Sitton recalls ‘greatest mistake’ as editor of N&O

“When I look back, I think my greatest mistake [was] my failure as editor of the News & Observer to make sure we had a top-notch investigative reporter on the Little Rascals [Day Care] case in Edenton…. That prosecutor had gone wild, eaten up by ambition, I suppose, to hang these people….

“All the kids talked about being borne through the air this way and that way and flying all over, and it was crazy stuff. As it turned out, [the Edenton Seven were eventually released], but it wrecked their lives forever. And I still feel sorry about that….

“I think had we sent someone like Pat Stith down there, that would have been it. But see, at that time, Edenton already was a pretty far reach for the News & Observer…. [Our] pulling out of eastern North Carolina [to cut expenses] might have affected my thinking [about] whether we were really responsible for doing something about that miscarriage of justice.”

— From Joseph Mosnier’s interview with Claude Sitton, editor of the News & Observer from 1968 to 1990 (Southern Oral History Program, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill, July 12, 2007)

My blog,, has Sitton’s complete comments on the case.


Sir Harold’s jarring moment at Raleigh water fountain

“That ritual hypocrisy [in Jim Crow laws] was made clear when I spent time working on the liberal-minded News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina. The newspaper was edited by the doughty Jonathan Daniels, a New Dealer and for a short time press secretary to President Harry Truman….Daniels was a fine writer and open-minded, as were his staff.

“Tagging along with the paper’s columnist Charlie Craven, who could see the funny side of anything, I half-forgot the predicament of blacks. Then one hot day I stopped to drink at a town water fountain, one marked ‘White,’ situated next to one marked ‘Colored,’ and looking up up I saw that the adjacent statue was dedicated to ‘Liberty and Equality.'”

— From “My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times” by Harold Evans (2009)

Sir Harold Evans, best known as editor of the Sunday Times in London (1967 to 1981) and now as husband of magazine editor Tina Brown, spent time at the News & Observer during a year-long fellowship in the United States in the mid 1950s.


‘Silly’ health-claim ads turn off tobacco growers

“As representatives of 71,000 North Carolina tobacco growers met last week in Raleigh’s Sir Walter Hotel, they filled the air with their troubles as well as tobacco smoke.

“Some tobaccomen thought the blame for the slowdown [in cigarette consumption] should be put on the cigarette companies, and especially the new filter cigarette publicity. Cried Grower-Warehouseman Fred S. Royster, president of the Bright Belt Warehouse Association: ‘The public is being frightened from tobacco by outlandish medical claims by some of the manufacturers. Much of this advertising is plain silly.’

“Added Market Specialist Phil Hedrick of the North Carolina agriculture department: ‘It’s defensive advertising that’s doing it. A medical authority says, for instance, that there is a high incidence of lung cancer among heavy smokers, and immediately the tobacco companies rush to the defense. Instead of saying that cigarettes relax you, comfort you and soothe the nerves, they deny that their brand will give you a disease . . . ‘

“Editorialized the Raleigh News & Observer: ‘It still seems a little odd that those who most emphasize the possible bad effects of cigarettes on people are the cigarette manufacturers themselves.’ ”

— From Time magazine,  Nov. 9, 1953

Josephus Daniels, managing editor at large

“At 79, famed Tarheel Editor Josephus Daniels last week staged a spry comeback on his lively, incomplete, partisan, aggressive, successful Raleigh News & Observer. After a nine-year absence (as Ambassador to Mexico) shrewd old ‘Uncle Joe’ Daniels had ‘enlisted for the war’ to replace his son Jonathan, who went to OCD [Office of Civil Defense] in Washington.

“By contrast to his smart, facile son Jonathan, wrinkled old Editor Daniels, in his black planter’s hat and elder-statesman tie, was a figure who easily evoked oldtime reminiscences. A full-fledged editor at 18, he had tangled in many a garrulous crusade against North Carolina railroads, tobacco and power companies. Great pal of William Jennings Bryan (of whom he wrote an 8,000-word obituary in six hours) and a hard-shelled Dry, he banned liquor on Navy ships.

“Last week Editor Daniels added a commentary on his Navy days: ‘Even when I was “absent without leave” from the sanctum during the eight years as Secretary of the Navy in the Woodrow Wilson administration,’ chuckled old Josephus, ‘I thought of myself as managing editor of the Navy rather than as a Cabinet official.’ ”

— From Time magazine, February 16, 1942

Time certainly went into adjectival high gear for the Danielses and their newspaper, but where’s the imagination in referring to Josephus as “old” three times in three paragraphs?

Pictured: Josephus and Addie Daniels on one of their annual photo Christmas cards.

Now THAT was a mea culpa!

“When I was completely taken in by the Communist agitation at Gastonia in 1929, there wasn’t a bigger jackass or a more gullible sap in the State of North Carolina than I was. I knew absolutely nothing about what I was talking about, as I whooped it up continually in this column in support of the murderous Gastonia defendants. My experience in the bloody Gastonia business is THE thing of all  others which has done most to make me distrust so-called ‘liberalism,’  which so often, like mine was then, is not only ignorant and neurotic, but very dangerous.”

— Nell Battle Lewis’s “Incidentally” column in the News & Observer of Raleigh, Dec. 16, 1951 (as quoted in “Battling Nell: The Life of Southern Journalist Cornelia Battle Lewis, 1893-1956” by Alexander S. Leidholdt [2009]).

When Lewis died, N&O editor Jonathan Daniels, who had served simultaneously as her patron and her archvillain, wrote that “Nell Battle Lewis made for herself a name that will be long remembered in North Carolina.”

Through no lack of effort on her part, it hasn’t turned out that way. Leidholdt’s thoughtful and thorough biography, which details Lewis’s transitions from “most versatile” graduate at St. Mary’s School to daring advocate of the underclass to hard-line segregationist, has gone virtually unnoticed. (Hat tips to exceptions Ben Steelman of the Wilmington Star-News  [] and Charles Wheeler of the Greensboro News & Record [].)