In April 1953, Post publisher Philip Graham jolted many in the newsroom when he elevated Mr. Estabrook to one of the newspaper’s most visible jobs: running the editorial page. At 34, he was the youngest member of the editorial writing staff and had labored mostly in the shadow of editorial page editor Herbert Elliston, who had retired from the top job because of ill health.
Mr. Estabrook remained editorial page editor for eight years. It was, he once wrote, an era of “formidable extension of Soviet power, the rise of Asian and African nationalism, and the dawning of the space age.” He summed it up as “a time of violence and change, disappointment and challenge, fearsome threat and immense promise.”
The issue that largely defined Mr. Estabrook’s tenure was the anti-communist witch hunt fueled by Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.). The editorial page had long been a pugnacious voice against what Mr. Estabrook called the senator’s “wild charges” and “ferocious assaults upon civil liberties.”
When McCarthy died in 1957, Mr. Estabrook wrote that “his monument is a noun that has come to be a synonym for reckless slander. His memory cannot be divorced from a trail of shattered careers and groveling agencies, of cultivated suspicions that set Americans blindly against Americans, of a humiliating debasement of America’s standing in the free world.”
In his history of the paper, journalist Chalmers Roberts called Mr. Estabrook an “indefatigable worker, a human vacuum cleaner in conducting interviews at home and abroad.” Yet, as Roberts wrote, he was a victim of Graham’s mercurial disposition.
Graham once defended Mr. Estabrook against an airline that threatened to pull its advertising account after being targeted in an editorial. But Mr. Estabrook’s mildly critical editorial against the Kennedy administration’s botched Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 led to a showdown with Graham. The publisher killed the editorial without telling Mr. Estabrook.
“Phil did not explain in any detail why he had pulled the editorial, but in a subsequent discussion I told him that when the newspaper changed its position on a major subject I felt it had an obligation to say why on the editorial page,” Mr. Estabrook later wrote in a memoir. “This seemed to incense him; I could almost see a mental curtain come down in his head. I was no longer persona grata.”
J. Russell Wiggins, who oversaw The Post’s news and editorial departments, talked Graham out of firing Mr. Estabrook and sent him instead across the Atlantic as the paper’s London correspondent. He remained there until 1965 and then relocated to New York to cover the United Nations.