Everett Collier

Duration: 1hr: 10Mins
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Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with: Everett Collier
Interviewed by: Louis Marchiafava
Date: June 23, 1976

Archive Number: OH 028

 

LM:           00:16  Mr. Collier, I'd like to begin the interview by getting a little background information.  Finding out how you became involved in the newspaper business.

EC:      Would you like for me to start at the beginning that is; where I was born, when I came to Houston, and so on and it will make more sense, I believe if I start from the beginning.

            I was born on February 26, 1914 in Long Beach, Mississippi, a small town on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.  My mother's family had lived there for more than two hundred years.  We were the first to leave.  I came to Houston with my family on June 6, 1929 when I was fourteen years old.  I felt terribly uprooted.  The reason we came, my sister had married a former Mississippian who was living in Houston and working at the old Ford plant.  The Depression had hit Mississippi before it hit the other states.  The family decided to move here and we came.  I cried on the Southern Pacific train all the way to Houston because I felt that my life was being ended.  I fully expected to see cowboys and Indians shooting at each other when I arrived in Houston, Texas.  We arrived at night and instead of seeing cowboys and Indians, I saw water.  It was the great flood of June 1929.

            In September of 1929, I entered Hogg Junior High School, finished Hogg in—that semester, that year and then entered Sam Houston High School, which was then downtown behind the old Post Office.  Shortly after I entered Sam Houston High School, a twenty-one year old man came there to teach speech and debate.  Lyndon Baines Johnson.  We became friends at that time and remained friends throughout his lifetime.  I graduated from Sam Houston High School in 1933 and entered Rice University.  Had Rice charged tuition at that time, I would never have made it.  I was working for five dollars a week at the A&P Tea Company.  Working as many as seventy hours a week in addition to going to high school and later going to my first year at college.

            When I went to Rice, I intended to be an architect.  During my first year, however, I decided that I would major in romance languages, basically Spanish.  I had had three years of Spanish in high school and was at the advanced level when I entered Rice.  I did major in romance languages and got my degree in romance language from Rice University. 

            On May 1, 1934, the then correspondent at Rice University for the Houston Chronicle asked me if I'd like to be the Chronicle's Campus Correspondent.  At that time, the three daily newspapers used much material from Rice.  The society sections used a lot of what the young co-eds at Rice were doing because many of them were from socially prominent families.  I did become the Rice correspondent May 1, l934.  Was the Rice correspondent from that day on.  This diverted me into journalism rather than teaching romance languages at the college level.  My last three years at Rice were fairly easy from a financial standpoint.  I was making twenty or twenty-five dollars a week at the Houston Chronicle.  That was a lot of money in those days.  It was the depth of the Depression.

            05:22  When I graduated from Rice in early June of 1937, there was no opening in the city-side of the Houston Chronicle.  There was a long waiting list of experienced people, as I said; it was the depth of the Depression and many people looking for jobs.  I went to work as an extra in the sports department and wrote sports during the summer.  On October 9, 1937, one of the veteran reporters at the Chronicle died.  That is he died on the night of October 8, and the then city editor, the late Martin Emmet Walter had someone call me very early on the morning of October 9, 1937 and tell me if I could get to the office in thirty minutes, I could have the job.  I lived way out on north side and had to ride a bus.  Of course, I'd never owned an automobile in my life.  I couldn't even think of affording an automobile.  I went racing to the bus line and I got to the Chronicle pretty much within thirty minutes.  And I did get the job.  I've been with the Chronicle ever since.  Working in almost every capacity in the editorial division of the Chronicle, to my present point of Vice President Editor and member of the Board of Directors. 

LM:           07:07  You've certainly been with the Chronicle for quite some time.  I've been told that a newspaper has a personality, like an ordinary person and that it changes over the years.  Have you seen changes in the direction of the Chronicle from the time you first joined to your present position?

