Chandler was just then becoming interested in big game hunting, and his approach to hiring was much the same: only go after the biggest and the best.
One of the first examples came in 1961, when The Times hired Jim Murray as a sports columnist. Murray had helped create Sports Illustrated and was one of its stars. As a Times columnist, he would become one of the most celebrated sportswriters ever.
In the next three years, The Times changed as perhaps no other American newspaper has ever done in such a short time. Bureaus opened in Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Hong Kong, Rome, Bonn, London, Vienna and San Francisco, at the United Nations and on Wall Street. Staffing in Washington and Sacramento was expanded.
Chandler and his editor, Williams, lured reporters away from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News, the Washington Star, BusinessWeek and U.S. News & World Report.
In one of their biggest coups, they brought in Robert J. Donovan, the Washington Bureau chief of the New York Herald-Tribune and one of the most respected journalists in the country, to be chief of the expanded Times bureau in the capital.
And in January 1964, they hired a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist away from the Denver Post. As much as any other change at the paper, the arrival of Paul Conrad — brilliant, sharp-penned and liberal — served notice that an entirely new breed of Chandler was in charge.
Mouthpiece for GOP No More
To grasp the breadth of the changes, it is necessary to understand what The Times had been. More than merely a newspaper with a conservative editorial policy, it was an openly partisan mouthpiece for the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Not only did it champion GOP candidates, its editors helped select them. Not only did it not, as a rule, endorse Democrats for elective office; it didn't cover their campaigns. Readers could be excused for thinking that only one political party existed in Southern California.
Well before Chandler was named publisher, a poll of Washington correspondents conducted by writer Leo Rosten named The Times one of the three "least fair and reliable" newspapers in the country.
For most of the first 80 years of its existence, the paper was such a journalistic laughingstock that humorist S.J. Perelman once wrote that while traveling through the western United States by train, he asked a porter to bring him a newspaper and "unfortunately, the poor man, hard of hearing, brought me the Los Angeles Times."
Chandler realized that to build up The Times' reputation, he had to demand fair and nonpartisan news coverage. His efforts led him directly into confrontation with a powerful force for the status quo: his own family.
During Chandler's first year as publisher, the paper ran one of the most important series in its history, stories that helped define the new Los Angeles Times.
The conservative movement that would lead to Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy in 1964 and to Ronald Reagan's subsequent rise was in its nascence. On the fringes of that movement — and especially active in Southern California — was an ultra-right-wing organization known as the John Birch Society.
The Birchers argued that presidents Eisenhower, Truman and Franklin Roosevelt were either Communists or Communist dupes. They wanted to impeach Earl Warren, chief justice of the United States. They wanted the U.S. to withdraw from the United Nations. They saw the sinister hand of communism behind such government initiatives as fluoridation of the water supply and integration of the schools.
Alberta Chandler, the wife of Chandler's uncle (and rival) Philip, was a prominent member of the Birch Society, and she and Philip had played host to Birch Society President Robert Welch.
But when Williams, the editor, suggested that the paper look into the organization anyway, both Otis and Norman Chandler gave him the go-ahead.
Reporter Gene Blake produced a five-part expose, written in calm, matter-of-fact language. The stories described the Birchers' extremist tactics and positions and, largely through their own words, depicted them as a threat to, rather than a defender of, the American way of life.
After the series was published, Otis asked for an editorial criticizing the Birchers. When Williams showed him the piece, the publisher said it wasn't tough enough. Williams wrote a new one, warning that the Birchers' extremism and smear tactics were subversive acts that could "sow distrust and weaken the very strong case for conservatism." Chandler signed it — and published it on Page 1.