Robert Stein, the veteran Greatest Generation journalist, magazine editor, book editor and, later in life, superb blogger, has passed away. He was a co-blogger here at TMV, admired by its writers and readers. I also had the pleasure of visiting him for a few hours at his Connecticut home about 7 years ago.
His son Keith put this post on Bob Stein’s blog Connecting the Dots:
SATURDAY, JULY 12, 2014
Robert Stein: March 1924 – July 2014
My father Robert Stein passed away Wednesday morning July 9th at my Connecticut home under hospice care from kidney issues related to his several month battle with multiple myeloma cancer. All and all, it was blessing as he had spent the last month in the hospital and was adamant about wanting to die at home in his sleep which he did. Needless to say it’s been a grueling few months for our family but we are relieved that he did not suffer at the end.
As per his wishes we have no plans for services. I will post links to his obituaries as they are published. While we are fortunate that his eight years of blogging has served as a chronicle of his life, he also wrote several hundred pages of memoirs which I hope to post in the near future on this site along with some more photos for anyone interested.
My family would like to thank every one of his blog followers. He enjoyed writing immensely and greatly appreciated that he had faithful readers to inspire him in his 90s.
If anyone has comments, questions or condolences, please feel free to post a comment or send a private message to [email protected].
On his blog, this is how Bob Stein described himself:
ROBERT STEIN editor, publisher, media critic and journalism teacher, is a former Chairman of the American Society of Magazine Editors, and author of “Media Power: Who Is Shaping Your Picture of the World?” Before the war in Iraq, he wrote in The New York Times: “I see a generation gap in the debate over going to war in Iraq. Those of us who fought in World War II know there was no instant or easy glory in being part of ‘The Greatest Generation,’ just as we knew in the 1990s that stock-market booms don’t last forever. We don’t have all the answers, but we want to spare our children and grandchildren from being slaughtered by politicians with a video-game mentality.” This is not meant to extol geezer wisdom but suggest that, even in our age of 24/7 hot flashes, something can be said for perspective. The Web is a wide space for spreading news, but it can also be a deep well of collective memory to help us understand today’s world. In olden days, tribes kept village elders around to remind them with which foot to begin the ritual dance. Start the music.
The family has posted a slide show (one picture from above) which shows photos of Stein throughout his life as one of the country’s top journalists.
Here’s what he posted at age 90, in March:
The View from 90
On March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated. It was my ninth birthday.
In April 1945, I was a 21-year-old foot soldier on the floor of a German farmhouse when someone shook me awake to whisper that FDR had died.
Now, at 90, I am inevitably shaped by those years after a working lifetime as writer, editor and publisher trying to explain the world to others—-and myself.
The scenes around me today are filled with human folly, selfishness and shameless behavior, but that’s far from the whole story. My so-called Greatest Generation, which survived a Depression and World War, does not in retrospect seem so morally superior to those that succeeded it but only more limited in education, experience of the world and outlook.
Many of our virtues were rooted in ignorance: no TV, cable, computers, Internet, no electronics of any kind, only radios with music, soap operas and swatches of evening news lifted from newspapers (as a teenage copy boy, I wrote some of them.)
As a nation we were united, but in an innocence that also had its dark side—-racial ghettos, religious prejudice, rural isolation—-where only unseen white men, all Protestant, held power over our lives in government and business.
Women then lived no fuller a life than those in Nazi Germany: Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church). Our mothers patrolled homes in house dresses, with only one exception.
Although we knew her as Mrs. Goldstein, nothing went with that matronly name, not the shimmer of clothes clinging to her trim body, or the beauty-parlor hair, the high-heeled shoes and face painted with makeup even in daytime, or the sweet perfume cloud that came into the living room in late afternoons when she kissed her son goodnight and dazzled the rest of us playing there with a cupid’s bow smile on her way out.
She always seemed on the move to someplace exciting or, if my mother’s mutterings could be believed, sinful. I had no idea what nafka meant, but Mrs. Goldstein gave our pre-teen senses a whiff of hope that the night life on movie screens existed somewhere in the real world.
Jump cut through decades: a World War; prosperous but Man-in-the-Grey-Flannel-Suit Fifties; JFK, the Youthquake, Civil Rights awakening and Women’s Lib of the televised Sixties; a backlash of the Silent Majority and Watergate in the Nixon years; Reagan’s Morning-in-America to paper over growing economic and political gulfs followed by Clinton’s centrism and self-centeredness barely surviving Gingrich’s loopy Contract with America; and then almost a decade of W’s preemptive war and mindless tax cuts to bring us into the Obama years of almost total Tea Party collapse of the civility that held us together all that time, with Racism showing its naked face.
Yet, in perspective, what looks so grim now may only be the low point of another upward spiral to come. A year ago, the New York Times posted a symposium, “Are People Getting Dumber?” Harvard’s brilliant Steven Pinker anchored it with an essay, “To See Humans’ Progress, Zoom Out”:
“Can we see the fruits of superior reasoning in the world around us? The answer is yes.
“In recent decades the sciences have made vertiginous leaps in understanding, while technology has given us secular miracles like smartphones, genome scans and stunning photographs of outer planets and distant galaxies. No historian with a long view could miss the fact that we are living in a period of extraordinary intellectual accomplishment…
“Ideals that today’s educated people take for granted–equal rights, free speech, and the primacy of human life over tradition, tribal loyalty and intuitions about purity–are radical breaks with the sensibilities of the past. These too are gifts of a widening application of reason.”
Others point out a worldwide rise in IQ scores, innovations complicating our lives with “upgrade upon upgrade” that don’t “lower our native intelligence but “relentlessly burden it” and, perhaps most important of all, a blogger about stupidity notes:
“You can get a perfect score on your SATs and it will barely register in a world of 200 million tweets a day. But give just one stupid answer in a beauty pageant, and you’ll be the laughingstock of the world before you have time to clear your name on the next morning’s ‘Today’ show.
”And while watching something smart takes time, you can see something stupid in a flash. Today at work, when I had a spare moment, I didn’t try to learn a new language. I watched a video of a guy getting a tattoo removed with an air-blast sander. And now I know that’s not a very good idea.”
As I blew out a blast furnace of birthday candles on this weekend of ominous headlines, I was silently repeating Dr. Pangloss’ mantra, that with a little courage—-and some luck–we may all soon be living again in “the best of all possible worlds.”
Most people only “knew” Bob by reading what he wrote or by reading throughout their lives books or articles he edited. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person.
I’ll do a post on that later today or tomorrow.
And, yes, to the right of this computer is my bookcase. And there in it, proudly resting and well-read, is the copy of “Media Power” that he gifted me years ago.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.