Category Archives: The Review: Books, Literary

Thursday Review commentary on books and literary topics

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

gosetawatchman

Thursday Review’s Karen Franklin examines Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman, the prequel/sequel to her classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Franklin explains why the themes of the two novels make it difficult to call the new work a prequel to its famous predecessor. Read the article by clicking here!

 

Francis Ford Coppola’s Best Year: 1974

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The masterpiece sequel The Godfather Part II celebrated its 40th birthday last month; Thursday Review’s Alan Clanton takes a careful look at the film’s legacy and impact, while also examining director Coppola’s other project from that same year, a sleeper called The Conversation, starring Gene Hackman and John Cazale.  A look at how both motion pictures changed our worldview; read more: Francis Ford Coppola’s Best Year: 1974.  Or go to the Front Page of Thursday Review.

New Yorkers Nix Plan to Gut Famous Library

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By R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review editor

(Originally published May 14, 2014) In April we published the first in a planned series of articles about how the digital age has reshaped libraries, and our first segment examined how a small college media center in southwest Georgia was adapting to a world of wired, interconnected data. We travelled to Bainbridge State College where we spent several hours interviewing librarians and staff, looking at the technologies they deploy to help students, and examining how the library thrives in a digital environment.

One inescapable fact: the book—the printed book, just to be clear—still plays a vital role in many libraries. Print is neither dead nor even on life support, though the great American newspaper has taken a beating over the last 15 years. In fact, it is not even clear that the printed book has suffered from much more than a mild case of identity crisis. And when it comes to libraries, books still matter.

Bainbridge, Georgia is small, but just take a look at the current brouhaha in New York City, where a huge reversal of fortune took place recently when N.Y. Public Library and city government suddenly shifted gears and decided to leave, fully intact, its basement level stacks area underneath the famous Stephen A. Schwartzman building—the library facility within the New York Library system which is used primarily as a research center.

As part of a complex series of budget plans—begun during the tenure of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and now under review by current Mayor Bill de Blasio—that lower level was to be fully renovated and converted into a new, high tech lending library branch, complete with computers, dazzling forms of internet access, and a full range of digital adaptations. But that proposed change met powerful and well-organized resistance—in the form of attention-gathering protests, and in the form of legal action on several fronts.

The famous research library, located on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, where it shares a city block with Bryant Park, was due for a multi-million dollar renovation. Although its main reading and research level would remain intact, the vast space underneath would be transformed into a new, modern lending library and digital center. The city had allocated approximately $150 million for the transition and transformation. Part of the deal was that the library system would sell off two other prime locations—the Mid-Manhattan Library, also on Fifth Avenue, and the Science, Industry & Business Library on Madison Avenue—and use the revenue from those potentially high-value real estate transactions to supplement the conversion.

The library system, using mostly privately donated funds, has already paid a well-known British architectural firm headed by Norman Foster at least $9 million for the re-design and retrofit work.

Instead, the iconic 1911 Schwartzman building will be left unmolested and unaltered, for now.

Among those who were skeptical of the transformation were Mayor de Blasio himself. As candidate, de Blasio expressed concerns not only with the high cost of the reconstruction and renovation, but also with the re-allocation of resources. At issue has been the movement of thousands of books and documents—all currently archived in the basement—to other facilities in New York, including a significant percentage which would be moved to a new climate-controlled facility in New Jersey. Researchers and writers who use the Schwartzman facility say that such redistribution of books from the stacks would create long delays in access and retrieval. There were also fears that some materials might be lost forever.

As the new mayor, de Blasio ran headlong into controversy which included lawsuits, mass protests on the steps of the library, and high profile, celebrity intervention on behalf of keeping the landmark building a repository for research and the printed word. Writers Salman Rushdie and Mario Vargas Llosa, among other literary figures, had publicly opposed the renovation plans.

But some librarians and archival experts say that the vast basement area under Fifth Avenue and under Bryant Park is not an ideal place to store the materials. Much of the area included in the stacks lacks adequate climate control; books and archival materials face long term damage from heat, humidity, cold, pests and other elements. Furthermore, rising water levels (and the possibility of another superstorm like Hurricane Sandy) increase the chance that some books could be destroyed in a matter of hours by heavy flooding. Proponents of the renovation say that a serious fix of the basement area would require many more millions of dollars than the originally proposed plan to relocate the stacks to a specially-designed facility in New Jersey.

But in the end, opposition to altering the grand old library—known for the huge stone lions which grace the entrance area along Fifth Avenue—won the day. Library officials readily accepted a compromise version which will keep the Schwartzman building and its contents more-or-less intact—for now.

Other literary figures who had opposed the renovation included Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz, author Jonathan Lethem, and cartoonist Gary Panter.

The new library plan will include a substantial renovation of many of the oldest areas in the Schwartzman Building. Part of the proposed solution, which library president Tony Marx describes as “comprehensive,” will also involve expanding the stacks to additional areas under Bryant Park, additional exhibition and special features space, and more space for writers and researchers.

Related Thursday Review articles:

How a College Library Thrives in a Digital Age; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 18, 2014.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/NYLibrarySchwartzman.html#sthash.xZYk8SmN.dpuf

Battling Giants

Malcolm Gladwell

By Lisa K. Whitten Thursday Review contributor

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants; Malcolm Gladwell: I picked this book to read thinking it might be focused on David and Goliath. They are part of the book but they do not dominate. The book has several stories which highlight underdogs and how they overcame their giants. In the case of David and Goliath, the author explains that Goliath may have had several medical issues which could have played a part in his demise at the hands of David. He also says that David fought by what to Goliath’s knowledge was unconventional fighting. A boy? No armor? Goliath did not know how to fight back. However you look at this famous event it is the underdog that wins.

One of Gladwell’s modern day stories is that of the father from Mumbai, Vivek Ranadivé, that had never played basketball, nor even new how it was played. He became the coach for his daughter’s basketball team. These girls were more intellectual than athletic, but were willing to try their skills at basketball nevertheless. After watching and studying basketball he had them utilize a seldom used play that is known as a full-court press. Unconventional, but, legal by basketball rules. The result of their unconventionality? They became National Champions.

The book continues to go through real life scenarios of Davids overcoming their Goliaths. As is the case of the dyslexic that jumped into a cab unknown to the passenger of Wall Street and he rose to a top notch position, or the lowly construction worker that went to law school and became a well-known litigator in California. Gladwell explains that they learned to focus on areas they excelled in. They were forced to excel in other areas to overcome the Dyslexia. They have nothing to lose. The giants are unused to their method of “fighting” and the David’s overcame.

