Columnists > Voices

Fallen giants

Journalists like Robert Bartley and Carl Henry aren't easy to replace

Issue: "Year in Review 2003," Dec. 27, 2003

TWO TOWERING OAKS IN THE FOREST OF American journalism fell a few days ago. The vacancies left by the two deaths are quite different from each other-but alike in that no one even pretends that replacements will be easy to find.

Robert Bartley was by far the younger of the two. At 66, he had only recently retired from a three-decade stint as the chief voice of the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. Even in retirement, Bartley wrote an insightful weekly column for the newspaper called "Thinking Things Over," through which veteran readers were able to hang on to their memories of an editorial page done the way it ought to be done. Bartley justly claimed that The Wall Street Journal was the only paper purchased by thousands of readers just for its editorial page.

In terms of style, Bartley insisted that the Journal's editorial pages include more than opinion. He understood that for an opinion column to carry clout, it had to inform as well as persuade. So you always learned when you read the paper's editorial pages-and Robert Bartley's fascinating classroom included lessons in economics, geography, business, politics, science, labor, management, technology, education, fashion, and a score of other topics.

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In terms of what he believed-and wanted others to believe-Bartley boiled it down to two simple goals: free men and free markets. On lots of other issues, the Bartley standard was flexible and tolerant (too tolerant, to my mind, on some issues). But when it came to political and economic freedom, he was a ferocious champion. Readers were often surprised, in what they thought was a newspaper beholden to big business, to discover editorials taking big business to task for its oppressive habits and its tendency sometimes to restrict the economic freedom of small entrepreneurial businesses and tiny mom-and-pop operations.

It was one of my long-time dreams, now unfulfilled, to meet Robert Bartley, partly because he was a journalistic hero and partly because he was born just four years before I was and just a 40-mile stone's throw from my own birthplace in Iowa.

I did get to meet, and come to know a bit personally, the other journalist who died earlier this month. Carl F.H. Henry will be remembered, of course, as one of the theological and philosophical giants of the last half of the 20th century. I will always remember when philosopher Gordon H. Clark introduced Henry in a chapel service at Covenant College. For three or four minutes, Clark silently took book after book out of several cardboard boxes sitting near the lectern, carefully stacking them in two piles that each reached five or six feet in height. All were by Carl Henry. "Ladies and gentlemen," Clark finally said, "I present to you the most influential mind in the evangelical world in our generation."

Yet although Carl Henry was a scholar's scholar, he was even before that a journalist. He was a teenage reporter, and even a teenage editor, for a newspaper on Long Island. When he became a Christian in the 1930s, he headed for Wheaton College to get an education-and paid part of his tuition by teaching several journalism courses.

It was natural then in 1956, when Billy Graham, Nelson Bell, Harold Ockenga, and others decided that the evangelical world needed a strong journalistic voice, that they would turn to someone with strong ideas and a gift for clear expression. Carl Henry became the first editor of their new Christianity Today, and held that post for the next dozen years. In a career that was notable for its contributions to academia, the church at large, evangelism, missions, and the media, Carl Henry seems likely to be most widely remembered as the editor who gave Christianity Today its reputation and its glory days.

Carl Henry was 90 when he died Dec. 7. To say that Carl Henry worried in his later years that mainstream evangelicalism had drifted dangerously toward mainstream ecumenism is both a matter of record, on the one hand, and perhaps unnecessary to pursue just now at the time of his death. He was happy to identify with our feisty editorial stance here at WORLD magazine, where he has been on our masthead for the last eight years. One of his very last public speaking engagements was at the graduation of our first class of the World Journalism Institute in August of 1999. Ever the editor, he was revising his manuscript for that evening right up until the last moment.


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