John F. Stacks, 70; journalist and biographer

Mr. Stacks believed the country benefited when journalists enjoyed closer access to politicians than they have now.
William E. Sauro/New York Times/file 1990
Mr. Stacks believed the country benefited when journalists enjoyed closer access to politicians than they have now.

NEW YORK — John F. Stacks, a former reporter and senior editor at Time magazine and the author of a well-regarded biography of James B. Reston, the influential editor and columnist for The New York Times, died Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 70.

The cause was prostate cancer, his son Benjamin said.

In “Scotty: James B. Reston and the Rise and Fall of American Journalism,” an admiring but not uncritical biography published in 2003 to mostly positive reviews, Mr. Stacks traced the career of one of America’s most powerful Washington journalists while chronicling the passing of an era in which the press and politicians shared a more intimate relationship than they do today.


To Mr. Stacks, Reston’s career — stretching from the 1930s into the early 1990s — was emblematic of how journalism changed over his own lifetime.

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‘‘What I tried to do in this book was to show how fabulous his reporting was when he was in his heyday and how much the country benefited from that kind of information, that kind of subtlety,” Stacks said in a 2003 interview with the PBS program “NewsHour.”

“And I think we’re missing that today.”

Mr. Stacks wrote three other books, one as a ghostwriter for John J. Sirica, the federal judge who presided over the trial of the Watergate burglars.

The book, “To Set the ­Record Straight,” a memoir published in 1979, was a bestseller.


Mr. Stacks was just a few years out of Yale when he joined Time in 1967.

He was part of an ambitious generation of Ivy League- ­educated journalists who had entered the field expecting to wield influence with powerful figures and instead played a role in toppling them.

Mr. Stacks was rising through Time’s ranks in 1973 when he was sent to Washington to help manage the magazine’s coverage of the widening Watergate scandal.

He was later appointed Time’s chief of correspondents and held the posts of executive editor and deputy managing editor at the magazine. He interviewed a number of world leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, and Fidel Castro.

John Fultz Stacks was born on Feb. 3, 1942, in Lancaster, Pa., to Helena and Harry Stacks; his father was editor of The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale in 1964 and went to work for The Washington Star, a daily newspaper that closed in 1981.


Mr. Stacks married Dora Jo Aungst in 1964. They had two sons. The older, John Jr., was killed in a car accident in 1988. The marriage ended in divorce in 1985, the same year Mr. Stacks married Carol Cox, a psychotherapist, who survives him.

In addition to his wife and his son Benjamin, he leaves a stepdaughter, Nicole J. Ruane; two grandchildren; and a stepgrandchild.