When Sun-Times didn’t hire Madeleine Albright, it changed her life; editor called her ‘honey’
A rebuff by a top editor at the Sun-Times was a turning point in the life of Albright, who became the first female Secretary of State when President Bill Clinton tapped her for the post.
WASHINGTON — Now and then when I would see Madeleine Albright, who died Wednesday at the age of 84, she would rib me about the Chicago Sun-Times not hiring her as a reporter.
Indeed, a rebuff by a top editor at the Sun-Times who called her “honey” was a turning point in the life of Albright, who became the first female Secretary of State when President Bill Clinton tapped her for the post.
Albright studied journalism and politics as a student at Wellesley College. A few days after graduating, she married Joseph Medill Patterson Albright, a member of the newspaper clan that owned the Chicago Tribune.
Joe Albright’s great-great-grandfather was the Chicago Tribune’s Joseph Medill. His grandfather was Joseph Medill Patterson, who founded the New York Daily News.
As author Michael Dobbs wrote in his biography, “Madeleine Albright, A Twentieth-Century Odyssey,” after the wedding, Joe joined the Army Reserves. Madeleine moved to Missouri to join him, getting a part-time job as a reporter for the Rolla Daily News.
The couple moved to Chicago, where Joseph Albright was a Chicago Sun-Times reporter.
When I interviewed Albright in 2012 — for a story on the NATO summit in Chicago — we talked about her Chicago life. She lived in the city, she said, between portions of 1960 and 1962. The couple lived at 2735 N. Pine Grove Ave.
Her in-laws had homes on Lake Shore Drive and Division Street and in Libertyville. Albright told me the first time she voted, it was in Chicago — for John Kennedy, in 1960.
She was at the massive torchlight parade the late Mayor Richard J. Daley organized for Kennedy. Remembered Albright: “It was really one of the most wonderful political experiences, and it happened in Chicago.”
In her memoir, “Madam Secretary,” Albright wrote about visiting Joe’s parents “in their spacious brownstone on Division Street,” where the paintings of Ivan Albright — the famous artist was part of the family — adorned the walls.
When the couple was engaged, she wrote, the Sun-Times, in a story with a six-column headline, proclaimed: “Joseph Albright Will Marry in June.” The story had a photo of the groom, not the bride. “My name did make it into the second sentence.”
As Dobbs wrote, “Madeleine wanted very much to be part of Joe’s world. She applied for a job at the Sun-Times but was turned down on the grounds of the company’s anti-nepotism policy.
“As she later recollected the conversation, one of the newspaper’s editors, Emmett Dedmon, took her out to dinner and told her, ‘Honey, you may want to be a reporter, but you can’t be on the paper your husband works for, so why don’t you find another career? “It made me mad, but not mad enough to fight,” she said later.
“Instead, she went to work for the publicity department of the Encyclopedia Britannica, researching answers to subscribers questions.
“Being turned down for a job in journalism proved a blessing in disguise for Madeleine, who now says, ‘I would have been a lousy reporter.’”
Chicago at the time had four papers. Albright wrote in her memoir: “I thought I had a good chance of finding a spot at one of the other three, but it wasn’t to be.”
In Albright’s memoir her version of that fateful conversation with a Sun-Times editor went like this: At a “social dinner,” Joe’s managing editor asked, “So what’re you going to do, honey?”
When she said get a job on a newspaper, the editor — unnamed in her book — said: “‘Of course it really wouldn’t be helpful to your husband’s career if his wife were to work for a competing newspaper. So I’m afraid you’ll have to consider doing something else.’ Decades later I can think of many answers I might have given that evening. Instead I said nothing and went along.”
Joe and Madeleine Albright left Chicago for Long Island, where Joe worked at another family newspaper, Newsday. The couple later divorced.
Along the way Madeleine Albright earned a Ph.D. in Russian studies at Columbia University, worked on Capitol Hill, in the Carter White House and ended up at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Clinton nominated her to be Secretary of State on December 5, 1996.
As Albright would remind me, none of this would likely have happened if the Sun-Times had hired her as a reporter.