Of all the political figures to benefit from The Times' partisanship over the years, none had been more favored, or more successful, than Nixon.
Since his first run for Congress in 1946, he had been championed by The Times as he successfully ran for U.S. Senate and then for the vice presidency on the Eisenhower ticket. He had the paper's support when he ran unsuccessfully for president in 1960.
But by 1962, The Times had become a different institution.
Williams and Frank McCullough, one of the paper's two managing editors, agreed at the outset of the gubernatorial campaign to monitor the coverage inch by inch to ensure that both candidates were covered fairly and equally. The paper warmly endorsed Nixon but also praised Brown's accomplishments in the same editorial.
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."
Years later, Otis Chandler would insist that the paper "wasn't as bad as some people said when I took over. My dad had already started to make improvements."
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.