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Public Papers - 1989 - June

Remarks at the Wall Street Journal Anniversary Dinner in New York, New York


Well, thank you, Warren, and all of you at Dow Jones, Wall Street Journal for inviting Barbara and me to be with you tonight; and I really am pleased to be here. I'm delighted to see so many friends, including this one right up here -- Lionel Hampton. This is a nonpartisan evening, but politically, we've been together for a long, long time.

Your 100th birthday -- talk about a big event. This morning, I saw Willard Scott on TV holding up a birthday snapshot of The Wall Street Journal. And speaking of television, Barbara and I have staying with us our grandson George P. -- our oldest grandson, from Florida. And I told him I'd be spending the evening with a lot of famous people in the media, the media elite. He asked me to get an autograph from Morton Downey. [Laughter] But seriously, Warren was telling me about this get-together, and this is an impressive audience. And as I look around, if anything catastrophic happened in the Winter Garden, the Fortune 500 would be lucky to keep in the just double digits.

But 100 years ago, what was it like? It wasn't cars but carriages that crowded the New York cobblestones on July 8, 1889. Telephones and electric lights were just catching on. It was the year that the Oklahoma Territory opened and the Johnstown flooded and Mark Twain penned ``A Connecticut Yankee.'' Another year would pass before Sitting Bull would perish in the Sioux uprisings. And as the Sun rose over Manhattan on that hot July Monday, John D. Rockefeller was preparing to celebrate his 50th birthday. And upriver -- I saw Eli Jacobs here, and he'll be interested in this -- upriver, 10,000 baseball fans filled the new Polo Grounds, with another 5,000 crowding the nearby bluffs, to see New York down Pittsburgh 7 to 5.

And from a modest office not far from where we stand, the Wall Street Journal was distributed to a few hundred readers for 2 cents a copy. And the first front page contained another historic first -- your first typo. [Laughter] It was in a story about John L. Sullivan's victory in the bare-knuckle heavyweight championship, won after 75 grueling rounds. It was to be the Nation's last such drawn-out, bare-knuckle fight until they invented leveraged buyouts and Presidential primaries. [Laughter]

From those modest beginnings, the Wall Street Journal emerged to become America's ledger sheet, chronicling war and depression and prosperity, as we grew from a frontier society to the frontiers of space -- the world's dominant financial power.

Arthur Miller observed that ``a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself.'' Well, in my view, the Journal is like that. In a changing world that offers 64 channels of cable television, the 6 columns of the Wall Street Journal are as familiar as the morning coffee at our breakfast tables. And its pages tell the story of our times. Only once in 100 years did it carry a banner headline. The day after Pearl Harbor, September 7th, 1941 -- [laughter] -- make that December 7th, 1941. But after the war, the Journal came to Texas the same year I did, 1948, when it began printing in Dallas. Your chairman, Warren Phillips, had been hired as a copyreader the year before, in time to see the first of the paper's 13 Pulitzers. Not that every article was a Pulitzer Prize winner. In 1967 a front-page story on China predicted the Communist government wouldn't last the year. A decade later, in 1979, the Wall Street Journal became the largest circulation daily in the Nation, but one rival complained that it was only because so many subscribers were at an age where they forgot to cancel. [Laughter]

Speaking of age -- and literally apropos of absolutely nothing -- Bob Hope told this story about aging at the Joe Gibbs charity dinner in Washington this week that Barbara and I attended, and that our guest here Kay Graham's son sponsored. Two men, two old men, sitting on a park bench -- and the first one said, ``Do you know how old I am?'' The second one said, ``Stand up, turn around, drop your trousers down. Now pat yourself on the back. Okay, pull up your trousers, sit back down here on this bench.'' The man said, ``Well, how old am I?'' He said, ``You're 93 years old, 4 months and 3 days.'' The first guy said, ``How did you know that?'' He said, ``You told me yesterday.'' [Laughter]

