Peter Kaplan seemed stuck in time–the tortoiseshell glasses, the ever present khakis. But what a time it was–the New York City of George S. Kaufman, the Hollywood of Orson Welles and the rough-and-tumble journalism of that era. He re-created that reporting in the salmon-colored pages of the publication he edited for 15 years, the New York Observer, where every week he skewered the elite for other members of the elite. People waited for its appearance each Thursday to see who was up and who was down–and experienced the latter with a delicious sense of schadenfreude.
But Peter, who died Nov. 29 at 59, reinvented that kind of journalism with real reporting, a strong point of view, smart writing and clever headlines. He was like an anthropologist of late 20th century New York with a manic Marx Brothers sense of fun. He hired Candace Bushnell to write a column called “Sex and the City,” which became the basis for that cable and movie franchise. He made stars of his writers and delighted in them. He believed that journalism was a noble calling and a way–however imperfect–of getting at the truth.
Stengel is the former managing editor of TIME
This text originally appeared in the Dec. 2 issue of TIME magazine.
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