[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Kasper: There's always some lead on these tapes. I want to be sure and get the whole story. Well, good morning, Charlotte.
Moulton: Well, good morning.
Kasper: [You were talking about who the] switchboard operator and the dictationist were, and you think overnight you remembered a somewhat different version of what you reported earlier.
Moulton: I think, when I thought about it some more, that I believe you asked me if it was my responsibility to cut off a dictationist who was working on another story if I got a call with a bulletin or a hot bulletin from a reporter. And I think it was not my responsibility to decide which dictationist (we had three) to cut off. I think that, with the news desk being as near the switchboard as it was, all I had to do was look at the boss who would be sitting in what we call "the slot" on the desk. He would point to the dictationist who should be cut off. That reporter's story could be picked up later, or possibly the boss would know that he had enough of that story already and he didn't need any more of it because the copy that that dictationist was working on had started to be processed by the desk anyway. So he would be abreast of what those dictationists were doing and he could tell which one he wanted available for this new bulletin story that was coming in.
Kasper: And then you were saying a second part. We were talking about how I assumed that there was a good chance that the dictationist, or even the switchboard operator, wasn't exactly a clerk, or even just an ordinary operator. These were people who were current with what was going on anyway. I mean, didn't, as a switchboard operator, you have to make some judgments as to the expediency of what was going on?
Moulton: Oh, well. If, for instance, I knew the boss or some man on the desk was working on a very hot story and some call came in for him that I knew was not particularly important—if his wife called to say—
Kasper: Dinner was late.
Moulton: Dinner was waiting, or something, I would simply say, "He's terribly busy now. I can call you or you call again," or something like that. You know, you do those things.
You were right near the desk so you could see what was going on, and, in those days, plenty was going on because you see the war was on.
Kasper: And would you get reporters' dispatches calling in from overseas, too? Was that something that you—?
Moulton: No. No.* New York handled all the foreign copy—in and out. We referred to foreign traffic as "cables." There was a foreign desk in Washington with its own reporters. The only woman I remember was Elizabeth (Liz) Wharton, who covered the House of Representatives. She picked up news of interest to foreign clients, who would likely need a story angle different from that of a U.S. client. Her story would move on our C Wire to New York's international desk, where it would be processed and sent overseas or to Latin America. A different foreign desk in New York handled incoming foreign copy. The general desk there (the counterpart of our general desk in Washington) would then put those stories on the domestic wire.
By the way, I called one of the teletype operators, whom I've been in touch with from time to time, and asked him about how the wire actually was used. The United Press leased wires from the telephone company and when we put a story on the wire, it would clear the desk and the boss would give it to the teletype operator. When he typed it, it would go out to all the clients in the country, except those in the far West. The copy would be reprocessed in Kansas City, I think he said, because a lot of the stories would be of less interest to the far West. Maybe some stories would be of more interest to the far West, some less, and the copy might be edited down to—
Kasper: Fit the individual needs?
Moulton: —fit the needs of the customers in the far West. This Kansas City bit was shifted to Chicago after a few years. Now, the foreign desk did send its material to New York and it was processed there for points overseas. So that's how it was handled.
Kasper: How many customers did the UP have at that time for the material that you were working on? Do you have any idea, a sort of a ballpark figure?
Moulton: Well, I can look that up and add it. The figure 3,000 sticks in my mind, but that seems like an awful lot. But I'll check that.*
* For clarity and to supply additional information, Charlotte Moulton added the following material. [Ed.]
*Ms. Moulton checked and added later: In 1956 United Press was claiming in promotional material that it had 10,000 editors, correspondents, photographers and telegraphers serving 4,634 client newspapers and broadcasting stations in 71 countries and territories—3,091 in the United States and 1,469 in other countries—plus supplying daily news dispatches to more than 100 ships at sea. (I realize those figures don't add properly.) In the aftermath of World War II, UP was very strong in Germany and France, operating a "national wire service" for a time in these countries, and also strong in Japan.
Kasper: And they were everything from big papers to local papers—anybody who could afford—
Moulton: Yes, anybody who could afford to take the service. Of course, the Associated Press was in the picture. See, they were our great enemy, so to speak, and we were supposed to get everything out before they did, say it better, and do it faster. And, you know, the motto of a wire service was, "Deadline every minute." Newspapers have certain deadlines, but in a wire service, every minute is a deadline—deadline every minute!
Kasper: And that was the motto, "Deadline every minute." That's wonderful.
Moulton: Yes. Yes. That was the motto.
Kasper: It certainly sums it up.
Kasper: What were some of the other revisions you wanted to make too?
Moulton: Well, one of the other things was, about covering the Agriculture Department. We didn't say much about that, did we, I think. I realized when I got upstairs looking at more clips and records that one of the things we handled at the Agriculture Department was known as the crop report. I don't quite remember how often the crop report got out, but I think probably it was in the fall when wheat was coming to harvest and different crops were being gathered. The Agriculture Department would get out a list of estimates as to how big a crop this was going to be. That was an extremely important feature because the commodity exchanges would be looking at that to see how it would affect prices and so forth.
So the reporters were gathered in this small room, where the windows had been covered over with black curtains, and there was a white line drawn on the floor. In front of the white line, about let's say, six feet away or so, there was a row of little telephone booths with telephones there. And the reporter would stand on the white line, after he had taken possession of one of the telephones and opened a line to the office. How many? Maybe four or five—whatever reporters were tremendously interested in what the Agriculture Department was going to tell the world. And someone would come in promptly at three o'clock in the afternoon and this messenger would have copies of the report. And he'd go along and he'd put a copy in each one of those telephone booths. Well, he would do that at three minutes of three or two minutes of three or something like that. At three o'clock, somebody would give a signal and the reporters on the white line would rush to the telephone booths [Laughter]. They had already opened a line, so they grabbed this report—and, of course, before all this happened, they would have provided their news desk with a story leaving blanks for figures—so you'd pick up the telephone and there would be the man on the other end with the story on his desk waiting for you to fill in the figures. So you would look at the report, see what the figures were, fill it in, and that would be a big bulletin and go out to all the—[Laughter.]
Kasper: And the requirement for the job was a good pair of sneakers.
Moulton: I guess so. [Laughter.] Well, I thought that ought to be—
Kasper: That's wonderful. Let me ask you a silly question. Why were there blackout curtains on the windows? Because of the war?
Moulton: Well, I think—I don't know, but I dare say that at some point in time, there had been some kind of a secret signal through the window as to what—maybe not the exact figure—but what type of crop had a good chance or something like that. And then the commodity exchange people, or somebody on the commodity exchange, would have some kind of an advantage. Something like that must have happened or they wouldn't have gone to that. And, just for the fun of it, I called the Agriculture Department yesterday to see if they still do that. And she said they're working on computerizing, but they still actually do the substance of pretty much what they did back then.
Kasper: In other words, they still hand out a crop report on a certain date and have reporters standing there waiting to get it.
Kasper: I'll be darned.
Moulton: But the nature of the report, I'm sure, has changed. The crops that are reported on might be different. But the system—
Kasper: The process still pretty much remains the same.
Moulton: Pretty much. Yes.
Kasper: Oh, that's so funny.
Moulton: It's kind of interesting.
Kasper: That certainly is.
Moulton: Let's see, what else? There was something about education that I was going to tell you. You know, you asked me who helped me in the early years when I didn't know anything? When I was still in the morgue, the head of what we call the night desk, Harry Sharpe, his name was—
Kasper: Yes. You mentioned him yesterday.
Moulton: Did I?
Moulton: Well, I didn't realize that he helped me as much as he did, actually. He would give me little releases that needed to be handled—stories written—people had sent in news releases. He would give them to me and say, "Write a story about this."
And then, when I did it, he would criticize it and explain things that I needed to know. That kind of thing.
Kasper: Sure. You want me to turn this off.
Moulton: Just for a minute because I— [Tape interruption.]
Moulton: I forgot this little school, so to speak, or series of classes, that I attended when I think I was still in the morgue. They were sponsored by the Newspaper Guild. You know, the Newspaper Guild is the labor organization which represented reporters and editorial people in the Washington area—the News and the Post and the Star and the wire services. Of course, everybody didn't belong to this union, but if you belonged to it, they represented you. And the union, apparently, I guess, the coming into the business of women (I don't know what quite moved them to do this), but they established this little series of lectures and this man, Edward F. Vander Veen, was the moving force. He brought in speakers from the papers to talk to us and give us ideas.
Kasper: About what time period was this, do you remember?
Moulton: Well, I think this was when I was in the morgue, so it must have been around 1942 or 1943.
Kasper: And what was the import for you of these programs that were sponsored by the Newspaper Guild?
