Nixon, by all accounts, was stunned by the turnabout. When he lost, he delivered a diatribe that would long haunt him, bitterly denouncing the press coverage — by which, it was widely realized, he meant The Times — and promising, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."
It's true that in 1958 Norman Chandler had promoted Williams, a 27-year Times veteran, to the top editor's job and had given him instructions to initiate a more aggressive and evenhanded approach to the news. But the newsroom was riddled with hacks and Norman Chandler was unwilling to make sweeping personnel changes or to approve the expenditures necessary to effect significant improvement.
His son was perfectly willing, indeed eager, to do and spend whatever was necessary to achieve journalistic respectability. Otis and Williams — "perhaps the ablest newspaper editor of his generation," in Halberstam's words — became a formidable team.
A 'Most Remarkable' Revolution
Within four years, Time magazine and others were routinely mentioning The Times as one of the three or four best newspapers in the country.
In a cover story on Chandler in 1967, Newsweek said, "In the six years since his father made him publisher of The Times, Chandler has staged one of the most remarkable palace revolutions in U.S. journalism.
"To put together his galaxy of star reporters, Otis Chandler employed what in much of the newspaper business amounts to a secret weapon — money."
The annual news department budget at The Times was $3.7 million when Chandler took over. His first year, he increased it 45%. By the time he left the publisher's office, it had increased tenfold during his tenure.
"We're going to spend as much money as it takes to be the best newspaper in the country and I mean, specifically, [better than] the New York Times," Chandler said in remarks to the paper's Washington Bureau in the mid-1960s.
The booming Southern California economy helped immeasurably, of course. So did the shutdown in January 1962 of the Mirror and the Examiner, the morning Hearst newspaper.
With the Mirror still losing money, it had been Chandler who wanted it closed, and his father had reluctantly concurred. When the Hearsts and Chandlers agreed to fold the two papers, The Times acquired a monopoly in the increasingly lucrative morning market, while Hearst's Los Angeles Herald-Express (renamed the Herald Examiner) was left with a monopoly in the increasingly problematic afternoon market.
The agreement made sense financially for The Times, but it proved to be a boon in another way as well. Under Chandler's direction, The Times scrambled to hire the best of the reporters and editors from the two defunct papers.
Seldom has a newspaper had such an opportunity — to meld the best of three staffs. Thomas, who was among the editors brought over from the Mirror, said he believed that the windfall of local talent was as responsible for The Times' subsequent success as the hiring of big guns from the East.
"You transformed the entire staff," he said, "and the whole place had a totally different attitude."
Within a few years, The Times had a 2-1 lead over the Herald Examiner in advertising revenue, which provides about 80% of the income for most newspapers. The Hearst paper was subsequently hit by a devastating strike and ceased publication in 1989.
Chandler was both more willing than most publishers to reinvest the paper's rising profits in editorial improvements and more visionary in his approach to newspapering. He foresaw the sprawling megalopolis that Los Angeles and its neighboring counties would become, and he wanted The Times to be the dominant paper "from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border."
He started the Orange County edition to serve the burgeoning population there — the first such satellite plant for any metropolitan daily in the country.
Concerned by the growing competition from television, Chandler urged his editors to transform the paper into a regional daily newsmagazine that placed a high premium on analysis, interpretation and good writing — not just covering the day's events but putting them in context and doing so in a lively and compelling fashion.