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Monday, January 20, 2014

Why 'NYT' Spiked Famous MLK, Jr. Piece

Last January I mentioned, in noting the passing of poet/editor Harvey Shapiro, that he had assigned for the NYT Magazine the famous "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, Jr. --but it was killed by the Times.  Now Tim Noah has looked at why.
The Times, S. Jonathan Bass reports in Blessed Are The Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Eight White Religious Leaders, and the ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail,’ initially scheduled the letter for publication in late May. But first it wanted (in the recollection of King adviser Stanley Levison) a “little introduction setting forth the circumstances of the piece.” Then it decided, no, what it really wanted was for King to “write a feature article based on the letter.” Or, possibly, it wanted both. Before King had a chance to jump through these hoops, the New York Post (in those distant days a plausible rival to the Times) got a copy of the letter and published unauthorized excerpts, killing the Times’s interest.
I wrote couple pieces for the magazine in the early 1980s and I can confirm Noah's comment: "The Times Magazine was, in those days, a notoriously Politburo-like redoubt of editing-by-committee." -- G.M.

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