FREDERICK SAMUEL HIATT (1955–2021)
I remember Freddie Hiatt vividly…
Worlds beyond, ‘very well.’
I remember him like it was yesterday.
I remember Freddie Hiatt from the fourth grade at the Runkle School in Brookline (MA).
And a genius.
I was in disbelief that he was selected to play the lead–Tom Sawyer–in our grammar school production of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
Because he was the right choice.
He crushed it.
And I loved Becky Thatcher.
Fred and I lived a couple of streets apart, went to public elementary school, high school and college together.
We knew each other, were friendly to one another, but we weren’t close.
I admired him from day one.
From the jump.
Fred Hiatt died Monday (12/06) at 66.
He turned into a giant.
The giant of giants.
Fred Hiatt was a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing.
He was one of Washington’s most authoritative and influential opinion-makers.
He led The Washington Post’s opinion section for more than two decades.
He was the longtime editorial page editor.
He either wrote or edited nearly every unsigned editorial published by the Post–more than 1,000 a year–and edited the opinion columns published on the paper’s op-ed page and website.
He used his position atop one of the nation’s most visible and influential opinion platforms, to support justice and human rights.
He should have been a Supreme Court Justice.
(He and I went to college with the man in the seat; the Chief Justice’s seat).
He was that smart.
And his heart was always in the right place, until the end.
Until it failed him.
As the Post’s editorial page editor, Fred expanded the staff from about a dozen, to more than 80 people.
He broadened the reach and the ranks.
Not only with seasoned journalists, but also with young up-and-comers.
Writers, videographers, bloggers and designers.
Karen Tumulty, a deputy editorial page editor, described the section as, “the house that Fred built.”
Extolled Post publisher and chief executive Frederick Ryan in a statement to the staff, “Few journalists have rivaled his idealism and complete dedication to the causes of democracy and human rights worldwide.”
Fred Hiatt lived for social justice.
Think Jamal Khashoggi, a Post Saudi contributor.
A legal permanent resident of Virginia, journalist Khashoggi began to write a column for the Post in 2017, often criticizing human rights abuses in Islamic countries, and especially in his native Saudi Arabia.
On October 2, 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and was never seen again.
On October 5, 2018, Fred Hiatt ran an attention-grabbing empty white space on the opinion page where Mr. Khashoggi’s column would have been printed.
“Khashoggi’s words should appear in the space above,” the caption read, “but he has not been heard from since he entered a Saudi consulate in Istanbul for a routine consular matter on Tuesday afternoon.”
He orchestrated numerous editorials and essays by outside contributors demanding justice on Khashoggi’s behalf.
The idea was to keep attention focused on Khashoggi’s death.
No matter what.
The editorials pinned responsibility on Saudi crown prince and defense minister Mohammed bin Salman, and rebuked the Trump administration for not ratcheting up the pressure on Saudi officials.
Fred “led an editorial campaign to demand justice for Khashoggi,” remarked Jackson Diehl, his chief deputy.
“He made an effort to keep the legacy of Khashoggi alive and created a fellowship in his name” for international journalists.
Fred gave a global platform to other dissident writers from the Arab world who had been ostracized from their domestic media.
And when the Biden administration released an intelligence report in February, stating that Mohammed bin Salman had approved the Khashoggi assassination–and dismemberment–Fred was probably the least surprised guy in the room.
After it was revealed that Khashoggi was killed by 15 members of a Saudi hit squad, one of whom had a bone saw, Fred wrote a column under his own name, demanding that the world hold Mohammed bin Salman responsible.
“Why bring a bonesaw to a kidnapping?” he queried.
“That is a question the crown prince of Saudi Arabia should be asked at every opportunity….
President Trump should be similarly interrogated, along with the members of his team who so far seem eager to become accessories after the fact to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
Fred Hiatt was relentless in his pursuit of what he considered to be the right thing(s).
He always knew the score.
Yet, remained undeterred.
Especially when odds weren’t favoring him.
He was that steadfast.
And mighty, mighty smart.
With his passing, we’ve all suffered an irreplaceable loss.
[Editor’s Note: this piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in December 2021.]