Abe Rosenthal Stole My Kill Fee!

Shortly after the Reagan administration invaded Grenada, I received an urgent phone call from an Editor for the New York Times Op-Ed Page. In order to stay on top of the developing story, the Times immediately wanted to rush into print with two Op-Ed essays, one arguing that the Grenada invasion was lawful, and the other that it was illegal. The Times wanted me on an expedited basis to write the essay arguing against its legality.

Given the abysmal mainstream media cover that was all in favor of the invasion, I agreed to write their anti-invasion essay. The Editor gave me a 48 hour deadline; a word-count; and a special 24 hour phone number to call in my essay where it would be taped, then typed up­back in the days before fax machines. He told me that they would publish my essay no later than the end of the weekend.

So I stopped everything I was doing and spent the next 48 hours of my life writing an essay against the invasion of Grenada on the grounds that it violated international law­a perfectly obvious and commonsensical conclusion. I then honed the essay down to the specified word-count, and eventually called it into their machine before the required deadline. Then I naively waited for my essay to be published by the New York Times. Of course nothing happened.

So on Monday I called my friendly Editor at the New York Times and asked him where my essay was: “Public opinion has shifted in favor of Reagan, so we see no point running an essay that is so critical of him.”

Keeping my cool, I asked him who made this decision at the Times: “Abe Rosenthal!” I asked him to give me Abe’s direct dial number to discuss this matter with him personally, which he did.

Before I called Rosenthal, I had already concluded there was no point appealing to him as a matter of principle against political censorship by the Times­obviously, that was hopeless. But still wanting to see my essay in print, I decided to make a contractual argument along the lines of promissory estoppel. So I told Abe that the Times had asked me to do this work on an expedited basis; that I had stopped everything else I was doing for 48 hours in order to complete the job according to their specifications; that the essay was eminently publishable on the merits; and therefore that the Times had an obligation to publish it.

“Go to hell!,” said Rosenthal, as he then slammed down the phone terminating our conversation for good.

He never sent me my kill fee.

FRANCIS A. BOYLE, Professor of Law, University of Illinois, is author of Foundations of World Order, Duke University Press, The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence, and Palestine, Palestinians and International Law, by Clarity Press. He can be reached at: FBOYLE@LAW.UIUC.EDU