Tag Archives: New York Times

How many Muslim readers hath the New York Times?

A note on the paper’s decision not to show the Charlie Hebdo cover after the attack

The decision of The New York Times not to depict the cover of Charlie Hebdo after ten of the French magazine’s journalists had been murdered by Islamic terrorists has drawn much deserved criticism in the United States and abroad, in comments from the editorial page editor of the Denver Post to a reporter’s charge of “cowardice” in the German newsweekly DER SPIEGEL.

Within the ranks of Times editors the decision not to depict the cover, which showed a tearful Prophet Muhammad holding up a “Je Suis Charlie” sign, was defended by Executive Editor Dean Baquet:

“My first most important job is to serve the readers of The New York Times, and a big chunk of the readers of The New York Times are people who would be offended by showing satire of the Prophet Muhammad…That reader is a guy who lives in Brooklyn and is Islamic and has a family and is devout and just happens to find that insulting.”

Some might be surprised that among Brooklyn’s Muslim population (3.73% or 95,000 out of 2.5 million) there can be found a “big chunk” of the Times’ readership. Among them would be the paper’s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan who voiced her disagreement with Baquet’s decision and observed:

“The cartoon itself, while it may disturb the sensibilities of a small percentage of Times readers, is neither shocking nor gratuitously offensive.”

It’s got to be either that “big chunk” of Times readers potentially offended by the cover, or just a “small percentage” among them whose sensibilities would have been disturbed. Curious minds do indeed want to know and may not be satisfied with a Bill Clintonian explanation: depends on what your definitions of “big chunk” and “small percentage” are.

Much Ado or Too Much Ado About Jill Abramson

Editor’s note: the following is an opinion piece by George Salamon

Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times since September 2011 and the first woman in that position, was fired by the paper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. on May 14. It was ugly. Some journalists referred to it as a defenestration. Ms. Abramson, in a commencement speech at Wake Forest University on May 19 called it “getting dumped.” It has created a huge buzz in the media. Within the first 24 hours after the event, not attended by Ms. Abramson, The Washington Post ran ten stories about it. Almost immediately columns appeared, telling readers what it “really” meant. As they say in New York City, Ms. Abramson’s home town, “Oh yeah?”

Ms. Abramson charged that she was dumped so suddenly and unceremoniously because she complained about getting paid less than the male predecessors in her job. Mr. Sulzberger claimed she was let go because of her management style in the newsroom, a style described by adjectives like brusque, arbitrary, harsh, non-collaborative and despotic.

Several publications ran articles that supported Ms. Abramson’s charges, among them The New Yorker. Her annual salary, at the time of her dismissal, was $525,000, enough probably even in New York to put croissants on the table. Mr. Sulzberger asserted that she was not rewarded less than former male executive editors. Articles will likely sort out who’s telling the truth about money here, or if each side simply interpreted the numbers in its own fashion. Accounting can lead to the darndest things. Or, the matter will be settled in that quintessentially American way, by a lawsuit.

It is much harder to talk about effective “management style,” particularly in journalism. Fabled editors have not been known as hail-fellow-well-met characters but rather as brusque tyrants who growled at everybody but knew a good story from a so-so one and edited with a sharp and judicious pen. If Ms. Abramson treated some reporters differently than others, that is likely to emerge in future stories too.

But what we have learned so far isn’t enough to come down on her or on his side. Numbers can be arranged and presented so that they do lie or cover up. Her newsroom style awaits testimony from a representative number of staffers so that a pattern of her behavior emerges clearly. Surely reporters at Vanity Fair or New York or Politico are standing by, waiting to hear from buddies at the Times to clue them in on how Jill Abramson ran the newsroom.

What does seem clear, however, is that the paper did not disintegrate under her editorship. In the months before her firing it ran an excellent series on the expansion of poverty in America. And just days after, on May 19, a fine story on p.1 captured the “harsh conditions” for migrant workers constructing New York University’s campus in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the kind of story the paper has the editorial resources to cover, and one expects that it will continue covering them no matter who its executive editor is.

