Henry Simmons, a political, economics and science reporter in the Washington bureau and later London bureau chief in the 1960s and 1970s, was a classic “Boston cracked shoe WASP” well before author Tom Wolfe coined that characterization in his novel, Bonfire of the Vanities.
Simmons wore shiny old Brooks Brothers three button suits, with vest, and the well polished insteps of his plain brown straight-tipped shoes were literally cracked with age. Simmons went to Yale, called himself “The GOPPER” (as in GOP) and laughed with an acid cackle at what he considered to be the follies of the ideological left, and some of the ideological right as well. Ever canny, the Washington native taught a generation of newcomers how to stand in the shade of a utility pole while waiting for the traffic light to change in the sweltering Washington sun.
Simmons’ loved “wash and wear” synthetic fabric summer suits—his always in fake seersucker—when they arrived in the early 1960s. Ev Clark, a New York Times science reporter who later joined Newsweek, said he had been forced to share a motel room with Simmons during one of the early space launch missions at Cape Canaveral. Motels there then couldn’t individually handle the thousands of media who descended for each shot.
Washout: Clark came back to the room one afternoon and found Hank in the shower still wearing his suit, drip dry shirt and tie.
“Henry,” Ev exclaimed, “what are you doing?”
“Saving time,” said Simmons. “They’re wash and wear. I’m laundering while showering.” Simmons peeled off the suit coat, chucked it out onto the floor tiles, reached for his zipper, and Clark retired.
On the side, Simmons quietly ran what may have been the largest private (i.e., illegal) political betting book in the capital. He wrote his bets into an ever ready left breast pocket spiral notepad, but only from those he knew. But the word had spread and Henry knew hundreds if not thousands. He handicapped elections with cold-eyed dispassion, rigging odds in his favor to exploit the tendency of Washington’s largely liberal political cadres to back Democrats no matter what. “Hoist ‘em on their own petard,” he’d cackle.
Simmons would go into an election night with tens of thousands on his own book. He’d have laid off even more than that as excess risk with Las Vegas handicappers—if he could find ones who’d actually take the action. Simmons claimed that a lot of Las Vegas odds were quoted by gambling houses seeking publicity, not real action. “Jimmy the Greek won’t take action on most of the odds he quotes on TV,” Simmons claimed.
At the reception following Simmons funeral, the most frequently question among the mourners was, where is Henry’s book?
Kissinger's Saudi Gambit
Fights between New York and the Washington bureau over viewpoint erupted weekly. My biggest dispute grew from a disinformation campaign by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in early 1975 against Saudi Arabia.
Gerald Ford had replaced President Richard Nixon the prior August. Ford inherited soaring inflation and unemployment. The Gulf States, led by the Saudis, were once again raising prices.
Kissinger asked for an editorial board meeting [an off the record sit down with Newsweek’s top editors] in New York. The Washington bureau afterwards got a rocket from foreign editor Edward Klein. Kissinger—deeply off the record--had threatened war if the Saudi’s didn’t cut crude oil prices, Klein said. What’s the plan?
Same Story: Our White House, State, Treasury and Defense reporters all came back with the stone denials. There wasn’t even an idea drifting around, let alone a plan. Never mind the immorality of blitzing an ally. Our sources pointed out that the cash cost of seizing the fields and trying to produce oil amid an Arab world driven to fury by invasion would be astronomical.
We all agreed the real story was, what was Kissinger up to? Klein would have none of this. The Secretary of State was threatening war. Get the war story. Business Week editors had apparently held a similar meeting with Kissinger, and, with earlier deadlines, had published a short confused item about a possible Gulf war. Match that, Klein ordered. We beat reporters refused.
So bureau chief Mel Elfin, who had backed us all the way, had to assign our investigative reporter, Nick Horrock. Poor Nick was ordered to get retired CIA and Defense department officials to explain how such an attack would be executed if in fact one were ever made.
Bombed Out: Ed Klein ran Nick’s story as a two page spread, illustrated by a large schematic drawing showing invasion forces and U.S. warplanes dropping bombs on flaming oil fields.
I called Klein the following Tuesday morning.
“Can I ask one question?” I said.
“What?” Klein said.
“If we’re going to war to seize and produce oil, why does your art work show our planes destroying the oil fields?”
Long afterwards, our ambassador to Saudi Arabia at the time told me that he, like everyone else in the State Department, had not been clued in to Kissinger’s cage rattling. The stories in Newsweek and Business Week had seemed so fantastical that he had reassured the Saudi government without first checking with the State or Kissinger. The ambassador had then been fired by Kissinger for
ignoring protocol and not checking before reassuring the Saudi King.
Kissinger was a master at using and abusing the press. What was his point here? Was he trying to impress his new boss, President Ford, by appearing to help Ford with his biggest problem, the economy? Or was Kissinger setting the ambassador up? The ambassador said he had been leaning hard on the Saudi government to clean up the gross corruption in their contracting. The influential contractors and Saudi officials had been frantically lobbying Kissinger to get the ambassador out.
Reporters know they’ve been had when nobody matches their scoop. The Newsweek/Business Week stories have stood in lonely splendor to this day.
Anonymous has served in Washington longer than anyone else.