Ronald Reagan and the headline battle

Feb. 23, 2023, 5:19 p.m.

We heard shuffling and scraping down the hallway. Mike turned and smiled. He knew what was around the corner.   

A senior staff reporter emerged on his knees, hands folded in prayer, and said: “Mike, please please please let me write the story.”   

The story of the year. The story that could help an aspiring student journalist land a big time job. Ronald Reagan had just announced he was not placing his future presidential library at Stanford.   

It was April 23, 1987. 

Editor-in-chief Mike Newman ’88 and I were editing stories on the mainframe terminals in the Daily Sports department cubicle. Mike was in this quiet spot because he had decisions to make.  

He knew it would be an early night for the sports page. I was the co-sports editor on duty. No games or matches on this Thursday. All we had were previews and our writers submitted early. Mike asked me to stay and night edit (i.e., cold copy edit, write headlines and cutlines, troubleshoot). Mike knew (though I didn’t) that all hell would soon break loose. 

Newman was a man of few words. He inspired loyalty. I stayed.   

I was no fan of Reagan. I grew up in a union family that revered Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson. But after I put the sports section to bed, I wrote the headline: STANFORD LOSES REAGAN LIBRARY. I sent it back to the typesetter. She printed and pasted it across the front page flat, where it awaited the articles. Back then, articles were printed on sticky paper and laid out on backlit flat tables for final proofreading.

It was a cool night to be an observer. Even though we had no cell phones or email, the word got out and one by one, all the senior staff writers showed up, clamoring for a by-line. It was fascinating to watch their determination and desperation. I marveled at the calm decision-making of Mike and his news editor. They assigned four stories and trucked no dissent. Several prominent writers got shut out. I had never seen humans so angry. But everyone in the news department flew into gear, making calls and pounding the terminals. 

For more than three years, a contingent of Stanford faculty had fought vocally against the likelihood of President Reagan establishing his library at the Hoover Institution. As I understood it, most presidents placed their library at the best university of their home state. I thought Stanford was the best university in California. 

The writers eventually noticed the headline. Everyone but Mike and I hated it. They yelled at me. All night, they sent different headlines to the typesetter, took mine down and pasted theirs.  

“Reagan Withdraws Library” — “Faculty win Reagan Battle” — “No Reagan Library at Hoover.” 

I reprinted and pasted it again. STANFORD LOSES REAGAN LIBRARY. 

They said “Mike won’t like this,” and returned to yell at me after Mike said he liked it.  

“It’s not a loss!” — “Reagan doesn’t even read!” — “Conservatives will change Stanford if it comes!” — “[Expletive] that [Expletive]”.   

I said over and over again:  It’s a Presidential library. It’s rare. It’s a loss. They did not agree. 

At around 11 p.m., the typesetter handed me a folder with a sheet of six copies of the headline, saying “I’m tired of reprinting these.” I had to use all six. 

At midnight, everything was done. We pushed everyone out. Mike himself took the roller and pressed down the STANFORD LOSES REAGAN LIBRARY headline. We placed the flats in a box and drove to the printers down near San Jose. We ate breakfast at a 24-hour diner. I always say I got my degree from Stanford, but I got my education at The Stanford Daily.

Christopher Fialko ’88 was a member of The Stanford Daily during his time at Stanford. He is now a criminal defense lawyer.

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