If Ms. Abramson was let go, however, because she justifiably raised the unequal pay issue, her dismissal should produce ripple effects throughout the media. Sexism remains in many of our institutions. Some have done much to cut it down, others merely pay lip service. We should find out, sooner or later, where the Times has stood and stands now.

Media coverage of the Abramson firing soon had to focus on the “up close and personal” minutiae in absence of clear evidence supporting either protagonist. What we got, therefore, a week after was Sulzberger mouthing corporate public relations talk and Abramson gritty girl talk after being wronged.

We discovered that Abramson has three tattoos, one of a NYC subway token, one of an H, standing for her alma mater Harvard and her husband Henry, and one of a gothic “T” for the NYT. No swell details like that came our way about Sulzberger.

At her commencement speech at Wake Forest Abramson compared her situation to that of the graduating seniors seeking their first job in a grim market: “I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you, “she said. That is terribly disingenuous or insensitive. She is a Harvard graduate with a fabulous resume and stunning connections and therefore not in the same boat as kids job hunting while often paying off huge student loans. She hit a false, cloying note of self-pity here.

Until we know more, what have we witnessed in the paper’s latest spectacle? Two privileged baby boomers (he’s 62, she’s 60) whining and bitching and backbiting. But wait; there are more episodes to come in this soap opera. But since this is about The New York Times, maybe we should call it something more elevated. This detergent drama about the male and (allegedly) sexist boss and his female tattooed executive editor is going to have a long run in the media.

Let us now praise our paper of record: The New York Times confronts America’s unpleasant facts

Editor’s note: the following is an opinion piece by George Salamon

“The power of facing unpleasant facts is clearly an attribute of decent, sane grown-ups as compared to the immature, the silly, the nutty, or the doctrinaire.”  Paul Fussell about George Orwell’s “power to face unpleasant facts.”

Orwell would have been proud of the way The New York Times exercised its own power to face unpleasant facts about what has happened to our country’s middle class and poor. The numbers have been known for some time now: between 1979 and 2007 the income gap between the top 1 percent and the rest of Americans more than tripled, as median family and household incomes fell while that of the top 1 percent rose by 31 percent.

But those are numbers. By now the effects of what those numbers don’t reveal are felt in the bones and marrow of those suffering from the effects. And in four articles between April 21 and May 10, all on page 1, the Times painted vivid portraits of hardship and hopelessness now rampant from the dirt poor in West Virginia to the once comfortable middle class in California.

The first piece, “50 Years Later, Hardship Hits Back.  Poorest Counties Are Still Losing in War on Want,” (April 21) describes life in McDowell County, West Virginia, the poorest county in the state, “emblematic of entrenched American poverty for more than half a century.” After President John F. Kennedy visited this county, he established the federal food stamp program with his first executive order. And it was the squalor in this county and in others in Appalachia that President Lyndon B. Johnson had in mind for the battleground of his “war on poverty.”

Today, “much of McDowell County looks like a rural Detroit.” Although about 85 percent of America’s “most persistently poor counties” (defined by having a poverty rate above 20 percent) are rural, there’s no war being fought on behalf of their residents. In McDowell County the only good jobs disappeared with the decline of the coal mining industry: “When coal was king, there were two movie theaters and a high school, now closed. Everybody worked.” What can they do now?

Now many residents are addicted to prescription drugs. They see no way out of the grinding poverty and despair. One described himself as “30 years old and carrying my life around in a backpack.” His mother added: “It broke my heart.” But it’s not breaking hearts in Washington. The people in Appalachia described so beautifully by the late Joe Bageant in “Deer Hunting with Jesus,” as “the great  beery, NASCAR-loving, church-going, gun-loving Americans that have never set foot in Starbucks” aren’t talked about much in our nation’s capital.

