Herbert G. Klein, a veteran journalist and the White House’s first director of communications, died on July 2. He was 91.
Klein served as vice president and editor in chief of Copley Newspapers from 1980 to 2003 and was associated with the Copley chain for more than five decades.
A 1940 journalism graduate of USC, Klein had served on the USC Board of Trustees since 1982. He also was a past president of the USC Alumni Association.
“Herb Klein was a statesman, a journalist, an author and a leader,” said USC president Steven B. Sample, “but if you ask me what impressed me most about Herb, I will tell you: Herb Klein was a superstar in the Trojan Family.
“I can tell you that all who study, work and teach at USC have benefited from Herb’s generous support and his guidance of our university during his more than two decades as a USC trustee.”
“Herb Klein was a true Trojan,” added Ernest J. Wilson III, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication. “Herb was always a friend of the school. And he became a good friend of mine. His writing and his work made fundamental impacts on many facets of journalism, communication and public policy. His confident character and warm demeanor will live on through the work of our students, faculty and alumni. We will all sorely miss him.”
A Los Angeles native, Klein attended Roosevelt High School before enrolling at USC. At the university, he served as sports editor for the Daily Trojan during his junior year and wrote a column called “Sports Scribbles” in his junior and senior years.
It was also during his senior year at the university that he met his future wife, Marjorie Galbraith ’41, while both were enrolled in an international relations class.
After earning a bachelor of arts in journalism in 1940, Klein began his news career as a copy boy for the Alhambra Post-Advocate, eventually rising to the position of news editor. He later moved to the San Diego Evening Tribune and then to the San Diego Union, where he served as editor from 1959 to 1968. He resigned to join Richard M. Nixon’s presidential campaign.
Klein had met Nixon at the conclusion of his service in the U.S. Naval Reserve (1942-1946), when, upon returning to the Post-Advocate following World War II, he had covered Nixon’s 1946 congressional campaign.
Klein subsequently played a role in all of Nixon’s political campaigns, serving as press secretary while Nixon was vice president in the Eisenhower administration and as manager of Nixon’s successful 1968 presidential campaign.
When Nixon assumed the presidency in 1969, Klein became the first White House director of communications, a position he created. This marked the first time that a news-oriented function was recognized as a Cabinet-rank position.
In addition to overseeing information policies and serving as the administration’s key spokesman for television broadcasts, Klein accompanied Nixon on trips to Yugoslavia, Poland, Italy, the Soviet Union and other countries.
With Henry Kissinger, he was part of the first official mission to North Vietnam. In addition, Klein traveled on behalf of the White House to the People’s Republic of China, all of the countries of Southeast Asia and six Latin American nations.
Klein resigned from the White House in 1973, unscathed by the Watergate scandal that forced the president to step down 13 months later. He then joined Metromedia Inc., a national non-network broadcasting group, as vice president of corporate relations.
In 1980, Klein was appointed editor in chief of the nine daily and 20 weekly newspapers that formed the Copley Press, headquartered in San Diego. He held that position for more than two decades, retiring in 2003.
In his 1980 book, Making It Perfectly Clear – a hard-hitting look at the love-hate relationship between the media and U.S. presidents – Klein recounted his experiences in government. The Reagan White House adopted many of his recommendations.
Throughout his career, Klein maintained strong ties to his alma mater, including the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences as well as the USC Annenberg School.
In 1971, he was recognized with the USC Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Asa V. Call Achievement Award. He served as president of the Alumni Association from 1975 to 1976 and was elected to the USC Board of Trustees in 1982. He was a life member of the board at the time of his death.
In November 2003, Klein was the recipient of the inaugural Half-Century Trojans Hall of Fame award, honoring a lifetime of dedication to the university. USC awarded him an honorary doctor of humane letters in 2006.
Klein’s legacy at the university includes the Herb Klein Scholarship in Government and Political Reporting at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, which was endowed by a group of his friends as a tribute to his distinguished career. The first $5,000 scholarship was awarded in 2006.
Additionally, USC College hosts the annual Herb Klein Lecture on Civic and Community Leadership, established in 2006. Held at alternating venues in San Diego and at USC, the lecture series brings nationally recognized statesmen and community leaders to an audience that includes high school and university students as well as Trojan alumni.
Klein was preceded in death by his wife of more than 66 years, Marjorie, and his daughter Joanne Mayne ’67. He is survived by his daughter Patricia Root, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, July 14, aboard the USS Midway.