Can angry unarmed women subdue the British army? You bet. Trouble began in 1969 between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. In 1970, a curfew was placed and food supplies were low. The Brits made the mistake in believing that had the upper hand because they were well armed and experienced. The women’s weapons? Banging pot lids together, pushing prams, and speaking into bullhorns! Imagine the combat ready British army resorting to hair pulling and beating. They lost.

Gladwell explains how these unassuming David’s overcome long odds, but he also explains how they can go beyond the tipping point. The case of the father of a daughter that was murdered in broad daylight is an example. The Three Strikes Law came into existence as a result of a father trying to prevent more senseless murders. Did it really decrease crime in the long run? Gladwell’s inverted curve answers this question. He also covers the way students pick colleges and how their choice determines if they will excel or just give up. How the size of classrooms determines if it will excel or not.

At 332 pages this book is a medium-length read, but it also jam-packed with stories, charts, results of studies and illuminating references. It is also hard to put down. And the book is uplifting for the “Davids” of the world. This is one book I will most likely read again.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/DavidGoliath.html#sthash.lvr3BMyL.dpuf

Not Hooked on Nook

Image courtesy Barnes & Noble

Image courtesy Barnes & Noble

By Thursday Review staff

(Published Wednesday, January 15, 2014) Around the holidays, and for weeks afterwards, we hear a lot about the biggest Christmas sellers—those items which seem to fly off the shelves.  A few of this year’s big winners were, of all things, books (the ones printed on paper) and winter clothes, such as jackets, sweaters, overcoats.  Overall most retailers had a modest year, with sales weak because of a variety of reasons: uncertainty about the economy and jobs, and the Target credit card fiasco, which may have had the unintended effect of suppressing consumer use of credit.

Online sales, however, had their best year yet, with web giant Amazon hitting a new record.  According to the U.S. Commerce Department, online sales increased 1.4% in December.  Most analysts say the spike in the sale of winter clothes, ones of the biggest in recent history, was the direct result of a chilly December and the impending Polar Vortex.  Plus, consumers were not able to contend with the severe conditions to get to the stores, and it was easier to simply shop from home.

The results were a win-some-lose-some for Amazon: it gained millions of new orders, but the surge caused delays, including weather-related problems of delivery.

All of this combined to make clothing the big winner.  Consumers demurred on new smart phones, tablets and flat screen TVs, and hoarded thermal boots and insulated jackets instead.  Winter clothing became this year’s big winner.

But what about all that stuff that didn’t sell?  What about those items on the losing end of the Christmas and holiday totals?

Among the small techie items that suffered weaker sales than expected: the Nook, an e-reader device from bookseller giant Barnes & Noble meant to be the true competitor to Amazon’s popular Kindle reader.  Not only did sales of the elegant Nook fail to meet the uptick expectations of Barnes & Noble, sales actually declined substantially.  Nook sales fell by over 60% from last year’s total sales.  The Nook may have been overproduced and overhyped in general, but the real long term problem will be all those unsold Nooks sitting in storage or stuck on retail shelves.

Some business analysts have noted the strange irony, as this year printed book sales increased—or halted some declines charted in recent years—even as Nook sales fell dramatically.

The good news for after-Christmas shoppers: look for drastic price cuts sometime this spring on specific high tech swag.  It’s not a guarantee, but if B&N finally gets around to introducing a newly upgraded Nook, the previous versions of the tablet will become clearance sale fodder.

Thursday Review will have more on the topic of Barnes & Noble, and the demise of the great American bookstore, in the near future.

– See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/NotHookedOnNook.html#sthash.TYiQ6Wvv.dpuf

The 12 Best Non-Fiction Books of 2013

Best Books 2013

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review Editor

This past year was a great one for authors of biographies, autobiographies and non-fiction books.  Our book-lovers and writers reviewed many dozens of those books here in these pages, but now that 2013 has come to a close and 2014 starts afresh, here is a look back at a dozen of the best from last year.  In no particular order, here are our 12 favorites.

The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson; Robert A. Caro.  This series has become Caro’s great life work, and this—the presumably fourth in the five-part series—takes us into the heart of one the twentieth century’s most dramatic and pivotal moments, the weeks before and after the assassination of JFK, and LBJ’s sudden thrust into the highest office.  Caro traces the roots of the rift between Johnson and Robert Kennedy, a personal feud which ultimately became one of the sources of a long divide with the Democratic Party.  Well-written and moves the reader swiftly through a remarkable transition in U.S. politics.

Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How it Doesn’t; Robert G. Kaiser.  This book is a penetrating look inside the inner workings of Congress, as seen through the process of following legislation along its complex and sometimes thorny path—in this case, the Dodd-Frank Act.  Kaiser gives the reader the ultimate inside seat, though the exhausting pace of how Washington works makes this book more like a fast-walk.  This book is a great combination of reporting skill and academic understanding of politics.

To Save Everything, Click Here; The Folly of Technological Solutionism; Evgeny Morozov.  The ultimate send-up and challenge to those who feel that technology—in our current scenario, the internet and big data—can fix the world’s problems.  Morozov makes a frightening case that we have already unwittingly become pawns, some might argue slaves, to the power of dazzling machines.  Morozov’s quaint adherence to human value, human dignity and individualism reminds us that the computers should be our tools, not the other way around.

Tip and The Gipper: When Politics Worked; Chris Matthews.  Matthews expresses here, through great historical retelling, the possibility that politics might again work the way it was meant to function—through compromise, give-and-take, and smart outreach.  Political foes by day, Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil could not have been further apart, yet they forged remarkable pieces of legislation and achieved a level of national consensus we have rarely seen since.   O’Neil and Reagan never made it a personal fight, and resolved to set the same constructive tone for those who worked around them.  (We will review this book in January 2014).

The Eclipse of Equality: Arguing America on Meet the Press; Solon Simmons.  This book is a fast read, and enjoyable from start-to-finish.  Simmons traces the origins of what has now become the longest running show in television history, right to the present, contrasting the style of moderators and guests and reminding us that sometimes TV news can still make a difference in its ability to illuminate a subject, issue or political personality through direct conversation.  Meet the Press became the ultimate “insider” TV show, but managed along the way to also be popular with millions of viewers.

Who I Am; Pete Townshend.  We give a nod to the rock and roll biography here, for Townsend’s book—despite its flaw of what feels like occasional short-term memory lapses—is nevertheless as readable and enjoyable as any other of the rock bios out there.  Townsend loved his largely self-appointed role as rock’s great innovator, as well as his almost unrivaled title of spokesperson for the generation—whether it be the Mods or the trendsetters or the next class of youth expression.  Townshend has mellowed, and this book reflects his comfort in upper-middle age.

Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World; Evan Thomas.  This is Thomas’s best book yet, a deep look inside one of the most dangerous periods in world history, and the stretch of time when humankind had at last created the weaponry to destroy itself.  Thomas traces Ike’s patient, quiet path as he balances left and right, hawk and dove, east versus west.  Thomas raises Eisenhower’s stock by showing him to be a master of strategic thought, a gifted manager of other people, all the time maintaining his easygoing image as a comforting, likeable lover of golf and oil painting.

Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles; James C. Goodale.  Mr. Goodale’s book could not have been timed better, arriving as it did months before Edward Snowden leaked troves of information about the NSA’s vast spying program.  In this book, Goodale retells what was arguably the most important freedom-of-the-press case in U.S. history—the story of the Pentagon Papers, published by the New York Times only after a high-stakes legal fight that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Goodale also foretells of a pendulum in full swing again, this time away from the press and in favor of a government that wants to operate in secret—and to collect your secrets with unlimited power.  A very fast read.

Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires; David Folkenflik.  This books takes us deep inside the operations of Rupert Murdoch, arguably the most powerful media tycoon the world has ever known.  Murdoch, whose empire includes over 160 newspapers, hundreds of radio stations and satellite TV operations, as well as Fox News and the Fox TV network, unleashed outrage and political forces with a phone hacking scandal like none other.  The result was the ignominious shutdown of The News of the World, an iconic British newspaper with origins in the 1800s.  Quick reading and enjoyable from start-to-finish.

Eisenhower’s Sputnik Moment: The Race for Space and World Prestige; Yanek Mieczkowski.  Mieczkowski traces how the Soviet launch of a tiny satellite into orbit around the earth shattered the illusion that the U.S. was preeminent in technology and military affairs, and catapulted Americans into a race against the Soviet’s for domination in space exploration.  This book illustrates how, despite our popular view that John F. Kennedy initiated the age of space, it was Eisenhower who made the first significant moves toward ensuring that the U.S. would remain technologically competitive with the Russians at the height of the Cold War.  (We will review this book later in January 2014).

Distant Witness: Social Media, the Arab Spring, and a Journalism Revolution; Andy Carvin.  NPR correspondent Andy Carvin traces, with the skills of an investigative reporter and a good novelist, how the dramatic events of the Arab Spring corresponded closely with the ascension of social media and instant worldwide communication.  Carvin tracks the start of the revolutions with a fruit vendor in Tunisia who set himself on fire in front of a municipal building, and how that seemingly small event quickly spread unrest into a dozen countries and led to the downfall of dictators.  Carvin looks closely at the makeshift newsroom—often little more than a laptop or a smart phone—and how these small devices can have large effects on how we see the news.

Immigration Wars: An American Solution; Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick.  Bush and Bolick attempt—with fair success—to untangle the sometimes emotional issue of immigration, pointing out that the GOP’s 2012 losses at the polls were at least partly the result of harsh, sometimes strident positions on immigration, homeland security and border control.  Bush and Bolick see immigration as an economic issue, one which Americans must resolve quickly and intelligently if the U.S. is to remain competitive in a dynamic global marketplace.  This book is a joy to read and can be consumed in one sitting.

Honorable mention goes to some of these other books that nearly made the cut include:  Wilson, by A. Scott Berg (we plan to review it later in January); When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls and Big Business Remade American Politics; Donald T. Critchlow (another one we plan to review very soon!); Who Owns the Future; Jaron  Lanier; The Center Holds: Obama and his Enemies; Jonathan Alter.

Are you a reader of biography, history, politics and culture? Send us your choices for the best books of 2013 and we’ll print them here at Thursday Review. – See more at: http://www.thursdayreview.com/BestNonFicBooks2013.html#sthash.iWtvJQe0.dpuf

Citizen Murdoch

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Book review: Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires; David Folkenflik; Public Affairs Books

Review by R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

Though it had been a part of British life for 168 years, the final days of the tabloid newspaper News of the World were more of a farce than anything fiction writers could have concocted for a badly scripted political thriller. Its demise was both surreal and lowball comic: on July 10, 2011, the paper’s computer wonks—technicians and network operations staff—shut down computers, cordoned-off internal file servers and severed internet access for the newspaper’s employees, and, while security guards stood at doorways and in other critical locations, Rebekah Brooks told reporters and staff were told that their jobs were gone, and along with them the venerable, and now infamous, tabloid. The News of the World ended with a whimper, not a bang.

In Britain, in the U.S. and in various cities around the world, some cheered, some jeered. In the rarified airspace surrounding media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose giant News Corp owned the tabloid, there was the genuine hope that the shutdown of the paper would begin the process of closure to what had become the worst newspaper scandal in history—an imbroglio which posed a grave threat to several major multi-billion dollar deals between Murdoch and major partners on multiple continents.

But the symbolic amputation of the News of the World from News Corp’s portfolio carried with it instant political and legal fallout: despite the layoffs and firings of hundreds, top executives and managers got to keep their jobs. Worse for Murdoch and his family, the scandal only grew larger.

Beginning perhaps as early as the start of the aught years, the competitive culture within the News of the World had driven reporters and staff operatives into the netherworld of illegal actions—hacking email accounts, hiring prostitutes for sting operations, stealing documents, hacking cell phones and voice message accounts—anything that was deemed useful to gain access to headline stories and salacious gossip. This cultural pressure first appeared in some mainstream news after a Britain’s Prince William had sustained a minor knee injury during a stunt soccer match with children, and, in the immediate hours and days following, reporters for News of the World had penned trite, gossipy stories which contained verbatim recounts of voice messages left on the cell phones of the royals and their top aides. Over time, a pattern began to emerge, and, like many celebrities and political figures in the U.K. and the U.S., royal family members began to suspect that someone was systematically hacking into their mobile phones.

As news-watchers worldwide would learn over the next few years, the phone and email hacking was part of a much larger practice which affected politicians in the U.K., the U.S. and other countries, as well as movie stars, musicians and other celebrities on several continents.

But for Murdoch and his media empire, the worst was yet to come—revelations which took nine years to incubate, then, spring into outrage for British citizens. On March 21, 2002 a 13-year-old named Amanda Jane Dowler disappeared after leaving an aggrieved note saying that she felt her parents cared more for her sister than they did for her. She had been seen leaving her home with her backpack and her cell phone. For the first hours and days it looked like a runaway, but, as time went on Amanda—who was known to family and friends as “Milly”—never reappeared. British police began a widespread search of the area near her home in the leafy, golf-course-rich area around Walton-on-Thames, a large suburb southwest of London. In September that year her badly decomposed body—mostly bones—was discovered by mushroom harvesters in an area called Yateley Heath Woods, near Farnborough.