EC:      I don't believe so.  You realize that the Chronicle was founded in October 1901 by the late Marcellus E. Foster.  Mr. Foster owned and ran the Chronicle.  In 1922 the late Jesse H. Jones bought half interest in the Chronicle and in 1926 bought all of the stock of the Houston Chronicle.  I think that Mr. Jones' outlook on journalism molded the Houston Chronicle.  I believe that the Houston Chronicle has the same public outlook today that it had when I joined it in 1934 because of Mr. Jones.  Mr. Jones wanted the news column of the Chronicle to be totally objective.  He wanted to express his opinions or the opinions of management, only in the editorial columns.  Certainly that is what I have striven to do since I have been editor of the newspaper and what I did in the years that I was managing editor and assistant editor. 

            I have been in a policy-making position on the Chronicle since 1952 which that would be twenty-four years, I believe, so that I think that I am familiar with how policy is set and on what basis, what principle it is set.  Mr. Jones was a very independent man.  He believed very strongly in the welfare of the community, in developing the community, building the community.  He was very sympathic toward the people of the community.  He wanted the Houston Chronicle to truly represent the people of the community.  We still try to do that.  We still want the Chronicle to represent all of the people of the community rather than to become the voice of any one segment of the community. 

            It has been said that the Chronicle's editorial positions are unpredictable.  That is accurate.  They are unpredictable.  We call ourselves basically, a moderate conservative newspaper in our editorial viewpoints.  We call ourselves an independent Democrat newspaper so that would boil down to be a moderate, conservative, Democrat newspaper, I suppose.  You will find us however, and I get kidded a lot about this, strongly endorsing liberal positions.  You will find us occasionally endorsing liberal candidates for office.  In those instances we are endorsing candidates whom we think would make the better office holder.  We try to look at each issue and the facts of each issue rather than to set some idealogical guideline and follow that.  We prefer to look at the facts of each thing that comes up and make what we hope are rational decisions in that way.

cue point

LM:           11:40  Are there any particular liberal candidates that the Chronicle has supported which we could use to illustrate—

EC:      Sure, State Senator Bob Gammage in the congressional race, which got a lot of criticism for us.  We got many bitter letters from subscribers calling Bob a very liberal left-wing politician during his days in the House and in the Senate.  We happened to think that Bob Gammage is a very bright young man.  A very clean and decent young man who makes a very good public office holder. 

            We supported State Representative Gene Jones in his successful bid for the State Senate seat.  He is now the state Senator.  Gene Jones has a liberal image.  But we consider him one of the finest members that ever went to the House of Representatives.  He is a very able and intelligent young man.  He is the man of impeccable integrity.  We think he is good in public office because he does not always vote in consonance with Chronicle editorial policy does not mean that we don't consider him a very able public official.  Gene Jones is—Senator Jones is a fine public official. 

LM:           13:20 Critics of the Chronicle have on several occasions, considered it strictly a conservative oriented newspaper reflecting views of the owners. 

EC:      Basically it is true that it is a moderately conservative newspaper.  I would like to give a differentiation there.  If you will watch the Chronicle day by day, on fiscal matters.  Matters of government spending.  Government taxes.  Government interference into the lives of the people, we are conservative.  Where human beings are concerned, human rights are concerned, we're liberal.  You will find us championing a lot of those causes. 

            The right of the people to know for example.  This is a big one that we feel very strongly on.  We have been in the courts over the last eighteen months spending a lot of money to preserve the right of the people to know, because we think that they have that right to know.

            I was going to mention—a moment ago—what my guidelines to the sub editors of the Chronicle are in handling news stories.  I know that I have been accused of managing the news.  I've been accused in print, just recently of managing the news.  I believe if you talk to our managing editor, to the executive managing editor for news, to the news editor, to the city editor, or to anyone else, I'm sure they will tell you I do not interfere in the news process.  I have set for them a guideline to follow and I demand that it be followed.  If a story is accurate, fair, and just it must run.  If it fails to meet any one of those three criteria, it cannot run.  One example; I am very sensitive about damaging character.  A human beings character.  An example of this I have been watching very carefully, are stories on the sex scandals in Washington and asking our news people not to run anything that is not well substantiated within the story.  I will step in and have in the past if I think that we are doing something that is unfair to the family of a public office holder.  I don't believe that we should go out and seek ways of embarrassing members of a family simply because the head of the household is a public official.  Even if that public official is a political opponent of the Houston Chronicle, we still apply this rule.  There are people in Harris County who could tell you this.  Where we have—they might use the word protected—I say we have not run the story, not because we are suppressing news, but because it failed to meet the guidelines.  Fair and just.  I do not like yellow journalism.  Unfortunately I think we have a trend in the Country toward that now.

