Monthly Archives: July 2013

“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.

Edward R. Murrow: the Great American Reporter

Book Review: Murrow: His Life And Times; A.M. Sperber

By R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review Editor

On January 21, 1950, a former State Department official and Carnegie Endowment director named Alger Hiss, long the subject of Congressional inquiry over his alleged spying, was convicted of perjury—by some historical lights setting the tone and hue for the decade that would follow. The infamous televised confrontations between Hiss, the young California congressman Richard Nixon, and the writer Whittaker Chambers had made for dramatic headlines and TV, but the affair had been very ugly. Bitterness—on both sides—about the treatment of the two antagonists, Hiss and Chambers, lasted for decades. Though it was never conclusively proven that Hiss had been a communist (Hiss himself never admitted to spying for the Soviet Union), anti-communism had become a potent element in the political and social fabric, and Americans of the 1950s came to understand—rationally or irrationally—that there may be communists and fellow travelers among them, perhaps even in the hallowed marble halls of government. Alger Hiss went to jail, and Richard Nixon’s career trajectory was set in motion, thanks in part to the power of television—still in its infancy—to capture the drama.

A few weeks after Hiss was sentenced, the junior U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, then almost entirely unknown outside of the Badger State, gave a short speech to a crowd in Wheeling, West Virginia, and in his remarks—almost as an aside—he mentioned that he had in his possession a list which purported to contain the names of communists or former communists currently employed by the U.S. State Department and other key agencies. Within a few days, his claim—which proved to be tenaciously vague—became the spark which ignited a firestorm bigger even than the Hiss-Chambers affair.

McCarthy had a knack for the theatrical, and was known for spending time palling around with several newspaper reporters close to him. The gathering had been small in Wheeling, but he soon repeated the claims to much larger crowds in Reno and Salt Lake City, and as expected, the headlines grew larger. McCarthy remained oblique about the names of communists, but what quickly became clear was his intention to make this self-created brouhaha into something larger. Some reporters, hungry for more of the same drama and intrigue sparked by the Hiss-Chambers affair, went along for the ride.

The “list” itself became controversial (and eventually infamous) for its illusiveness, but McCarthy had set in motion a domestic war of words and accusations which would further divide many in the political and cultural establishments. McCarthy’s personal problems—deep, relentless narcissism; manic depression; alcoholism—would eventually contribute to his unraveling and his departure from politics, but at the time many reporters were drawn almost inescapably toward the conflagration, a high stakes gambit now thrust into the national conversation. The era of McCarthyism was just beginning.

Watching the tempest gain steam was an already well-known reporter, Edward R. Murrow.

Murrow had been thrust into the national consciousness as a young journalist when, in early September of 1940, the German military had begun its fearful air attacks on London, sending waves of heavy bombers and fighters across the English Channel to wreak havoc on the ports, docks, industrial centers and even densely packed civilian areas. Over 600 Luftwaffe bombers had been used on the first and second nights alone. Murrow, a correspondent for CBS, reporting from England to Americans listening on radio back home, delivered vivid, wrenching and literate accounts of the horrors that Londoners faced each night. One thing Murrow could not be fairly accused of was timidity or cowardice.

Years after the war, by the time Joseph McCarthy’s crusade loomed large in the American political processes and in the newspaper headlines, Murrow—chiseled with lines but ruggedly handsome and with a voice as evocatively American as the sounds of wagon wheels on a frontier trail—was already a household name. It seemed even then that a confrontation must occur between the two men of such divergent styles and tones.

Murrow was arguably the most important journalist of the 20th Century, rising to the top his profession first in radio during its golden age, then, ascending to the top of the pyramid of television while the medium was still in its infancy. A.M. Sperber’s Murrow: His Life and Times is the definitive biography of the North Carolinian of Quaker stock who, by the mid-1950s had practically single-handedly established the journalistic canons of television news, crafting the template which others would follow for decades—Howard K. Smith, Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid, Bob Trout, Don Hollenbeck, David Brinkley, Chet Huntley, Frank Reynolds, John Chancellor and others.