Moulton: Well, the idea was to learn how to write a story the way it should be written for use in a newspaper—what kind of English do you use, the sentence structure, the whole bit. But other things—just to pick up something at random, this is his introductory lecture to us: "Newspaper writing of the highest grade is never shoddy and seldom slangy. The real newspaper writer shows taste, dignity and good manners. [Laughter.] But always the best newspaper writing is modern in diction, concise and easy to read." [Laughter.] Well, I remember, after I started thinking about this, Eleanor Roosevelt came and talked to us one time, which was a big thrill. And, as I remember it, her main point was, when you talk to sources that are giving you information, if they tell you that this is just for your information or to guide you and help you but please do not quote me, you are not supposed to quote those people. The honest thing to do is to respect their wishes and not quote them.* I remember bringing a personal friend to this particular lecture when Eleanor Roosevelt came because it was—you know, she was anxious to get a close view of Eleanor and see what she was like, so we did that. I don't know whether this was
* Later Ms. Moulton added: Mrs. Roosevelt said, "Tell the truth" and "Train yourself to be observant." She confessed that she was not so trained until President Roosevelt was governor of New York and she visited state institutions. She traveled with FDR and learned to observe the physical condition of the country and the people. ("People wear out with the land.") She urged serious preparation for interviews and warned against appearing "antagonistic." She stressed the desirability of background in history, literature and government.
given to me at that little school, so to speak, but it's a list of abused words, and you can see how long it is. If anybody went by that—
Kasper: Let me see that. Oh, this is wonderful. I'm sort of describing it here. It's a long, but slim sheet of newsprint, and it says at the top, "Lesson 3, Part 3, Abused Words." And they are listed alphabetically and some of them are as follows: "allude, awful, calculate, continued, fail, fly, furnish—"
Moulton: You just wonder what words you should use after you've eliminated all those. [Laughter.]
Kasper: Yes. Well, and the other piece of it is, why these?
Moulton: Well, I think it's because they're grabbed without much thought.
Kasper: Oh, I see what it is. They're used incorrectly.
Kasper: Yes. Now for instance, under allude, it says here, "to refer indirectly or by suggestion. Not to be used in place of discuss." Then they give an example of the wrong use: "The lecture alluded at some length to the question of capital punishment." Oh, I see. That's wonderful. That's very clever.
Moulton: Yes. Of course, I don't know how many of those I really took to heart. I think I was educated well enough at Simmons that I knew the meaning of the words, but, anyway, I think probably that list was given to me at that little—
Kasper: At these seminars, these must be seminar series, is that how we would characterize them today?
Moulton: I think that's what we'd call them today. Well, here's an even better list: "Trite, Worn Out Phrases to be Avoided." "Abreast of the times," "acid test," "angry mob." [Laughter]
Kasper: Oh, this is so funny. "Along the line of," "at long last." I wonder if my favorite one is in here—this point in time.
Moulton: I bet it is.
Kasper: Let's see. That's my absolute favorite. I don't see it. Not quite. But this is so funny. This is really—"stranger than fiction." "She tripped down the steps—" "smoking revolver—" You know, all of those. Oh, gosh.
Moulton: Those are the ones that you're bound to use sooner or later, especially if you're in a hurry.
Kasper: Yes. Right. Here's a classic one: "Never in the history of—" [Laughter.] This is very funny. "Small but appreciative audience." That's great.
Moulton: Yes. That's what Mr. Vander Veen had, I guess, a small but appreciative audience. [Laughter.] I don't remember how many people came to that. I'm sure it was composed of people who hoped to be reporters, but were not reporters yet, like what are known now as copy aides—just people who—errand boys or girls, more or less, is what they were, or dictationists, or people in the early stages of reporting. It could have been when I was at the ICC—that wonderful beat, the ICC, the FCC—but I think probably it was when I was at the morgue.*
Well I also, on going out on a beat, asked a few people in the office for advice on how to be a good reporter. And I get things like this: "Never call the desk and say, 'I have a bulletin what shall I do with it,' because they'll tell you every time." Then, another one says, "Your story may be all right, but if the desk happens to have a different slant on it, the desk happens to have the last word." "There are two kinds of news—important news and interesting news. It's your job to make the important news interesting." Well, I didn't get much out of them.
Kasper: We'll just call those homilies, right?
Moulton: And this is the last thing. I never did tell you what I covered when I was on the House staff, did I?
Kasper: You mean in terms of stories that you covered?
Moulton: Yes. Well, I covered the House Agriculture Committee—I used to have to go to the committee meetings and sit there and listen to the witnesses and write stories about what the witnesses said; the Banking and Currency Committee, and, of course, the Interstate Commerce Committee. And as the various bills went through the committees, and the committees voted on them after they heard the witnesses, then you cover the floor debates, when the bill gets to the floor, and final action on the bill. And you didn't have just one committee. When you went in in the morning, the head of the staff would have a list of all the committee meetings and he would have staff members' names beside them, so that when you got in there, you'd look at the list and you'd see what committees you were covering that day. And, of course, committees would be meeting and your name would be on two or three at two or three places. So then you'd have to decide where you would go first and how long you would stay there before you went to the next one. [Laughter.]
Kasper: Again, having to be in more than one place at one time for the deadline every minute.
Moulton: Yes. I do have to say that when you were covering a committee like that, a hot bulletin was not apt to pop up at you and so—
* Later Ms. Moulton added: Notes that came to light after this interview show that I attended these classes weekly from February 10 to August 3, 1944, and less frequently to February 8, 1945. Subjects ranged from the basics of writing a news story to specialties such as court coverage and the society page. Occasionally Vander Veen prevailed on well-known figures at the Post to talk. One was "Eddie" Folliard. A Note: "Mr. Meyer" seems to mean Eugene Meyer.
Kasper: Maybe not even a bulletin.
Moulton: Not even a bulletin, no. But those are the things that I was thinking about after we had our first meeting.
Kasper: Well, we must be on the same wavelength because my first question today was going to be, how did you learn to be a reporter? We've talked about at least two of those influences. We've talked about those seminars at the Newspaper Guild and you talked a bit about Harry Sharpe. When I talked to, I think it was Eileen Shanahan, who also mentioned Harry Sharpe—
Moulton: Oh, did she?
Kasper: Yes. And thought that he was quite an influence on your early career in terms of helping you learn the ropes.
Moulton: Yes. That's true.
Kasper: It is true? Are there any other—?
Moulton: In fact, he was about the only person around there that took an interest in me and tried to work with me. The rest of the time you tried to do the work and then you looked at the result and acted accordingly.
Kasper: The best you could.
Kasper: Did he take an interest in you when you were still in the morgue?
Moulton: Yes. I believe it was when I was in the morgue that he gave me those news releases.
Kasper: From the Department of Education?
Moulton: No. Just anybody around town who wanted to get a story on the wire would send a messenger in with a news release and would put it on the desk and it would perhaps have "For release in a.m. papers of such date." So he would look at those—that was his job, he was the head of the night desk—and he would see what he thought was elementary enough for me. Then he would say, "Do you want to write a few paragraphs about this?" So, I would, and then he would—he said, "Inexperience is your main problem" [Laughter], which was obvious. So he would sort of steer me into the way it was done there.
Kasper: So he would give you these sort of generic news releases and literally give you a chance to hone some skills on them, is that right?
Moulton: Yes. That's right.*
Kasper: And it was later that he helped you with Department of Education stories that you had?
Moulton: Did I say something about that?
Kasper: No. Didn't you mention that? I thought you did. Yes, I wrote that down.
Moulton: Well, I don't remember that Harry Sharpe was connected with them.
Kasper: Well, I'll have to go back and listen on the tape. I thought that's what I heard. How long did this go on that he was helping you hone your reporting skills?
Moulton: Well, I was in the morgue about fifteen months, and I don't suppose that started immediately, in fact, I'm quite sure it didn't. It was probably along the last of it, maybe the last six months or so, when I got the morgue situation under control and I was looking around for a promotion.
Kasper: And when you moved on, he no longer felt that you needed a leg up, is that—?
Moulton: Well, I'm sure he would tell me anything. But, you see, I was right there in the press building and he was right there in the next room, and it was easy for him to give me work. When I got outside, things were quite different. He was doing his work and I was doing my work.
Kasper: And you just weren't in the same physical space for him to work with you.
Moulton: Right. Nor was he—it wasn't really his function to call me up when I was at the ICC or somewhere and tell me what to do. It just didn't work that way.
Kasper: I'm just pulling out my notes here from having talked to Eileen Shanahan, and she said that he was "a great journalist," and "he liked smart women."
Kasper: "Which was even rarer then than it is today." And she sort of drew the conclusion that he had identified you as a smart woman.
* Later Ms. Moulton added: Scanning of an ancient 1942 diary indicates that after I had brought the morgue up to date by discarding the outdated files—thereby cutting my workload to clipping and filing the daily papers—it was decided that I should work for Harry Sharpe afternoons. I had completely forgotten this arrangement, which began in late May 1943. No doubt Eileen Shanahan remembers it.
The last time I heard from Harry Sharpe was in 1979. He wrote from Daytona Beach, Florida, where he had retired. Depressed because his health would not permit him much activity, he said: "Take good care of yourself and stay in there and pitch until your last breath."
Moulton: Well, that's very nice for her to think that.
Kasper: And someone who, you know, he took under his wing because he knew you had lots of potential and lots of fine qualities, they just needed some skill building. That was her impression.
Moulton: Well, I distinctly remember him saying that inexperience was my main problem, implying that I could write a sentence and put the commas in the right place and so on, but I needed to be told how to do it from the wire service standpoint.
Kasper: Which leads me to my next question. How is wire service reporting different from newspaper reporting?
Moulton: Deadline every minute. [Laughter.]
Kasper: That, too. But the stories themselves, the size and the stuff of the story, are there any differences there? I assume, first of all, that they're shorter, is that correct?