The people in Detroit, heavily African-American, aren’t either. On April 22, in “A Driver’s Bloody Run-In With an Angry Detroit,” the beating of a middle-aged white man by a group of young African-Americans after his pick-up truck accidentally injured an African-American boy (his life was saved by an African-American woman living nearby), set off reflections about the bleak circumstances in which the once-thriving city finds itself.

“You can’t fix Detroit,” a witness to the accident and beating told the NYT reporter. Hope for an economic revival, and with it perhaps a decline of the rage simmering in the heavily black city surrounded by many heavily white suburbs, has diminished in Detroit. The racial tension has a life of its own in America, but no diminution should be expected without a change in African-American economic reality.

And as in McDowell County, change has been steadily for the worse in Detroit. More than one third of the city’s 700,000 residents (it had 1.5 million in 1950) live in poverty and 17 percent are unemployed. Since 2005 half of its schools closed, half of its bus service has been lost and only 57 of its 300 parks are expected to open this summer.

Big investment banks were bailed out after the 2008 meltdown because, Washington wisdom (a moldy oxymoron by now) told us they were too big to fail. America’s 18th-largest city (by population) will have to muddle through on its own. Its citizens know where our establishment’s priorities lie.

The third article provided readers with the numbers about middle class decline: “U.S. Middle Class No Longer World’s Richest,” on April 23. Despite the so-called post-2008 economic recovery, “only a small percentage of American households is fully benefitting.” That comes as no surprise to people who have investigated how things got to be that way.

Harvard economist Lawrence Katz is one of those. Talking about the median American he said: “In 1960 we (middle class Americans) were massively richer than anyone else. In 1980, we were richer. In the 1990s we were still richer. That is no longer the case.”

But why? Three factors contributed: First, educational attainment rose more slowly in America than in the rest of the industrialized world; second, American companies contributed a smaller share of their “bounty” to the middle class and poor; and finally, other governments were more aggressive than ours  in enforcing measures to raise the take-home pay of low-and middle-income households. “Socialism” was not allowed to creep in America, so the market ruled unrestrained.

Whatever the causes, the effects by now have reduced the percentage of Americans who believe that their country is headed in the right economic direction to thirty. Is it too late to save America’s middle class, once heralded as the backbone of the country and key segment for measuring its economic health and prospects?

The fourth installment of this sad saga of decline suggests it might be. The article on May 10, “Hardship Makes a New Home in the Suburbs” takes readers to the once booming city of Moreno Valley in the San Bernardino-Riverside area of California, a place where the “American Dream” was pursued with splendid success in the 1990s. Today, highway exits around the city of about 200,000 are populated with people asking for money and holding signs: “Laid off,” or “Need food,” and “Young children.”

The sign-holders belong to the “newly poor” in our suburbs. The article tells us that “by 2011, there were three million more people living in poverty in suburbs than in inner cities.” California, more than any other place, was once “synonymous with the suburban good life.” The state now owns the highest poverty rate among all fifty. Today nearly “nine million people in California – nearly one quarter of the state’s residents – live in poverty.”

Mary Carmen Acosta, her husband and children, once lived the “American Dream” in a five-bedroom house in a suburb a few miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Both had good jobs in the jewelry district in L.A. After both were laid off in 2011, they moved into an apartment in Moreno Valley. She sells jewelry her husband makes door to door and makes ice pops at home for sale on the street.

“The worst of it is the shame,” her husband said. She adds: “My friends in L.A., the ones who still have money, it’s like they forgot all about us.” But she seems resigned to the experience: “I see people all the time in worse positions than we are in. The kids are healthy and we have a roof. Maybe that is the best we can hope for.” Holding on to what’s left of the “American Dream” has become the new “American Dream” for millions.

The four articles in The New York Times paint a devastatingly bleak picture. Readers are confronted by a wealth of uncomfortable facts and struggling people. For the poor, only more poverty lies ahead. For the middle class, the fear of failing and falling into poverty. Robert Reich, who served as secretary of labor under President Clinton wrote: “It is doubtful that…measures designed to reverse widening inequality will be enacted soon.”