Further, Murrow’s invention of the form—often through collaboration with producer and early TV pioneer Fred Friendly—cast a long influence which would shape even the careers of reporters and producers whose rise to national attention came long after Murrow’s death: Don Hewitt, Ed Bradley, Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Leslie Stahl, Diane Sawyer, Mike Wallace.

Sperber’s massive book (not including the extensive notes, bibliography and citations it runs over 700 pages) is monumental and thorough, leaving few gaps in the long professional life of Murrow. Though the sheer size of the biography may intimidate some readers, Sperber’s story-telling style easily disarms such fears. Using the perspectives and memories of hundreds of direct sources, her writing still manages to move us quickly and comfortably through Murrow’s rich life.

Murrow came to CBS radio in the early 1930s and made it his permanent professional home. In Europe, as talk of war was gaining momentum, he and his American colleagues—William Shirer, Bob Trout and others who were known during the war as “Murrow’s Boys”—had seen first-hand Hitler’s audacious bullying of Germany’s neighbors, including the annexation of Austria, and Murrow had reported live from Vienna in what amounted to the first-ever template for a live broadcast using all technologies available at the time. Though primitive by today’s high-tech and glitzy standards, Murrow’s broadcasts were dramatic and powerful. Later, in London, after war broke out across Europe and the Nazi’s swept into neighboring countries, Murrow’s reports from the besieged London during the Blitz raised the bar even higher. The signature audio bumper and signoff heard even today on CBS (Thisis CBS) was the invention of Murrow, who had developed the unique inflection for the start and close of his live broadcasts during the bombings—“this…is London.”

Sperber’s book tells the story of Murrow’s rise to prominence in the national consciousness, and the reporting canons he developed with the backing of the top brass at CBS, including the support of the indomitable William S. Paley, a pioneer in the electronic mediums. During the war years, Murrow and his colleagues back at CBS in New York established the gold standard for intelligent journalism. With Murrow acting as unofficial dean, the CBS campus of correspondents included names of reporters—through most died many years ago—still revered to this day: Bob Trout, Charles Collingwood, Richard C. Hottelet, Charles Shaw, and others.

By the time of his return to New York after the war, Murrow was an institution within CBS, and though he lived modestly, he had become one of the highest paid journalists of his day. Stepping into the unknown arena of television—still regarded as a novelty by many in the journalism community—Murrow brought with him the same reporting standards he had insisted upon as a radio correspondent. Here we find Murrow working at the height of his career, developing a literate, unblinking criteria for television journalism at a time when there were only a few thousand TV sets in most large cities, but prodded forward by the visionary Paley and the innovative Friendly. Murrow’s trophy would be his See It Now, a radical and experimental venue for its time, and a program which, despite its occasional technical problems, brought into play broadcast devices now familiar and routine: the “anchor,” multiple locations (live or taped), multiple screen images of reporters in the field, interactive conversation between talking heads, and direct interviews with well-known people. Though the show seems mild by today’s pro wrestling standards of TV combat, See It Now had—for the 1950s—an edge about it, flirting occasionally with confrontation and challenge, but always in Murrow’s familiar gentlemanly style.

As Sperber takes us through the complex and rarified inner world of CBS (and occasionally its closest competitor, NBC), where the professional social order and the office politics could be brutal, we watch as Murrow navigates the harshly competitive waters through increasingly shark-infested conditions. Still, by the force of his personality and reputation Murrow had, by the early Fifties, largely established his own shop.

Against the backdrop of the Korean War McCarthy was generating headlines, and though some journalists were appalled (or said they were appalled) and though some were willing to grumble both privately and publicly about McCarthy’s methods, the Wisconsin Senator made good, reliable copy. McCarthy, a shrewd operator among members of the press, was known for taking reporters into his confidence quickly, especially when those reporters needed a story. And many of those reporters were more than willing to play along with McCarthy’s intrigues in exchange for something new in the war on domestic communists. McCarthy also had his allies in the press, though they were fewer in number than those who expressed moral outrage at his tactics. Among the editors and newspapermen who supported his crusades were the Hearst papers as well as—initially at least—the more conservative Luce publications and their editors and editorialists at Time and Life. McCarthy also had the support of Colonel Robert McCormick, owner and publisher of the Republican-leaning Chicago Tribune.