Milly’s father was a suspect, high on the list of those whom the investigators were looking at closely. But in the immediate aftermath of Milly’s disappearance, someone was hacking into Milly’s cell phone, listening to voice messages, and perhaps even deleting them to make room in the memory for more messages to arrive.* Surrey police were aware that the hacking was taking place, but seemed unable or unwilling to acknowledge that the phone message tampering was anything more than a small distraction from their investigation, perhaps assuming that Milly’s own father might be the hacker. Many years later, when DNA evidence identified Milly’s killer as Levi Bellfield, police were forced to apologize for the long period of distraction during which time they had concentrated their efforts on family members as suspects.

In the ensuing legal mess and emotionally charged trial, it was revealed that Milly’s cell phone had been repeatedly hacked during the early weeks and months of investigation. The hacking—and especially the deliberate deletion of messages and phone numbers—had amounted to interference with police work, and may have misdirected the search for Milly. As Scotland Yard would learn, that hacker turned out to be in the employ of the News of the World—a private investigator named Glenn Mulcaire.

Public outrage around the world—but especially in the U.K.—begat political and legal action, and would reveal the widespread illegal practices then a part of the journalistic routine inside the walls of News of the World.

In his new book Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires, (Public Affairs Books; 2013) author, newspaperman and NPR correspondent David Folkenflik traces the Rupert Murdoch subculture from Rupert’s early days as an Australian editor and publisher, to his eventual preeminence as one of the world’s most powerful media figures, a man so powerful that his reach extends to almost every corner of the globe and into every genre of media.

Murdoch’s media empire has few rivals. His closest approximate U.S. competitors include cable and media giants Comcast (which owns NBC, Universal Pictures, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network, SyFy, Bravo, ClearWire, iN Demand and HITS) and Time-Warner (which owns CNN, Headline News, HBO, Cinemax, Warner Brothers, New Line Cinema and at least 22 magazines, including Time), and Walt Disney (which owns ABC, ESPN, A&E, Lifetime, Touchstone Pictures, Miramax, Pixar and over 250 radio stations in North America).

Murdoch’s News Corp may be even larger, depending on how these things are measured. With a reach that is truly international, even by the far-reaching standards of today’s global media holdings, News Corp’s penetration is staggering. According to a variety of online sources, media watchdog groups, and News Corp’s own web-based accounting, News Corp owns all of—or a large stake in—the following: 20th Century Fox, Fox Television Network, Fox News, Fox Television Studios, National Geographic TV (all related channels), Speed TV, Fuel TV, TV Guide and TV Guide Channel, FSN, Film Zone, Fox Sports, Big Ten Network, Fox Searchlight Pictures, and at least 27 television stations in the U.S. alone. It gets bigger. In the United States, News Corp owns the print publications Barrons, The New York Post, SmartMoney, and the venerable Wall Street Journal, once the flagship of the Bancroft family, but now Murdoch’s jewel in the crown. News Corp also owns HarperCollins Publishers, MarketWatch.com, Dow Jones Newswire, and, in fact, the Dow Jones Company itself. In the United Kingdom, Murdoch owns The Sun, The Times, and The Sunday Times, three of Britain’s largest newspapers. Added to that hundreds of radio stations across North America and Europe, numerous satellite and cable TV holdings in two dozen countries, television outreach across fifty language groups and every continent, and ownership of over 170 newspapers worldwide (many of those in his native Australia where 77% of daily newspaper readers see only Murdoch’s ink), The News Corp and Murdoch empire dwarfs nearly every comparable media conglomerate.

This makes Rupert Murdoch the most powerful media tycoon the world has ever known, eclipsing the historical legacies of CBS’s William S. Paley, NBC’s David Sarnoff, the Reid family of the late The New York Herald-Tribune, the Sulzburgers of The New York Times and the Grahams of The Washington Post, and the careers of electronic media giants like Ted Turner and Sumner Redstone.

Folkenfink, a media correspondent for National Public Radio for nearly a decade, traces Murdoch’s often contentious and embattled path to this unprecedented level of preeminence. Like American media tycoon Ted Turner, Murdoch proved early in his business career to be an enemy of petty regulators and a cagey adversary to sometimes hypocritical, grand-standing politicians. Murdoch chose not to be fenced in, and it was his out-of-the-box thinking and action which many times brought him success despite the very best (and sometimes noble) efforts of his detractors and his enemies. 1968, for example, Murdoch outmaneuvered rival publisher Robert Maxwell (himself a scrappy outsider to the British establishment) to take control of the News of the World from its seller Sir William Carr.

Later, in a complex bid to operate in a semi-competitive arrangement with the BBC, Murdoch’s disdain for television rules and regulations in the U.K. drove him toward an elegantly simple solution: he would move his fledgling TV broadcast and satellite operations to tiny Luxembourg, point the transmission signals at England, and thumb his nose at British regulators—all while still reaching his intended audience. He set up television studios in London, ignoring British regulators and bypassing the limitations.

His American challenge was probably greater and more visionary: offer a genuine alternative to what was—for many decades—a sacred cabal of three big television networks and one publicly funded alternative, PBS. Prior to Murdoch, no attempt at breaking the three-way lock by CBS, NBS and ABC had succeeded, even remotely. Ted Turner’s slow rollout of television entities in the 1970s and very early 80s offered no real challenge to the three networks, and Turner wisely used his capital to invest in the ever-expanding appetite for cable TV content. But Murdoch wanted to go after the Big Three, choosing to ignore the growing perception of television fragmentation by embracing—instead—the notion of a fourth major network. Turner and Murdoch would each successfully blaze their own paths, but Murdoch’s early debut of Fox TV seemed especially vulnerable to failure. The network at first only broadcast on certain nights, and then, only for limited hours. Without a full schedule of original programming, advertisers were wary. Without advertisers, it seemed unwise to spend millions on content, stars and packaging. Still, Fox TV persisted, making headway in a few key markets. By the mid-to-late 80s, Fox TV programming seemed to embrace a piratical mentality, thumbing its nose at American TV conventions and flirting with the rawest edges of what was acceptable. Shows like “The Simpsons,” “Married With Children” and others of the new genre were widely disparaged by media watchers, parents’ groups and TV critics as base, juvenile, even puerile entertainment. Some shows went beyond mere irreverence: Fox seemed within those first couple of years to have made it a goal to lower the bar of expectation. Murdoch, and his top Fox producers, creators and developers weren’t concerned, some even embracing the controversies as evidence that their challenge to the Big Three was sparking results. Fox eventually battled along to the point that it was able to fill its prime time slots with original programming, much if it highly innovative, if not edgy to the point of discomfort for some older, traditional viewers.

