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Remembering Bill Schulz: Reader's Digest's 'Once in a Generation' Editor

Bill Schulz
Bill Schulz, the longtime Washington, D.C. editor of Reader's Digest (Photo courtesy of Schulz Family)

Friday, 26 July 2019 03:24 PM Current | Bio | Archive

A few months before the recent death of Bill Schulz, the longtime Washington, D.C. editor of Reader's Digest, we were having lunch and I cited a familiar lament of reporters these days: one of the higher-ups told me to go easier on lunches and not submit so many in my expense account.

Knowing well that cultivating sources was important to a reporter's beat, I asked him, did he ever have a similar experience when he was told not to spend so much on business lunches?

"I was told I wasn't spending enough!" Schulz shot back with his trademark booming laugh, recalling how in the 1970s he received a terse note from the Digest's main office in Pleasantville, New York informing him his expenses were beneath those that the Washington, D.C. editor of a major publication was expected to submit.

(Schulz did change this, and before long he had his "regular table" at Washington’s storied Palm Restaurant. There, he regularly hosted officials of the Reagan Administration such as Secretary of Education William Bennett, along with Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y. and other major figures of the time — many of whom would become his trusted friends).

This was just one of scores of examples where William Martin Schulz (who died on July 22 at age 80) was an editor and journalist from another time and who used the tools of his trade and made a great publication even greater.

For more than three decades at the helm of Reader’s Digest's Washington office, Schulz employed sagas on homespun American values and the evils of communism to help make the venerable publication a force of nature.

At its height, the Digest had a readership of 50 million worldwide and 18 million paid subscribers.

Beginning in 1976, major party presidential nominees would experience the quadrennial exercise of an interview with Bill Schulz and his Digest colleagues.

"And so much of what came out of Washington in the Digest was built around trust in Bill as an editor," said Tom Pauken, a longtime Texas conservative activist and head of the federal domestic volunteer organization ACTION under President Reagan.

"He'd take me to those lunches at Joe and Moe's and other nice restaurants in Washington. I’d tell him how the left used ACTION to advance its agenda and how we were going to stop it. You could always trust Bill on what was on or off the record."

Schulz's background and training was unique and even unusual for the journalist he became. He freely admitted he was a mediocre student at the prestigious Bronx School of Science in New York and usually finished each year near the bottom of his class.

Like the columnist Walter Winchell, Schulz never learned to type, and used the "two-finger method" for his entire life (although he did finally master computers enough to handle e-mail and use it to "command" this reporter to join him for lunch).

He hated his alma mater, the decidedly liberal Antioch College of Ohio ("[Roommate] Andy Gollan and I were the only conservatives in that cesspool of leftism!") And, in fact, quit in his final year. For Schulz, his true education was working summers editing (and sometimes writing) columns and broadcasts for the legendary radio commentator Fulton Lewis, Jr.

Schulz was a natural to work for conservative icon Lewis. As a teenager, he had heard conservative economist Ludwig von Mises and was strongly influenced by him.

He also came to tremendously admire the anti-communist Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wis. — to whom he wrote a letter and received in reply a personal telegram from his hero that he proudly kept framed in his home.

Schulz was one of the young conservatives who signed the Sharon Statement of principles for modern conservatism at the home of William F. Buckley, Jr. in Sharon, Connecticut.

Following Lewis' death in 1966, Schulz moved over to Reader’s Digest. Over the next three decades, Schulz would shape the direction of the publication with colleagues such as Ralph Bennett and future Voice of America head Kenneth Y. Tomlinson.

In retirement, Schulz continued to mentor young journalists and help authors whip their memoirs in shape. Both syndicated columnist Robert Novak and former Secretary of the Treasury William Simon had Schulz's editing in the sculpting of their autobiographies.

"I was lucky enough to come to know Bill in 2012 when he was already retired from Reader's Digest," David Pietrusza, historian and author of seven books on U.S. presidents, told us. "But mentally and emotionally, he was never really retired. The word 'legendary' is thrown around fairly loosely these days, but it did not take me very long to recognize why he was 'Bill Schulz, legendary Reader's Digest Washington editor.' He was well-read and well-spoken, a giant of the Washington scene, but, more importantly, a great friend with a great heart. Those who knew him already miss him terribly — and wish he were here to edit our fumbling words of praise."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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Newsmax's John Gizzi remembers the life and career of Bill Schulz, the longtime Washington, D.C. editor of Reader's Digest.
bill schulz, readers digest
Friday, 26 July 2019 03:24 PM
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