Moulton: I would say the stories running on the wire all the time would probably be shorter for our own space reasons, but we didn't always—see, I'm not sure—I think I mentioned earlier that we did feature stories. The United Press had a sheet of stories that went out, I think, every week to our clients, and those stories, of course, could be longer. They'd go into much more depth—well, like that story about the railroad freight cars getting back to their home port, so to speak—I'm sure that that didn't run on the wire, probably. It might have, but I suspect that it was in this sheet that went out as a feature.
Kasper: So how then were the wire stories that went out, with a deadline every minute, how would you characterize them as stories and how were they different from newspaper stories?
Moulton: Well, Eileen Shanahan may have a different idea of this, but my idea would be that there's not much difference because of course they appeared in the paper, just as the stories that the reporter for that particular paper might have written. But that particular paper couldn't keep reporters in Washington, D.C. So we were the eyes and ears of that paper in—you know, you look at a bunch of newspaper clips and I don't think you can tell. Of course the wire service was indicated, but I don't think you could tell the difference between that and the story that the paper's own reporter might have written.
Kasper: So the difference is how fast you had to write your stories as opposed to how fast a reporter on a more local newspaper might have to draft his story. Is that correct?
Moulton: Well, possibly, except if you were a reporter on a local paper and your deadline was two p.m., and you got the story at 1:30—
Kasper: That's true. You were under the same pressure.
Moulton: —you'd have to write pretty fast. But basically, because papers were going to press all the time—that's why "deadline every minute" was invented, I guess, because there were a lot of papers were going to press constantly.
Kasper: So wire service stories were not necessarily shorter or less complex than other stories, it's just that they were sent out by the UP from its headquarters to various papers around the country by wire. Does that summarize it sort of?
Moulton: Well, I think so. Did you say, less complex?
Moulton: Um hum. Well, we tried. [Laughter.]
Kasper: Tried to be less complex?
Moulton: Well, we tried to, as Joe Myler said, it was important to make the important stories interesting, or whatever it was he said there. And the whole idea was to explain a complicated thing in simple English so that people who really ought to know about this could understand it. And I think that's the aim of a newspaper editor, as well as a wire service editor.
Kasper: How many women were at the UP when you were there in these early days?
Moulton: Well, when I got the job, I think there was one woman there. Then, at that time when the men came back from the military service and some of the women were let go, I just don't remember how many that were there, but I would think— well, maybe ten. Eileen might know that. But I think perhaps ten. And some of them were fired and some of them were shifted around like me. And it was just, I guess, something you had to expect. Those men had a right to their jobs and whether the women could have been taken care of some other way, I leave that to the United Press to say.
Kasper: Do you think that women were treated differently as reporters than the men reporters?
Moulton: Well, yes, they were treated differently. There were some jobs—well, eventually, there was one woman on the foreign desk. The foreign desk had its own staff. Of course, they concentrated on the State Department, but they did other things too. They had one woman on that staff, Elizabeth Wharton, and she worked in the House of Representatives. And, as time went on, I sort of developed an interest in foreign news and I thought it might be fun to work in a foreign country some time. So I asked the head of the foreign desk there, Carroll Kenworthy (this was not when I was first there, but years afterwards), and I said was there any place for me on his staff? And he said he was very sorry, but there wasn't. I think his reasoning was that reporters had to talk to a lot of representatives from foreign countries in the State Department and elsewhere, I guess, maybe in embassies, I don't know. But anyway, foreign officials would not talk to women. So, "Too bad Charlotte, but I can't use you."
And a long time afterwards, I tried to get a job in London and I got a very nice letter when I got back, from the head of the London Bureau saying he was just terribly sorry, but they had all the women they could use, or something like that. I have the letter.
I also have a letter, kind of a diary letter—that was actually, I think it was—well, I can look this up too, it was printed somewhere—of a woman who was trying to get a job with United Press in Europe and she was trying different times and different places. It was really very funny because they always told her, "Oh, yeah, just get in touch with us in six months and we'll see what we can do for you." And this went on and on and on and on. And eventually she took a job with somebody else, I guess. But it was just a typical picture of what women ran into when they were trying to get jobs over there.
Kasper: How about the women who stayed here, like yourself. When you were at work, were you treated differently because you were a woman, or were your stories treated differently because you were a woman?
Moulton: No. No, I can't think my stories were treated differently.
Kasper: They weren't.
Moulton: No, they were not.
Kasper: Were you treated differently?
Moulton: Basically, I don't think I was treated differently either, except that, you know, I stayed at the Supreme Court an awful long time—I don't think a man would have been stuck there, really—but I was doing a good job and so, what a shame to change it.
Kasper: And you don't think a man would have—
Moulton: I doubt if a man—
Kasper: —been allowed to or he would have asked to move on?
Moulton: No, he would have been allowed to, but he wouldn't have wanted to stay there. Although, you know, I say that, it's through my own tinted glasses because other people, men, had been on that beat and they—well, the Associated Press people stayed a long time and they, I guess, they liked it. And, if you like it, you want to stay there, but I didn't particularly want to stay all those years.
But I did get off for about a year, or a little more, and worked on the night desk. This was after Harry Sharpe had departed—departed the UP—he didn't depart this life, but he retired. Grant Dillman was running the night desk. So I was down there on the night desk for a year or so and that involved editing copy and on the late shift from—let's see, was it four to eleven? You had pretty much charge of the night desk and incoming calls. And if something happened, you were supposed to do something about it. And that was, you know, much less taxing than Supreme Court reporting and I sort of enjoyed that. But then the person who had replaced me on the Court left.
Kasper: Who was that?
Moulton: His name was Ted Lewis. A young man. And his father, Ted Lewis, Senior—you asked me the names of different people who were on the editorial desk?
Ted Lewis' father was on it for quite some time. Everybody on the desk was very, very nice. We had a really nice time. I think probably my first five years or so there were probably—maybe the most satisfying years of my entire life because it was such fun.
Kasper: You mean when you covered all those different beats?
Moulton: Yes. Well it was a learning situation. You were always learning something. Hardly a day went by that you didn't learn something about how government functions. I really didn't know much about the federal government, all the different things that went on. You can imagine how many things go on in the Agriculture Department. They're rather interesting.
Kasper: That we have no idea about.
Moulton: No. And, as I say, the people were so nice to work with and all. But anyway, to get back to the question, Ted Lewis, Jr., left the company for some reason I don't remember, and so nothing would do but I had to go back to the Supreme Court then.
Kasper: Now, what time period are we talking about? Are we talking about the early fifties, is that right?
Moulton: Oh, well, I went there in the fall of 1949, and I stayed about five years, so that would have been about 1955, I guess, that I went to the night desk for a while.
Kasper: For about a year?
Moulton: For about a year or a little more. And then I went back to the Court. And that time I stayed there.*
Kasper: And when you were talking about asking for assignment to London or somewhere abroad because you were a bit bored with being at the Court as your sole assignment, what time period are we talking about then? Was that the same time period?
Moulton: I'd say that was probably the late fifties, maybe mid-fifties.
Kasper: So this was after you had done your year at the night desk, you were looking to go to a foreign country, perhaps?
Moulton: Yes. I could be more definite about that if I look at some papers I have if we can insert this later.
* Ms. Moulton added later: From June to December, 1954, I had miscellaneous duties, known as "general assignment." From December, 1954, to December, 1955, I was on the night desk. The work consisted of re-writing day desk stories for the morning papers or handling news releases designated for morning papers. The hours might have been 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. or noon to 8 p.m. They might have been shorter because I don't remember that we took time for lunch. From June to October, 1955, I had the "late shift," which was probably from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. My colleagues included Harry Vandernoot and Robert S. Barkdoll.
Kasper: Sure. Sure, we can do that later. But just for a ballpark purposes at this point, it was somewhere in the fifties, is that what we're talking about?
Moulton: I would think so. It was probably late fifties.
Kasper: Late fifties. And essentially, the UP was saying, "No, we don't use women abroad and Charlotte we need you back at the Supreme Court." Is that correct?
Moulton: No. We don't need women abroad—period! He didn't have anything to do with the Supreme Court, this guy that I was asking for a job.
Kasper: So those were two separate issues.
Moulton: Two completely separate things.
Kasper: But they happened about the same time, is that correct? Because you were then reassigned to go back to the Court?
Moulton: You know, we're talking about a forty-year period, and if I want to be precise, I have to look it up and let you know.*
Kasper: Sure. That's fine. How about salaries? Were you paid the same as the men?
Moulton: Oh, definitely, because of the Newspaper Guild. Well, I'll take that back a little bit. The Guild in its negotiations in agreement with United Press determined the salaries. We were on a seven-year steps. The first year people got so much, and the second year they got a raise, and the third a raise, and so forth. Those steps were determined in negotiations between the Newspaper Guild and the United Press. But if United Press wanted to reward somebody by giving them—
* Later Ms. Moulton added: Roger Tatarian, General European News Manager, whose office was in London, wrote me on November 11, 1953, regretting that there was no place for a woman on the UP staff in London. He said the women reporters in the past had covered "the women's side" but that an English writer was meeting this need on a part-time basis. He added that if the situation changed I would be "at the very top of the list" of possibilities. I had traveled to Europe for the first time earlier in 1953 and had probably stopped in at the London UP office. Tatarian had been in the Washington bureau when I first worked there.