LM:           17:46 Is there such a thing as an editorial policy established that the higher echelon of the administration of the Chronicle?

EC:      There is an Editorial Board.  It meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Every Tuesday, every Thursday.  Issues and positions are formed out of that editorial conference.  I of course, set at the head of that and on that are the senior associate editor Les Bennett, the associate editor Hugh Powers, editorial writers Larry Gage and Ray Conoway, the editorial cartoonist Clyde Peterson, and the assistant editor of the paper Phil Warner.  We discuss the issues thoroughly and frequently I accept the view points of those people.

LM:           18:57 Specifically what type of questions arise at these meeting?

EC:      Should we support this bond issue of the school, of the city?  Should we comment editorially on the move of the city and the school district to build a vocational technical school in northeast?  And the city to build a transit facility next to it?  We try to get all of the facts that we can before we comment editorially.  To comment something that Secretary Kissinger has done abroad, we discuss that.  There are many, many issues, international, national, state, and local that we discuss.

LM:           Do the owners of the newspaper—have an opportunity to give their viewpoints on the issues or in making editorial policy?

EC:      Rarely!  Very rarely does the ownership involve itself in the editorial policy of the paper.  It has the right to, you understand.  It is privately owned.  When I say privately owned, it is owned by Houston Endowment Inc.  A charitable foundation created by Mr. and Ms. Jones.  But rarely, does Houston Endowment involve itself in the editorial policies of the paper. 

cue point

LM:           20:50  That leads to the question that many critics, of course, have brought up and that is a conflict of interest between the holdings of the endowment and owning the newspaper and how that newspapers approach or viewpoint of issues are perhaps conflict with those interests of the endowment.

EC:      That just does not happen.  Houston Endowment has divested itself of most of these holdings that they are talking about.  The critics just don't even pay attention to facts.  They just want to criticize.  Houston Endowment no longer owns any bank.  It owns very little bank stock.  It no longer owns any hotel.  It has divested of the Rice Hotel, the Texas State Hotel, the McKinney Hotel, and the Mayfair Hotel in New York.  The sole hotel that it still owns and operates is the Lamar Hotel.  And I am sure that eventually Houston Endowment will divest of that.  The trustees of Houston Endowment are on a program of divestiture.  You recall that Houston Endowment sold its controlling interest in Texas Commerce Bank as far back as 1966.  It sold all of the neighborhood banks so that there is very little left in operating companies under Houston Endowment.  The wealth of Houston Endowment is being converted into stocks and bonds and investments of that type.  Portfolio.  And that, of course, what the critics fail to recognize is Congress had passed very rigid laws prior to 1969.  And in 1969, December, Congress passed the Tax Reform Act of 1969, the first section of that being on foundations.  Charitable foundations.  Those laws are very rigid.  I can assure the critics if there was a single conflict of interest, Internal Revenue would be on top of Houston Endowment very fast.  That same law requires an annual detailed report by every charitable foundation to IRS.  They are fully aware of every phase of the charitable foundation and its operations.  Anyone who knows IRS knows that they will pounce when they think they have the slightest evidence.  I'm not being critical, because I think that's what they should do.  And I am glad that they do, do it.  But there are critics who just want to criticize. 

LM:           24:34  What is the role of the Board of Directors in the operation of the newspaper?  And how much weight does their decisions?

EC:      The Board of Directors of the Houston Chronicle? 

LM:           Yes.

EC:      Their decisions carry great weight.  Their recommendations carry great weight.  Such as the remodeling program.  The installation of new presses.

LM:           Again, on the editorial policy, do they also have and input into that?

EC:      They could if they wish.  But I can assure you it is a rare occasion when they ever do.

LM:           25:25 Do you have any particular, specific instance in which they have had such an influence?

EC:      Well, I'm going to have to think on that.  I would say, and this maybe is about the only thing I can recall, that when we are going to decide whom the paper would support for President, or whom it would support for governor, I mean just very rare instances; they would want to know in advance.  Now you understand there's a great difference between knowing in advance and in dictating policy.