The print venues of Henry Luce were of particular importance, for Time magazine in those days reached nearly two million readers, and the iconic Life reached over five million. Time and Life were generally supportive of McCarthy in the earliest days, for his crusade fit neatly into Luce’s view of the world as shaped by the growing divide between the communist world and the world of the U.S. and its allies—and especially by the loss of China to Mao in what seemed like an institutional unwillingness on the part of Truman, Acheson and others to support Chiang. Later, however, the Luce press cooled in their assessments of McCarthy, and in a cover story describing the Wisconsin senator as a demagogue, Time editorialized that McCarthy possessed “no regard for fair play, no scruple for exact truth.” When it came to fighting communism, Luce and his editorial writers preferred the savvy, thoughtful machinations of Richard Nixon to what Time called the “groin-and-eyeball fighting” of McCarthy.

These examples aside, McCarthy’s ongoing quest eventually sparked resistance among some in elite journalistic circles.

Thus, in one of the most notable media confrontations of the era, a bitter struggle developed between McCarthy and Murrow. Murrow had long been discussing the idea of a special show on Joseph McCarthy. But Murrow and Fred Friendly were unsure and hesitant. Up to that point in the still-evolving world of television, magazine-type programs and feature venues had remained not only uncontroversial, but had stayed at a safe distance from politics entirely. As author and political biographer Robert Slater points out, “this was long before Vietnam, long before Watergate, long before it would become acceptable for someone to appear on television and denounce the people in Washington.”

But Murrow had seen several of his closest friends wither into defeat under the harsh light of the hunt for communists, and he felt as a matter of pride and journalistic innovation that the time was right to take on Senator McCarthy.

After much careful consideration and a long process of copious, painstaking editing, Murrow and his staff assembled a special See It Now program devoted entirely to Senator Joseph McCarthy. Bracketed at the beginning and the end with an introduction and a brief close by Murrow, and using primarily film or videotaped footage of McCarthy himself—in his own words—the program was ostensibly neutral, but peppered strategically with Murrow’s own retorts and rebuttals to McCarthy’s words. Murrow ended with a few minutes of closing monologue and editorial content, in which Murrow intoned that the Senator’s chief achievement had been in confusing, in the public’s mind, the differences between the threat of internal communism and external communism. “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends on evidence and due process of law.” The effect of the carefully selected and heavily edited footage was jarring, and it shed a mostly negative light upon the Senator.

First reactions to the program were overwhelmingly positive. That night CBS was flooded with phone calls followed by a blizzard of congratulatory telegrams and letters the next morning. CBS affiliates around the country experienced similar outpourings of approval from viewers. Many in the mainstream press praised Murrow and the efforts of his team at CBS, and rival network NBC piled on with accolades. Even a few voices in the moderate-to-conservative press applauded the show’s effectiveness, while not specifically endorsing the decidedly anti-McCarthy tone. McCarthy was oddly silent for a couple of days and in his few appearances appeared to be on the defensive. Meanwhile, Murrow and his colleagues at CBS were riding high on the wave of positive press coverage.

After days of uniformly bad press for the Senator from Wisconsin, McCarthy struck back, demanding equal time, a reaction Murrow and CBS fully expected. With the consent of CBS’s top management, including direct approval from CBS chairman William Paley, Murrow offered airtime for a McCarthy rebuttal. Some media critics who disapproved of McCarthy had begun to note that the original program had been craftily edited in order to take some of the Senator’s words out of their original context, meaning that in practice Murrow’s crew had engaged in the same sort of manipulation and selectivity for which they were so cavalierly accusing McCarthy. Gilbert Seldes of the Saturday Evening Post blasted the Murrow show for its high-minded claim of neutrality when in fact it was nothing less than a slick, carefully crafted attack, sugar-coated by Murrow’s popularity and shielded by his insulated position within CBS.

