Obituary: Murray Kempton

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The Independent Online
Murray Kempton, who is now dead but always seemed mythical, was a gentle and learned man who believed, like his early employer H.L. Mencken, that the purpose of a newspaper was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, writes Rhoda Koenig [further to the obituary by Peter Pringle, 7 May].

I can't say how Murray behaved tete-a-tete with the great and powerful, but he was unfailingly courteous and charming to the most junior employees of his newspaper. There was no one who did not adore him, though at times he made his bosses rather testy. Dorothy Schiff, the publisher of the New York Post (who, before Rupert Murdoch took it over, had pretty well run it into the ground) ordered Murray to stop answering his mail after an irate reader sent her Murray's reply. It read, "Dear Mr --, I have no respect for the views of a man who reads this newspaper, considering that, if he saved his money for a week, he could buy a paperback copy of Proust. Yours sincerely."

Murray Kempton was the quiet sort of Damon Runyon figure; one could imagine him, at the end of the bar, dispensing bitter truths with the reflective, rueful air of the Episcopal bishop he felt he should have been. When Murray went through one of his periodic depressions, Murdoch, who is brutal but not insensitive, quietly reassigned his top crime reporter to tail him, just in case. (Murdoch did not win any hearts for his solicitude, as people said it was working for him that made Murray want to kill himself.) In any case, Murray survived. He once riveted a dinner table that had been discussing Sylvia Plath with a lengthy recital of his failures in suicide. "I've tried gas - that's no good. The pills didn't work. Then there was the time . . ."

He sounded quite cheerful about it, did Murray.