Remenbering Ken Freed

By Adolphe Bernotas

Ken Freed was a friend and passionate union compatriot.

I got to know Ken during the 1970s when we served as members of Wire Service Guild-AP contract negotiating committees. At the time, Ken and the late Barry Schweid (also a Guild leader) had been key Washington AP diplomatic staffers who traveled around the world with Henry Kissinger.

Shirley Christian’s Connecting item on Ken’s death recalls that he claimed to have invented the phrase “shuttle diplomacy.” I had not heard that from him, but I was in the room when Ken coined the Wire Service Guild slogan “I’m a bricklayer!”

During those talks, which included the late Alexander “Sandy” Higgins, a company executive suggested that as journalists we were not blue-collar workers, but along with management, members of the lofty Fourth Estate fraternity doing heavenly work to protect the peoples’ right to know, toiling to preserve a free press, we the priests of the First Amendment, yada, yada, yada …. I’m sure I heard choirs of seraphim in the clouds above the Sixth Avenue hotel where the talks were held.

The AP exec concluded: “You are professionals, not bricklayers!”

Ken, of quick wit and riposte, replied, “I’m a bricklayer!” Guild leaders used his phrase for years.

Apropos of describing himself a bricklayer, Ken wrote his own eulogy in the third person, calling his vocation “The Trade.”

He wrote: “Ken did his best to make the bosses, the elites, the bigots and the self-righteous squirm” and that he “was forced out of the Associated Press after 15 years as a senior diplomatic correspondent because of his role in promoting a union and in suing the company for racial and gender discrimination.”

Ken and I served on the union’s Executive Committee, whose lawsuit opened AP to women and minorities.

After those talks, Ken left AP on a leave of absence (a benefit won by the union) for a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, where I would visit with him.

After his coveted Nieman fellowship was complete, Ken returned to AP-Washington and the company told him no more shuttle diplomacy flights for you; AP said he was needed on the overnight.

Ken left AP to become a Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent and journalism professor.

We would meet occasionally for dinner and drinks, the last time about six years ago in Baltimore before he and Sandy left for Ken’s beloved Omaha, his native city of which he was a fervent promoter and about which he wrote as a World-Herald staffer.

As I think of Ken, I remember the fine gift he left me. A lover of classical music – he had played double bass – Ken encouraged me to take a volunteer job as producer/anchor of an opera show at New Hampshire Public Radio, a priceless 10-year interlude in my life.

Thanks, Ken.