Andrew L. Pincus: The editor was no gentleman

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LENOX — Still today, the nobs, toffs and ladies ride to hounds in their tally-ho outfits, pursuing foxes across the New Jersey countryside. But since my day, the sportsmen, ladies and hounds have a new neighbor: Donald Trump.

I'm talking about estate country in and around Bedminster, N.J., territory that came under my purview a while back (in the 1960s, actually) as editor of the local weekly newspaper. The website of the Essex Fox Hounds tells me the hunt and associated horse races remain a feature of country life. You don't kill the fox, you just run it for sport. Pictures testify to a line of scarlet-jacketed gentlemen and black-jacketed ladies winding away into the Jersey woods, just like merrye olde England.

The website also offers useful advice: Hunting garb should not look too shiny-new. Only officials with the title of master, whipper-in or huntsman may wear a certain kind of bowler-like cap. Riders should be polite to locals. And so on.

If I had stayed on, I could have reported on doings at the Trump National Golf Club that opened in Bedminster in 2004 with a 36-hole course and appropriate amenities — maybe I could even have interviewed the Orange Man himself. Yeah, sure. Even if I could get past security, the golf kingdom would not have spilled its secrets to a wretched country journalist.

This, needless to say, was Republican country, though Jackie Kennedy did have an estate a few miles east of the future Trump bastion. (In time, Bill Moyers, Meryl Streep and Mike Tyson followed.) I was a JFK Democrat. So was my publisher. But he was a nervous Democrat, terrorized by the Birch Society honcho who regularly, and ominously, visited to warn us of dire consequences from our editorial support of zoning restrictions, school taxes and fair housing. Government, it was certain, would confiscate chattels and privileges. Blacks from the Newark ghettos would buy up housing. Communism loomed.

The paper was based in Bernardsville, a mostly middle-class town that bore approximately the relationship to the estate environs that Lee bears to South County's leafier acres. If you had a plugged-up toilet on your estate, you probably called Bernardsville for a plumber.

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Guy Gabrielson, then the Republican national chairman, lived on an estate in Bernardsville. So did Millicent Fenwick, the maverick Republican congresswoman immortalized as Lacey Davenport in "Doonesbury," and now as a life-sized statue in town.

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I never met Gabrielson, but I did have friendly conversations with Fenwick about local and national affairs, sometimes over lunch. (I think she might have voted to impeach.) On the other hand, a Republican councilman in Bernardsville, incensed over something I had written, hurled the ultimate insult at me. "You're not a gentleman!" he spluttered. I wear the indignity as a badge of honor to this day.

Perhaps it all comes down to who's a gentleman and who isn't. Those fox hunters in their scarlet jackets are clearly gentlemen. Same for those who can afford the tab for a round of golf at Trump National. Gentlemen make up Trump's Cabinet and inner circle. Gentlemen don't live in Newark ghettos.

In a way, editor of a country weekly is the best job a journalist can have. Despite the Birchers, angry subscription cancellations, drunken calls for baseball scores, breaking-down presses and no-show delivery man (you deliver the bundles of papers yourself), there is the satisfaction of feeling your impact on the community and its impact on you. It's not like shouting a question at a presidential press conference and getting a sneer in reply.

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But always, there's a joker in the deck.

My publisher, a Princetonian, frequented the country club, but mainly for a round of drinks after a hard day puzzling over such demands at the paper as dealing with a union shop. His wife, however, was a socialite and the paper's society editor, filing reports of parties, dances, benefits and the like from hunt country. (Her most famous contribution: the caption for a photo showing three socialite women, one with her dog at her feet. The caption ID was explicit: "The dog in the middle is ")

I enjoyed my job and might have stayed on too long for my own good. Alas, Donald Trump came to town. Not in my day, of course. But the pressures that put him into office were already a-building. Perhaps because of the paper's editorial stance, the threats to advertising and circulation were mounting. The paper was losing money, the boss said. It required a sacrificial victim.

Sleepless, nervous and profusely sweating and apologizing, he called me into his scruffy office and fired me. He was no gentleman. I was no gentleman. The hunt went on without me.

Andrew L. Pincus writes about classical music for The Eagle and is an occasional op-ed page contributor.


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