Laurence (Larry) Stern

Laurence (Larry) Stern

Laurence (Larry) Stern was born in June, 1929. His father, August (Gus) Stern, worked in Washington for many years as a copy editor for various local newspapers.

Stern joined the US Army where he worked for the military newspaper, The Stars and Stripes.

Stern was educated at the University of Missouri and the New School for Social Research in New York before finding work with the United States Information Agency. In 1952 he joined the Washington Post as a reporter on the metropolitan staff.

Over the next few years Stern served as a national reporter. He was especially interested in political corruption. Stern helped to expose the Ling-Temco-Vought and Bobby Baker scandals in the early 1960s. Both these involved Lyndon B. Johnson, who was vice-president at the time. According to fellow journalist, Sterling Seagrave, Stern "was a champion of the underdog" and that this resulted in him having "a lot of enemies in high positions".

Stern also investigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Stern did not accept the conclusions of the Warren Commission and Sterling Seagrave claims that Stern discovered "who had been involved" in the killing of Kennedy.

Stern spent two years reporting on the Vietnam War. In the words of his colleague, Richard C. Harwood: "He (Stern) became early in the '70s, The Post's first Dulles Airport correspondent, available day or night to fly anywhere in the world for the big story. The job took him to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos for almost two years, where he observed in combat the collapse of the American effort. He covered the war in Cyprus, reported from the Middle East, from Italy, from London, from Paris, from Greece."

Stern, who eventually became assistant managing editor for national news at the Washington Post, was also the author of The Wrong Horse: The Politics of Intervention and the failure of American Diplomacy (1977).

Larry Stern died on 11th August, 1979. The Washington Post reported: "Stern, an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, was vacationing with old friends - Ward Just, John Newhouse, Jonathan Randal and Jim Hoagland. They played tennis yesterday and then Stern and Newhouse went jogging. As they went running, Stern bent over grabbed his ankle and said he had been stung by a bee. He collapsed. Newhouse gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It didn't work. Stern was taken to Martha's Vineyard Hospital, but he was dead when he arrived."

However, his friend and colleague, Sterling Seagrave, believes he may have been murdered: "It was postulated that he died from a coronary caused by a blood clot or something, and as I recall there was no autopsy because it was portrayed as a perfectly natural thing to happen. Sometimes when you get a coronary, you feel it first as a sharp pain in some other part of the body. But as you learn from studying snake venoms, neurotoxic venoms from vipers kill you in seconds, while haemotoxic venoms like those from cobras take as much as a minute or longer to travel through your bloodstream from your ankle or calf to your heart. This would obviously be the case with a blood clot. The key here is that Larry (and Norbert Schlei and others I've studied) felt a sting on the ankle, calf or thigh and then fell down dead in a matter of four or five seconds."

In 1979 the Washington Post created the Laurence Stern Fellowship for young journalists from Britain.The first twenty-seven fellows were:- David Leigh, James Naughtie, Penny Chorlton, Ian Black, Mary Ann Sieghart, Lionel Barber, Ewen MacAskill, Sarah Helm, Edward Vulliamy, Adela Gooch, Keith Kendrick, Liz Hunt, Jonathan Freedland, Ian Katz, Rebecca Fowler, Sarah Neville, Gary Younge, Audrey Gillan, Caroline Daniel, Will Woodward, Cathy Newman, Glenda Cooper, Helen Rumbelow, Tania Branigan, Mary Fitzgerald, Sam Coates and Anushka Asthana.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Ben Bradlee, A Good Life (1995)

Larry Stern played a key role in our lives, Sally's and my first, shared friend. We drove him to and from work every day. We had at least drinks together almost every night, and when Nora Pouillon and her pals, the Damato brothers, needed a little cash for sheetrock to finish the walls of their restaurant around the corner, Larry persuaded us to invest $5,000 in Nora's Restaurant.

(2) Ben Bradlee, statement on the death of Larry Stern (12th August, 1979)

His paper and his friends will be a long time getting over the loss of Larry Stern. He was a world class journalist. He wrote like a dream, with grace and precision. His commitment to excellence, to his staff, to his friends and to The Washington Post will be an example for all of us.

