Thomas Lunsford Stokes
Private, United States Army
In 25 years of Washington correspondence, drawling, Pulitzer Prizewinner Thomas Lunsford Stokes has built a reputation much like that of his onetime boss and friend, the late Raymond Clapper. Washington knew him to be, like Clapper, a hard digger, a writer whose prose has no wings, a liberal whose roots are not Marxian but native. Stokes is also a man with a merciless conscience: by sympathy a New Dealer from the start, he won his Pulitzer Prize by exposing a WPA vote-getting machine in Senator Alben Barkley's Kentucky.
Last month Tom Stokes's conscience drove him to a remarkable decision: he insisted that his column be dropped by the Scripps-Howard chain, which started to syndicate him two years ago. Like Westbrook Pegler and the late Heywood Broun, Stokes had—or thought he had—an acute case of Scripps-Howard trouble.
In recent months, Roy Howard's New York World-Telegram, key link in the chain, had frequently killed the Stokes column. The days when he was dropped, he noted, were usually days when he and the paper's editorial policy (hard-a-star-board Republican) disagreed.
In November, after a conference of Scripps-Howard editors in French Lick, Ind., the killing of Stokes columns spread. When the tabloid Washington Daily News, in the town he had made his beat, dropped three of his columns in a week, Tom Stokes's Southern blood boiled.
"I made inquiries," said Stokes, "and I learned they had discussed me at this French Lick meeting at considerable length. It seems the point was that I was interfering with editorial policy; one guy made some sort of crack like why should they pay out money for that? Well, I don't want their money. . . . My decision is final, and I want out." He could get along without the money he got from the twelve Scripps-Howard papers which took his column: 97 other U.S. papers print his stuff.
Too Good to Lose. The Pittsburgh Press last week said it would give Stokes his wish, but the New York World-Telegram's answer was to renew its contract for the column. And Editor John O'Rourke of the Washington Daily News wrote Stokes that his column was too "valuable to the News" to be dropped.
Tom Stokes had raised a basic issue, and come
up against another one. Thousands of people were obviously interested in
what well-advertised columnists like Tom Stokes had to say. It is the editor's
job to decide what his paper shall print. But an editor who bought the
column but didn't print it, while keeping it from rival editors, was in
effect paying Stokes and refusing to let him be heard.
March 24, 1958:
A veteran of the Washington beat for 37 years, Political Columnist Thomas L. Stokes, 59, won a Pulitzer Prize (in 1939 for exposing a WPA scandal in Kentucky), a raft of other awards through the decades, and the respect of his colleagues as a skillful reporter who does not let his admitted bias as "an old-fashioned progressive" keep him from playing fair.
Last week Atlanta-born Tom Stokes won a rare new tribute. His column, which appears in 105 dailies, has not appeared since January 3. It was a casualty of the illness that sent Stokes to the hospital last month for a brain operation. Back from the hospital but still bedded indefinitely, he learned that an old friend, Oklahoma's Democratic Senator Mike Monroney, has rounded up an impressive roster of guest columnists from both sides of the Senate aisle and Washington-at-large.
Among Stokes's pinch hitters, who took over
last week: Senators Margaret Chase Smith, William Knowland, Lyndon Johnson,
John Kennedy, CIA Director Allen Dulles, Under Secretary
of State Christian Herter, Army Chief of Staff Maxwell
Taylor, Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton, ex-Secretary of State
Representatives of the newspaper industrya
nd official Washington attended the rites honringthe 59-year-old Georgia-born
political writer of the United Features Syndicate.