The Paris Tribune At One Hundred

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The most famous of the Herald’s deskeletonized stories was one fabricated from a weather bulletin on the slowest news night of 1925, Christmas Eve. It seemed that there was typhoon activity near the tiny Pacific island of Yap, 500 miles southwest of Guam. That became a three-column headline over a long, imaginative story: TIDAL WAVE SWEEPS YAP, THOUSANDS FEARED LOST.

In 1934, when the Reid family bought the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune for just $50,000 and combined the papers, the name was finally changed to the Herald Tribune. There were times during those years when the Reids might have wished the name was different—because the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune had a distinct fondness for fascism, printing regular puffs for both Hitler and Mussolini.

The thirties were the worst of times for the paper Parisians called “Le New York.” It lost $500,000 in ten years as circulation dropped below 10,000 and advertising became harder and harder to sell. But there was one kind of advertising that the Herald Tribune did manage to keep getting: ads for German and Italian resorts. Dozens of them each week—complete with swastikas.

 

Business is business, but for twenty years it was linked to news and editorials in the person of Laurence Hills, a Munsey holdover who was both managing director and editor under the Reids. “[Fascism] has always consisted essentially of a mobilization of moral force,” Hills’s paper wrote in an editorial of May 22,1932. “The hour has struck for a fascist party to be born in the United States.”

Six years later, on October 30, 1938—after supporting Mussolini’s invasion of “chiefs like Sitting Bull” in Ethiopia and approving of Hitler’s marches into the Rhineland and Austria—the Paris edition had this wisdom for its readers: “The social policies of the totalitarian countries cannot be dismissed as valueless on the ground that they rest on a denial of freedom. The fact which cannot be denied...is that they make for greater happiness and contentment among the masses.”

Finally, in April of 1939, the Reid family ordered that henceforth the Paris edition’s editorials would have to conform to the policies espoused by the New York paper. The next year, Ogden Reid closed down the Paris edition in the face of German occupation. “I will not publish a paper under Boche occupation,” Reid cabled from New York on June 9,1940, as the German army reached the city.

The most famous American reporter in Paris before the war was not Hemingway or Shirer but the Herald’s sports and gossip columnist, a tiny fellow named William “Sparrow” Robertson. Eugene O’Neill praised Robertson’s fractured prose: “Why, he’s the greatest writer in the world. I wouldn’t miss him a single day.” Paris was the Sparrow’s life, and he continued to make his rounds of clubs and bars as well as he could even after the Paris Herald Tribune ceased publication on June 10,1940. At first he wrote a column every day, leaving it on the editor’s desk in the dark, abandoned offices. The unused columns from a dead columnist—Robertson died during the Occupation—were there in a pile when the next paper came out, a four-page sheet dated December 22, 1944.

Anything seemed possible for the Trib in 1945—and almost everything went wrong.

The “new” Paris Herald Tribune had a new young boss—Geoffrey Parsons, Jr., the thirty-six-year-old son of the New York paper’s chief editorial writer—and big plans to expand outside France into, in Parson’s optimistic words, “international significance beyond anything we can imagine.” That actually happened, but not until about twenty years later—and after years of mediocre journalism, annual losses, tax evasion, and a little bit of thievery.

Anything seemed possible in 1945—and almost everything went wrong. The Europe that the Paris edition saw as its new market was an economic wasteland. Even with the United States government effectively subsidizing a large part of the circulation that soon reached 50,000 (the State Department was distributing copies to influential Europeans), the paper was losing more and more money because of mismanagement and the complexities of French currency laws.

Helen Reid, who had taken over from her husband at the New York Herald Tribune, probably just should have folded the operation in Paris, but she loved the city, loved the paper—and was willing to pump in many hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep publishing. The size of the paper was cut—from twelve pages to six in 1950—and so was the quality. But the Trib, as more people were now calling it, was alive. And it had a new star: Art Buchwald.