So all this was while I was covering the Supreme Court and before my stint on the night desk. I think the European trip totaled five weeks. When I returned, my desk at the Court was piled high with briefs and petitions. "Bert" Whittington, the information officer, had flagged the top of it: "Moulton's Matterhorn."
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Kasper: Okay. Were you rewarded with those bonuses?
Moulton: I recall being rewarded once, which was when I first went there, and the beginning salary was so low, that before I'd been there much more than maybe six months or so, they did give me a wee raise. But that's the only one I recall. Well, yes, later on, after I was off the steps, which only took seven years, and I was in the court, I think I got a couple of—I did, I got two or three raises, but they were not magnificent, let's put it that way. [Laughter.] I did get one substantial—for those days—raise on my 25th anniversary. [See Appendix A for Ms. Moulton's description of employment practices and her salary history at United Press.]
Kasper: Were UP reporters paid less well than newspaper reporters were paid?
Moulton: Well, we were paid less well than Associated Press reporters.
Kasper: Oh. Why is that?
Moulton: Well, because the AP had more money to spend, I guess, or they wanted to spend it. They had more people, paid better, than UP did.
Kasper: That's interesting. Well, let's go to where we more or less left off yesterday. You said one of the things you wanted to pick up on was the fact that you also covered other courts before you went to the Supreme Court. I thought maybe you'd want to mention that, at least briefly, and then we can move on to the Supreme Court beat.
Moulton: Yes. What did I say? The Court of Military Appeals.
Kasper: The Court of Claims and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Moulton: Yes. Well, those courts had different times for releasing their opinions. For instance, I think the Court of Claims had opinions once a month, if I remember correctly. So I'd run over there and pick up like fifteen opinions, or who knows how many, and there would be somebody there who, if I wanted her to explain them, would do so. [Ms. Moulton later recalled: The person was Mrs. Margaret H. Pierce, who later was appointed by President Johnson to a seat on the Indian Claims Commission.] Then I'd decide whether any of them were worth writing about. The Court of Appeals, I think, had opinions—it used to have opinions every Monday, and the Supreme Court also had opinions on Monday. The Appeals' opinions were out earlier, maybe nine o'clock or ten o'clock or something. And in the early days, the Supreme Court had its opinions at noon on Monday. So I'd run into the Court of Appeals and get their opinions, and then I'd go up to the Supreme Court and I would supposedly be all ready to get the Supreme Court opinions. So that was not being in two places at once, but almost. [Laughter.] And the Court of Military Appeals, I don't remember how often they had their opinions, and they weren't anything that we gave priority to, but they had to be looked at.
Kasper: So how long were you doing these three courts?
Moulton: Oh, gee, I can't remember how long. I think probably I had the D.C. Court of Appeals for—oh, years, I suppose.
Kasper: Even while you were also covering the Supreme Court.
Moulton: Yes. But it was—well, we did use a fair amount of Appeals Court stuff. And big cases that were coming up through the court system, we'd know that the Court of Appeals had a big case on loyalty oaths, for instance, and so we'd be watching for that, and when that came down, we'd have to use it. I don't remember if I had to run to a telephone in the Court of Appeals before I got back to the Supreme Court. I used to drive and I'd park at the Court of Appeals, go in and get their opinions, and then go on to the Supreme Court where I had had my own little parking place. But when you were covering trials, for instance, if you were covering an ongoing trial, you'd be sitting there where they had seats reserved for the press, and perhaps at some recess or other, you'd have to go to one of the pay telephones and call the office and just look at your notes that you'd been taking and dictate a story, ready to go on the wire, from those notes. That was the only way you could do it. In the Appeals Court, now that I think of it, there was a press room there and we had a desk and a telephone in the lower court building. There were times when you had to run to a telephone and times when you didn't. You could go upstairs and use your own phone. You see, my memory of all that is getting a little bit cloudy—that's very obvious—but I know I covered those courts. [Laughter.]
Kasper: Did you have to do much preparation to do a story on decisions that came down from those courts? In other words, did you have to go through briefs and prepare a story in advance and then be ready for the decisions when they came down?
Moulton: Well, the Court of Claims, I didn't. In the Court of Military Appeals, I can think of one case, and I don't remember what the case was, but I remember the foreign desk was very much interested in it. I'm sure I prepared something on that so that I'd have a story all ready to go when I got the opinion. The Appeals Court for D.C. did have some pretty big stories and you would have to prepare something, yes.
Kasper: Now, in 1949, when you went to the Supreme Court, you started as a tube stuffer for Ruth Gmeiner, is that correct?
Moulton: No. That was before 1949. I went in 1949 to take over the beat myself.
Kasper: That's when you went as the reporter.
Moulton: Yes. But I was a tube stuffer while I was still at the Justice Department, and all those other places. [Laughter.]
Kasper: Okay. So in 1949 you went as the reporter.
Moulton: Yes. And Ruth Gmeiner went to the White House.
Kasper: Un huh. So you were promoted to the reporter at the Supreme Court because she—
Moulton: Now I wouldn't call it promotion.
Kasper: It was not.
Moulton: I would say reassignment. I don't think any of those beats—
Kasper: Were in a hierarchy of their own?
Moulton: Well, they're a hierarchy in the sense that one beat was more important than the other because obviously the Interstate Commerce Commission was not the most important thing that the United Press was interested in. The White House would be the most important. That's where Ruth went when she left the Court.
Kasper: So she was promoted and you were reassigned.
Moulton: No. Well, I suppose you could consider it—you could look at it that way, but the way beats operated, they were not thought to be promotions. Now, maybe somebody could argue with my saying that, but it wasn't as if you were in General Motors or something and you got promoted from salesman to be in charge of some particular district or something. It wasn't a ladder that you were climbing. It might have been a change. It was a ladder in a sense in that, obviously, people that covered the White House were more prominent than people who were somewhere else. I don't know whether I'm making myself clear or not.
Kasper: Yes. I think it's pretty clear. That what you're saying is, there wasn't necessarily a hierarchy of assignments of beats. It just happened that Ruth Gmeiner was leaving and someone needed to cover the Court.
Moulton: Yes. Of course, I'm sure Ruth Gmeiner was not upset to be sent to the White House. Some beats were more attractive than others and people wanted to go there and people were assigned sometimes because they wanted to go, and sometimes because it was thought they could do a good job there.
Kasper: Do you know why you were assigned to the Supreme Court?
Moulton: Yes, I know why. It was because I'd been a tube stuffer [Laughter], and because I knew something about it. When I got through shoving decisions down the tube on a given Monday, then I would go down and Ruth would tell me what I could do to help her. So in that way, I became somewhat acquainted with how things went. So, when you're looking around for somebody as a replacement, you look for somebody who knows a little bit about the job. I knew a little bit about the job, so, bingo, there I was.
Kasper: How long had Ruth Gmeiner been there at the Court?
Moulton: Hmmm. Gee, I really couldn't say. Maybe four years? I hesitate to say because I really don't know.
Kasper: And was she the first woman that they had ever assigned to the Supreme Court beat?
Moulton: Hmmm? Probably. Probably.
Kasper: So then you were the second.
Moulton: Well, I say, again, if she was the first, then I was the second, yes.
Kasper: Is it incorrect to say that the Supreme Court was thought to be a woman's beat, or do you think it was just pure happenstance?
Moulton: Well, that's a very difficult question, because—I guess you could probably say that. It was not a particularly popular beat, I mean, you had to spend a great deal of your time reading Supreme Court cases, briefs that came in. That was the way you prepared for the time when you were going to file your stories. You had to read all this stuff and I think it's probably fair to say that most young men who were starting in the business then, you know, they liked to run around Capitol Hill and talk to congressmen and interview people and all that, and they weren't particularly interested in sitting at a desk and reading a great deal of the time. It was confining.
Kasper: Yes, and as we said yesterday, it was more of a paper beat than a people beat.
Moulton: A paper beat. And you did not get to talk to the justices very much. Once in a while you could get an interview with somebody like Justice Douglas who was quite outspoken and he didn't mind talking. But you didn't call up a justice and say, "Look, have you got time today. I want to talk to you about this case that just came down." That wasn't done.
Kasper: Was that part of the ethic there, that it was sort of a no-no for reporters to be interfering in the work of the justices?
Moulton: No. It wasn't a no-no for the press, it was just the way the justices wanted it. They didn't want to—the way they decided cases was in a meeting once a week, a private meeting, in their own little conference room where nobody was admitted except the justice himself. And this junior justice, the most recently seated justice, one of his jobs was to answer the door when anybody knocked. If somebody's secretary wanted him for something, and who knows how often this would happen, probably not very often, but she'd come and knock on the door and the junior justice would get up and go and see who it was and what the business was, and handle it that way. But there was nobody there. I've forgotten who kept their records—I guess the Chief Justice did—of actually their decisions, what went on, if anything happened precisely at that time. But they did not have a recording secretary in there. It was just the nine of them in there. And that attitude pervaded the entire place as far as outsiders were concerned. In fact, I have a little story somewhere here that I can—I got pretty irritated one time and wrote a story about it. You know, you couldn't get any news out of the place and—
Kasper: Because they kept so much to themselves?