Finally, in the televised McCarthy response, the Senator railed against the members of the press he termed “jackals” and suggested that despite the illusion of neutrality, Murrow’s program had in fact been carefully rigged for maximum distortion and bias. The war of words and threats between Murrow and McCarthy became bitter.

CBS, after several days of riding on the high tide of positive reaction, then began to face pressure from within and without. Murrow, as it turns out, had in his younger days sought access to a summer school program in which students could travel to Moscow, a fact of his youth not fully disclosed on his otherwise impeccable resume, nor in his employment files at CBS, and a few reporters and columnists began to note this publicly. Though the Moscow student program was explained away as a trivial, fleeting page in Murrow’s past life (in fact after much lobbying and wrangling to get admission to the summer school, Murrow did not attend the Moscow program), to some it had revealed an instance of hypocrisy and deception on the part of CBS. Suddenly, Murrow and his allies at CBS were the one who found themselves on the defensive.

Further complicating things for CBS, the coldly amoral mechanisms of television were proving fickle, even for those who worked in the business of TV: partly out of political caution, CBS had done very little in advance to promote the original Murrow special on McCarthy; but weeks of heavy publicity, newspaper headlines and editorial debate since the original broadcast had raised the national interest substantially, and McCarthy’s rebuttal show was watched by a much larger audience. In some markets, in fact, McCarthy’s response drew double the viewers of a typical See It Now, allowing hundreds of thousands of people to see and hear Joe McCarthy outside of the context of the original program. The result, perversely, was positive spin for McCarthy—an eerie premonition of a medium of the future in which bullies, charlatans and hucksters often gain forward traction despite moral outrage. Though the network still thought of itself as occupying the high ground, CBS had clumsily stabbed itself with its own sword.

Murrow and his editors and researchers at CBS had in fact engaged in exactly the sort of carefully selected and copiously screened hatchet job on McCarthy that Murrow and his allies had been routinely complaining were the selective methods employed by McCarthy. Some observers saw this as nothing less than hypocrisy—the double-standard often used by members of the journalistic elite who claimed nobility in their use of well-crafted distortions or egregiously heavy-handed tactics. The retelling of the incident entered into the media legend of anti-liberals, and contributed to the perception which persists to this day of a press corps generally hostile toward conservative—and in some cases—middle American attitudes and beliefs. The incident also damaged Murrow’s previously sterling relationship with his chiefs at CBS, most especially Stanton and Paley.

Though CBS took incoming fire from some quarters as a result of the McCarthy program, Murrow outlasted his Senate nemesis. McCarthy’s alcoholism and obsessive bullying were approaching the downward curve of self-destruction. After his censure by the Senate, McCarthy faded into a brief period of political irrelevance before his death in May of 1957. Murrow’s career would continue, though with a degree of irreparable damage within the CBS organization. Nevertheless, Murrow would be widely remembered for having succeeded in landing the first harpoon into the political whale that was Joe McCarthy simply by asking Americans to reconsider the Senator’s tactics and half-truths.

Though not for the light reader, Sperber’s massive book is a sweeping and indispensable history for anyone who wants to fully understand the development of radio and television news at their apogee at the middle 20th Century, and why Edward R. Murrow became central to our understanding of how news is gathered and delivered, and why this great reporter’s shadow still looms over TV news.

