UP IN NEW YORK at Brand X, James Reston published his last regular op-ed page column yesterday. Mr. Reston pointed out that he has been a reporter for The New York Times for 48 years now and has been writing two or three columns a week for the past 30. He thinks that's about enough, at least of the regular column regimen. "I'm off for a while," Mr. Reston explained -- invoking all those made-to-be-dashed fantasies busy people always have about at last finding time to work on the vegetable garden -- but he did say he planned to return to the paper to write "when I please." We know Mr. Reston well enough to believe, not just to hope, that the writing and reporting will continue to preempt concern for the well-being of the rutabagas. Mr. Reston is first and foremost, primally and hopelessly a journalist. His vegetables should not get their hopes up too high.
You cannot name anyone who has had a more pronounced and pervasive effect on the national news business than Scotty Reston, an unassuming, straight-arrow one-time sportswriter. In postwar Washington, through a period of great political transformation, when the country was accepting (grudgingly in some respects) a larger international role and an expanded role for the federal government in domestic affairs, and when the role of journalism itself was being transformed, Mr. Reston was at the center of events -- a hugely influential figure in establishing new terms of coverage and new standards of commentary.
He has been in enough fights over the years, and he hasn't always been victorious, or, for that matter, always right. But he has always been honorable and important, and he has always been a great worrier about and champion of the press. He worries about its standards, its obligations and its performance. He champions its right to do the job, to be there. Most notably, Mr. Reston has always been suspicious of the lazy, the flashy and the self-promoting in our business, and he tried to pass on these aversions to the large number of young journalists he more or less raised up in his day.
We could offer some more reasons, but we don't think any more are required, for expressing the hope that Scotty Reston will not stray too far or too frequently from journalism -- where he belongs -- into the fray with weeds and cabbage borers, which is a lost cause anyway.