As Gore Vidal once quipped, we are on the way to becoming a two-tier state of the rich and the rest. When the blue state – red state division in America became obvious, the national motto, “e pluribus unum,” it was proposed only half in jest should be changed to “e pluribus duo.” The Times quartet has shown us that we are rapidly approaching the reality of the new motto. But who will heed the warning, and who will act to stop our grim march?

Monumental muckups memorialized

When former New York Times Executive Editor Abraham “A.M.” Rosenthal died in May 2006, his obituary lauded his numerous accomplishments during his 56 years at the newspaper.

He had won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting and led the paper through coverage of the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers. He also was credited as initiating the now industry standard practice of running corrections in a fixed spot for readers to find. The New York Times chose Page 2 for its corrections, and many newspapers followed. He and the Times began the practice in 1972.

It is perhaps then both ironic and a tribute to Rosenthal’s insistence on accuracy that his own obituary needed a correction the next day in the paper’s main competitor. The Washington Post’s obituary remarked on Rosenthal’s rela­tionship with the late NYT publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger. Sulzberger, who died last year, was very much alive at the time of Rosenthal’s passing.

Other corrections have endured to become classics in newspaper lore and beyond:

• Once the New York Times jumped into the business of running correc­tions each day on Page 2, the “Corrections” column quickly became a must-read. No detail was too trivial to escape correcting in the name of accuracy. One of the more famous ones ran in April 1981: “An article about decorative cook­ing incorrectly described a presentation of Muscovy duck by Michael Fitoussi, a New York chef. In preparing it, Mr. Fitoussi uses a duck that has been killed.” The correction became the title of the book “Kill Duck Before Serving,” pub­lished in 2002. It is a collection of some of the more unusual corrections to run in the New York Times.

• In July 2004, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader ran a Page 1 correction apologizing for failing to cover the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It led off a package of stories on the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

• In 1987, advice columnist Abigail Van Buren, a.k.a. “Dear Abby,” offered advice to an Iowa farmer who had been hiccupping nonstop for 65 years. She said the man found temporary relief through “carbon monoxide.” The next day she corrected that to “carbon dioxide.”

• In May 2008, the Washington Post misspelled the 1987 winning word – “serrefine” – in an article about that year’s National Spelling Bee.

• In a recent story, the San Diego (Calif.) Tribune, in a correction titled “Missing-dog story proved incorrect,” said that the paper “incorrectly reported that a guide dog owned by a blind 7-year-old boy was missing. The boy, Rob­ert Maurice, son of Lila Maurice of Ramona, is not blind, and the dog, which does not belong to the boy and is not a guide dog, has been found. The story was based on a police report and from information provided by a relative. The Tribune regrets the errors.”

Dr. Obama or: How to Live With and Love the Iranian Bomb according to the NYT and WSJ

Media coverage can’t please either side on the Israel-Palestine or Israel-Iran conflicts.  Once that’s accepted as a given, the differences in stories no longer garner much attention. The “liberal” media reveal bias for the Palestinian cause and are soft on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and goal of wiping the Zionist entity off the map. The “conservative” press expresses uncritical support for Israel and fails to recognize Iran’s legitimate quest to join the world’s nuclear powers club, which includes Israel. That’s the long-standing mantra of the complaints.

So, how did our two prestigious national papers, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal cover the current rift between the U.S. government and that of Israel about the ongoing negotiations on Iran’s development of nuclear power and a nuclear bomb and the lifting of sanctions on the Islamic Republic if it restricts current progress toward obtaining the bomb?