LM:           I wonder if I might just back track for a moment.  In your summary of your activities in the Chronicle, you mentioned your appointment, of course, as editor and vice president, I wonder if we might go into a little bit of detail of the circumstances surrounding your appointment.  How were you selected?  Whose decision was it?

EC:      By the publisher.  J. Howard Creekmore, who represents the ownership.  Because who else would select and editor?

cue point

LM:           27:16 Prior to your selection as editor, Mr. Steven—

EC:      William P. Steven was the editor. 

LM:           What were the circumstances for his dismissal?

EC:      The only thing I can say at that point—you are aware of the publicity nationally and locally that—the knowledge I have of it is—his so-called political assassination because of his liberalism had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Nothing.  If the real reasons ever come out—that is for someone else to talk about, not I.

LM:           Well, I wanted to bring that up, since—doing the preparing for—

EC:      Let me say this—I believe that the trustees of Houston Endowment had valid reasons for what they did.  Quite valid. 

LM:           You're right, of course, there are reasons that—relevant—press at the time that it was because of his liberal stance and because of his positive views on desegregation.  That was reported in the Forward Times, a black newspaper in Houston, of course.

EC:      Which is ridiculous.  Absolutely ridiculous.  This newspaper has supported desegregation since long before anyone heard of William P. Steven.  Who desegregated the hotels in Houston, Harris County, Texas?  Years before the federal government ever said that anyone had to.  Jesse Holman Jones.  He just did not like the idea that they were turning away people in his hotels because they were black.  Who was the honorary chairman for many years until his death?  Of the United Negro College Fund?  Jesse Holman Jones.  Who was the first person, first paper in the south to run a picture of a black person other than a criminal?  The Houston Chronicle.  Who had black employees in the City Room as long ago as the 1930s?  The Houston Chronicle.  So to say that William P. Steven would be fired for his desegregatist viewpoints is preposterous.  The record of the Chronicle is a printed one.  Anyone who is un prejudice, who wants to look at that record, can go through our files and very quickly find this paper's attitude all the way through.  Who took the lead in this community?  When the days the schools were desegregated in working with school officials, and police officials to the degree that not one bad incident happened during the day Houston schools were desegregated.  It was the Houston Chronicle.

LM:           31:28 What do you feel is the basis for this bias?

EC:      Many bases.  You have to get the individual to find out what the basis is.  You said earlier, "The Chronicle is pretty well stuck with the old conservative Democrat establishment in Texas."  Going back.  Allan Shivers, Price Daniel, John Connally, Preston Smith, Dolph Briscoe, and in the lesser offices, it's the best way I know of to describe the situation, is to call it the "Old Texas Establishment."  It has not always been very conservative, for example, you would not say that Price Daniel was a very conservative governor.  But we supported Price Daniel down the line.  Even supported him in his bid for a fourth term, which we did not think he could achieve, and which he didn't achieve.  But in the first primary, we supported him.  So that I think that this probably creates the greatest jealousies and the greatest criticism is because many people call us the voice of the establishment.  The symbol of the establishment in Texas.  We do it because we think this is the best government for the state.  Now tell me what the Houston Chronicle, Houston Endowment, or anything that it owns today as an operating company, would want out of the state of Texas.  We don't ask for any favors on tax.  Houston Chronicle pays the same in taxes that Humble Oil or Foley's or any other place pays.  And we never ask for any privilege on them.  We pay the same tax that the other newspapers and televisions pay.  I have seen in print the statement that the Houston Chronicle, because it is owned by a charitable foundation, pays no taxes.  This is preposterous.  We are an independent operating corporation.  We pay the same taxes as any other.  Another fact that should be known to the critics; Under Federal law and the administration of that Federal law by the Internal Revenue Service, this newspaper must pay a healthy dividend to Houston Endowment or they will move in fast.  We're getting no benefit because we are owned by a charitable foundation.  I personally think many public officials that I know, agree with me that it is very good for a charitable foundation to own a newspaper because it has independence of position that private ownership does not have.  They are bound to have their own business entanglements, their own personal entanglements that we don't have.  We can be an independent voice.  You see, Houston Endowment wants nothing.  It is a public trust.  All they do is sit up there and dispense all of the profits of Houston Endowment to the public welfare. 