But Murdoch craved respectability and higher ratings for the Fox TV brand. In a coup which may have been the most significant for the fourth-place network, Murdoch outmaneuvered CBS in an audacious and expensive bid for a large slice of NFL programming. Murdoch had felt all along that sports were an open-ended cash machine, as well as a vehicle for respectability and ratings, and in his view nothing captured the American viewer more completely and symbolically than pro football. The gambit paid off, and soon after its venture into NFL programming, Fox achieved the respectability Murdoch sought.

Folkenfink also examines the enormous influence of Fox News, News Corp’s brash challenge to the news gathering operations of CBS, NBC, ABC and—by the early 1990s—first-place news network CNN. Turner’s Atlanta-based CNN had achieved the miraculous by rising from almost complete obscurity to world-wide dominance through persistence, savvy placement and sheer luck. The network had famously been on the scene at major events when other networks had been asleep or absent, and the growth and eventual deep penetration of cable television throughout the 1980s meant that CNN’s reputation grew steadily along with all that U.S. broadband build-out. The Challenger explosion, revolutions and turmoil in the communist world, and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait created opportunities for CNN to be in the right place at the right time. By the start of the Gulf War, CNN had virtually no true rivals in the around-the-clock business of news.

Murdoch’s audacious challenge in the 1990s was to assert that CNN was vulnerable, and he employed the emerging red-state-blue-state contentiousness as his blunt tool, bringing in former Reagan media man Roger Ailes to manage the development of a news organization to compete with CNN. Fox News adopted the moniker “fair and balanced,” an ironic—some would say facetious—pair of fingers poked into the eyes of their competitors. Top political news stories were crafted to put maximum spin toward the right, at least wherever possible. Other stories were developed carefully to elevate any combination of factors, including glitziness, controversy, sensationalism and fear. Ailes shrugged off the complaints from the left and from mainstream thinkers: TV news had always been a slick, sometimes grubby business—what Fox was doing was merely shedding the hypocritical veneer of impartiality and neutrality.

Ailes guided Fox directly into a muscular wind once at the back of most television journalism, challenging the notion that the Big Three had ever been truly impartial. The argument, of course, was an old one. Many conservatives had for decades argued the case that the news divisions of the TV networks were run by crypto-liberals, or at least producers and reporters with a leftward tilt. Ailes himself saw this firsthand as a young media consultant in the Nixon White House, in his employ during Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1979-80, and later in George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign for the White House. Media watchers were always skeptical of the template of genuine neutrality: were the faces and deliveries of Dan Rather, Sam Donaldson, Tom Brokaw or John Chancellor ever truly impartial? Murdoch, himself a creature of a rightward tilt despite his obvious disinterest in social conservatism (as evidenced by the programs found on the Fox network), empowered Ailes to use the tools of distrust and disenfranchisement as a way to channel red state angst into the Fox News column. The process worked with remarkable ease and speed, and millions of television viewers shifted their allegiances from CNN (and cable rival MSNBC) to Fox News.

By the aught years progressive and liberal candidates were openly distressed by Fox’s preeminence in cable news, as well as the ability of Fox to shape (at least half) of the tenor and tone of the national conversation, and many Democrats shunned participation in debates or other big events staged or sponsored by Fox News. But Fox News was succeeding nonetheless, and its stable of anchors and reporters grew in stature and star power along with higher ratings: Megan Kelly, Brit Hume, Chris Wallace, Shepard Smith, Bret Baier. Ailes also brought on board conservative commentators and opinion-makers, notably Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly, a gifted author and writer, became a star, and more than anyone at Fox News, the signature voice and tone of the network.

Fox News also changed the look of cable television news, and, eventually, nearly all TV news. With Murdoch’s approval, Ailes employed the gimmicks once limited only to tabloid TV. Viewers in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. can thank Ailes and Fox News for the visual busyness, the clutter and the eye-candy glitz of news—graphic summations, meta blurbs, spinning and twisting logos, “breaking news” and “developing news,” character-generator alerts against red backgrounds, laser-like sound effects, teasing transitions, multiple text boxes, and the ubiquitous, continuous crawl. These visual tools became such a game-changer that they can now be found virtually everywhere, from sports programs to home improvement shows.

Folkenflik shares some of his closest scrutiny and harshest light for Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch’s star player and high-ranking executive, and the person perhaps largely responsible for the direction of Murdoch’s tabloid culture and the illegal—or at least immoral—actions of investigative journalists. The Dowler disappearance and murder was only one of dozens of such cases. Ultimately, her actions and the behaviors of those working for her lead to the greatest crisis Murdoch ever faced. Under great political and social pressure, and after much evidence had been amassed, Brooks was arrested in mid-July of 2011, charged with a variety of serious crimes, including bribery of public officials, tampering with private communications, interference with police investigations, and even attempted bribery of law enforcement. Days later Murdoch himself—along with his son James and his wife Wendy Deng—appeared before a special hearing commenced by Parliament and held in Portcullis House. There, in front of a panel of Britain’s most powerful politicians, Murdoch was grilled about the laundry list of misdeeds apparently commonplace among News of the World staffers, including routine bribery of police, investigators and public officials. The phone and email hacking, the public would learn, had been going on for years.

Finally, Folkenflik takes us inside Murdoch’s complex deal to purchase the Dow Jones Company and its prized publication, the Wall Street Journal. More than any acquisition in Murdoch’s long career of buying, merging and selling, WSJ was his prized achievement, taking his reach into what may have been the most respected business journal of the 20th Century. His purchase of the Dow Jones Company and WSJ from the Bancroft family required cultural adaptations and compromises—on both sides of the deal. The Bancroft’s and their immediate circle wanted the Wall Street Journal to retain its unique footprint and its independence, but, as Folkenflik illustrates, Murdoch would eventually begin to reshape the newspaper to his liking.

Murdoch’s World also illuminates the complicated relationship between Rupert and his children, especially the distribution of corporate power to his sons Lachlan and James, with James, the younger of the two, moving into the role of heir apparent.

Folkenflik’s book is thorough and well-written, though it has a slight tendency at times toward what feels like a disorganized drift—the result, surely, of a topic perhaps too large to tackle in the breezy, fast-read-style of this book. But this is a minor complaint. Author Folkenflik captures quite successfully the family and corporate culture—one of audacity, challenge, contentiousness—which empowered, for better or worse, Murdoch’s media world to grow and evolve into the communications empire it has become. This is a great read.

