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Smoking on Deadline

In the heat of reporting and writing, television and newspaper journalists savor the pleasures of a great smoke.
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94

(continued from page 5)

"I started smoking back in the early 1960s," says Dick Duncan, a "four-star general" in those legendary free-fire zones at Time. "I was covering Latin America and was a reporter and correspondent and Caribbean bureau chief.

"I'm not good with cigar talk. With wine, you can say 'it has the hint of blackberry.' Right now I buy De La Concha's house brand. I like a full taste; they're well-made and smoke evenly. I also smoke Partagas. Customs at Time have changed in the last 30 years though. If I smoke while concentrating on work, I have to close the office door; it also keeps people out and thus serves a double purpose. As executive editor, I edit all the essays.

"In 1980, we went to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro and Fidel gave us a couple of his favorite Cohibas. Henry Grunwald was looking for Montecristos, but Cuba was shipping all the good ones out. Our guide noticed this and bought us a box of Montecristos. I had never heard of them. It was a huge cigar. It was absolute perfection, the finest made. The only problem was that it took three hours to smoke. Whenever you wanted to have one, you'd need three spare hours. I've talked to people in cigar stores about them, but they don't know of them. It was an incredibly rich, complicated smoke--a true Havana smoke with a distinctive flavor and aroma that others don't have."

While Duncan may have to chase that ideal Cuban smoke for the rest of his days, he still enjoys cigars from De La Concha, usually Partagas, two per day at the office. Door closed, of course.

On the left coast, David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times encountered cigar censorship whenever he went to Chavez Ravine, the open-air home of the Dodgers. (Smoking is now banned at Dodger Stadium.) "Just taking the cigar out at Dodger Stadium causes trouble." Shaw remains undeterred. Indeed it was an odd circumstance that led the Times' media critic for the past 20 years to embrace cigars in the first place. "My late wife loved an espresso after dinner and would sit with it for three or four hours. While doing this one day, she asked: 'Why don't you smoke a cigar?' This makes me the only one who ever smoked because his wife suggested it.

"My father learned of the smoking and said he would tear off both my arms and beat me to death with them. So I went to my doctor, who said three cigars a day is about the same as zero a day."

As a reporter at the Los Angeles Times in 1973, Shaw wrote a popular and playful bio on Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain: Wilt: Just Like Any Other 7-Foot, Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door. Some of his more serious work has exposed systematic partiality and unethical practices in the print media. One of Shaw's stories was about reporters' biases, which generally favor liberal causes, while another showed journalists at some major newspapers plagiarizing at will.

Shaw tries not to let important work infringe on his cigar time. "It defeats the whole purpose if I'm smoking while looking at a computer screen," Shaw says. "I smoke cigars when I'm relaxed and happy.

"My favorites are the Cohiba and the Davidoff. I just like the way they taste." Yet the epicurean delight of cigars would be unknown to Shaw had it not been for his late wife's proposal. "I only did it because she suggested it," he says.

Back at the West Side CBS studios in New York, Morley Safer appears in no particular hurry. Perhaps it takes one who's been in the media to understand the pleasure of slowing life's pace to a standstill and enriching it with a smoke. "Certainly the travel at this time of year starts to get me down. The knees get pretty stiff. I still want to do it, so in theory as long as the brain and body hold out I can still hold on. And I still want to." So Safer, with a 1,001 niggling things to do on a day he departs for the stifling heat of Florida, appears in no rush.

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