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Fallows Remembers Trying to Preserve Objectivity During Takeover

By Jason M. Goins, Crimson Staff Writer

Not everyone at Harvard shared the aggressive sentiments of takeover organizers.

Whether because they found themselves too engrossed in their academic pursuits or because they fundamentally disagreed with the tactics of student organizers, some students simply missed out on the militancy of 1969.

One such person was James M. Fallows '70, president of The Harvard Crimson in 1969. He was charged with preserving the paper's objectivity under pressure from all sides.

In doing so, he faced an administration who found the paper's coverage too radical, and a staff filled with talented, opinionated and steadfastly liberal writers who thought the paper's position was not radical enough.

"In a way I was spared having to advocate anything particular because I was putting out a newspaper," Fallows said in a phone interview from Washington state, where he now works for Microsoft. "It wasn't my job to run protests but to cover what was going on."

But as he tried to maintain an objective position, Fallows formed an opinion about the proper way to pursue change at Harvard that fundamentally conflicted with the demonstrators' militant stance.

"The question was how you tried to get the point across, and I didn't think violence at the University was the appropriate way," Fallows says.

He characterized both the takeover and the University's response as misguided.

"The University Hall takeover was not totally unexpected," he says. "I don't know if tactically I would have predicted it a month before [it occurred], but generally things like this were going on."

One of the most vocal administrative opponents of both student activism and The Crimson was then-Harvard President Nathan Marsh Pusey'28.

Fallows said that while Pusey had good qualities, his conservative views were too far out of step with the political currents on campus.

"They couldn't have chosen a more symbolically inappropriate person for those times," Fallows says.

"There was a tragic historic accident for Harvard--Nathan Pusey had been a real political hero, but he was simply the wrong person for that job and for those times," Fallows says. "There is no doubt that Pusey's tremendous difficulty even understanding students' [views] made things all the more frayed."

Fallows says Pusey's "unbending rectitude" sent "the right symbolic message" 15 years earlier in the face of McCarthyist interrogation of universities.

"Fifteen years later, that same rigidity was the wrong political stance. He ended up making himself and the University symbols of something they had no business being symbols of--the U.S. policy in Vietnam," he says.

Perhaps no event better displayed Pusey's detachment from the students than his response to the demonstrators.

"He might have thought it was a demonstration of will to bring in the police, but tactically, it was nutty," Fallows says. "Nothing was more guaranteed to make martyrs of those inside and to solidify the opposition against [the administration]."

He says the bust only made radical students more recalcitrant.

"Nothing so energized, motivated and also infuriated students of the period than the idea of police coming in with something other than a minimum of force," Fallows says.

"No other universities took similar actions," Fallows says. "Almost all tried to wait the students out and defuse the situation. While the logic of sending in the police was in one sense unassailable, it was a tragedy for almost everyone involved. It raised an already inflamed situation an order of magnitude in intensity."

Regardless of his opinion, Fallows had to ensure that Crimson coverage continued throughout the crisis.

And on the morning of April 10, 1969, when police went into University Hall to remove demonstrators, Fallows stood in Harvard Yard with a reporter's notebook in hand, uncharacteristically pinch-hitting as a reporter from his executive position.

As The Crimson staff scrambled to assemble stories about the takeover, Fallows was caught in a familiar but difficult predicament--how to objectively cover the events with writers known for their far-left leanings.

The paper had been losing credibility in the eyes of the administration with its far-left slanted stories--and the University Hall coverage made the administration's criticisms more vehement.

"The change [of The Crimson from the paper of record] had been ongoing, a general fraying of nerves between the paper and Harvard's administration," Fallows said. "Relations between The Crimson and the administration had become quite strained."

The Crimson's position as the only student run newspaper on campus made the nature of its coverage all the more worrisome for Fallows.

"The people in the administration who were most upset thought the paper's entire staff were members of Viet Cong," he says.

As he sought ways to appease the administration, Fallows says that, in retrospect, he over-compensated.

"In retrospect, I think I was too concerned with trying to smooth things over [with the administration]," he says.

"I didn't like the idea that the paper that I temporarily was in charge of was being seen with such hostility by so many administrators," Fallows says. "I tried, perhaps harder than I should have, to 'make nice.'"

He now describes the process of "hearing out people's complaints and explaining very patiently what [The Crimson] did" as an attempt to close "unbridgeable gulfs." Fallows describes his role as acting as the "shock absorber" between the newspaper and the administration.

Despite his and other editors' feelings toward the administration, Fallows said The Crimson's coverage of the events surrounding April 10 strove to present a balanced picture of the tumultuous events.

"[Now, Crimson coverage] would seem pretty strident," he says, acknowledging that it was far from perfect.

He adds that The Crimson's liberal editorial stance was in keeping with the times.

"This was not the result of some nefarious plot. This was how a lot of The Crimson and other students felt," he says.

"I was part of that large majority that was opposed to the war, but within The Crimson, and the temperament of those times, I was seen as a little squishy because I didn't believe in blowing up buildings," Fallows says.

"I shouldn't have been as worried as I was by the hostility of the administration," he says.

His moderate stance came in part from worries about being at odds with Harvard administrators.

"I was upset to have the administration upset at us," he says.

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