James Greenfield, Globe-Trotting Reporter and Times Editor, Dies at 99

James L. Greenfield, an urbane journalist who covered postwar world affairs for Time magazine, served as a State Department official in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and for nearly 25 years was a senior editor of The New York Times, died on Sunday at home in the rural town of Washington, Conn. He was 99.

The cause was kidney failure, his wife, Ene Riisna, said.

As a foreign and diplomatic correspondent with an insider’s savvy about the workings of Washington, Mr. Greenfield was well placed for a career that took him from the globe-trotting reporter’s life in Europe and Asia into the company of world leaders as a government spokesman and then to the top echelons of the Times newsroom.

A protégé of A.M. Rosenthal, a rising star who later became executive editor, Mr. Greenfield was hired by The Times in 1967 and soon became a focus of controversy through no fault of his own.

Seeking to rein in the relative independence of The Times’s Washington bureau, Mr. Rosenthal in 1968 urged the publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger, to name Mr. Greenfield bureau chief, replacing the popular Tom Wicker, who also wrote a political column.

When Mr. Wicker and some colleagues threatened to resign, Mr. Sulzberger withdrew the proposed appointment, and the widely publicized contretemps ended with bruised feelings all around. Mr. Greenfield resigned and joined Westinghouse Broadcasting as a vice president. But in 1969 he was rehired by The Times as foreign editor, and over the next seven years he supervised the newspaper’s coverage of international affairs, including the Vietnam War.

In 1971, he joined Mr. Rosenthal, Mr. Sulzberger and other Times leaders in deciding to publish the Pentagon Papers, the secret Defense Department study of American duplicity in Vietnam. As project editor, Mr. Greenfield oversaw the preparation of articles whose publication, challenged by the Nixon administration, won a historic Supreme Court victory for freedom of the press and the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

With his many contacts in government and in countries he had covered, Mr. Greenfield was a well-informed source of ideas for articles, a check on the work of far-flung correspondents and a recipient of tips and unannounced details that added color and dimension to the Times foreign desk’s reporting. When North Korea captured the American intelligence ship Pueblo in 1968, for example, Mr. Greenfield provided The Times with dramatic details of events on board that he had gleaned before the ship’s radio went dead.

Suave and personable, with a wry smile playing as if he knew a secret, Mr. Greenfield was an impressive figure in the newsroom, more like a chief executive than a sleeves-rolled-up editor. He was always impeccably turned out, usually in a tailored three-piece suit with a colorful shirt and a silk handkerchief in the breast pocket.

He was named an assistant managing editor in 1977, with duties that focused on personnel and newsroom administration. A decade later he was appointed editor of The New York Times Magazine. After stepping down from both posts in 1991, he was an editorial board consultant.

“He symbolized the sort that large organizations were proud to display in public — men who did not quite get to the very top but who were often more presentable than those who did,” Gay Talese, author of “The Kingdom and the Power” (1969), wrote of Mr. Greenfield in Esquire magazine.

James Lloyd Greenfield was born in Cleveland on July 16, 1924. His father, Emil, owned and ran a small-scale printing press, and his mother, Belle Speiser, managed the home.

He graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in 1942 and from Harvard College in 1948. He began his career as a Voice of America correspondent in the Far East and then joined Time, covering the Korean War, Japan and Southeast Asia for the magazine in the early 1950s.

In Hong Kong, he met Margaret Ann Schwertley, a Pan American World Airways flight attendant. They were married in 1954. She died in 1999. He later married Ene Riisna, a former ABC News producer. In addition to her, he is survived by a stepdaughter, Katherine Thompson, and a step-granddaughter.

From 1955 to 1957, Mr. Greenfield was Time’s bureau chief in New Delhi. There he befriended Mr. Rosenthal, who was on a four-year assignment for The Times covering the varied cultures of the Indian subcontinent. In 1958, Mr. Greenfield moved to London as Time’s deputy bureau chief; in 1960, he was named chief diplomatic correspondent for Time and Life magazines in Washington.

He was appointed deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs in 1962 and, two years later, promoted to assistant secretary. As chief spokesman for Secretary of State Dean Rusk, he briefed reporters on foreign policy and often accompanied Mr. Rusk or Under Secretary George W. Ball on trips abroad to confer with foreign leaders. After leaving the government, he became a spokesman for Continental Airlines in 1966. He joined The Times a year later as an assistant metropolitan editor.

After retiring in 1991, Mr. Greenfield, with his first wife and Donald M. Wilson, a former Time executive, founded the Independent Journalism Foundation, with a mission to train journalists in former Communist countries.

Mr. Greenfield also contributed occasional editorial commentaries to The Times, including a 1993 account of a reunion of Korean War correspondents. “Amid all the quiet talk,” he wrote, “it was clear that most of the American correspondents who had covered the war were the last of a breed and that American journalism itself was at the end of an era.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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