A Remembrance of Will Lissner
[Reprinted from the New York Times, March
Will Lissner, a reporter for The New York Times from 1926
until he retired in 1976, died on Saturday in a nursing home in
Dunedin, Fla. He was 91 and lived in Clearwater, Fla.
For many years, Mr. Lissner specialized in writing about economics,
but his varied assignments as a reporter and rewrite man included
Prohibition raids, tong wars in Chinatown and coverage of The Times
itself. In 1935, he contributed to The Times's coverage of the death
of Adolph S. Ochs, who was then its publisher -- unbylined, as was the
practice at that time.
In 1969, Mr. Lissner prepared a confidential 138-page report for
Turner Catledge, who was then a vice president of The Times, entitled
"Arthur Hays Sulzberger and the Eastland Investigation."
James O. Eastland was a senator from Mississippi whose subcommittee in
the 1950's was investigating, among other things, the extent of
Communist infiltration and influence that he believed existed at The
Times. Mr. Lissner's report, intended for the paper's archives and its
senior executives, largely recapitulated the ways in which the paper
and Mr. Sulzberger -- then the publisher, and grandfather of the
present one -- had responded to Mr. Eastland. It was also an account
of Communist Party activity in the newspaper business in New York from
the 1930's to 1950's.
In 1980, Harrison E. Salisbury, a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter and
later an editor at The Times, cited Mr. Lissner's report in his book
Without Fear or Favor: The New York Times and Its Times. Mr.
Salisbury wrote: "When I was sent as correspondent to Moscow in
January 1949, as the McCarthy tensions were building up," The
Times's management "took pains to make certain that the
dispatches of the new man from Moscow were carefully scrutinized by a
veteran Times reporter, Will Lissner, a dedicated anti-Communist and
Soviet economics specialist. Lissner was able to report no signs of
Communist bias in the new man's report; quite the reverse."
Mr. Lissner, a native New Yorker, graduated from Stuyvesant High
School and studied and taught at the New School for Social Research.
He founded the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in
1941 and continued his ties to it after leaving The Times.
His 1929 marriage to Ellen Batters ended in divorce in 1971.
He is survived by his wife, the former Dorothy Burnham; two
daughters, Claire Shepherd of Milwaukee and Ellen Benjamin of Dover,
Mass.; 9 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.