Moulton: Yes. And the reason they gave for doing it was that one never knew when an opinion was being written when it was absolutely and positively and completely final, that a justice could change his mind any time before the opinion was read from the bench, and, therefore, it was not appropriate to give any news about the opinion. That carried over into all kinds of other areas, like when a justice was ill, for instance, how much information should the press get about the nature of his illness, how sick he was, and when he'd be back, and all the rest of that. It was just a kind of closed door place.
But, if I can follow from that to the way the Chief Justice assigns opinions. The justices will discuss cases in their little conference and they will determine which of the recently filed cases they will hear—they hear maybe fifty or sixty cases in a term—and they will determine in that conference which cases they're going to hear and then who was going to write the opinion after they heard the arguments. So the Chief Justice assigns opinions. He'll go to a justice's chambers and he'll say, "I want you to write the opinion in x against y." So then that justice will in due time start work on the opinion. And when he finishes a draft, he will circulate it to all the other justices and they will make little comments and so forth and maybe he'll change something because somebody gives him a new idea, or emphasize one thing and not another, or whatever. But some justices won't agree at all and so they'll determine they're going to write dissents. Then this will go on and on about that same case, circulating and everything, and then some justice might think, well, I agree with some parts of this, but not others. So you get a whole array of attitudes towards that particular case. And after all the dissents and whatever, after they've all been circulated and everything— the last i is dotted and the last t is crossed—then they will announce the opinion from the bench.
Kasper: Now how did you learn all of this, the ropes of all of this? I mean, if Ruth Gmeiner had left, and you were there and you had taken over the UP desk, how did you learn this whole process?
Moulton: Well, I think while I was a tube stuffer I probably learned that. She probably told me. And, well, there are all kinds of things I could talk about in this way.
Kasper: Well, I'm more interested in your role in it as opposed to the justices' role on the Court.
Moulton: Yes. Right.
Kasper: And one of the things you could talk about at this point would be the process of your covering the Court. In other words, what did you have to do on a daily basis, on a weekly basis?
Moulton: Well, on a daily basis, as I was saying, I sat there and read the—the wire services got copies of everything that was filed, except what we'd call pauper cases, people who didn't pay anything. You had to pay something to file a case. Well, paupers could write their own or they could have some lawyer do it if they knew somebody, but if they could show they couldn't pay, they didn't have to. And so those cases we had to run out to the file room and look at. We looked at death sentence cases in the pauper area. But the others, we had the printed copies provided to us, so every day there would be this great big mess of printed material that we'd have to look through to see what cases we thought would be worth reporting when the Court decided whether it would hear the case or not.
Kasper: And you didn't yet know whether they were going to hear the case?
Moulton: They were just filed, that's all. John Brown's lawyer came in and said he'd been affected illegally some way by something and he lost in the lower courts and he wanted the Supreme Court to look at this.
Kasper: And might I interject, I imagine that in some cases there would be a story in material that the Supreme Court wasn't even going to be hearing. Is that correct?
Moulton: Oh, definitely. They had, I've forgotten how many—the Court's workload doubled while I was there. Actually twice as many cases were coming in as were coming in when I went there, before I got through. But, unless the papers had been covering how a particular case was faring in lower courts, and it had been announced that the parties were going to appeal to the Supreme Court, I wouldn't know until it got there that it was there.
Kasper: So your first chore was to go through this mountain of materials and see what was going to be interesting to your audience.
Moulton: Right. Right.
Kasper: How did you know your audience?
Moulton: Well, I guess that was one of the things they tried to teach me when I was learning. [Laughter.] You know, it was just of general interest. But a lot of things are important that are not particularly of general interest, like railroad freight rates, to go back there. We had things like natural gas rates and all kinds of things that had to be handled that were of interest to the business community or to a certain segment of the population. You just had to use your best judgment. Of course, there were some tremendous cases, like loyalty oaths and capital punishment, all those communist cases in the early days, and all kinds of—let's see what else? Oh, schools, of course.
Kasper: All the civil liberties cases.
Moulton: Civil liberties of all kinds. So those you just knew you were going to have to write. So, what I did was write a story about a certain case and I had two possible leads: One that the Court would accept this case and decide it by written opinion after argument, and the other lead that the Court refused to have anything to do with this case and whatever the lower court had done would be it.
Kasper: Would stand.
Moulton: Would stand. However, it might be pointed out that the fact that the Supreme Court said the lower court ruling would stand, did not mean specifically that the Supreme Court agreed in every detail with the lower court. It just said, we're not going to take any interest in this whatever. So then, when I first went there on Mondays, the Court, after it got through handing down its opinions which would get to me through the pneumatic tube, it would hand down what it called "the orders." This would be a long list of cases by number and title and there would be various segments in this list saying cases accepted and cases denied. And if you had a really big story, you would have to grab that thing and look quickly to find the number and the title of the case that you were interested in to see if they accepted it or refused to accept it.
So, in the meantime, these stories that I had already written with two different leads had been sent down to the office and were sitting there on the news desk ready to
be handled by the poor desk man that was assigned to the Supreme Court beat. Either that, or they had been sent, if it was what we call a regional story that had interest for only Chicago, for instance, it would have been sent to the UP Bureau in Chicago.
So there I am in my little telephone booth-like place looking for the number. So I find it and I send down to the office a message with the number and the title of the case, and usually the words either "refused" or "accepted," or some other key word in one of those alternate leads. And the desk man, who was handling the copy, would either put on the wire my own story that I had written if it was for general interest, or he would send a message to Chicago, which had that one that had been sent them by mail, and tell Chicago what I had said, that it was accepted or rejected, and they would put it on their local wire. Well, that's how you handle—that's the first step.
Well, so, the case had been accepted. Then they're going to hear arguments. So you go upstairs at the proper time and sit in your little seat in front of the bench. And, by the way, I omitted to say the other day that the tube stuffer—there was a little telephone, this is not the case anymore. The desk there and the little cubicle below were connected by a telephone, except that the person below could talk to the person in the courtroom, but the person in the courtroom, of course, because of restrictions as to noise and so forth, could not answer. If the person in the cubicle wanted to communicate with the person upstairs, she could press a button and I think there would be a little light come on at your desk upstairs so you'd know she wanted to talk. You'd take the little earpiece out of the drawer in the desk and listen to what she had to say. Then you would send a note down answering her question. You'd put the note in the cylinder and shoot it down to her.
So, anyway, I got off track there. You'd be up there covering an argument and listening to—the justices would usually ask the lawyer who was doing the arguing a lot of questions. So you'd do the best you could with that.
Kasper: Taking notes.
Moulton: Taking notes, yes, frantically, probably.
Kasper: You would have read the briefs beforehand.
Moulton: Oh, definitely!
Kasper: Pored through all of them.
Moulton: Yes. First you have a petition for review and you write your first story on whether they accept or reject on the basis of the petition for review and the answer the other party to the case makes. Well, after all that takes place, then both parties file briefs with the expansion of their arguments and anything they can possibly think of that might be of use to them. So you read those before you go up to cover the arguments, so you pretty much know the background of the case. But you don't cover every argument because if you did, you wouldn't have time to do all your other work, like looking at the small mountain of things that come in everyday. If you were up there covering arguments, you'd, you know—there's a limit—but you cover the outstanding cases.
Well, I can think of—the school desegregation cases would be obviously something that you would cover and those—I think right now the Court just allows one hour for each case, but I think in the early days they allowed two.
Kasper: Two hours of oral argument?
Moulton: Yes. And if they want to, they can extend it. If they feel like hearing more they can because they can do anything, you know, they want to do. But anyway, the school desegregation arguments were obviously something that we had to cover and I had to cover more thoroughly than just any old important case. So, we had a staff there to do it. You can go in and out—you take notes enough to make a good segment of information about what's going on, and then you leave and somebody else picks it up.
Kasper: Now, when you say a staff—a staff of UP reporters?
Moulton: Yes. They would send somebody over to help me.
Kasper: And what would that person do for you so that you were freed up?
Moulton: He'd just sit there and take some notes.
Kasper: During oral argument?
Moulton: Yes. I'd get up and go down to file something and he'd sit down and take some notes and we'd swap off like that. But that would be in the very big cases.
Kasper: Would he also help you do some research and background information, too?
Moulton: No, I don't think he would do that.
Kasper: He would just kind of fill in when you couldn't be two places at one time in the Court.
Moulton: Yes. That would be definitely a time when you couldn't be in two places at once. Well sometimes you'd cover something just because it had a certain human interest.
Kasper: For instance?
Moulton: Well, I picked out one here that the people—you want to turn that off for just a minute and I'll find it. [Tape interruption.]
Moulton: I really love this, that we covered in—and I actually put the date on this—it appeared in the Miami Herald in 1975. And it says, "The Supreme Court heard sprightly arguments Wednesday on the right of a city to forbid the showing of bare breasts and buttocks on drive-in movie screens visible from public places. All eight sitting justices showed a lively interest in a test case from Jacksonville, Florida, where the manager of the University Drive-In Theater was charged with violating such an ordinance after showing
the movie, `Class of '74.'" And this man was prosecuted and so forth. And the authorities down there prosecuted him, and he said the prosecution involved an infringement on free speech. And that was the issue, whether free speech permitted the showing of this movie with bare breasts and buttocks.
