For journalists, a visit from Harry Rosenfeld is akin to Catholics having an audience with the pope. Rosenfeld, for those who may not recognize the name, was the assistant managing editor of the Washington Post in the years of the Watergate scandal.
Today, at 89, he is astute, articulate and bristling with the skepticism that he said all good journalists possess. He remains active in the profession he helped define for a generation of journalists. He serves as the editor at-large of the Albany Times Union. For Rosenfeld, who had a seat on the 50-yard line for President Richard Nixon’s resignation, history has come full circle with the Trump administration.
“Nixon was the far brighter man,” Rosenfeld told the Columbia-Greene Media editorial department last week. “He was even more civilized. He was the better politician. He knew how to work the system.”
The man in the Oval Office today is an entirely different matter.
“Trump scares the daylights out of me,” Rosenfeld said. “He doesn’t break laws, but he constantly breaks tradition. He has no regard for common law. He has no regard for anything but his own ego. He doesn’t have any ideology, just whims. Because of that he could do great damage to this country.”
Rosenfeld sees parallels with his own childhood growing up as a Jewish immigrant and how he and his family were treated in Poland and later in Germany and the perceptions of immigration in the era of Trump.
“Trump is not fresh bread on this issue,” Rosenfeld said. “A strong leadership cabal despised Jews. My mother, my sister and I escaped deportation. I was kicked out of public schools and we were kicked out of Poland. We were hassled and scolded and verbally abused, but we learned to live with that.”
When Rosenfeld and his family, who were exiled in Germany, arrived in the United States, “I never looked back for half a minute,” he said.
Rosenfeld made it clear that journalists have a tougher job than ever before in the glare of “fake news” and Trump’s attempts to demonize the nation’s free press. His advice to reporters and editors: “Produce work of quality. Know you are not the enemy of the people. You are the stalwarts of the people. What you’re doing is important. Keep doing it.”