Our Man on Scene Didn't Get Kissed

An interview with Abe Hirschfeld before losing control of Post - a letter from New York

DEAR Boss:

Well, I went to the New York Post as you requested and I met Abe Hirschfeld, the paper's then managing agent. I didn't get a kiss, but I did come away with a $2 polyester purple crossword puzzle tie, which Mr. Hirschfeld likes to give visitors. (Can I keep it?)

I was also in Mr. Hirschfeld's office when the news came through about the fateful telephone conference call that appears to have stripped him of control of the nation's oldest daily newspaper. Mine could well have been Hirschfeld's last formal interview while he was "publisher" of the Post.

You'll recall that after a bankruptcy court judge awarded Mr. Hirschfeld control of the Post, Hirschfeld fired - but then rehired - Post editor Pete Hamill. Mr. Hamill wound up in print getting a reconciliation kiss on the mouth from his new boss. Hamill didn't look too thrilled by it. Hirschfeld may not be a welcome kisser. But Hirschfeld is a friendly - although slightly eccentric - man who is gracious with a visitor.

Just getting to the Post is not easy. It's tucked away on the lower East Side of Manhattan, near the Fulton Street fish market. Hirschfeld's office had a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

When I arrived in his office, Hirschfeld was busy, busy, busy; he was photocopying newspaper articles about himself. At one point the phone rang: "The court is on the line," an executive behind the desk said. "The Judge wants a conference call at 5 o'clock tonight." It was during a two-hour conference call March 25 that the bankruptcy judge took financial management of the Post away from Hirschfeld. The judge ruled that Hirschfeld hadn't met required bill payments. Some Post watchers believe that by late r today former Post owner Rupert Murdoch will once again own the paper. But given the Post's history, who knows?

"Read these," Mr. Hirschfeld said, throwing a stack of news clippings about himself at me. "Then ve'll talk." (He speaks with a Yiddish accent, having been born in Poland after World War I.)

Hirschfeld sits behind an enormous desk, a huge cigar in his mouth; when he puts it in an ashtray, the cigar keeps rolling loose around the cluttered table top. Frankly, I worried about a desk fire.

"Why buy the Post?" he's asked. "Look, the building, all this, is vorth nothing. Vould you buy the paper?" I assured him that if I had the money I would. I asked Hirschfeld if he wanted to make me a loan. He laughed.

Hirschfeld grouses about sloppy management. "There are 23 photographers," he says, "and yet they are never around. Only four of the pictures in today's papers are by them. Vat are the photographers doing?"

Hirschfeld says that he wants the Post to be a paper for all New Yorkers. "New York was always a town of immigrants. They used to come from Europe. Now they come from other places. I want the Post to be for them." That is why Hirschfeld wanted to include the black Amsterdam News as a one-day insert, as well as a Spanish language daily as another insert. The Post staff scoffed at this idea. But Boss, I talked to a professor of journalism at Columbia University. She says that, "goofy" as Hirschfeld's idea sounds, "he is basically correct." Newspapers, she says, "must reflect local communities. And in the case of New York, the city's dailies are largely ignoring African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and others who now make up the majority of New Yorkers."

It was a wild session. But guess what: I like Abe Hirschfeld. Zany and slightly disorganized? Oh sure. But say what one will about him, the man comes across as genuine.

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