So we went on like that for quite awhile. And one of them suggested that traffic safety might be the basis for this ban of that drive-in movie. "You don't want people driving down the street looking at movies," one of the justices, Justice Stewart, said. And Justice Thurgood Marshall said, "The average person driving down the street, if he sees a bare buttocks, he is going to look at it." And the lawyer said, "Well, if he recognizes it." And Marshall said, "I would assume that the average person would recognize it." [Laughter.] And Justice White said that maybe the children could see that and that was the reason for the ban. Well, I don't want to read all this, but it's kind of cute. Oh, Justice Harry A. Blackmun noticed that some of the friezes in the Supreme Court Chamber, that they were nude enough to come within the Jackson—
Kasper: Friezes meaning the paintings?
Moulton: No, the statue-type decoration of the courtroom—that they were nude enough to come within this ban. And the lawyer said, he agreed that some of them would run afoul of the ordinance, but, he said, he would not expect to see small children in the Supreme Court chamber so, you know, it wouldn't matter. And Justice William Brennan said, "Look again." And it turned out that there were some teenagers in the courtroom at that very minute listening to the arguments. Then Blackmun called up the image of a recently born infant being given a bath as possibly coming within the terms of the ordinance. And the lawyer said, "I can't conceive of anyone being punished if they showed a baby's bare buttocks that someone was powdering." And then it said, "The Court will hand down a written opinion in June." [Laughter.] I mean, things like that.
Kasper: It went on and on.
Moulton: Well, you enjoy writing a story like that. It's kind of cute, and takes away some of the boredom, you know, some of the—
Kasper: Now you wouldn't get a byline for something like that would you? You would for a feature story, is that correct?
Moulton: Yes. I got bylines on—I didn't in this particular case in the Miami Herald. It just credited UPI, but my name wasn't on it.
Kasper: Now, why in some cases would you get a byline and in others you wouldn't?
Moulton: Well, I think it's up to the paper. If the paper wanted to put my name there it could, because my name was on the copy that left, it was on the UPI wire, or I think it was. So the paper can use it or not use it as it chooses.
Kasper: And what makes them decide whether to use it or not, do you know?
Moulton: Who knows. Maybe they don't want to give—they want bylines restricted to their own reporters, perhaps? I think I had bylines in other stories in the Miami Herald.
Kasper: And the feature stories, would that be the same way? Sometimes you would get a byline and sometimes you wouldn't?
Moulton: Well, I suppose the features would be more likely to give you a byline because it would be a longer more involved story and a lot of individual research that went into it, that perhaps nobody else had done, so you might be more likely to get a byline. Probably would. Let's see. Well, this is a story of, they heard arguments about the students' right of free expression. They were mourning the Vietnam dead and they wanted to wear black armbands to school.
Kasper: This was a case at the Court?
Moulton: Yes. That type of thing. Well, shall we go on to the opinions, when they actually—
Kasper: No, I'm still interested in the process here.
Moulton: Oh, okay.
Kasper: You know, at one point you mentioned that there was a big contrast here between the boredom—
Moulton: Oh, yes.
Kasper: —of poring through these mountains and mountains of briefs and so forth, and then the speed, the endurance, expected of you to get out a story when the opinions came down on Decision Monday. Do you want to talk about that a little bit—that part of the process of covering the Court?
Moulton: When the opinions actually come down?
Kasper: Well, we talked a little bit about—I guess I want you to back up a little bit and talk a little bit more about the whole business of poring through these briefs, writing some background material on a case you suspect will be a story. How did you know, since you didn't have any legal training, you were not an attorney and you hadn't gone to law school, how did you know how to make sense of all of this material that you were poring through?
Kasper: Did anybody help you? What did you do?
Moulton: Well, of course, in the meantime, I had covered the Justice Department, and that has to do with law, and I'd been back and forth on that beat for quite a while. So that was educational. Then, of course, I'd worked with Ruth, and after I got through shoving opinions down the pneumatic tube, I would go down and she would usually,
if we'd had any number of opinions, she would have something left undone that needed to be done. So I would either write a story about one of the opinions, or I would perhaps, if she had written a story saying the Court did so and so but there was some dissenting opinions or some other type of opinion, you know, somebody agreed part way or whatever, then she would give me that and say, "I've written this story, but we need an insert here." So I was gradually being educated all the way along. One time I did take a course in constitutional law at Georgetown [University] and it was just a—not an observer, but—what do you call it when—?
Kasper: I got it—an auditor?
Moulton: An auditor, yes. I audited a course in constitutional law and I guess that probably helped me. But you know, it isn't that hard. [Ms. Moulton later recalled that Professor Chester A. Antieau taught the class.]
Kasper: But a lot of people would say it is. A lot of people would say it's very difficult material to understand.
Moulton: Well, you just have to sit there and read it until you understand it. Well, I'll tell you, you can always call the attorney, especially if he happened to be in Washington, and ask him questions about the case that you don't understand or what do you think this might develop into. A lot of things are not just stories about the case itself, but what the case means for the future of whatever the subject matter is—like schools or whatever. But most of the talk with attorneys is after the Court has decided the case when you want to go on to the next step. What does this mean now that the Court has decided this issue—it's not this case, it's this issue—and what's going to happen as a result of this. But you do it to some extent, if you want to, while you're preparing the case, too. [Ms. Moulton recalled: I often called Professor A.E. Dick Howard at the University of Virginia Law School.]
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Moulton: Other organizations that are interested in the case, they're called "friends of the Court," and they file briefs too. And you might have a whole stack of briefs about people from business organizations, or some other kind of an organization, which would have a very strong interest in how the Court decides the case, and they would want to give the justices their slant on things of what will this do to us if you do this. So it might be quite in order for you to call lawyers for some of those friends of the Court and talk to them about it to prepare your material. But it's true that everything is in legalese, you might say, but, after a while, you get your hand in and it isn't as if you looked at the page and you thought, "Oh, my golly, I don't understand a word of it—I mean, what is this all about." There might be parts of it that you don't quite understand, but you get the picture. It isn't as if you were all at sea—especially after you'd been around a term or two—you can do it.
Kasper: How did you gain the confidence to do this, you know, without the formal training either as a legal person or even a formal training as a journalist?
Moulton: Well, that's another good question. [Laughter.] You're the expert on these things, you're supposed to answer that question. [Laughter.] I just knew I wanted to be a newspaper reporter and I had to do as best I could what I was asked to do, what I was assigned to do, and I just went from one thing to another—and finally got there.
Kasper: So it was kind of a cumulative process.
Moulton: Oh, yes, it was a cumulative process.
Kasper: You learned tricks as you went.
Moulton: Yes. It was learning on the job is what it was. You know, from Harry Sharpe on down. You're given something to do and—
Kasper: You're either capable of doing it or you're not.
Moulton: Well, that's about—
Kasper: I mean, you must have been very capable, which is another piece of it.
Moulton: Well, see I liked English, I liked writing, and I suppose that it was a challenge to just explain something. That's basically what a reporter does—explains what's going on so the reader will know, and do it as simply as you can.
Kasper: Now, to return to my question about the contrast between this long, tedious process of preparation and the mechanics of preparing for an eventual decision to be handed down by the Court. The contrast between that and the meticulous nature of that preparation and then this rush to the wire, do you want to talk about that a little bit? Decision Monday, I guess, is what we're talking about.
Moulton: Yes. Decision Monday. You're sitting out there in this little cubbyhole, this little booth, with your typewriter, and your material that you've amassed. Early in the game, the teletype operator, as I recall it, was right there in the same booth with me. I've forgotten how many feet that booth measured, but it was just about big enough for two bodies to get in there.
Kasper: And this is your office?
Moulton: Well, no. See when the pneumatic tube upstairs comes down right below the justices' bench where that person is sitting up there, it comes in a straight line down, or did, and there were little cubicles down there for the United Press, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, and the International News Service (which merged with UP in May 1958). And I think there was something called Transradio Press at the time. And when the cylinder came down from upstairs, it hit with a thud in this box that was inserted there behind the wall. So when the thud came, there was this red light that came on, and you opened the door and you took out the cylinder. Well, you know, if you were terribly lucky, the whole business would be in that one cylinder. But that didn't use to be the case, or often it wasn't the case, there might be four or five cylinders. So the person upstairs would have to be very careful to put in the end, if the entire majority opinion
couldn't fit into the cylinder—sometimes it was so thick it wouldn't fit into a single cylinder.
Kasper: Yes, we talked about this a little bit yesterday.
Moulton: Did we?
Kasper: Yes. You had to break it apart and put the back end in first.
Moulton: Right. Okay. So you'd take that out. Well, first of course, it might not be a case you give a hoot about. It might be just one of these dull things that you have to write something, but you don't have to worry about it too much. If you're doing something else at the time, you put it aside. But, on the other hand, if it's a big thing, you look at the majority opinion and you've already written a story (I didn't say this, did I?)—a story both ways—if the Supreme Court affirms the court below or if it reverses the court below. You have two leads there and you're going to use one of them. So you look and see if it says affirmed or reversed, and you look to be sure you're right, to see if the lead that you have made up for possible use really fits the story, and then you give it to the teletype operator. (This is, of course, not the way it's done now.) And he sends it downtown for editing and immediately it's put on the wire.
Well, in the early days, there was nothing to help you on the opinion except the opinion itself. You had to really riffle through there. Naturally, if you used the pre-planned lead, you have to insert immediately some quotes from the opinion. And there was nothing to do except look through the opinion and try to pick out some appropriate quotes.