The NYT (“Split on Accord on Iran Strains U.S.-Israel Ties,” November 19) casts Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the whining villain, thwarting the White House’s efforts to reach an agreement: “Every time Mr. Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, ask for a little time and space to test the new Iranian leadership’s claims that it is ready for a new approach, and for compromise, Mr. Netanyahu responds that the proposed agreement  is ‘a very bad deal,’ ‘extremely dangerous,’ ‘a mistake of historic proportions’…”

Only two days after that story appeared, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei made Netanyahu look prescient when he said that “Israelis cannot be called human beings” and that their country is “doomed to extinction.” Not only children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, in Israel and elsewhere, will be reminded by Khamenei’s words of similar sentiments and language expressed in Germany three quarters of a century ago and will inspire much worse than the “ire” the NYT headline proclaims.

The November 19 story focuses on the differences between U.S. and Israeli “fundamental goals” regarding Iran, its nuclear ambition and on the chance that lifting or easing of economic sanctions will change that country’s desire for the disappearance or annihilation of the Jewish state.

The Times cites two “eminent members of the foreign policy establishment” (a description that may not strike all readers as a recommendation), Zbigniew Brezinzki and Brent Scowcroft in support of the White House’s carrot but no stick approach with its “historic opportunity” to achieve non-proliferation and peace.

And in the story’s conclusion, pain-in-the-White-House-butt Netanyahu is permitted to say that “there can be disagreements even among the best of friends, certainly on issues related to our future and our fate.” The Times reporters chose that conciliatory-sounding but nonsensical public relations phrase to suggest that the prime minister may yet come to his senses and accept the wisdom of our foreign relations establishment when it comes to the “fate” of six million Jews and the one Jewish nation among all others.  When kosher pigs fly.

The Wall Street Journal article on the same topic (“Strains with Israel over Iran Snarl U.S. Goals in Mideast,” November 17) uses a quite different quote from Netanyahu, linking the Iranian issue to that of the Israel-Palestinian one: “You want us to recognize the Palestinian state for the Palestinian people. How about recognizing the Jewish state for the Jewish people?” WSJ readers are thus offered a window into the Mideast mess closed to those of the NYT, but one which offers a perspective on one of the fundamental, perhaps the fundamental, source of conflict without a solution in sight.

The Journal does not perform the “intransigent” Israeli stance blame game so beloved in left-leaning and often in liberal media. Instead, the problems with the negotiations with Iran are said to compound “concerns about the White House’s ability to manage the Middle East’s proliferating security crises,” according to current and former American diplomats. Can’t roll out Obamacare, can’t handle the Middle East, is there anything the man manages to do well?

Blame Bibi in the NYT, blame Obama in the WSJ. Most Americans are likely to let blame fall on both heads, with another share on those irrational desert dwellers far away.

But where’s the understanding of how things got to be the way they are in that region? Those curious will have to read long reports, such as “Iran After the Bomb. How Would a Nuclear Tehran Behave?” a 50-page document produced this year by the Rand Corporation and authored by Alireza Nader.  There they might come across questions like this one: “Would nuclear weapons make the current (revisionist) Islamic Republic into an emboldened and aggressive power?”, one more ready to support terrorists with atomic devices.

They might also learn why Iran is challenging the U.S. dominated order in the Middle East and why Israel remains fiercely opposed to a nuclear Iran (“The Islamic Republic is the most hostile and active opponent of Israel in the Middle East.”)

And it was Iran’s Ayatollah Rafsanjani (Iranian politician and fourth president of the country) who said at the United Nations on September 20: “…even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything.”

On the many boiling issues in the Middle East,  readers can get a reasonably good if somewhat skewered summary of policies and procedures (talks, negotiations, proposed deals) in both papers, but for context and history vital for a deeper understanding, they’ll have to travel beyond the daily media fare.

George Salamon taught German literature and culture at several East Coast colleges, and served as staff reporter for the St. Louis Business Journal and as senior editor for Defense Systems Review. He has published three academic books and contributed articles to the Washington Post and the American Conservative.

Journalism’s Never-Ending Debate on Anonymous Sources: Enough Already!

