Obituary: Ex-Tribune editor Bailey 'lived, breathed politics'

  • Article by: By PAUL WALSH and MARY LYNN SMITH
  • Updated: January 4, 2012 - 1:20 PM

His 32 years with the morning Minneapolis paper included 10 years as top editor.

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Charles Bailey in the newsroom of the Minneapolis Tribune

Veteran journalist Charles Waldo Bailey II recorded momentous events in U.S. history, wrote bestselling political novels and ended his newspaper career on a point of principle, resigning as editor of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune to protest staff cuts he said would have "grave consequences" for the paper's quality.

Bailey, who wrote 15 political novels, including the thriller "Seven Days in May," was a consummate newsman whose reporting took him around the globe and within earshot of Robert Kennedy's assassination. He died Tuesday from complications of Parkinson's disease while in a nursing home in Englewood, N.J. He was 82.

"He was deeply committed to the Upper Midwest and the people of Minnesota," said Victoria Bailey, one of his daughters. "He felt it was important for the news in Minneapolis to be reported with the same depth as other parts of the country."

Bailey worked for the Tribune in the nation's capital from 1954 to 1972 and frequently traveled with the nation's top officials, Victoria Bailey said. "He went everywhere [that presidents such as Johnson and Nixon] went. That included going with Nixon to China for his diplomatic breakthrough in 1972, she said.

"He lived and breathed politics," his daughter said. "He was with Bobby Kennedy when Bobby got shot [in 1968]," she said. "He was on the other side of the door."

Bailey was also with President Kennedy in Dallas at the time of his assassination. He stood a few feet away on Air Force One flying back to Washington as a somber-faced Lyndon Johnson was sworn in with Jacqueline Kennedy at the new president's side. A widely disseminated news photograph shows Bailey looking on from a doorway in the rear.

Bailey joined the Minneapolis Tribune in 1950, shortly after graduating from Harvard University. At the outset, he worked as a general assignment, police and City Hall reporter, and as a night rewrite man. In 1954, he was assigned to the Washington bureau, where he covered Congress, agriculture and the White House before being named bureau chief in 1968.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale said Bailey was one of the most respected journalists in Washington, adding that Bailey's passion for politics eventually laid the groundwork for his novels.

"When he wrote ['Seven Days in May'], that's when Washington sat up and paid attention to him," Mondale said. " That was a big breakthrough. It was about politics. It was about the president and all the inside folderol. He'd been on the plane many times. He knew about the president. He knew about the Secret Service. He knew about reporters."

John Cowles Jr., whose family owned and published the Minneapolis Star and Tribune until 1998, was one year behind Bailey at both Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard.

"Chuck personified the best about the postwar Tribune through the 1960s and '70s, until the Star was merged into the Trib in 1982," Cowles said. "In the early 1950s, I followed him into covering the Trib's police beat and later City Hall, and he was an excellent teacher as well as superb reporter."

After Bailey went to the Washington bureau in 1954, Cowles ascended the editorial ladder in Minneapolis, and as publisher he asked Bailey to return in 1972 as editor.

For those who worked for him and alongside him, Bailey was respected as a leader who held high standards and demanded the best.

"He was very dedicated to good journalism," said Frank Wright, a former political reporter and managing editor at the Star Tribune.

"He was one of one of those New England blue-blooded newspapermen in the best sense," former Star Tribune columnist Steve Berg said. "He was cultured and serious. He had a great, witty sense of humor. He was hard-driving but fair. He was a really good leader and someone you wanted to be like."

In the newsroom, he opened his door to everyone. "He was very approachable," Berg said.

In 1982, as editor of the newly merged Minneapolis Star and Tribune, Bailey stood up for the newsroom in the ultimate show of loyalty, quitting over staff reductions.

Writing to company executive Donald Dwight, Bailey said, "I feel so strongly that it is wrong to reduce the news and editorial staff through layoffs that I have concluded that [resigning] is the only course I can properly follow."

Among his honors was an "Oscar in Agriculture" prize in 1963 for reporting on the significance of the European Common Market to U.S. farmers. In 1974, he was given the Distinguished Service to Journalism award of the Minnesota Newspaper Association. In 1976, he was named Editor of the Year by the National Press Photographers' Association.

With Fletcher Knebel, formerly of the Tribune's Washington bureau, Bailey wrote three books: "No High Ground," "Seven Days in May" and "Convention."

Bailey's wife of 60 years, Ann Card Bailey, died in 2010. In addition to his daughter Victoria, he is survived by sister Joanna Hodgman of Rochester, N.Y., and daughter Sarah Bailey of West Hartford, Conn.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Staff writer Graydon Royce contributed to this report. pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482 mlsmith@startribune.com • 612-673-4788

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