Well, after Burger came, he made a welcome change. He said that the opinion wouldn't be released until it had headnotes on it—headnotes being substantially in a few little paragraphs the points the justice takes up and what the result is. So now when you get an opinion, you can look at those headnotes and you get a much quicker, better idea of the contents of the opinion than you could in the early days. So we have Chief Justice Burger to thank for that. But eventually you had to unload the rest of the cylinders and see who dissented, and who dissented in part and didn't dissent in part. And sometimes they just wrote an opinion, not very often, but sometimes a justice would write just a concurring opinion, which meant that he concurred with the judgment, but he really didn't go along with all the arguments that the writer used. So, by the time you have done all that—oh, and I must—there's another thing.
You remember we talked about bulletins and hot bulletins? Well, in the Supreme Court copy, we eliminated the hot bulletin thing, but there's such a thing, I don't know whether they use this now or not, but there used be such a thing as a flash. I omitted this when we were talking before about bulletins and hot bulletins. A flash is when the story is so big that the person in charge of the desk doesn't wait to get a sentence—the Court did this or the State Department did this, or president so and so did this—in sentence form and proceed with the story. He just put a flash on the wire saying, you know, "Congress declares war," or something big like that. I think ten words were the limit. And then after the bulletin segment, there's such a thing as an urgent. You don't tell the desk you have a
bulletin, you say, "This is urgent," which is a degree below the bulletin stage. So you have all these stages.
Well, in the Supreme Court we had a flash and a bulletin and an urgent. Now, you know, the flashes were very few and far between. I think I maybe had one or two the whole time I was there. But, you'd have your bulletin and then the rest of the story. Or you'd have an urgent which would be one paragraph, or maybe two or three, and then the rest of the story. I remember one day there were four opinions. The first one I made an urgent and the desk man who edited my copy turned it into a bulletin, as I found out when I went down there that night. And the three other stories were all bulletin stories. So the Court handed down four decisions that day and they were all bulletins. So it was a rather ulcer-producing day because they were all important stories.
Kasper: How often did Decision Monday take place?
Moulton: Decision Monday was three Mondays a month, as I recall it. This still obtains today, they're out—
Kasper: From October through May?
Moulton: From October through June, usually, but they take a mid-winter recess in February. [Tape interruption.] I was trying to think of, and I'm sure when I listen to this and read the transcript, I will think of all kinds of things I should have said and didn't.
Kasper: I know Tom Stewart said to me that the summer of 1968 there was one Decision Monday when seventeen decisions came down.
Moulton: Did he say that?
Kasper: Yes. Do you remember that?
Moulton: Well, I remember there was a—what year did he say it was?
Kasper: He said the summer of 1968. Of course, it wouldn't have been exactly the summer, but it was in maybe June.
Moulton: Yes. When you get the final deluge is the last meeting before they adjourn. I remember I handled, and maybe that was the time when I handled, all by myself, all sixteen or seventeen opinions. They went on way past the noon hour. In 1968—well, in Warren's day, the justices read every word of everything from the bench orally on opinion day, so, of course, that would give you more time to work on each opinion before the next one came down, which was beneficial. And the dissenters, and everybody who had anything to say, said it. But Burger thought that was a waste of time, I guess, and so he shortened that. And I think, I believe now, they just announce the opinion and how the case came out. So I probably—the one I remember—I don't know whether it's the one Tom remembers—all those opinions, I would have had, you know, I think they went on all afternoon because, you know, reading that—
Kasper: As you roll your eyes up and up, describing for the tape, as you roll your eyes up into your head thinking about how you coped with all of those decisions in one day.
Moulton: Of course I had all the prepared material and all that, but sixteen decisions is quite a few. And, of course, everything is changed now anyway.
Kasper: Now, what was the necessity of getting these decisions out as fast as you could, that you had to compete, let's say, with AP to get this material out on the wire as fast as possible.
Moulton: Um hum.
Kasper: Why was that an issue?
Moulton: Well, because a lot of papers take both UP and AP and if they're going to press in the next fifteen or twenty minutes, they are going to take the first thing they get. And your piece will appear in the paper or it will dissolve into thin air and they'll use the AP. So, that's the deadline every minute thing. It really is a matter of minutes. Well, of course, the wire services used to make a big deal out of it, you know— "We were ahead with this story." But it would make a big difference if, on a reasonably important story, the AP moved its copy at 11:20 and you didn't move yours until 11:50, they'd be in the papers and you wouldn't. But, on the other hand, it had to be correct copy. There couldn't be any mistakes in it, you know, because you don't want your copy in the paper and having people call up and say, "Look, your story said thus and so, and it's not right at all." So it has to be right as well as fast.
Kasper: So there were these twin issues of speed and accuracy.
Kasper: That you had to cope with.
Kasper: After having sat for days just poring over briefs, suddenly you had to go into high gear and not only get this out, but get it out accurately.
Moulton: Right. That's exactly right.
Kasper: I understand, I think it was again Eileen Shanahan, who said to me that editors around the country would often wait for your story to come through, even though they would have gotten the AP story first, they would sometimes wait the extra minutes to get Charlotte Moulton's story to confirm that what they were going to be putting into their paper that day was correct. Do you have anything to say on that?
Moulton: I don't have a thing to say. I don't know how she knows that. [Laughter.]
Kasper: Well, that's what she told me.
Moulton: If she said that, that's very nice if they did.
Kasper: She said, and I quote, "Charlotte Moulton humiliated generations of AP reporters by getting it precisely right when others didn't."
Moulton: Well, thank you Eileen. [Laughter.]
Kasper: She also said, and I ask you again to comment, that the UP would keep the wire open for you when they knew that the stories would be coming from your desk at the Court. Is that correct too? Do you remember that?
Moulton: Well, that might be. For instance, the big school desegregation decision, that was agony because—I've been describing how these pages would come and put copies of the opinion on those desks upstairs that would be shot down through the pneumatic tube. Well, when they decided the school desegregation decision, no pages appeared with the copies at all. And Ruth Gmeiner was sitting up there that day because she had been detailed to help me for some reason. Somebody else couldn't come or something. And she was sitting there and I was downstairs and I think—of course, the Court never told you ahead of time what case it was going to announce, but that's one of the ulcer-producing parts of the whole thing. But I believe that on that particular occasion they had notified—it was such a tremendous case—that I think they'd notified some of the people in the Justice Department and maybe the lawyers that participated. I don't know, but there was a collection of people in the courtroom indicating that something was going to happen. And when Chief Justice Earl Warren started to read this opinion, Ruth was sitting there and she didn't get any copy, and she realized after a minute, I guess, that she wasn't going to get a copy until—well, who knew when. But anyway, she had to take notes and slip the notes into the cylinders and put the notes down the tube.
So I knew what was going on, but I didn't know what to say. And in that case, of course, I would have told the office, "Look, they're reading the opinion, but I don't know what it is." I presume that it was so important that they would have stopped filing something else, if that's what she means, and left the wire open because they knew that any minute they were going to get this big thing. And Ruth kept putting notes down about what she could grasp as it was being read, but, you know, this was a matter of, if you had a mistake in it, you might as well say goodbye to your job, I guess. But, anyway, I didn't dare until they finally got to the end and she put down a note that said, "Unconstitutional," which meant, segregated schools were unconstitutional. So then I could do it and they could make a flash if they wanted to on the wire saying, "The Court rules segregated schools unconstitutional." Then, when he finished, and I think I'm correct in saying that there were no other opinions, just this one opinion, I think they—
Kasper: That day.
Moulton: Not opinions that day, but opinions like dissents or concurrences or something from the majority opinion, that it was just Warren's opinion. I think they worked very hard to get a consensus on that. It was so touchy. So then I did get the opinion and, of course, then I could go ahead and do what I usually did. And we got some very—well, and the arguments, as I think I mentioned, on that thing were—we just had several people up there working on the arguments. And we'd gotten a lot of—
Kasper: You mean several UP reporters covering the oral arguments?
Moulton: Yes. Yes. And we did very well on that I remember. We got congratulatory messages from people saying, you know, you beat the AP in this and all that stuff.
Kasper: Who did you get the congratulatory remarks from?
Moulton: Oh, you know, from Frandsen, who was the bureau manager, and perhaps some people would write letters like—I think I saw one as I was poring over this stuff yesterday. You remember I mentioned Chiles Coleman as somebody who was sitting on the desk. And he left and became UPI manager in Atlanta of this group of southern states. He wrote a note saying that he'd buy me a drink sometime, that was great stuff, and things like that. So we were very happy about the arguments and, of course, the problem with covering the opinion was what I described. It was so—I don't know how to describe it. But I think we did pretty well.
Kasper: Who was your competition at the time at the AP?
Moulton: Well there was somebody named Paul Yost, who was there for many years before I got there, and after I got there. And then on Mondays, Karl Bauman used to come up and help him. The two of them would be in the next little cubbyhole there. I think they didn't have a teletype operator. They did it all by telephone, as I recall it. But they were the opposition for many years. And then Paul Yost was succeeded by Barry Schweid. He's still at the AP now. Paul Yost has died and Karl Bauman has died.
Kasper: What were the arrangements between you? Was there any collegiality between you and the AP?
