Herbert G. Klein (1918-2009) enjoyed a long and successful career in the fields of journalism and communications. He worked as a newspaper journalist and editor, media consultant and executive, and most famously, as the first Director of Communications for the Executive Branch under President Richard M. Nixon.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Klein graduated from the University of Southern California in 1940 with a degree in journalism. Upon graduation he joined the reporting staff of Copley Newspapers' Alhambra (California) Post-Advocate where he worked as a reporter and feature editor until 1950, with the exception of four years (1942-1946) spent in the United States Navy. His first editorial was written in support of Richard Nixon's campaign for Congress in 1946. In 1950, he joined the editorial staff of another Copley newspaper, the Evening Tribune, and in 1952 moved to the San Diego Union, where he served in a variety of editorial assignments, culminating in his appointment as editor in 1959. Amongst his many assignments during these years was covering the atomic tests held on the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Klein first met Nixon in 1946 when he was assigned by the Post-Advocate to cover the latter's campaign for Congress; before the campaign was over he had agreed to serve as Nixon's Press Agent for the remainder of the campaign. Klein went on to assist Nixon in all of his subsequent campaigns, serving as Press Agent to Nixon during the 1948 Congressional campaign (during which time he also spent three months in Washington, D.C., as correspondent for Copley Newspapers), Press Agent for Nixon's 1950 Senate campaign, California Director of Information for the 1952 Vice-Presidential campaign, and Assistant Press Secretary during the 1956 Vice-Presidential campaign. In 1959 he rejoined Vice-President Nixon's staff as Staff Advisor and Press Secretary in order to organize press activities for Nixon's trip to Russia; for that trip, he convinced the Soviet authorities to rescind both their censorship directive and limits on the number of correspondents that could travel with the Vice-President, thus allowing the Nixon party to travel with relative freedom in the Soviet Union. He remained on Nixon's staff to serve as Press Secretary for the 1960 Presidential campaign, and he served in this capacity until the end of the Eisenhower administration in 1961. He also served as Press Secretary for Nixon's 1962 California Gubernatorial campaign, and rejoined Nixon's staff in August 1968 as Manager of Communications for the 1968 Presidential campaign. Nixon appointed him the first Director of Communications for the Executive Branch, a post he occupied from January 1969 until July 1973. He returned to the White House briefly in May 1974 to help coordinate the release of the transcripts of the White House tapes to the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry.
As Director of Communications, Klein was charged with bridging the "credibility gap" that was perceived to exist between the White House and the American public. His duties included coordinating all public relations activities of the Executive Branch, and to provide a free flow of information between the White House and the press. As such, he worked with the President, Cabinet, and senior members of the White House staff in public relations activities for all aspects of Administration policies and activities. Often called "the press man's press secretary," Klein enjoyed collegial and friendly relationships with members of the media and developed a reputation for straightforwardness; conversely, his relationships with other members of Nixon's staff, namely H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Chuck Colson, were not so cordial. In an interview with the New York Times in 1974, Klein stated that there was a basic difference in philosophy between Nixon and himself when it came to dealing with the press. Nixon advocated a hard line; Klein did not. As a result of this difference of opinion, and despite his sweeping responsibilities, Klein was soon overshadowed by other members of the administration, including Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler. In interviews, Klein admitted that he would have left the administration earlier than July 1973, but did not want to give the impression that his departure was in any way connected with the deepening Watergate scandal. However, in his 1980 memoirs, Making it Perfectly Clear, Klein stated that he quit after being told his staff was to be cut in half and he would report to Mr. Ziegler.
Klein was instrumental in ensuring that the news flowing from the Nixon administration was not limited to interpretations by the White House press corps. He organized regional editorial backgrounders, or information sessions, for journalists and editors across the country. He traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia in 1970 as part of a Presidential fact-finding mission on the status of military operations in Vietnam. He was instrumental in implementing the newly-enacted Freedom of Information Act, serving as a conduit between the administration and the news media on many FOIA requests.
As a journalist, Klein enjoyed a long and successful career. With the exception of leaves of absence to work on Nixon's campaigns, Klein worked, from 1950-1968, as an editorial writer, editorial page director, associate editor, executive editor, and Editor (1959-1968) of various Copley Newspaper publications. After his resignation from the Office of Communications, Klein joined the staff of Metromedia, Inc., as Vice President for Corporate Relations (1973-1977). From 1977 to 1980 he worked as an independent media consultant in Los Angeles, and finally, from 1980 until his retirement in 2003, as Editor-in-Chief of the Copley Press. His 1980 memoirs detail his time spent with Nixon and the love-hate relationship between the media and the White House. Among his many journalistic achievements was service as a juror for the 1968 Pulitzer Prize in Journalism, member of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (1966-1968), active member of the National Editorial Writers' Association, the Associated Press Managing Editors' Organization, and United Press International Editors. He was an active officer of Sigma Delta Chi, the national journalism society.
Klein was also actively involved in public service and philanthropic pursuits. He served, at the invitation of Governor Ronald Reagan, on the Commission of the Californias beginning in 1967. He was a Life Trustee of the University of Southern California and an active alumnus (he was a recipient of the University's Distinguished Achievement award in 1969 and an honorary doctorate in 2006, and served as president of the General Alumni Association). He was a trustee of the UC San Diego Foundation, a member of the director's cabinet of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and a trustee of the Scripps Foundation for Medicine and Science. He was an officer of the American Legion, president of the Alhambra Junior Chamber of Commerce, member of the San Diego chapter of the American Red Cross, Kiwanis Club, and Rotary, and in 1971 received the Greater Los Angeles Headliner of the Year award. He was also on the board of the National Presbyterian Church. After his retirement from Copley Newspapers, he continued to write articles and grant interviews about the state of American politics and the media and hosted a local weekly current events television program on San Diego's KUSI until the day before his death.
From the guide to the Herbert G. Klein papers, 15th-17th centuries, 1932-2009 (Bulk 1960-1973), (USC Libraries Special Collections)
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