* Police and investigators for Scotland Yard would later conclude that some of Milly’s missing voice messages had not been deleted by the hackers, but instead had auto-deleted after a certain number of weeks or months had passed, a common feature with some cell phones.
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Cross Creek and the Literature of Paradise

Cross Creek Book Covers

By Earl H. Perkins, Thursday Review Associate Editor

Home was among the thickest conglomeration of mosquitoes and deer flies in the backwoods of North Central Florida, an extremely inhospitable residence for man and beast. There were really only three sets of folks who chose to live there back in the day—Crackers, one extended black family and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The term Cracker came from cowboys having to round up wild cattle throughout Florida, and there was plenty of whip cracking in the early days because there were no fences.

Rawlings, who was born in Washington, D.C. in 1896, had already been writing for newspapers in Louisville, Kentucky and Rochester, New York, but in 1928 she made a decision that would forever change her life and touch millions of readers’ lives across the world. When her mother passed away, she chose to take the small inheritance and buy a 72-acre orange grove near a place locals called The Creek—Cross Creek, a small slip of water which connected Orange and Lochloosa Lakes—where she could find isolation while writing about the people, plants and animals she encountered. Though she had been writing professionally for years, her real career started off with letters to an editor friend at Scribner’s, the legendary Maxwell Perkins, who encouraged her to write a book that would contain the stories concerning the people and surroundings at Cross Creek.

It took quite a while for the locals to warm up to Rawlings—they weren’t very trusting of newcomers. Outsiders were mostly looked upon with suspicion, which was probably a good policy under the circumstances: locals fished and hunted according to the moon, stars and tides, and with almost no concern about government hunting and fishing seasons or licensing. The remoteness of the area also meant that there no witnesses as to whether dynamite may or may not have been used on occasion. And, common in some rural parts of Florida, there were moonshining operations to consider, which would certainly be looked upon with umbrage by certain authorities. These were people who lived off the land, a hardscrabble life, mostly folks from Georgia who had migrated south looking for a better life.

The area had barely changed since prehistoric mammals lived on the Florida peninsula. Creek Indians and a few Seminoles farmed the area from the mid-1700s, but the white man drove them south in 1823. The Crackers then moved in the form of trappers and hunters, followed in the 1880s by railroad pioneer Henry Plant who was in the process of running tracks from Jacksonville to Tampa. The new rail route cut through Marion and Alachua Counties, along the west shore of Orange Lake and just six miles from Cross Creek.

Those were heady days, for thanks to the railroad, a bit of civilization was coming to the creek. Predictably perhaps, the land developers appeared before the right of way was cleared. These were silver-tongued salesmen, and they found willing victims from up north who were armed with ignorance and optimism. The advertisements spoke glowingly about the lush land of sun and opportunity, a place where hard-working people could make a fortune. They built houses and planted orange trees everywhere, knowing they’d soon be filthy rich. But devastating freezes at the turn of the century wiped out many of the orange groves and, with them, the new settlers’ dreams, forcing them to flee back north. The only remaining humans were old Florida Cracker families who were smart enough to continue to live off the land, just as they before the speculators and investors had arrived.

There were the villages of Island Grove just to the east and off to the west was Micanopy, named for the chief who led the Seminole Indians in the Second Seminole War.

A personal aside: a great aunt of mine left Millwood, Georgia, with her family in a covered wagon soon after 1900, moving south to the land of obvious opportunities. She worked hard all her life and she certainly prospered if you consider raising a fine family a mark of success. She didn’t quite reach her 103rd birthday, but she gave it her best shot. Also, my father’s mother was raised on a farm outside Reddick, which was a wide spot in the road near present-day Ocala. She left for Jacksonville around 1920, and although relatives were on their way to pick her up, she just couldn’t wait. She came out to the hard road at a fast walk, and headed north—on foot—along what would become U.S. Route 301. She never would return to Reddick, even refusing to visit cousins outside Trenton, because they lived on a farm.

But let’s get back to Miz Rawlings and her story. She received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939 for writing The Yearling, a story about a boy who adopts an orphaned fawn. The book was eventually turned into a movie which was seen by millions, propelling Rawlings to stardom. Best known for writing The Yearling and Cross Creek, Rawlings sometimes portrayed the locals in a harsh and unflattering light. She even lost a lawsuit concerning that matter, eventually leaving the area and moving to a home she’d purchased in St. Augustine. She felt betrayed by the suit, because she truly had great respect for the people and their grit, self-reliance and hard-working resourcefulness. She loved everything about the creek, but especially all the wonderful people and their stories.

Some of Rawlings’ other works, less known than her Pulitzer winners, include The Sojourner and The Secret River, as well as Cross Creek Cookery (1942), an expansion of sorts of one of her most colorful and interesting chapters from Cross Creek called “Our Daily Bread.”

Depression and artistic frustration dogged Rawlings her entire career. But that meant she would fit right in at the creek, because it was the kind of place where people were allowed to be themselves. Many folks have certainly read Cross Creek through the years, but another book you might want to consider is J.T. Glisson’s The Creek, originally published by the University Press of Florida in 1993. All the characters had titles—meanest, laziest, most pregnant, best catfisherman. Oh, it’s all there; a simple and fair-minded story that talks about the colorful locals and gives an incredibly in-depth history of the region where Glisson grew up and as a child was a protégé of Rawlings’. It’s possibly one of the finest books ever written about a single region of Florida.

But it was Rawlings’ two most famous books that brought attention to perhaps the most primal and remote place imaginable before the advent of the now ubiquitous interstate highway. Her award-winning books still read with a freshness and clarity often missing in contemporary writing.

How else would you know if you wanted to see Cross Creek back in the very early 1900’s that you first needed to cross a river into a strange paradise of palmetto thickets, hammock and lush drapes of moss? I thought that was where you went when you were bound for glory land. Anyway, that was where you’d find the man with a mule-drawn wagon, and he’d load up you and your luggage and you’d head up the trail through several miles of dense hammock.

But then I guess I’m starting to kill the story for you. I’m just pretty thrilled that when I was a youngster my father drove me all over and made me meet hundreds of people. He said someday they’d all be gone, and everything we saw would be totally different. I really didn’t believe him at the time, but he was right.

