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Indianapolis Publisher Pulliam Dies

January 21, 1999

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Eugene S. Pulliam, who started out delivering newspapers as a school boy and rose to be publisher of The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News, has died. He was 84.

Pulliam died Wednesday night, said Cynthia Whisler, funeral director at Crown Hill Funeral Home in Indianapolis. He had been ill for most of the past year.

Former Vice President Dan Quayle, his nephew, said Thursday that Pulliam’s ``sense of fairness and integrity were unmatched.″

Pulliam was a staunch defender of press freedom during a six-decade news career. In the early 1950s, he assailed the smear tactics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

``He was a person deeply committed to making his newspapers good citizens of their communities,″ Quayle said in a statement.

The Star won the Pulitzer Prize twice during his tenure as publisher, for investigations on police corruption and medical malpractice.

In a 1991 interview, Pulliam said: ``I think newspapers will continue to be the only sizable check on government.″

Gov. Frank O’Bannon said Pulliam ``has been a towering figure in Indiana journalism.″

Pulliam, while he had not been to the newspaper offices in several months, remained active in their operations by telephone, said Frank Caperton, executive editor of both papers.

Louis D. Boccardi, president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press, praised Pulliam’s approach and dedication to journalism.

``Over his long career, Gene Pulliam demonstrated a great understanding of the importance of both a free and a fair press,″ Boccardi said. ``It was fundamental to his approach to newspapering.″

Pulliam could be critical of the news media.

When he believed the press unfairly attacked Quayle during the 1988 presidential campaign, Pulliam defended him in a post-election signed editorial.

Pulliam was born Sept. 7, 1914, in Atchison, Kan., where his father, Eugene C. Pulliam, owned the Atchison Champion newspaper.

The family moved to Indiana after his father purchased the Franklin Evening Star, and the younger Pulliam got his first newspaper job as a grade school boy delivering papers for the Lebanon Reporter, which his father also purchased, and The News.

Later, during summer vacation from study at DePauw University, he earned 5 cents an item writing news briefs for The Reporter.

Eugene C. Pulliam by that time had began buying and selling newspapers all over the country and would own at least 50 during his lifetime.

At DePauw, the younger Pulliam became president of the Society of Professional Journalists, then known by the Greek letters Sigma Delta Chi, which was co-founded at DePauw by his father 25 years earlier.

After graduating in 1935, Pulliam joined United Press, which later became United Press International, working in the news service’s bureaus in Chicago, Detroit and Buffalo, N.Y.

He returned to Indianapolis in 1936 to become news director at radio station WIRE, then also owned by his father, and became a familiar voice to central Indiana listeners.

During World War II, he served four years in the Navy and later rose to the rank of lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve.

After the war, he joined the Star, which his father had purchased in 1944, working as aviation editor, assistant city editor and city editor. When the elder Pulliam bought the afternoon News in 1948, Pulliam became the paper’s managing editor.

In 1953, he served on a special committee of the American Society of Newspaper Editors formed to investigate McCarthy’s attack on New York Post editor James Wechsler.

Pulliam concluded that the tactics of McCarthy, a central figure in the Communist scare of the 1950s, were ``not only a threat to the freedom of the press, but also a peril to America.″

In 1962, Pulliam became assistant publisher of The Star and The News, taking over as publisher of the papers when his father died in 1975.

Two years earlier, Pulliam was appointed executive vice president of Central Newspapers, the parent company of the Pulliam newspaper group and publisher of the Indianapolis newspapers, The Muncie Star and The Muncie Press _ later combined as the Star Press _ The Vincennes Sun-Commercial, the Topics Newspapers of suburban Indianapolis, the Alexandria (La.) Daily Town Talk, and in Arizona, The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette, which ceased publication in 1997.

He was active in professional news organizations, serving on the board of The Associated Press Managing Editors and as president of the American Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. He also served on the advisory board of the American Press Institute and was a member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors

In addition to his wife, Jane, Pulliam is survived by daughters Myrta J. Pulliam, director of electronic news and information for Indianapolis Newspapers Inc., and Deborah S. Pulliam of Castine Maine, a freelance writer; son Russell B. Pulliam, editor of The News; and six grandchildren.

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