Just this past Sunday journalism’s unceasing debate on anonymous sources reared its head again. In the October 13 Sunday Review section of The New York Times Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s fifth public editor, wrote about “The Disconnect on Anonymous Sources.” Dan Okrent, first public editor from 2003 to 2005, confronted the same issue during his tenure. Even then, novelist and New York magazine columnist Kurt Andersen had already had enough: “…the customary righteousness, disingenuousness, futility and wonky tedium of such debates are for me almost unbearable.”

Little has changed since Andersen wrote those words in 2005. Ms. Sullivan embodies fair-minded and thoughtful journalism, but when she concludes her piece by proposing that “anonymity is granted gratuitously, “that “it’s happening too often,” and therefore that “it’s time again to pull in the reins,” she’s talking precisely the kind of high-minded piffle Anderson deplored. While she quotes her paper’s national security editor Bill Hamilton admitting that “it’s almost impossible to get people who know anything to talk,” and even harder to get them to talk on the record, she has no answer to journalists “caught in this dilemma.”

That’s why one of the country’s most successful investigative reporters on national security, Seymour Hersh, filled his stories in The New Yorker with quotes from anonymous sources.  That magazine’s editor, when questioned about the practice when compared with USA Today’s restrictions on it, shot back: “How many national security stories has USA Today broken?”

The NYT’s own David Carr had the most perceptive take on the issue Ms. Sullivan looks at from a high ground rarely inhabited by both, sources and the reporters who cultivate them: “Anonymous sourcing is an ethically neutral tool that’s only as good as the people using it.” That’s why, for example, nobody objected to Woodward and Bernstein relying on one anonymous source (Mark Felt aka Deep Throat) to expose Watergate and perhaps, as some suggest, save American democracy.

The public editors at the NYT may respond too much to the complaints by some of its readers, particularly those in influential positions within the Boston to Washington political or financial establishment. Most readers or viewers don’t care if it’s an on-the-record or anonymous source informing a story that helps them render an issue or topic accessible or clear.

Members of the media should focus on issues more vital to the media’s role in our society than that of anonymous sources in their stories.  As Andersen recounts, Woodward told The Wall Street Journal that “the great danger to America is the formation of some kind of secret, unaccountable government, and so a hyper aggressive press is more important than ever.” Well, only a few reporters, such as Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine are pursuing what they call “the government of Goldman Sachs,” the immense control Wall Street exercises over both political parties. A hyper aggressive press is aggressive primarily in its pursuit of the personal foibles of celebrities, including the headliners playing in the halls of Congress.

And that may be why Anderson reaches the terse and melancholy conclusion that “there are ten or a hundred times as many on-the-record lies as lies as unattributed lies in the press every day.”

If that is true, and it probably is, it could make for an important and lively discussion among representatives from the media and students of American culture.

Salamon taught German literature and culture at several East Coast colleges, and served as staff reporter for the St. Louis Business Journal and as senior editor for Defense Systems Review. He has published three academic books and contributed articles to the Washington Post and the American Conservative.

Anybody here seen America’s far left? The New York Times has!

What an enticing headline the New York Times featured on Page 1 Sept. 30: “Warren is Now Hot Ticket On the Far Left.” The story, written by Jonathan Martin, told readers how Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has become the darling and favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 among America’s “far left,” and thus a threat to the party’s centrist front-runner, Hillary Clinton.

No doubt Warren appeals to progressive and populist sentiments among Democrats with statements like this one: “This country should not be run for the biggest corporations and largest financial institutions.” Shucks, I know libertarians and Republicans who’d agree with that. And we know, also, that Clinton is a bit too close to Wall Street, described in the story as “a major source of her fundraising,” to suit the supporters of Warren’s more populist economics.

But who’s that “far left” the New York Times discovered rallying to Warren’s side? Come out, come out, wherever you are, because you sure can’t be found in the story. Let’s see whom Martin cites as her fans or supporters:

  • Markos Moulitsas, publisher of a “a leading liberal blog,” Daily Kos.
  • Campaign for America’s Future, a “liberal advocacy group.”