cue point  

          Let's take a look in Houston and see a few of the things that Houston Endowment Incorporated has done.  Some of the critics would do well if they would look at that.  That beautiful building across the street, Jones Hall for the Performing Arts.  Every penny of it paid for by Houston Endowment and given to the people of this city.  The Alley Theatre, catty-cornered across the street.  Houston Endowment gave the land and a contribution to the funds that put the Alley Theatre; it wouldn't be there except for Houston Endowment.  Two of the first buildings at the University of Houston outside of the original complex, contributed by Houston Endowment Incorporated.  The Mary Gibbs-Jones Hall, the first dormitory for women at Rice University.  Rice did not have campus quarters for women.  The Jones organization, Mr. Jones and Mrs. Jones contributed that building, a very beautiful building.  Go to the Texas Medical Center.  Foundations, charitable foundations, have made the Texas Medical Center.  Look at the millions that Houston Endowment has put into it.  To Baylor College of Medicine.  To the new University of Texas College of Medicine, in the medical center.  To Methodist Hospital.  To St. Luke's Hospital.  To Texas Children's Hospital.  If the critics would stop harping long enough to look at facts.  If they wished to know the facts, they would see what Houston Endowment has meant to this community.

            Look at the scholarship funds.  The Jones scholarship fund.  Every high school in this metropolitan area has at least four every year that go to college on a Jones scholarship.  Well-endowed scholarships that enables them to get a college education.  Houston Endowment has absolutely nothing to do in the selection of those.  All we do is provide the money.  The schools make the nomination.  The Rotary Club chooses the winners.  We don't even know who the winners are going to be until they are turned over to us.  I think that is a very splendid program.  Think of how many young people.  We have many doctors practicing in Houston, Texas today who went through undergraduate study at college on Jesse H. Jones scholarships.  I think that is splendid use of the money that Mr. Jones left.  This is what the Trustees of Houston Endowment are doing with it today.  They publish every year at the end of every year what they have done with the money.  IRS knows.  The Attorney General of Texas knows.  He gets a copy of it.  I think they are splendid projects for the good of the entire community.  Another agency that Houston Endowment strongly supports is the American Red Cross.  You saw where just last week, or the week before, Houston Endowment gave a very large sum to the Red Cross for disaster relief because they had run short of money. I personally think that is excellent use of charitable money.  That goes directly to the people of our community and other communities who need it.  I know that the trustees of Houston Endowment are very jealous of that money.  They will not let one penny out that is not going for the public welfare, and I challenge any critic to find as much as a hundred dollars, given that was not within the letter and the keeping of the Federal law and of Mr. Jones' outlook.  That is what he left the money for.  That is what he wanted the money to be used for.  The betterment of this community and of this state in every way that you could find. 

            Another facility that I just thought of.  Texas Women's University School of Nursing in the Texas medical sector.  We made that possible with large grants. The—University of the Permian Basin, under the University of Texas system, in Odessa, Texas, Houston Endowment made that possible.  They badly needed a senior university in that area.  State funds were becoming more and more limited for higher education.  Houston Endowment, because it gets wealth out of that area, returned that wealth to the people of that area.  We have oil wells in the Odessa field, and the trustees of Houston Endowment felt that the people of that area were entitled to get some of that back.  So we have very handsomely endowed the University of the Permian Basin, UT.

cue point

LM:           43:04 While we are on the subject of the Houston Endowment, a few years ago, the Chronicle was supposed to be bought out by Mr. Meacham and the deal apparently fell through.

EC:      Correct.

LM:           Can you shed any light on the reasons for the purchase not going through?