Well, anyway, on the day after the 1980 election, the lead editorial -- the 1980 election -- the lead editorial celebrated Ronald Reagan's mandate. And President Reagan told me, ``Well, one day your day will come.'' And it did. And the day after I was elected President, the headline read -- and I kid you not -- ``Jim Wright's Mandate.'' [Laughter] Go look it up. [Laughter]

I told Al Hunt, though, how much I enjoy the Journal. He asked if it's the front page, the conservative editorials, or the news coverage. I said, ``No, none of those, none of the above. It's because you don't carry ``Doonesbury.'' [Laughter]

All kidding aside, the Wall Street Journal has a proud and enviable tradition. And although you deal in the world's most perishable product -- news, polls have repeatedly shown that your paper is one of America's most trusted publications. A reputation like that can only be earned by adherence to your founders' pledge to always have the news ``honest, intelligent, and unprejudiced.'' In modern times, your reporters have carried this pledge beyond business reporting, in coverage of events like the civil rights struggle, the recent tragedy in Beijing -- carrying on a proud American tradition of braving intimidation to bring the truth into the light.

And many at the Journal have gone beyond their professional obligations and set examples of another old-fashioned tradition that is very much on my mind today: the tradition of public service. Three years ago, John Fialka wrote a column-one story entitled ``Sisters In Need,'' chronicling the poverty that had befallen the growing ranks of retired clergy in America, and it provoked a swell of readership response. And so, John and others at the Journal founded ``SOAR'' -- ``Support Our Aging Religious'' -- and raised more than million to aid 30 different orders.

A similar public response occurred in 1987 after the publication of ``Urban Trauma,'' Alex Kotlowitz's moving account of 3 months in the life of a kid, Lafayette Wilson -- a kid, a 12-year-old boy struggling to survive in a dangerous Chicago project. And Alex stayed in touch with Lafayette. And last summer they passed the hat at the Journal and gave this kid and his brother a season of peace in the woods of a Wisconsin boy's camp.

Personal gestures, profound actions, sometimes life-changing in their effect -- these are the works of men and women who know that prosperity without purpose means nothing.

And earlier today, I announced a new initiative calling on all levels of government -- both sectors, public and private -- to enlist in a new crusade to bring national service into every corner of America. And that crusade begins with a simple truth: From now on, any definition of a successful life must include serving others.

And I may never have as important an audience to carry this message to as you who are gathered in the Winter Garden tonight -- the American business community, who has supported conservative policies. We're enjoying prosperous years, but not all Americans are part of that prosperity, and I ask that business do its part. Prosperity cannot be truly enjoyed unless the Points of Light about which I've spoken shine on every American in need. Many of you are CEO's [chief executive officers] with galaxies at your command. And it is my request -- and I believe, your obligation -- to donate the services of the talented and the enterprising within your ranks. Many of you are setting the pace; many of you are doing this now. Everyone should do this now.

And shortly after the Wall Street Journal was founded, 100 years ago, the Census Bureau declared that the frontier no longer existed in America. But the Wall Street Journal -- you've proven them wrong by advancing across ever-new frontiers of technology and geography and innovation. And I said it a week ago, looking eastward across America from the foot of those majestic Grand Tetons: The challenges ahead are in the frontiers of the mind and in the good that hard work and the human imagination can bring to pass.

Not long after bringing home the Journal's first Pulitzer Prize, William Grimes expressed a simple creed. He wrote: ``We believe in the individual, in his wisdom and his decency.'' Now, that's a worthy tenet, one we can all carry forth from tonight's celebration and on to a renewed commitment to service tomorrow. To all at the Journal, I send you my heartfelt congratulations on this landmark, wish you success as your second century begins. And to all here tonight: Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 8:49 p.m. in the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center. In his remarks, he referred to Warren Phillips, chief executive officer of Dow Jones   Co., Inc.; entertainer Lionel Hampton; television personalities Willard Scott and Morton Downey; Eli S. Jacobs, owner of the Baltimore Orioles; playwright Arthur Miller; Katherine and Donald Graham, chairman of the board and publisher of the Washington Post, respectively; and Albert Hunt, Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.

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