(3) Richard C. Harwood, Washington Post (13th August, 1979)

Laurence Marcus Stern, reporter, editor and author, died of a probable heart attack yesterday while jogging at Martha's Vineyard, Mass. He was 50 years old.

Stern, an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, was vacationing with old friends - Ward Just, John Newhouse, Jonathan Randal and Jim Hoagland. They played tennis yesterday and then Stern and Newhouse went jogging.

As they went running, Stern bent over grabbed his ankle and said he had been stung by a bee. He collapsed. Newhouse gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It didn't work. Stern was taken to Martha's Vineyard Hospital, but he was dead when he arrived...

He wrote a much-admired book, "The Wrong Horse," which dealt with the tragedy of Cyprus, and he contributed to several other books. He wrote magazine articles and even as an editor responsible for a large staff, constantly looked for opportunities to write. He found them frequently.

Stern had another, informal, function at The Post. He was a bridge between this country and journalists from around the world. They sought him out always - Vietnamese, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Turks, Greeks. That was a tribute to his international understanding and to his personality.

His career had an interesting progression. He won many awards writing about politics and corruption in the Washington metropolitan area. He moved then into the national arena and was singularly successful in dealing with the social and political issues of American life. But in the last years of his life, it was really international questions that absorbed his interest and energies.

He became early in the '70s, The Post's first "Dulles Airport correspondent," available day or night to fly anywhere in the world for the big story. The job took him to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos for almost two years, where he observed in combat the collapse of the American effort. He covered the war in Cyprus, reported from the Middle East, from Italy, from London, from Paris, from Greece.

British journalists intrigued him most of all. Among them, his friends were legion. He admired, especially, the Insight team of the Sunday Times of London and set up his own Insight unit at The Post in the late 1960s. There was an "Insight" project at the top of his list when he died yesterday.

Stern, one of his subordinate editors said yesterday, was "something of an enigma. It became something of a newsroom conceit, after Larry had had a dialogue with a colleague, to say, "I don't know what he said. I don't speak Zen." This never detracted from the fact that Larry knew exactly what a news article should say and how it should be said."

One reporter on the national staff of The Post who had worked for Stern for several years volunteered this observation:

"When Larry Stern was working on the national staff as a reporter, you could feel the whole atmosphere change. He was a reporter who made a difference - not only because of what he contributed to the paper under his own byline but because of the standard he set for everyone around him. Other reporters found themselves writing with more life and crispness because he was there doing it - pushing the rest of us."

There was a certain disorganization about his life. He made too many luncheon dates on the same day. He loved many women. Budgets never enthralled him. His checkbook was not often tidy. It was a legend at The Post that Stern mumbled ambiguous instructions, might or might not show up for this meeting or that and and probably would forget where he had parked his car.

But when it came to the job, to getting things done, he had no superior. He could produce instant and rather profound work - books, newspaper series, essays.

The honors his own profession gave him were impressive - the George Polk Memorial Award, the American Political Science Association Award, the Headliners Club Award, the Newspaper Guild Award, the fellowship of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was proud, for reasons his friends never knew, of having been one of the inventors of a game called "Influence," a political version of Monopoly.

(4) Richard Cohen, Washington Post (13th August, 1979)

Did you know him? Of course not. He was one of us. Our little secret. A gem. We did not share him with the world. He wrote, it is true. He wrote newspaper stories and magazine articles and a book, but the bigger part of him was still our secret. The smile for instance. You could not read that smile. I will tell you about him. I will tell you about Larry Stern.

He was 50 years old. He was short and walked very fast and had bad teeth and you had to see him as women did to realize that he was attractive. This was something women knew right off and men learned after a while and it was one of the reasons for the smile. He was a lover and he was loved in return.

The had been abroad a lot. He had been to the wars - Vietnam, for instance - and to islands in the Caribbean where English bobbies fought to maintain order with police whistles. Wherever he had gone, he made friends and when these friends came to America, they stayed with Larry Stern. They made his house a roost for semi-crazy, semi-nomadic writers. They ate his food and slept in his beds and there never were enough ashtrays. They came often with lovers and always with files and Larry just passed among them, smiling, understanding that they might be silly and that he, of course, was skeptical but they were also committed. He respected them for that.