EC:      Mr. Meacham could not raise the money.  Howard Creekmore, as President of Houston Endowment who was handling it, was handling public money, and he could not handle public money in any kind of loose way.  He had to be very business-like.  The government pressures which caused Mr. Creekmore to sell the Chronicle and the other interests at that time, have completely changed so there is no pressure now.  There is no government demand for the sale of the Houston Chronicle.  Mr. Jones did not want the Chronicle sold.  He wanted the Chronicle to be kept by Houston Endowment to serve as a facility of the public to serve the public.  I knew his thinking well.  I was his reporter from 1946 until his death.  I had the rare opportunity of knowing him well and of knowing his thinking.  He truly wanted this newspaper to be kept in the ownership of Houston Endowment rather than to be sold to some chain that might come out of Los Angles, Chicago, New York, or elsewhere.  He wanted it locally owned to serve this community in the best interest of this community.  I am authorized to say, despite all of the published—continually published reports—the Houston Chronicle is not for sale to anybody at any price.

LM:           That goes on the record. 

EC:      I say that on the record with authority to say so.

LM:           45:44 How does the Houston Chronicle differ in its outlook or its direction from the Houston Post?

EC:      That would be difficult to say.  I would not be critical of the Houston Post.  I think it is a good newspaper.  In American journalism, Houston is looked upon as a city that is blessed with good journalism.  I think we have two good newspapers in the city.  An afternoon newspaper and a morning newspaper.   It's difficult for me to pick differences.  I naturally think we are by far the most readable newspaper.  The better newspaper.  But I'm the editor of the Chronicle.  And I'm sure that Mrs. Hobby thinks her newspaper is better.  But I think the Houston Post is honorably run and is a good newspaper.  I think they too, serve the public, and personally, I sincerely hope that Mrs. Hobby and after her, her two children, continue to own and operate the Houston Post.  I like to see two locally owned highly competitive newspapers in a city like this.   I can assure you and I can assure the Justice Department of the United States, that there is never any collusion between the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post.  We are competitive. 

LM:           Does the Post have a, I realize this is strictly from your point of view so, we'll keep that perspective, a different local political stance that you frequently clash over support of political candidates?

EC:      Not frequently.  While the Houston Post is not now making endorsements in many political races, presumably because Bill Hobby is in politics as the Lieutenant Governor of the state.  Naturally we don't clash, because we take positions on everything and they don't.  But prior to that, oh if I had to make a guess, I'd say that seventy-five percent of the time, you'd find us supporting the same candidate.  Particularly in Mayors races.  But, I can again assure you that there was no discussion, no contact, no collusion, between anybody at the Chronicle and the Post before our positions were decided. 

LM:           49:26 Has your tenure as editor—different—differed significantly from your predecessors?  Or have you—made any changes which—are different somewhat?

EC:      Well, let's take me and Bill Steven.  Bill Steven was feature oriented.  He went strong on features.  He was not very strong on what we would call "hard news."  I believe you must have features to have a good newspaper, because you must have everything to be a complete newspaper.  But I go strong on the hard news.  That would be a difference between us.  Bill ran more opinion pieces in the news columns than I am willing to run.  He did label them, now I will say that.  He would label them as opinion so the public would know.  I prefer to keep opinion pieces on the editorial page of the page opposite the editorial page, where the reader is fully aware that this is the opinion of management.  I don't like it scattered in our news columns. 

cue point

LM:           51:06 Does this difference in orientation explain some of the changes in, well for example, the Austin office, there were some changes there some time ago, speaking—

EC:      Oh heavens, Bo Byers has been head of the Austin bureau for twenty years. 

LM:           I was thinking of—

EC:      Employees come and go, but it has nothing to do with any principle of the paper, or position of the paper.  It's either they got a better job somewhere else, they weren't getting along with their superior here in the office, personality clashes, or something of that nature.  Mary Rice Brogan of our Austin Bureau has been there for many years.  I'm trying to think of who you could be thinking—Reid Beveridge?

LM:           Right, Reid Beveridge. 

EC:      Right—Reid Beveridge.  That's an unfortunate case.  Best not talked about.  The Chronicle does not tolerate inaccuracies in its paper.  And I told you that earlier.  When you have repeated instances of that, you must do something particularly if it is a headline story that embarrasses you statewide.  He's a find young man.  Splendid young man and I wish him well.

LM:           Is there any particular story you had in mind that created this embarrassment that comes off the top of your head at the moment?

