The passing of radio legend Paul Harvey was marked with a shade of condescension in the Times Monday, starting with the headline: "Paul Harvey, Homespun Radio Voice of Middle America, Is Dead at 90." Harvey died Saturday at the Mayo Clinic hospital in Phoenix.
While giving Harvey his due as an American institution, veteran Times reporter Robert McFadden sometimes treated Harvey as an unsympathetic right-wing political figure who "railed against welfare cheats." The story's text box underlined Harvey's politics: "A man who provided his own spin (from the right) on the news." McFadden wrote:
In his heyday, which lasted from the 1950s through the 1990s, Mr. Harvey's twice-daily soapbox-on-the-air was one of the most popular programs on radio. Audiences of as many as 22 million people tuned in on 1,300 stations to a voice that had been an American institution for as long as most of them could remember.
Like Walter Winchell and Gabriel Heatter before him, he personalized the radio news with his right-wing opinions, but laced them with his own trademarks: a hypnotic timbre, extended pauses for effect, heart-warming tales of average Americans and folksy observations that evoked the heartland, family values and the old-fashioned plain talk one heard around the dinner table on Sunday.
"Hello, Americans," he barked. "This is Paul Harvey! Stand byyy for Newwws!"
He railed against welfare cheats and defended the death penalty. He worried about the national debt, big government, bureaucrats who lacked common sense, permissive parents, leftist radicals and America succumbing to moral decay. He championed rugged individualism, love of God and country, and the fundamental decency of ordinary people.
"You can almost hear the amber waves of grain," the comedian Danny Thomas told him.
Mr. Harvey was unapologetic. "I have never pretended to objectivity," he once said. "I have a strong point of view, and I share it with my listeners. I have no illusions about changing the world, but to the extent that I can I'd like to shelter your and my little corner of it."
But his conservative views went best over the radio. In the 1950s he supported the anticommunist campaigns of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, but pulled back when he concluded the senator was making accusations he could not support. In the 1960s, Mr. Harvey opposed busing for school desegregation.
But in 1970, after backing American involvement in the war in Vietnam, he switched sides when President Richard M. Nixon expanded the war into Cambodia. "Mr. President," he said, "I love you - but you're wrong." The admonition, from a man many called the voice of the "silent majority," brought an avalanche of protest letters and calls, including one from the White House. Mr. Harvey said he had been swayed by the example of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who said, "The only excuse for getting into a war is to win it."
Only in the third-to-last paragraph did McFadden put Harvey's "right-wing opinions" in context - Harvey also supported the liberal feminist causes of abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment:
Listening to his wife, he argued for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and for a woman's right to have an abortion. He kept a picture of President Ronald Reagan on his wall, but opposed American involvement in Nicaragua's civil war. And when President Bill Clinton was impeached, he sounded less judgmental than many commentators.