Bachelor, Carleton College, 1960. Juris Doctor, New York University, 1969. Doctor of Letters (honorary), Simpson College, 1984.
Doctor of Laws (honorary), James Madison University, 1989. Doctor of Letters (honorary), Grand View College, 1990. Doctor of Letters (honorary), Iowa Wesleyan College, 1997.
Doctor of Laws (honorary), Drake University, 2001.
He was President of the Iowa Board of Regents. He is a graduate of Carleton College and the New York University School of Law. His long career in journalism began in the sports department of the Des Moines Register at the age of 15.
Eventually, he became page one editor of The Wall Street Journal (1960–1974), editor and president of the Des Moines Register (1974–1985), general news executive of the Gannett Company and USA Today (1985–1986), editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal (1986–1987) -- during which time he served as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors—and president of NBC News (1988–1993). He has also been a columnist for the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal and of USA Today. Gartner chaired the Vision Iowa fund, which provided communities money to fund projects such as the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, from 2000 to 2005.
In May 2005, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack named him president of the Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees the state's three public universities (the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa). He served until December 2007.
Gartner is chairman of Raccoon Baseball, Inc., which has owned the Iowa Cubs baseball team since 1999, and is co-owner of Big Green Umbrella Media, which publishes the Cityview alternative weekly newspaper in Des Moines. He is also the author of "Civic Skinny" an anonymous weekly column in Cityview. He resigned from NBC in 1993 as a result of controversy over the show Dateline NBC. The show reported on dangers of GM pickup trucks, but did not state that it had actually staged the explosion of a truck for broadcast.
Years later Gartner said, "It happened on my watch. I took responsibility for it. I did what I thought you ought to do when you make a mistake.
You say 'we made a mistake' and apologize to the viewers." (Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 23, 2005).
Chairman Vision Iowa, 2000—2005. Honorary trustee Simpson College. Member Pulitzer Prize Board, 1982—1992, chairman, 1991—1992.
Trustee Freedom Forum Newseum, Washington, Freedom Forum Diversity Institute. Board directors World Food Prize. President Iowa Board Regents, since 2005.
Member of American Society Newspaper Editors (president 1986-1987), Association Bar City New York, Iowa Bar Association, American Bar Association, Wakonda Club.
Married Barbara Jeanne McCoy, May 25, 1968. Children: Melissa, Christopher (deceased), Michael.