Thursday, August 16, 2012

Telling stories

Some of my summer reading has involved journalistic topics. So call me predictable.
Yours In Truth: A Personal Portraitof Ben Bradlee by Jeff Himmelman performs a difficult task well: portraying the larger-than-life executive editor of the Washington Post, who was memorably played by Jason Robards in the 1976 movie All the President’s Men.
Bradlee is a hero to many journalists for his role in the newspaper’s unveiling of the Watergate scandal, which forced U.S. President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974.
Highlights of this warts-and-all bio are the photos of brief, punchy letters and memos from Bradlee to friends and foes. The title comes from one of those.
Himmelman claims he wanted to call the book “Dear Asshole,” from another Bradlee letter.
Yours In Truth also contains a vivid portrayal of Katharine Graham, Bradlee’s boss and one of strongest female characters in American journalism.
The news hook in the book is Bradlee’s comment that “there’s a residual fear in my soul” that some of the paper’s references to Deep Throat, its source, were not completely true.
 But you don’t need to know anything about Watergate to enjoy this fast-paced, entertaining read.
Somewhat more ponderous is Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley, a doorstopper at 819 pages.
It’s an anecdote-stuffed examination of the life of Walter Cronkite, perhaps the last of the old-time, authoritative television news anchors. Cronkite defined avuncular on CBS News, emphasizing American and international politics and space exploration.
He followed a traditional career in journalism, from newspapers to a wire service to television, emphasizing fact-checking and seeing things for himself.
From the Second World War to the moon landing and political assassinations, Cronkite delivered the nightly final word on “the news” into the 1980s.
There won’t be any more Cronkites. Today’s instant information and multimedia universe leave no room for final words.
Cronkite’s nemesis was Dan Rather, a brash Texan and CBS co-worker who was apparently a little less scrupulous about fact-checking.
His memoir, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, with Digby Diehl, is on my fall reading list.
For fun reading I highly recommend The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee, a hilarious satirical novel set in Britain in 1997, at the dawn of the Internet.
Newspaper hacks sense something is changing in their competitive but tightly knit world. But as they swill their nightly drinks at the bar while plotting their quasi-legal exploits, they scorn the new technology.
There’s a shadow of Rupert Murdoch here: the protagonist steals a fistful of unopened letters addressed to an interview subject, and then reflects that lifting more letters would have made her appear more professional to her bosses.
Speaking of the Dirty Digger, Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman eviscerates Murdoch.
Watson, a U.K. member of Parliament, was one of the many targets of unsavoury investigations by Murdoch journalists. In a way, the book is a continuation of Watson’s aggressive grilling of Rupert Murdoch and his son James at a parliamentary hearing that revealed astonishing details of phone hacking and bribery by Murdochs’ journalists, and a massive international cover-up by their executives.
Hickman, a British journalist, steers this account more in the direction of impartiality.
Several of the characters in this book have been charged with criminal offences, and they may well be headed to prison, following the tracks of Conrad Black, a former Canadian.
That one-time press baron has released a “fully updated” edition of A Matter of Principle, his version of his losing battle with the United States legal system. It was a victory, not a defeat, Black insists.
The updating consists mainly of 16 pages detailing the end of his 42-month sentence in Florida prisons for fraud and obstruction of justice.
Black reports that his last day in custody “began in a foreign, tropical prison cell with the ear-shattering pre-dawn wailings of an ostensibly female African-American correctional officer.”
There is also a new four-page attack on Murdoch. No honour among pirates, apparently.
A Matter of Principle and The Spoiler probably will send you to the dictionary a few times: a delightful bonus.

No comments:

Post a Comment