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“Paris is always a good idea”

Three book reviews about the City of Light

Reviews by Sarah Herrin, Thursday Review Contributing Writer

It was Audrey Hepburn who said “Paris is always a good idea.” And no matter what kind of mood you’re in–in love, depressed, nostalgic, adventurous–there’s a Paris book on my shelf to indulge it. Here are some of my favorites:

Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (And Dark Chocolate); by Amy Thomas

Despite not being a huge fan of sweets and cakes, Amy’s delicious story was the first Paris memoir that I picked up. (The adorable cover art had a lot to do with it.) Less than six months since I’d left my study abroad program, I was freshly pining for the City of Light and wanted to indulge myself in sweet nostalgia. Amy’s adventures as a single 30-something working as a copywriter while trying to find her true home were something I could relate to. After much guilt-stricken debate, she left her beautiful New York City apartment and everything that was familiar to work for Louis Vitton in Paris. Amy’s writing style is so real and clean that one can’t help but find themselves empathizing with her at once. She struggles with being an obviously single American woman in Paris, with her weight and her addiction to sweets – which had become one of her most cherished comforts in a lonely city – and even tries her hand at the extremely complicated and bipolar courtship of Frenchmen. But this is not a sad story; there’s cake. As New York is known for designer cupcakes, Paris is famous for its bonbons. And croissants. And chocolat. You’ll find yourself enjoying each trip Amy takes to the local patisserie to seek out the most decadent macaron or the flakiest croissant. Although she endures many struggles – like which way to properly wear a scarf to how to navigate French work culture – there are many wonderful treats along the way that makes this a light, tasty escape to be enjoyed avec un café et un macaron, of course.

Paris Was Ours; by Penelope Rowlands

As a writer who has been to Paris and fallen desperately in love with the old architecture, the romantic culture, and the food and wine, this book was a panacea. Paris Was Ours is as real as it gets. Sometimes that fantasy of spending an evening sipping an espresso in a crowded café across from the indomitable figure of Notre Dame or strolling through the gardens of the Louvre on a sunny afternoon can get a little overwhelming – it seems so far out of reach. It’s important to bring yourself back to reality and that’s just what this collection of short stories does. This book is amazing because it combines such a wide variety of experiences from so many unique viewpoints. It’s a testimony to the fact that while nearly everyone loves Paris, not everyone’s experience will be the same. Each story is an intimate vignette into an author’s life there and we all know that writers have the most interesting lives (apart from rock stars.) It made no difference that I didn’t really recognize any of these authors (undoubtedly, I should have) and it was enough just to step into their shoes for a while. The vignettes cover a range of topics from passionate affairs to starving students to parenting styles and gutsy career moves. Some of the authors loved Paris with all their hearts and others were just glad to make it out alive, but the one thread in common is this: Paris is an unforgettable, irreplaceable experience. And no matter how deeply you love Paris or how much you long to return, you’re likely to find a story here that you can relate with and cherish over and over again.

Paris, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down; by Rosecrans Baldwin

As my unrequited love affair with Paris progressed and I ended up moving two time zones away from the city instead of closer, I began to lose faith that my dream of living in Paris would ever be realized. It was then that Rosecran’s title caught my eye and gave me the dose of realism that I needed. This modern memoir tells the story of a man working for an ad agency, once again in New York, who transfers to a Paris branch. His wife travels with him, but she doesn’t know French and everyday activities like grocery shopping or having the stove serviced becomes a challenge. They have to bear life in an apartment where construction eventually exists on all four sides. Rosecrans writes about what it’s like to assimilate into the workforce of a completely new culture. So many things are taboo, like eating a burger at your work desk, while others, having photos of hot models on your desktop, aren’t given a second glance. It’s also important to know when to give “the hello kiss” and when to shake hands. (Hint: Unless you’re born French, it’s impossible to know.) Social norms and dating polices seem outrageous, but somehow intriguing. There are the positive things: the incredible views, the endless wine tastings, and making friends with other expats. Although Rosecrans does love and enjoy Paris and it’s very hard for him to leave in the end, he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s really like to live and work in Paris, this book will give it to you. In the end, I learned that place may not be as important as what you make of it. No matter where you live, there will be those same obstacles that you’ll have to adapt to and overcome. Paris, I Love You imparts wonderful insights on modern French culture from dinner parties to dating to workplace etiquette and still I have so much to learn. I feel a bit more clearheaded about it now but, my love affair with Paris continues.

The War Between Secrecy and Truth

Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers; James C. Goodale

Book review by R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review Editor

(Originally posted May 13, 2013)

It was the worst breach of military security in American history. Throughout 2010 a young Army specialist, Private First Class Bradley Manning, had been secretly releasing highly classified information to the web group known as WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, now a fugitive from multiple charges in numerous nations. Manning, using a variety of hacker’s tools and exploiting several obvious and shocking gaps in military security, transferred hundreds of thousands of pages of documents relating to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. When the leaks were traced back to Manning, the private was arrested and charged with espionage and computer fraud. Polls showed that on the whole, the vast majority of Americans felt that Manning deserved punishment for his actions.

Assange, however, went on the run, charged with sex crimes in Sweden, and he lives now inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London. Though the charges against him in Sweden may or may not prove valid, many in the United States feel Assange should be charged formally with espionage for publishing the thousands of sensitive documents. Many conservatives and some moderates feel that Assange should be treated as a perpetrator of treasonous crimes, especially since, in the view of some, his actions have placed Americans and their allies in grave danger. Defenders of Assange say the charges against him are baseless: he is merely the messenger. The worldwide controversy quickly framed itself as noble hackers and truth-seekers versus those governments who would jealously guard power and wartime secrets.

A new book by James Goodale, once an attorney and top executive for The New York Times, suggests that the Wiki Leaks imbroglio—as well as recent similar cases involving leaks to reporters and writers, and the Obama’s administration’s multi-front efforts to punish both leakers and reporters—is a case of history repeating itself.

Goodale would know: at the time he served as general counsel for The New York Times in the early 1970s, his reporter colleagues and Times editors came into possession a vast trove of secret documents—thousands of pages from a highly secret cumulative study of the long history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Those leaked pages became known as the Pentagon Papers, and the decision by the Times’ editors to print them triggered what was arguably the most famous legal battle between a newspaper and the government in U.S. history, pitting the Times against the administration of Richard Nixon.

Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles (City University of New York Journalism Press, 2013) is Goodale’s firsthand retelling of that turbulent and high stakes battle over press freedoms, and the Nixon administration’s efforts to not only quash further publication of those secret papers, but also perhaps punish The Times—whose publishers and editors, to Nixon, were the very essence of eastern establishment liberalism—in such a way that no news organization in the future would dare down such an audacious path.

Goodale’s accounting of the story is, understandably, pro-Times and unabashedly unfriendly toward Nixon. His book is, however, scrupulously balanced and even-handed when it comes to his assessments of where responsibility and truth overlap in times of crisis and war. Further, the book’s timing is no accident, as Goodale makes clear in his brief introduction and in the closing chapters—framing the infamous Pentagon Papers legal battle within the context of the Wiki Leaks affair, Bob Woodward’s publication of sensitive material purloined from a report by General Stanley McChrystal sent to Obama, and other recent stress fractures between reporters and presidents. Adding to the opportune timing is the latest resurgence of media activity regarding the attacks on Benghazi, now back in the news in part because of sensitive leaked papers describing the imminent possibility of terror attacks in Libya, and in part because of the Obama administration’s efforts to limit (some) reporters’ access to the truth.