Others see Warren as a “hot number” or “electric figure” among liberals or “on the left,” including stalwarts of American Marxism-Leninism such as Leo Hindrey Jr., partner of a private equity fund, and David Axelrod, President Obama’s longtime adviser.

There’s not a whiff of anything “far left” in the story, unless the New York Times now views the spectrum of American politics from the Fox News perspective, where anything not right wing is tossed into the “liberal, left, socialist” heap of un-Americanism.

Even if Martin had looked at such “left” organizations as MoveOn.org or Occupy Wall Street, he would not have found anything that smacked of “far” left ideology. At MoveOn.org, there’s a petition to boycott Barilla Pasta products because the company president refuses to use gay couples in its advertising. And the Occupy tactics of sit-ins in parks across from Bank of America offices hardly live up to “far left” dreams of revolution.

You can find some hard “far left” stuff on the website of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, whose leader, Bob Avakian, has been in exile for more than two decades. It’s a nostalgia trip for lefties to the 1930s, when some Americans paid attention to the “far left” and others joined it. Those days are gone. Some things go away and come back; others never do. Somebody ought to tell the New York Times that the “far left” is gone for now, save perhaps for a few really old or really young dreamers of the socialist dream.

And I really like Elizabeth Warren.

GJR book review: Opening the Pentagon Papers

Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles
Author: James Goodale
Publisher: CUNY Journalism Press, 2013
Paperback: $20, 260 pages

Whistleblowers, leakers, and a battle between the working press and the government. James Goodale’s “Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles” tells a story that has just as much importance today as it did in 1972, when the battle for press freedom reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Goodale, the lead attorney for the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers case, gives a firsthand description from the Earl Caldwell case that became Branzburg v. Hayes to the culmination of the Pentagon Papers case, with the Supreme Court voting 6-3 to allow publication of the papers.

In early 1972, the New York Times published a number of stories that chronicled the deception of the U.S. government regarding the war in Vietnam. The papers, many of them historical in nature, provided instances where the government lied to the public about what it was doing and documented the mistakes made in fighting the war in Vietnam. The U.S. government tried to enjoin the New York Times from publishing, saying that the papers were classified, and that publishing the papers would be a breach of national security. Goodale puts the reader in the boardrooms as the decisions to take this case to court are made. He explains the strategies and the mistakes that were made.

The book moves at a surprisingly fast pace, with enough twists and turns to make the reader think he or she is a part of the case. The strength of Goodale’s book is the writing. Although he sometimes writes with a touch of arrogance and tends to name-drop, Goodale manages to give the reader an inside look at one of the most important media Supreme Court cases – and he does so in a way that makes the reader wonder what will happen next.

Even though the book is nonfiction, it has wonderful characters, from Richard M. Nixon, the president who wants to take down the media, to the plucky lawyers from Goodale’s team who helped to win the case. Goodale writes with a storyteller’s clarity, building drama and making sure to delineate the good guys from the bad. He builds suspense with every legal decision made en route to the Supreme Court, and he also details the good and bad jobs done by the lawyers arguing the case on both sides.

The only negative is the sometimes condescending tone that Goodale takes. Get past that and the book is a great read.

What stands out in this book are the parallels that can be drawn from the Pentagon Papers to today’s headlines. Goodale ends the book with a warning about President Barack Obama, writing that the current president is reminiscent of Nixon in many ways – and could be worse. He points out that Obama is currently indicting more U.S. citizens under the Espionage Act, the same charge the government tried Daniel Ellsburg with, than any other president in the country’s history.

He warns that the current approach of many news organizations of bringing stories to the government first, before publishing, can become a major problem in the freedom of the press. He cautions at the same time that news feeds should become aware of the NSA spying on the public and the Department of Justice tapping the phones of the Associated Press.

Scott Lambert is a faculty member in the English Department at Millikin University. He is a former managing editor of Gateway Journalism Review and worked as a sports journalist and editor for 13 years.