David Rosenbaum writes elegantly from the grave, it might seem.
Rosenbaum’s byline appears under the George McGovern obituary in Monday’s New York Times. Rosenbaum, a veteran and well-loved Times writer, died a tragic death after a mugging near his Cleveland Park home in 2006.
How does the Times keep a writer’s byline alive six years after his death?
“It does happen,” says Eileen Murphy, spokesperson for the Times.
It happens in newsrooms across the country: Obit writers prepare tributes to important people in the community so that when they die, the copy will be ready. It’s safe to say that major newspapers and wire services have obits “in the drawer” for every pope and president, and many sports stars.
Murphy says Rosenbaum most likely got the assignment to write McGovern’s obit because he covered him as a political reporter in the Times’ Washington bureau. Rosenbaum was a Times reporter for 35 years, most of them covering politics in Washington.
“Elizabeth Taylor and Bob Hope both outlived their Times obituary writers,” she says.
When Taylor passed away in March 2011, Mel Gusso got the byline on her obit. Gusso, a longtime theater critic, had died six years earlier.
Rosenbaum’s death has had an impact on DC’s emergency response system. He was walking in his neighborhood the night of January 6, 2006, when two men approached him. One man struck him in the head with a pipe. They robbed him and fled. Rosenbaum, 64, was knocked unconscious with a serious brain injury. Medics with DC’s emergency response system deemed him intoxicated and took their time transporting him to the hospital, where he waited for treatment. He died two days later.
Rosenbaum’s family charged the system with contributing to their father’s death, and an investigation bore out their concerns. An inspector general’s report called the handling of Rosenbaum’s demise “an unacceptable chain of failure.” Rather than sue the city, the Rosenbaum family agreed to a complete investigation by a special task force and reforms.
“It was bittersweet to see David's byline in the Times today,” says Rosenbaum's brother, Marcus. “I knew David had interviewed McGovern for the obit, and I'm really glad the Times saw fit to run it. I thought they did a good job updating it since it was written in 2005, too. But of course, it also makes me sad, because while I miss him mostly as a brother, we all miss him as the great reporter he was.”
In Monday’s New York Times and digital editions, Rosenbaum writes a clear and surprisingly relevant rendition of the 1968 presidential election, where McGovern ran as a staunch liberal against Richard Nixon, with the backdrop of the Vietnam War. “When Mr. McGovern proposed deep cuts in military programs and a $1,000 grant to every American,” Rosenbaum wrote, “Nixon jeered, calling the ideas liberalism run amok.”
New York Times obit editor William McDonald updated Rosenbaum’s report and was listed on the report as a contributor.
Eileen Murphy says she would not be surprised if more Rosenbaum bylines show up, since he most likely penned more obits.