Top of Mind: Jack Williams, Extended Version

By James Burnett | Boston Magazine |

JB: You used to write more of your own copy back on Sundays.

JW: Originally when Tony Pepper and I were the anchor team, ’75 through ’81, we were it, other than a producer. I would write all the local; he’d write all the national. And we had the biggest numbers in the country. But it’s a different animal—I think the quality today is much better. I do.

JB: You were an accomplished student in college, Phi Beta Kappa. If you were advising the you of then now, would you say journalism is a good business to go into?

JW: Nobody knows! I can ask you the same thing. Is there going to be a Boston magazine in 10 years? Will there be a Globe? Will there be a New York Times? I don’t know. There’s such tremendous change taking place today, I really question that. But I do think there will always be a place for smart people, who have a broad-enough background.

I’m a great believer in liberalized education. I’m on the national board of Phi Beta Kappa Fellows…and we’re pushing hard for that whole idea. There’ve been some interesting debates in articles over the past six month questioning the value of the liberal arts education. So many students are demanding specific technical information on how to do [the broadcaster's] job, and our contention is that you need to learn how to learn and get the good background of good thoughts…. Because no one knows what direction this is going to go in. Right now, we could end up, all of us, broadcasting over the computer.

…This economy isn’t gonna turn around on a dime; it’s just not gonna do it. People will need smart people to read. I know you have to be careful when you say "smart people." Smart people got us into this mess. You know, it’s infuriating what they’ve done, I just can go on and on. I am so angry. I blame a lot of this on Ronald Reagan. That whole attitude—not that he wasn’t a fine fellow, because he was—but he convinced so many Americans that government was the problem, that unfettered free enterprise was the answer. And that is bullshit! I am sorry, you gotta have some control. …There are people beginning to wise up, with Barack Obama getting the votes, and hopefully we can show him some support if we get out of this. We need controls. Greed is a terrible thing.

And I can tell you, by the way, that our endowment for Wednesday’s Child only had 2 percent in stocks. We’ve not lost any money for those kids; we worked too hard to get it.

JB: So you’ve conservatively invested.

JW: Oh, yeah. Same thing goes for my personal portfolio. Although I had overall maybe 15 percent in stocks, and I’m still kicking myself over that. It’s sort of funny, for a liberal I’m very conservative with my own money. You know, I have a seven-year-old car, and that’s fine with me, thank you very much.

JB: Have you been affected personally by the downturn?

JW: Certainly, my family has. You know, it’s just staggering what people have lost…. You’ve seen what’s happened to CBS stock—holy mackerel! They had the whole "fund the future" idea, and it was a great idea, the stock was going to be $35 to $40 a share, and now it’s down to a few bucks a share. Yikes.

…All these things kind of tie together, because with a down economy, with people fearful of their jobs, kids sometimes are the recipients of the anger. I think as families dissolve—we saw the same thing with the crack epidemic back 20 years ago, my God, these kids were coming in, it was just awful. And I’m very worried about that, at a time when we as a society need to rally around them to protect them, because they’re our investment. There are thousands of these kids at stake here. There are several thousand ready for adoption in Massachusetts alone. And [the problem is] going to get bigger all around the country….

I’m so thrilled with Barack Obama and this influence he’s having on African-American children today. I think it is beyond-belief wonderful. Now their aspirations are so high. It’s great that they can see beyond the limitations imposed on so many generations. And I’m quite excited about that. Things can turn around….