Women came to live with him. They came with cats and plants and their own friends and sometimes they just sat on the stoop and cried. Larry would pass among them, too, smiling - always smiling - trying to let you know that he, too, thought that by his age he would have had all this under control. He was not oblivious to himself at all. He knew that by rights he had escaped the house in the suburbs for too long. He would be punished for all this.

He talked funny. He was hard to understand. There was an electric buzz about him because he thought so fast. He mugged his own sentences, jumping all over them with contradictions and addendums and thoughts that came in from the side streets of his mind. It was one big, mad intersection inside his head and he himself knew it. He laughed even before he said the joke and then thought he had said it and waited for a laugh. He read a lot, too, and he would ask you what you were reading - what besides the newspaper - and before you could answer he would say what he was reading.

There are funny stories and sad stories and stories about how he took a Mercedes to the front during the Vietnam war. He wrote that one and the war came home - a crazy, meaningless war in which a journalist could take a care to the front and record on the way the death and the dying and the stupidity of it all. There are stories, too, about his forgetfulness and about how he talked. But there are no stories - none - about cheating or selling out or being lousy to people. Go wherever journalists gather and ask about Larry Stern and they will tell you the stories and about his smile, but not one will have anything bad to say about him.

(5) Sterling Seagrave, The Strange Death of Larry Stern (29th January, 2007)

Larry was a close friend of mine, and became assistant managing editor of the WashPost. He was by far their star investigative reporter, and made a lot of enemies during the LTV scandal, the Bobby Baker scandal, and many others. He knew who had been involved in the JFK assassination. It was because he was totally straight (and a true champion of the underdog) that he was not chosen to become managing editor. Eventually, it was decided to get rid of him, so the Agency (or the Enterprise – meaning the privatized part of the Agency) had Larry shot with a compressed air rifle firing a tiny dart, the same method used on Schlei, and on many others. The choice of poisons varies, depending on the objective. This almost invisible dart has a much greater range than the jeweler’s watch bearing fired by the equivalent Soviet assassination weapon, used on the Bulgarian emigres. If you find this hard to believe, look closely at the snuffing of Dr. Richard Kelly in UK. As to Phil Graham, he was up to his ears in the manipulation of JFK in behalf of LBJ and the Robber Barons – as you’ve shown. Like several other big players, he began to go bonkers with the burden of what he had been involved in, was drinking heavily, whoring around so that Kay Graham was mightily pissed, and there were many of us at the WashPost who concluded that his purported suicide did not wash. It was an assisted suicide.

(6) Sterling Seagrave, The Strange Death of Larry Stern (3rd February, 2007)

My expertise on this topic comes from my research for Yellow Rain during which I became a very close friend of the chief forensic pathologist at the Agency, Dr. Christopher ("Kit") Green, who was here visiting last year with his second wife.

During that period (late 1970s, early 1980s) I was able to study snuffing methods of both the KGB and the Agency, and the pharmacopoeia, discussing much of this with Kit.

Larry Stern's death was described in the press as an incident while jogging on a beach in Martha's Vineyard with a friend, wearing a bathing suit.

He suddenly felt a beesting on his calf, halted and reached down presumably to brush off the bee (or whatever), and fell over dead. It was postulated that he died from a coronary caused by a blood clot or something, and as I recall there was no autopsy because it was portrayed as a perfectly natural thing to happen. Sometimes when you get a coronary, you feel it first as a sharp pain in some other part of the body. But as you learn fro studying snake venoms, neurotoxic venoms from vipers kill you in seconds, while haemotoxic venoms like those from cobras take as much as a minute or longer to travel through your bloodstream from your ankle or calf to your heart. This would obviously be the case with a blood clot. The key here is that Larry (and Norbert Schlei and others I've studied) felt a sting on the ankle, calf or thigh and then fell down dead in a matter of four or five seconds.

Larry had a lot of enemies in high positions, including some at the WashPost where Larry always was a champion of the Post's labor unions.

Larry's father had spent his life as a typesetter at the WashPost, so Larry was a champion of the underdog. And, as you know, champions of the underdog are often seen as pariahs by the Oligopoly. It was Larry who broke the Ling-Temco-Vought and Bobby Baker scandals, and many others, and the powers that be at the WashPost disliked him enough to by-pass him when it came time to appoint one of the Assistant Managing Editors to be the new Managing Editor.