Many Thursday Review readers might recoil at the thought of wading into the subject of the Pentagon Papers. The subject matter is old and dusty, and the world has moved on. Besides, as a friend commented to me in an email at the time I ordered this book: you’re not going to read an entire book written by a lawyer, are you? A reasonable question: after all, who wants to wade into 250 pages of legalese, arcane maneuvering and complex interpretation of law books and statutes?

But here’s the shocker: this book is not only well-written, it is elegantly straightforward. I read the entire book in less than five days, and never once did my eyes glaze-over from lawyerly mumbo jumbo or linguistic prevarication. In fact, I could barely put the book down. Goodale has wisely and shrewdly prepared the book in a tight, accelerated style, with short, rapid-fire chapters—some of which are only four or five pages long. He has also excised what could have been an excruciating storm of legalese, shepherding the reader through the high stakes confrontation like the best of the crime or action adventure writers of our times. (Dan Rather, who wrote a blurb for the book, calls it “a story worthy of John Grisham, except this one actually happened.”)

Goodale tracks the saga of the Pentagon Papers from the first moment he heard about it in his role a chief counsel for the Times right up to the moment that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Times’ position.

Commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in early 1967, the papers were in fact meant to be a comprehensive study of U.S. policy and decision-making in Vietnam, an unvarnished assessment of successes, mistakes, miscalculations and blunders, but also an analysis of the war’s origins during the administrations of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower and how the war had continuously deepened during the Kennedy and Johnson years. The final report consisted of 3000 pages of text followed by thousands more pages of appendices and reference materials, including copies of hundreds of internal State Department and Pentagon memos as well as hundreds of newspaper and journal clippings. The entire report had been classified as Top Secret.

One of the report’s authors was Daniel Ellsberg, at the time an MIT researcher whose specialty was international studies. Ellsberg had been an early and enthusiastic supporter of U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia, but he had become disillusioned with the war—in part during the preparation of the report—and became an opponent of continued American involvement. Ellsberg contacted NYT reporter Neil Sheehan, who was known in his reporting to be critical of the war. After some discussion, Ellsberg handed over photocopies of the report—or major portions of it—to Sheehan, who in turn made his own copies using Xerox machines at the Times. Later, after poring through the thousands of pages of material, Sheehan met with the Times’ top editors and Goodale to outline what he had. On June 13, 1971 the New York Times published the first installment of the Pentagon Papers. Their plan had been to publish large portions each day for weeks, but on the third day they were halted by an injunction issued by the U.S. District Court and the Justice Department. What followed was a high stakes legal battle lasting two weeks, the climax of the drama coming when the Supreme Court ruled in favor the New York Times (by this point the Times had been joined by The Washington Post, normally a fierce competitor, but in this context their ally) and declared that the government had not made its case for prohibiting further publication.

The New York Times had won its case. The ruling was widely considered to be one of the most important freedom-of-the-press cases in the 20th Century, and the outcome opened a wide door for newspapers, authors, and investigative journalists to pursue the truth and provide a more comprehensive approach to their reporting.

Later, Goodale sought to organize press attorneys and first amendment legal advocates under a single, comprehensive banner—a national group which could advocate for protection for reporters and news organizations and operate using the same talking points. The idea would be that these lawyers and the political allies would—as a collective—be able to sway state legislatures and U.S. Representatives to perhaps one day enact a uniform shield law to protect reporters from harsh legal action, and prevent government agencies from literally stopping the presses. No such unified plan emerged, in large part because many media attorneys saw such a sweeping initiative as running contrary to the business practices of newspapers and TV networks—commercial operations which must ultimately answer to members of corporate management often disinclined to the notion of costly legal fights, and shareholders even more dubious of leveraging stock value to win political ground, noble though that ground might be.

Then, with the departures of Justices Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan, the make-up of the Supreme Court changed, tilting for the first time in decades in a slightly conservative direction on some issues. Goodale suggests that on issues of press freedoms, the court would never be quite the same from that point forward, and the argument has been made frequently over the intervening decades that the public interest is not always served simply by making sensitive information public. The security apparatus of the administrations of Clinton, Bush and Obama have all made the case for the sanctity of “mosaic” intelligence: small leaks and incidental revelations in one part of the intelligence community or within military operations can lead directly—and, in the digital age, quickly—to other sources and other assets. Thus all aspects of larger, global operations must be kept secure and secret, lest the smaller puzzle pieces reveal our strategic intentions to terrorists or rogue states.

The case’s legacy looms large in other ways: Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers to Sheehan and The New York Times was perhaps the principal seed for Watergate. Nixon, angry at leaks within his administration, authorized a select circle of advisors—including Charles Colson—to form a security team within the White House. That unit became known as the Plumbers, and shortly after its implementation its chief operatives (Gordon Liddy, James McCord and others) overstepped their mission—engaging in a long list of skullduggery and outright law-breaking, including unwarranted surveillance and finally the break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate hotel and office complex.

Goodale makes the case that—despite the game-changing nature of the Court’s ruling in 1971 in the Pentagon Papers case—after 9/11 the climate for journalism began to chill, again. Goodale examines the George W. Bush era closely as relations cooled between government and reporters, and as the ascension of Fox News and other unvarnished conservative media outlets became prominent talking points in the national conversation. But Goodale saves some of his harshest criticism for Barack Obama, seen by some progressives as being too readily agreeable to enacting draconian restrictions on the press, as well as a hearty willingness to pursue reporters and editors and webmasters in a variety of legal venues. Just this week reporters found themselves facing the still thorny issue of who-knew-what in the Benghazi affair, as some favored reporters—but not many—were secretly allowed into a private, off-the-record briefing while others were left cooling their heels. Accusations of a government cover-up in the Libyan fiasco continue, and not just by Republicans and reporters for Fox News. Goodale’s book also seems prescient in light of revelations just this week that the Justice Department–for reasons not clear at this time–obtained phone records for as many as 20 separate telephone lines at Associated Press offices in New York, Washington and Hartford, as well as records of some AP employees.

In the end Goodale suggests that the pendulum is in full swing toward a sharply limited world for reporters and editors; an age, perhaps, in which powerful government agencies can pursue—with whatever means are at their disposal—those reporters who dare to receive leaked or purloined information.

No matter your own political inclinations, nor your view of reporting in the age of digital and social media, this book is strikingly relevant—even prescient—in its analysis of how we synthesize our news and reveal the truth.