REMEMBERING RALPH STORY
"By J. Michael Kennedy, Times Staff Writer
September 27, 2006
"Ralph Story, the veteran radio and television personality best known for
his wry and witty observations about life in Los Angeles, died Tuesday at
his home in Santa Ynez after a long battle with emphysema. He was 86."
He was the best newsman and story-teller of them all in Los
Angeles. He was a good friend, but didn't let that get in his way
when a TV appearance he wanted me to arrange for him went awry. It was this
When Richard Nixon was elected, I knew it was time for me to resign from my
job with the government's "War on Poverty" in San Francisco and go home to
L.A. Ralph was among my contacts and said he'd try to help.
Come 1971, I was handling the public information job at the RAND Corporation
when Dan Ellsberg's leak of the "Pentagon Papers" -- taken from RAND's
top-classified files -- broke in the New York Times. I had always secretly
admired what Dan had done, but found myself in the midst of a disaster for
Ralph called. "Will you get me someone from RAND for my morning show
tomorrow to talk about it?"
"Sorry, Ralph," I said, swinging into my p.r. spin, "Dan is a fugitive
from justice and it wouldn't be proper for us to talk about it at this
I'm sure he expected that and laughed. "Well, what can. . ."
I probably broke in about then and thought, hmmm, maybe I can find someone
high in the management to talk -- not about Ellsberg, but what RAND is and
what it does.
"I can get you reports that Ellsberg wrote at RAND that are unclassified.
But suppose I can get you one of our people to explain what we do -- both in
defense and domestic research?"
Undoubtedly, Ralph thought that would be a good idea to get his oar in on
the story . . .would answer his questions and at least get a
"we-can't-comment-on-that" from his guest.
Gus Shubert, our vice-president who was a splendid overseer of my office
among his other duties, agreed. Great. Arrangements were completed for him
to go to the studio.
Morning arrived. Time for Gus to get along. My phone rang.
"Harry wants to speak with you." It was the secretary to RAND's
president, Henry Rowen."
(We called them secretaries then. Now they are "assistants.")
I trembled. I think I knew what was coming.
"Cancel that thing right now!" he ordered. "We won't have Gus going down
"But," I sputtered, "we've already agreed to Gus' appearing. . Story's going
to have five minutes of time to fill!"
Jack Vogel, my immediate supervisor as head of the publications department,
heard my sad story. Story wouldn't be sad. . .He would be mad at HELL! Jack
"We'll tape record it," he said. Brilliant idea. We did.
You should have heard Ralph spout: "Who are these people who hide what
they're doing with taxpayers' money?" or words to that effect. "They
exist on government contracts. What's so mysterious about them?"
Oh, didn't he lay it on to us. . . snubbing the media , , , high fallutin'
research scientists who won't talk to the people. Five full minutes of it.
Well, maybe I don't remember a break or two to champion Wheaties or
"Paul," Jack Vogel said, "we'll take it down to the management's morning
committee meeting. You come with me."
"OK, Jack, but. . ."
"We will play the whole thing for them."
Silence. Then a snigger or two. Silence.
It was my turn to get mad. I started to fire away at all of them.
"Gentlemen," (I don't remember any ladies present in those days), you've
answered up to now to the Defense Department, a few Congressional
committees, and. . .". I don't know if there was anyone else on the list..
."and now you're going to answer to everyone from Peoria to Timbuktu." Yes,
I remember saying Timbuktu, but I guess Timbuktu didn't care what the hell
I sat down. Well, I said to myself, you've talked your way out of another
job. I'd get fired. I learned over the next 19 years or so that RAND doesn't
settle its internal problems that way. Everyone got a chance to blow his or
her top once in awhile.
Harry Rowen had always called me Paul. RAND likes the idea of everyone
calling each other by their first names, no matter how high or how low they
are on the ladder.
Hary Rowen rose. He turned to me. He took a deep breath.
"Well, Mr. Weeks, we will continue doing it MY WAY!"
By golly, we didn't. I never had so much satisfaction over the next
couple of decades proving to this high-touted think tank that you have
to keep the door wide open to the press. Tell them what you do. Give the
public an accounting of what you do, just as you do to your sponsors.
Harry Rowen was a brilliant scientist himself. He had to take much of the
rap for what had happened. Ellsberg had been a close friend. Ellsberg, out
of conscience, betrayed him and RAND. But Dan told the truth about the
terribly botched war in Vietnam. I have told him that.
Ralph, I owe you much gratitude because it was you who gave a very important
institution in the shaping of governmental response to heavy problems a
lesson how it best serves its broad constituency.
Rest in peace.
Paul Weeks is a distinguished veteran journalist who worked for the Los Angeles Daily
News, Mirror, Times, and later the RAND Corporation. He lives in Oceanside and works as a
freelance writer and columnist for the Stockton Record.