Born: August 12, 1929;

Died: July 16, 2021.

HARRY Rosenfeld, who has died aged 91, was a long-serving newspaperman who began his career on the New York Herald Tribune in the 1950s, and ended up as editor of the Times Union of Albany, New York, but was best-known for the period he spent as Metropolitan Editor of the Washington Post, when it investigated and exposed the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon.

Rosenfeld, along with Barry Sussman, the paper’s District of Columbia editor, was the immediate line manager for Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the two reporters who produced most of the stories that followed a break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex in June 1972.

The Post’s coverage was eventually to lead to Nixon’s resignation in August 1974; a Pulitzer Prize for public service for the paper’s reporting;Woodward and Bernstein’s best-selling book, All The President’s Men; and, in 1976, a hugely successful film adaptation, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as the reporters, and Jack Warden as Rosenfeld.

Rosenfeld’s team of reporters were responsible for local coverage of Washington, DC, itself, and many of them were relatively inexperienced, or anxious to transfer to the more prestigious national desk. He made it “his mission… to rescue the local staff from its second-class citizenship”, as Woodward and Bernstein put it, “like a football coach. He prods his players, letting them know that he has promised the front office results, pleading, yelling, cajoling, pacing, working his facial expressions for instant effects – anger, satisfaction, concern”.

Throughout the tortuous ins-and-outs of the Watergate story, however, which started as a routine account of a burglary, Rosenfeld, “gulping down antacid tablets”, jealously guarded his stewardship of Woodward and Bernstein, and their ownership of the story, against senior editors who wanted to transfer it to more experienced political staff.

He had personally taken on Woodward, with whom he had at first not been impressed, simply because he had relentlessly pestered him for a job.

This tenacity was typical of Rosenfeld, who would chivvy his staff to provide him with stories that would make the front page, and whose suspicions about the potential importance of Watergate he shared with Woodward when, 10 days after a Presidential denial of any White House involvement, he declared that “A man like John Mitchell [who had resigned as Nixon’s campaign manager, citing family reasons] doesn’t give up all that power for his wife.”

Rosenfeld was born Hirsch Moritz Rosenfeld on August 12, 1929, in Berlin, where his father was a furrier. Concerned about the rise of Hitler, the family attempted to emigrate to the United States but could not secure a visa.

Rosenfeld witnessed the events of Kristallnacht in 1938, and later compared his childhood “dodging Nazis” with that of the executive editor of The Post, Ben Bradlee (portrayed in All the President’s Men by Jason Robards), a “tennis-playing Boston Brahmin” who “looked like an international jewel thief”.

The family finally secured passage to America on the Aquitania in May 1939, a few months before the outbreak of war. Rosenfeld grew up in the Bronx and after high school had a summer job with the Herald Tribune’s syndication desk, where his relentless work ethic got him noticed.

He graduated in literature from Syracuse University in 1952, then had a two-year stint in the US Army. In 1953, he married Anne Hahn, with whom he would go on to have three daughters. Always an editor, rather than a reporter, he worked his way up from the Herald Tribune’s newsroom to became managing editor and then foreign editor before it, and its sister titles, folded in 1966.

He joined the Post’s foreign desk, where he did take at least one trip into the field, visiting Vietnam in a specially run-up safari suit, emblazoned with his name and the words “bao chi” (journalist). He then went to Metro – with practically no experience of domestic, let alone local, news in 1970.

After Watergate, he was promoted to assistant managing editor, but his abrasive style went down badly on the national news desk, and he transferred to the Outlook Section and the literary desk (he had completed some graduate work in literature, an abiding interest, at Columbia and New York Universities).

In 1978, frustrated by his prospects in Washington, DC, he moved to upstate New York to take the reigns of the Times Union and its evening paper, the Knickerbocker News, both Hearst titles. The latter folded in 1988, but Rosenfeld continued as editor until retiring in 1996, and even after that – as editor-at-large – continued to contribute to the Times Union.

Usually clad in bow tie and braces, Rosenfeld remained a galvanising presence in the newsroom, expecting total commitment from his team. When he sent one reporter to Ethiopia to cover the famine there, he got the objection that the man’s wife was expecting a baby any day. “That’s no problem,” he replied. “You can leave her at home if you want.”

His advice to young journalists was to “take good notes, ask good questions, and if your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Harry Rosenfeld, who had been ill for several months since a Covid diagnosis, continued to file copy until days before his death. He is survived by his wife and daughters.