Moulton: Oh, yes. Yes. I must make sure that I'm understood. Barry Schweid is not covering the Court for AP, but he is with the AP. Oh, yes, there was plenty of collegiality. We used to go to lunch together. The Court had a lunch room.
Kasper: Did you help each other, you know, when you were poring over those mountains of briefs trying to understand all this legal technicality?
Moulton: Well—yes, yes, it's quite possible we could have talked it over, um hum. Yes, we could have done that. And, of course, we were the only people there full time for quite a while. Other people would come in on Mondays to pick up opinions. Then gradually, as time went on, more—I think the first one was the New York Times and then the Post, and different—the Wall Street Journal—they had good people there covering.
Kasper: Who were some of the people from those papers that you remember over the years?
Moulton: I couldn't call any by name right now. [Ms. Moulton later recalled the names of many print and broadcast reporters she knew from her Supreme Court days—see Appendix B.] But gradually more papers decided the Court was important enough to send somebody to cover it, but not necessarily to stay all week and do as much or get down to
such detail as we did. But they would cover it. I interrupted something you asked me, I think.
Kasper: Well, no, really at this point, I was interested in how you worked with your colleagues and that was the subject of the question.
Moulton: Yes. I was thinking of something you said before that. Yes, there was plenty of collegiality. And people who came in from time to time to do something there—you know, somebody might come in for a particular purpose, who was interested in a particular case or whatever—and we'd have lunch or chit chat or something.
Kasper: Did you ever socialize outside the Court with any of the people that you met there?
Moulton: No. I don't think so. I don't recall that. I might have, well, the Women's Press Club, the outgrowth of which is sponsoring our current conversation. I might met some of them at club meetings or whatever, but we didn't socialize outside as I remember it.
Kasper: Did you work very long days, on Decision Mondays, for instance?
Moulton: Yes. Oh, on Decision Mondays I would. Well, in the early days, I would file copy that would be for papers that were going to press at the time. Then we had the night desk, and somebody would be detailed by Harry Sharpe to write the Supreme Court copy for the morning papers. I did not do that until much later in the game. The night desk copy was written by the night desk. And what they did was take what I had sent down and just re-work it a little bit and put a new lead on it. Then there had to be, as I was describing before, an overnight story to pick up for papers that had already gone to press when we filed our copy. So what I would have to do every night is stay and write an overnight of whatever I had done throughout the whole day.
And the overnight, one would hope that it would have some forward-looking lead on it—that it wouldn't just say the Supreme Court yesterday did this. That it would have something to do with the effect of what the Supreme Court had done. And you'd call up lawyers, and call up some of those people that perhaps you'd already been talking to, some of the friends of the Court people that had filed briefs telling how important the case was and so forth. You'd call up some of those people, and get the next step in whatever area the case covered. So, you would be doing that.
Of course, if the Court hadn't done very much, if the cases had been relatively unimportant, then you could always weed out your files of—as I said, after the opinions were handed down, then they handed down a whole list of cases that they would hear arguments on or not hear arguments. So if they were not going to hear arguments, you didn't want to bother with those briefs anymore and there they were in your bookshelves. So the next thing you did after you got your stories out of the way, was to—
Kasper: Clean house.
Moulton: Clean house and put those somewhere where somebody would take them away and you'd never see them again. [Laughter.] And, of course, besides covering the cases,
there were things that could happen. As I said, we had to go to the file room to pick up the pauper cases, because we didn't have copies of those, to see the ones that had to do with the death penalty. I don't think we did very much with many of the other pauper cases. Although—well, shall I get into that now? You remember there was a case of—Clarence Earl Gideon against Wainwright—was the name of the case. And Clarence Earl Gideon was a poor, down-and-out character who'd been convicted of something in a state court and he didn't have an attorney because he couldn't afford one. So he lost in an appeals court and he wrote a letter in his own handwriting, as I remember it, to the Supreme Court and said he didn't get a fair shake. Anybody could get in under these pauper rules and write a letter like that. And, of course, you wouldn't think that the Supreme Court would pay any attention to anything as—not illegal, but without much legal knowledge—
Moulton: Yes. But anyway, they did pay attention to Clarence Earl Gideon and they took his case and it was a pauper case. So, of course, when the Court took it, then it was a big case. And, well, there were some of those, and, of course, when the Court took them, we had to pay attention to them. But, anyway, Clarence Earl Gideon was a—it turned out to be quite a pacesetter because eventually the Court ruled that in criminal cases you couldn't convict a man unless he had an attorney. He had to have an attorney at the state expense if he couldn't afford one himself. Anthony Lewis wrote a book about the case in which he enlarged on how the Supreme Court works and so forth and it was one of the best books I know about.
Kasper: What's the name of that book?
Moulton: The name of the book is Gideon's Trumpet. He got the title from the Bible, you know, Gideon blew his trumpet. So Tony went to a concordance and looked up Gideon and decided that the title of his book was going to be Gideon's Trumpet, and it's still a good book, I think. It was written some years ago, but it's a good book about the Supreme Court, and a little bit of history, and how it functions and everything.
Kasper: We talked a little bit about the collegiality among court reporters. How about the competition?
Moulton: Oh, the competition was very intense. [Laughter.] You knew about the Associated Press and sometimes you'd get—well, in an ongoing thing like an argument that was a big argument, you might hear about the papers that were already on the street, I guess, that had something in or they'd say—we called the AP, in message language, Rox. And they'd say, "Rox is doing this," or "Rox is doing that"—something like that to say Rox has good play in this, that or the other. I really don't remember quite how that worked in the arguments, but I remember Karl Bauman saying to me, "I've been hearing how well you are doing"—obviously hearing from his own people that UP was doing well. But just how that figured in, I don't know. But, you know, everything you did was supposed to be quicker and better than what the AP was doing. That was the whole idea.
Kasper: How did that intervene then with the collegiality among you?
Moulton: Not very much. It was accepted. Everybody knew it and I don't think it affected personal relationships at all, really.
Kasper: Did it affect a sharing of information about cases—background information or the preparation stage?
Moulton: Oh—well—I don't know. It was quite conceivable that we'd talk about it—you know, this is a lousy case, isn't it? But I don't know what you'd share, really.
Kasper: Well, I had asked earlier whether in a particularly difficult case, whether you shared information. Let's say you had talked to a particular lawyer about some aspect of a case, did you ever share that information at all with anybody else?
Kasper: So you used that for your own purposes.
Moulton: Oh sure. Yes. No I didn't—that was part of making my story better than his.
Kasper: Yes. That's what I'm trying to get at. So the collegiality among you was not shared work, so much, it was social.
Moulton: It was social. Oh, yes, it was social.
Kasper: It was just social.
Moulton: It was having lunch.
Kasper: And the work was competition.
Moulton: Yes. Right.
Kasper: So there was a division there.
Moulton: Oh, sure.
Kasper: That's what I wanted to make sure I understood clearly. So the friendship in the lunches and so forth were at the level of, you know, where are you going on vacation or did you see the snow outside today and wasn't it a devil getting in here.
Moulton: Yes. Well, that doesn't mean we never discussed a case. But I think there's a difference between just hashing it over and telling them what some lawyer told you.
Kasper: Giving away information.
Moulton: Yes. Well, in a sense, it wasn't even giving away information. It was just making your own story better than his. I certainly wasn't going to call up some lawyer and have him tell me that this is going to just have a tremendous effect on this, that or the other, and then telling the AP that same thing. I mean [Laughter] —
Kasper: It's like cutting your own throat.
Kasper: But on the other hand, several people reported to me that over the many years that you were there, you were also a mentor and a guide and a confidante to many reporters who came along who were trying to cover the beat. How did you see your role?
Moulton: Oh, well they'd just come in and if the press officer didn't happen to be sitting there to help them, they'd ask me some question about how things were done there or—what would they ask me? I know I have that reputation and I really can't seem to pin down all the help that I gave to these people. They would just be people, basically, who didn't cover the Supreme Court except at that particular time when they were in there looking for something. And they might say, I need to know about such a case, or when it was filed, or what's the status of it, or something like that. And I'd be happy to help them. It was more or less, I think, the workings of the Court itself. I don't think I ever, you know, wrote the story for them or anything like that.
Kasper: But if they were novices, you would tell them, well the Court is going to do this, and then there's Decision Monday, and this is where the briefs are, and this is what you need to do in order to be prepared for Decision Monday and think about—
Moulton: Something like that, I think. I might ask Eileen sometime, what were those wonderful things I did for people? [Laughter.]
Kasper: Well, she wasn't the only one who said it. Other people did too. Do you remember who you, and this is really acting as a mentor to people, do you remember to whom you acted as a mentor over the years? Some of the names?
Moulton: An individual? Oh, no. No, I don't—I don't remember anybody at all. I suppose if somebody came, for instance, who was going to be assigned there and had never been there, they would perhaps need some help. Well—because the press officer was supposed to help them. But if he had a day off or something, I suppose I'd help them, but—I wish somebody would tell me about how wonderful a mentor I was to people. [Laughter.]
Kasper: Because you don't remember.
Moulton: Well, I remember, I was sitting there. I might be the only person there in the press room. And somebody would come in and they'd want to know something, and the press officer wasn't there, and so I'd just answer the question or try to help them in any way I could because I had been in their shoes and I know. Their boss wanted them to get this information, whatever it was, and so I would try to give them a lift, you know, it's just like life itself.
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