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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > EASTSIDER TOM WICKER
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Author and columnist for the New York Times


Something unusual was happening up ahead: that much he was sure of, although no sound of gunshots reached Tom Wicker's ears as he rode in a press bus in the presidential motorcade through the streets of Dallas on November 22, 1963. Gazing out the window, he observed crowds of people running about in confusion. Shortly afterward, outside Parkland Hospital, the full extent of the tragedy was announced to the world, and Tom Wicker, the only reporter from the New York Times who was present that day, rushed off to write the biggest story of his career.

Working feverishly through the afternoon, he came up with a 106 paragraph account of the day's events that dominated the Times' front page the following morning. In decades to come, students and historians will turn to Wicker's story on microfilm with perhaps a sense of wonder that it omits no facts of major importance, and contains virtually no errors.

Tom Wicker was writing for history that day, and largely as a result of his masterful performance, he was elevated the following year to the position of the Times bureau chief in Washington. In 1968, he was appointed associate editor of the newspaper, and in 1971, he returned to New York in order to concentrate on his column, "In the Nation." For the past 13 years, the column has appeared three times weekly in the op-ed page of the Times.

A tall, ruddy-complexioned, powerful-looking Southerner of 52 with a country-boy manner and a Carolina accent as thick as molasses, Wicker has managed to combine his lifelong career in journalism with an independent career as a book author. The most successful of his seven novels, Facing the Lions, was on the New York Times best-seller list for 18 weeks in 1973, while his most recent nonfiction work, On Press: A Top Reporter's Life in, and Reflections on, American Journalism, was published last year by Viking and will soon be released as a paperback by Berkley.

In an interview at his office in the Times building, the affable, articulate Wicker responds to an opening question about whether journalists are less accurate today than in the past by saying, "No, I don't think they ever were very accurate. It's hard to get pinpoint accuracy under pressure. I think that's an inherent weakness of daily journalism. But you have to consider that there are something like eight million words a day coming in here. It's very tough to double-check all of that by deadline. I think of journalism as being kind of like an early alert system."

In his column, W............
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