Ted Knap · 2008
By Ray E. Boomhower
In 1972 in Moscow a reporter for the Scripps Howard News Service hears a rumor that negotiators from the United States and Soviet Union have finally agreed on language for the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. He and other reporters receive a briefing from Gerard Smith, the chief U.S. negotiator, that although an agreement has been reached, there are still details to be worked out. At midnight, the group assembles in a hotel nightclub to learn more from Henry Kissinger.
Finally, at four o’clock in the morning, the Scripps Howard reporter hands the last page of his story to a Russian teletypist, notices the first rays of light in the morning sky, and realizes, for the first time, that he had just worked through his birthday. “No time to celebrate,” he thinks “Press bus leaves in an hour.”
The Moscow adventure was just another day on the job for Ted Knap, chief political writer and White House orrespondent for the Scripps Howard chain and author of the weekly “White House Watch” column syndicated to 145 newspapers. As Peter Copeland, editor and general manager of Scripps Howard News Service, noted, as a reporter Knap “attended the Bolshoi ballet with Richard Nixon, walked the Great Wall of China with Gerald Ford, visited Normandy Beach with Jimmy Carter, covered Ronald Reagan during the Cold War, and was well known to everyone in and around the White House.”
The man who, as former U.S. Senator Birch Bayh noted, always followed the trail of truth wherever it might lead, graduated from Marquette University’s college of journalism in 1940 at the age of twenty. His first job on a newspaper was with the Waukesha Daily Freeman, where he worked for five years as a reporter and then city editor, sandwiched around four years in the army during World War II.
In 1950 Knap joined the staff of the Indianapolis Times, a Scripps Howard newspaper. He started out as a city desk reporter before moving on to positions as assistant city editor and city editor. “Ted never missed a deadline or a headline,” said Donna Mikels Shea, who also worked on the Times during Knap’s tenure there. “We worked together and sometimes against each other in that hectic, competitive era of prize-winning reporting, now sadly lost to our city and most of our state.”
Knap returned to his first love and true calling, reporting, as the Times’s chief political writer, covering state and local campaigns and placing a critical eye on the workings of local and state government. Bayh first met Knap when the future senator was a young legislator “still trying to find the men’s room in the Indiana House of Representatives.” He noted that Knap seemed on a perpetual hunt “for facts, the truth, what really is on your mind, what does this bill accomplish, who does it help, who does it hurt? And he was persistent. You could put him off, try to avoid him, but, at the end of the day, he would be there waiting by the door.”
This determination for the truth resulted in Knap successfully unearthing a number of scandals over the years, including wrongdoing in the state highway department, fraudulent voting involving absentee ballots in a congressional race in Anderson, kickbacks in the awarding of asphalt contracts in Marion County, and corruption in a national carpenters union.
Knap recalled that his best work was in exposing the Indianapolis Police Department’s practice of hiding a significant number of crimes under a separate “under investigation” category. The most flagrant example involved the case of Margaret Marshall, a retired psychologist who was mugged for the five dollars she had in her purse and killed outside her apartment door after walking home from evening mass.
By failing to list her murder, and many other assaults, in reports to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Indianapolis police were able to claim a reduction in the crime rate, coincidentally boosting Mayor Charles Boswell in his campaign to be nominated for the U.S. Senate.
After working nearly thirteen years in the capital city, which included a stint as president of the Indianapolis Press Club, Knap left for Washington, D.C., in 1963 to work as a correspondent for the Times and Evansville Press. His former editor at the Times, Richard Peters, eventually recruited him to work in Washington for the New York World Telegram and Sun, of which Peters was editor. Knap received promotion to the national staff of Scripps Howard in 1966, when he covered Nixon’s campaign across the country on behalf of Republican candidates for Congress, earning political capital for his eventual run for the GOP presidentialnomination two years later.
During the 1968 campaign Knap developed a reputation among newsmen for finding different ways to get Nixon to reveal his “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam.
John Wilson Jr., who worked with Knap at the Times and later in Washington, said the two men would often share a cab when visiting Capitol Hill and sometimes met for lunch in the House dining room. Wilson noted that in prowling the halls of Congress, Knap particularly enjoyed covering Robert F. Kennedy, then a U.S. senator from New York, and talked with him quite a bit. “As a newsman, Ted was a careful fact-checker and precise in speech and writing,” said Wilson.
Some of the memorable stories Knap covered before his retirement in 1985 included the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the funeral of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson’s passage of his Great Society programs and agony about Vietnam, Robert Kennedy’s 1968 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and subsequent assassination, the Watergate scandal, Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon, Jimmy Carter’s successful 1976 presidential campaign, and the supply-side economics of the Reagan administration.
Although some journalists considered it an honor to be listed on Nixon’s enemies list during the height of Watergate, Knap did not think he deserved to be on the list. Except for Watergate, Knap believes Nixon to be one of the better presidents he covered a list that included Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, and Reagan.
Reflecting on his career, Knap, former president of the White House Correspondents Association, noted that with few exceptions, the people he knew in politics were “motivated by a desire to do good as they saw it; some did it for power, or ego, very few for money. It was my pleasure to know them and my privilege to try, as best I could, to help you know them.”