaty of Versailles,” he told me, one of four originals. He bade me open it. I noted that the pages were uncut. “That’s right,” the old man crowed, “no one ever did read it,” and with that he jumped up and returned it to the safe. (Memo to editor: Does Yale still have this treasure, tucked away somewhere like the giant storeroom depicted at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark?)

It’s a hoary saying that we Newsies went to Yale but graduated from The Yale Daily News. With my byline running again after 44 years, it’s good to be home.

Jethro K. Lieberman, associate managing editor and weekly columnist, “The Madwag,” 1963-1964, took his J.D. at Harvard and Ph.D. in political theory at Columbia. He is currently publisher of Tribeca Square Press, a subsidiary of New York Law School, where he is Vice President for Academic Publishing and Professor of Law.

Comments