Union Notables

Howard Simons    class of 1951

Howard Simons. April 30, 1973, photograph copyright of The New York Times/The Washington Post. With the Watergate scandal growing, Howard Simons (second from right) discusses the next day's coverage with colleagues.

"A newspaper in this country ... should be free to publish whatever it learns, limited only by the application of its own standards of taste and fairness; the application of a standard that it will not knowingly publish false information; and, finally, that what it publishes will not clearly endanger a human life" -- Howard Simons, Union College, June 16, 1973.

Howard Simons, one of the country's leading newspapermen, was Managing Editor of The Washington Post from 1971 to 1984, and a key figure in its Watergate investigation. Although he is most remembered for giving Woodward and Bernstein's secret informant the name "Deep Throat" (after the notorious 1970s porn movie), his less-well-known behind-the-scenes role in Watergate was central to the investigation. Working closely with editor Bill Bradlee and publisher Katharine Graham, Simons was a key figure in assigning Woodward and Bernstein to the Watergate story, keeping them on it, and backing their efforts when much of official Washington was trying to ridicule the investigation and many at the Post were skeptical. According to the two cub reporters, he was "the day-to-day agitator, the one who ran around the newsroom inspiring, shouting, directing, insisting that we not abandon our investigation." Without Howard Simons' persistence and journalistic integrity, the Watergate investigation might well have gone nowhere.

Simons, who grew up in Albany, worked his way through Union College, receiving a B.A. in 1951; the College honored him with a D.Litt. in 1973. At Union, he was an English major with a strong interest in history, President of the Senior Class, Editor of the Idol, a member of the Mountebanks, a member of the Union College Publications Board, and College Reporter for the Schenectady Gazette. From Union, he went to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, receiving an M.S. in 1952. He worked in Army Intelligence, and in 1954 became a reporter and later News Editor for the D.C.-based Science Service. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1958-59. He moved to The Washington Post as a science writer in 1961, receiving several prestigious awards for his science reporting - and much notoriety for his investigative series about the loss of an H-bomb off Spain. Bradlee tapped him for an administrative post in 1966, and he became Managing Editor in 1971, supervising 500 people.

After a distinguished career at the Post, he became head of the prestigious Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University in 1984 where he remained until his death from cancer at the age of 60 in 1989. He returned to Union to give the Commencement Address in 1973, entitled, "The Founding Fathers, the Free Press and the Republic: Don't Shred on Me"; he returned again to Union in 1985 to give a Minerva lecture entitled, "The Freer the Press, the Freer the Society."

Underneath a tough persona, he was a man of much sensitivity and compassion who championed the underdog. He supported native American efforts in journalism, he organized a fund in support of UNICEF, and he helped establish a fellowship program for Third World journalists at the Columbia School of Journalism.

A prolific writer, Simons was the author of Jewish Times, an oral history of the American Jewish experience, and of Simons' List Book, a reference work of great use to journalists. He also co-edited The Media and Business and The Media and the Law, and together with Haynes Johnson, wrote a spy-thriller, The Landing about the Nazi insertion of spies on Long Island during World War II. 

He was a man of enthusiasm, energy, and drive, a skeptical reporter with a sharp wit and a healthy sense of the irreverent. The Post called him a person with a "restless intellect and an urge to teach" who developed talent and encouraged young people of all kinds. He was a life-long campaigner against deception, a champion of journalistic integrity, and a crusader for freedom of the press.