EC:      52:50 The—there is a story, but I like Reid Beveridge as I told you he is a very fine young man.  I don't see no point in making statements that some point in the future, he's a young man, could be damaging to Reid Beveridge.  I wish him no harm.  I'm very sensitive about harming human beings.  I think if you talk to members of my staff, those who are not prejudiced by outside view, you would find that I am pretty fiercely protective of them.  And if anyone tries to abuse them, even if it be an internal executive, that is when I will move in if I feel that an executive is being unfair to a member of the staff, or is treating him less than a human being.  Every staff member—we all have failures.  We all have frailty.  You have, I have, and everyone has.  We must recognize this.  Management must recognize this.  Every employee is entitled to his self respect and to the respect of the members of his family and his colleagues.  It is terrible to humiliate an employee in front of his colleagues, and certainly in front of his family to where he would lose self-respect.  Only if the employee commits misdeeds to the point where you have to act, even when that happens, we do it very privately.  We try to put as good a face on it as we can possibly put.  I would like to say before the interview concludes.  I don't really care what our critics say.  We are number one in the southwest.  If we were guilty of all the faults that our critics claim we are, I do not believe that we would be number one in the southwest.  In each report of recent years, we have been widening that gap.  Let the critics look to their own ethics, if they have any.

LM:           Before the interview began, we were talking for a few moments about your friendship with LBJ, Lyndon Johnson, and you mentioned that when the Chronicle opposed his re-election.

EC:      In '48.  Not his re-election.  His race for the United States Senate in 1948.

LM:           56:42 You mentioned that he had brought this up to you, and I was wondering—how this affected your friendship with him.

EC:      Didn't, basically.  You see, I was political editor in 1948 and although I advised management on political policy, I did not sit in the council that formed political policy in 1948.  I knew what was going on, but the president kidded me many times on that.  For example, during the runoff—and I think that 1948, August of '48 had to be the hottest summer on record in Texas.  I was covering Lyndon Johnson for the Chronicle.  He would go by helicopter or plane and I'd try to keep up with him in a beaten up old Plymouth.  No air conditioning, of course.  Cars had no air conditioning in 1948.  And how I ever made it through, I don't know, but we were going to some small town and the other reporters would sit up in an air conditioned hotel and drink beer.  I was under orders that I could not print anything that I did not hear Lyndon Johnson say.  So I'd have—although his public relations man, a very good friend of mine to this day, Horace Bossley, who when his car went out, traveled with me.  Although the Chronicle was opposing Lyndon Johnson and supporting Coke Stevenson, in the later part of the campaign his public relations man rode with me, Horace Bossley.  The president would get up and maybe there would be twelve people at the rally.  No one was going to rallies in 1948.  And the president would get up and he'd say, "You see that man sitting over there?  That's Everett Collier of the Houston Chronicle.  Now you think he's here to report the news.  No he isn't.  He's here to distort the news.  He's here to get me."  After it was over, he would unhook that microphone, come over and put his arm around me and say, "Everett, let's go get a cup of coffee." 

LM:           How did you personally see him as a reporter at that time?  Aside from your personal friendship with him.  Politically speaking?

 

EC:      I guess I'm a lot like Jack Valenti.  I just had rock bottom faith in him.  He is a tremendous leader.  I knew his qualities.  I knew he wasn't going to panic.  I knew his deep concern for the people and doing the right thing for the people.  This was not phoney in President Johnson, not at all.  He truly believed that.  Oddly enough, it's difficult to express why I felt that way.  There was a lot of Abraham Lincoln in Lyndon Johnson.  Those terrible strengths.  Those fundamental beliefs that come from the land.  There was nothing of the easterner Lyndon Johnson. 

LM:           During the—shortly after he left office.  There was much written about the inner turmoil he was going through because of the Vietnam War and what it had done to his domestic program.

EC:      Did you say after he left office?

LM:           Well, after his term ended, when he was in retirement. 

EC:      Yes, you mean after he came back to the ranch? 

LM:           Yes. Yes.

EC:      All right, now go ahead.

LM:           Did you have an opportunity to see him during that period?

EC:      Oh yes, numerous times.

LM:           Do you feel that he was going through this turmoil—regret?

