During his decades as a New York Times correspondent, the late A.M. Rosenthal saw lots of dead bodies in Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Kashmir, India and other troubled lands.
One day in Calcutta he started asking questions: What if some of these people are dying, but not yet dead? Was he supposed to help them? These questions stayed with him when he returned home to become an editor.
"I devoted a great deal of my time and thinking to wondering: When is it a sin to walk past a dying person? What number does God have? Is it one? Is it two?", asked Rosenthal, in a BreakPoint radio interview after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.
What if we know that torture is taking place, but cannot see the evidence with our own eyes or hear it with our own ears? Does God forgive those who don't act? "Is that what God is saying: 'If you can't see them, it's OK to walk away from them?' Or is he saying, 'If you can't hear them?' Suppose you can hear them, but not see them, or they're around the corner. When is apathy a sin?"
Rosenthal kept these questions to himself as his career soared. As a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter he covered the world and, as editor, he caused a journalistic earthquake when he pushed for the publication of the Pentagon Papers. For 56 years Abe Rosenthal helped change the New York Times and, thus, helped shape his times.
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