March 1989 | Volume 40, Issue 2
James R. Hoffa, president of the Teamsters union, was convicted on March 4 of tampering with a federal jury in 1962. After three years of appeals, durine which he retained his union presidency, Hoffa entered a federal prison in Pennsylvania to begin a thirteen-year term. President Richard M. Nixon commuted the sentence in December 1971 on the condition that Hoffa not be involved with union management until 1980. Hoffa was fighting to regain control of the Teamsters when he disappeared on July 30, 1975. The FBI has never been able to prove its suspicion that Hoffa was murdered by enemies in organized crime.
March 4: President Lyndon Johnson appointed ten women to government posts in a move designed to end “stag government.” His major appointee, Katherine E. White, became the U.S. ambassador to Denmark. “Our determination to enlist women in this administration… will be a continuing aim not because it is politic but because it is sound,” the President told his audience at the Women’s National Press Club dinner. “I am unabashedly in favor of women.”
March 9: The Supreme Court of the United States struck a blow for free speech when it ruled that a public servant could not receive libel damages for criticism of his official conduct without proving malice. The court delivered this opinion in a judgment reversing an Alabama circuit court’s halfmillion-dollar libel award against The New York Times . The police commissioner of Montgomery had brought the suit against the newspaper and four black ministers for an advertisement critical of Montgomery’s handling of civil rights demonstrations. The Alabama court had decided that under state law the advertisement was libelous even though it mentioned no names.
In striking down Alabama’s libel law, the Supreme Court judged that “libel can claim no talismanic immunity from constitutional limitations.” Justices Hugo Black and Arthur Goldberg went further, writing separate opinions arguing that even malicious criticism of public officials should be an absolute privilege. The Court’s decision was expected to open up media coverage of the civil rights movement.
March 15: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were married in Canada at a small ceremony in a Montreal church. After Taylor’s divorce from Eddie Fisher became final on March 5, it had been expected that she and Burton would marry soon afterward. Taylor and Burton had begun their romance two years earlier during the filming in Rome of the movie Cleopatra . Publicity surrounding their relationship ended both their marriages. It was Taylor’s fifth marriage, Burton’s second.
March 17: The Republican presidential candidates Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller were stung by Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge’s surprising victory in the New Hampshire primary. Lodge, who was serving in Saigon as the Johnson administration’s ambassador to South Vietnam, won 35 percent of the New Hampshire vote as a write-in candidate. President Johnson, the winner of the Democratic primary, indicated no desire to remove Lodge from his diplomatic post.
March 21: The UCLA Bruins defeated the Duke Blue Devils 98-83 in the final game of the NCAA basketball tournament to complete the first undefeated season by a major college team in seven years. The championship heralded a remarkable era in which UCLA basketball teams would win ten NCAA titles in twelve years.
March 27: One of the strongest earthquakes in history rocked southern Alaska and sent tsunamis racing across the Pacific Ocean. The earthquake, which was powerful enough to knock out seismic measuring equipment, reduced Anchorage’s main street to rubble; the sparsity of Alaska’s population kept the number of deaths to a surprisingly low 117. Up to fifteen-foot waves emanating from the quake reached Japan and Hawaii, and according to one account, shock waves raised the ground level of Houston, Texas, by four feet.