EC:      No.  No.  No.  NO.  I cried the day he died, because the man was happy.  For the first time in many years, the man was happy.  I know on four or five occasions, I went up at his request and spent the whole day with him on the ranch.  In that old white Lincoln Continental.  We toured everything in those parts.  And he told me that he was happy.  Happier than he's ever been. He refused to get into politics.  He refused to grant interviews.  Because he did not want to interfere with the government that was sitting.  He had a strong feeling that way.  He said the office of President is difficult enough, without a former President complicating it for the man that's sitting there making the decisions.  I guess the last time I saw him, was in November before he died in January.  I spent the day with him at the ranch.  It hurt so badly when he died.  To see him peaceful and happy, at the ranch, back with his people and away from his dreadful, dreadful burden that he carried in his last year as President.  I was around him a good bit in that last year.

cue point

LM:           1:03:30 Did he indicate that he felt the Vietnam War had been a mistake?  I don't mean really from his involvement, but as far as his predecessors, when they became involved in it initially?

EC:      I do not ever recall him making any such statement.  Even to the last time that I was with him, and as I say, the last time I saw him personally was—in November before he died in the following January.  On that last visit, he gave me a little pillow that I treasure.  I have in my ranch house and it says on it, "This is my ranch, and I do as I damn please."  I would quote that to you—to express the President's attitude when he returned to the LBJ ranch. 

LM:           That pretty much, I think, explains his feelings--describes his feelings.

EC:      And why he would not give the interviews.  He tentatively agreed to give the Houston Chronicle the exclusive statements of his retirement.  We were to do it in April, but he died in January. 

LM:           I'd like to just—realized that time is running out—

EC:      Yes, I have to go very shortly.  I have a luncheon appointment.

LM:           Just one more question. 

EC:      Surely.

LM:           You spent many years as a reporter, and then of course, as a political editor—

EC:      White House correspondent.

LM:           Right.

EC:      National Political Editor.

LM:           You had a great opportunity, a rare one—to study politics both locally and nationally.  The question I'm going to ask now because we are interested in the local aspects, deals with the political base here.  From the time, say the early '50s till now or at least the late '60s, was there a shift in the political policy structure in Houston of—for example—as the increasing vote by minority groups, changed the political complexion of the city?

EC:      Of course it has.  Within the city limits, particularly.  As was witnessed by the last Mayor's election.  Thirty-two percent of the whites voted for Mayor Hofheinz.  Ninety-nine point four percent of the blacks that went to the polls, voted for Hofheinz.  That gave him his margin.  Fifty-seven percent of the qualified blacks went to the polls.  Somewhere between thirty-nine and forty-three percent of the qualified whites went to the polls.  Of course this makes a difference.

LM:           Do you see it as a departure or will it change the—

EC:      1:07:17 I'm not resentful of it or fearful of it, if that's what you mean.

LM:           Oh, no, no, no, not at all. 

EC:      I strongly believe in the right of the majority, regardless of ethnic background, I believe in the right of the majority.

LM:           I suppose the question I'm really getting to is—does this alter the establishment in the city—as such?  The political orientation, is it likely to come back?

EC:      Before a liberal decidedly does it alter.  On the contrary, I don't think—I think the liberal friend has reached its peak.  I think that I detect them going more conservative.  Ronald Reagan—subject I just as soon not get into—but you saw the results of the election.  You saw a hundred thousand people, more than one hundred thousand people in Texas, probably a fifth of those in Harris County, Texas, who had always voted in Democratic primaries.  They went into the Republican primary last May first and they voted for Ronald Reagan.  That is a pretty good straw in the wind, I think.  The Democrats had not better lose the independent segment of Texas.  Democrats have ruled Texas.  But Texas now has twelve million people.  That's newcomers from other states.  That's young people who did not grow up in this Democrat-oriented mental attitude, and they call themselves Independents.  I think you have as many Independents in this state today as you do Democrats.  I give you that straw in the wind. 

LM:           Okay, thank you.  Well, I really have used up my time, but I want to thank you for your participation in the oral history project, and for giving so freely of your time.

EC:      I enjoy it.  I love Houston with a passion.

LM:           I think that comes out in the interview.  Thank you.

End of tape.