 

[Other sources used to research this article include: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (website: bioguide.congress.gov); The Senate: 1789-1989 Historical Statistics, Volume Four, Robert C. Byrd, U.S. Government Printing Office; Joseph McCarthy: Re-examining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator, Arthur Herman, The Free Press; This…Is CBS: A Chronicle of 60 Years, Robert Slater, Prentice Hall]

American Graffiti and the Great Boomer Experience, 40 Years Later

Image courtesy Universal Pictures

Image courtesy Universal Pictures

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review Editor

(Originally published March 21, 2013) Much has been attributed to the American Baby Boom—most especially all things rock and roll and very nearly everything of political or social consequence after 1960. The problem—as anyone who understands the real meaning of the term “Baby Boom” grasps—is that the vast sea of pop cultural and societal movement for which the Boomers ascribe themselves great credit is largely the work of people older than the Boomers themselves. The list of misappropriation is so large that it becomes comical after only minutes—all members of The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones; Bob Dylan, Carole King, Jimi Hendrix; Led Zeppelin; The Beach Boys; Elvis Presley; Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Neil Young, David Crosby; James Dean, Marlon Brando, Woody Allen, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman; Timothy Leary, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, Ralph Nader; John Kerry, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis; Hunter S. Thompson, Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, Kurt Vonnegut; Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein…well, you get the point.

Like most of my Boomer brethren, I too have laid cultural claim to many of these icons of my generation. The Post War generation is especially prone to this grand misappropriation when in defensive mode—when pressed, as P.J. O’Rourke has pointed out, to offer up an unembellished Group Resume of genuine accomplishment. It gets tough. Landing on the moon? We were teenagers and kids. Our greatest political achievements? Bill Clinton and George W Bush. (John McCain and John Kerry, though veterans of Vietnam, were born well before the Boom, and Barack Obama, having arrived in 1961, is generally disqualified from the Boom years). Our great musical achievements? The Eagles slide in as the first supergroup to have a majority of members born after World War II, bringing in tow with them Jackson Browne, Phil Collins and Linda Ronstadt…barely. Novelists, poets, writers…artists? If you start splitting hairs with me over what the word “artist” means, then you have made my point. Andy Kaufman was a Boomer; Prince, Tim Fite and Lady Gaga came later.

Which raises the obvious question, asked a thousand times in as many movies, books, articles, academic studies and barroom arguments: is the collective memory of Boomers based mostly on the experience? It was a grand time with grand diversions and grand political and social intentions, but it happened thanks largely to the hard work and creativity of people frankly and clearly older than us—those very older generation folk we so loved to disdain. And even now, for those whose memories have not been fractured, rusted out or lobotomized by heavy portions of recreational misadventures with pharmaceuticals, the early Boomer tableau is one of riding the crest of an enormous experiential wave.

Or, perhaps more appropriately—in the age before drugs—an entire generation, cruising slowly in their car along the same long strip of city, town, beach front or shopping center…stopping for burgers and fries along the way and hoping to get lucky in the back seat.

This summer will mark the fortieth anniversary of the release of American Graffiti, the landmark film which propelled writer-director-producer George Lucas from relative obscurity and into the movie-going consciousness, and the film which may have singlehandedly triggered the start of a cultural wave of nostalgia and sentimentality for the 1950s and early 1960s.

Lucas, a shy, underweight kid from the valley near Modesto, began making films as a teenager, racing his small two-cylinder Fiat as a hobby, and discovering that a cool car—as many a male teen has learned—is an easier way to attract girls. After film school at USC, on the set of Finian’s Rainbow, he became friends with Francis Ford Coppola, falling into the tight circle of young filmmakers and screen writers working in the area south of San Francisco. One of his first projects was a documentary, Filmmaker, in which he illuminated the process of movie making by embedding himself in Coppola’s crew during the 1968-69 shooting of The Rain People, which starred Shirley Knight and a young James Caan.

American Graffiti was the vehicle which would—several years before Star Wars—bring him enormous fame, and clout as a director.

Initially screened in San Francisco to a packed house which included Lucas, his producer Francis Ford Coppola, and several movie executives from Universal and other major studios, there was instant skepticism by the top Hollywood brass that the film was even a film at all. Despite the fact that moviegoers that night were genuinely invested in the emotions and characters of the story—even applauding at many key scenes—the honchos in dark suits doubted the film’s capacity to draw a paying audience, anywhere, and they had serious doubts about their ability to market such a quirky, out-of-the-box movie. Lucas, stinging from being dumped from the Apocalypse Now project (a film which Coppola would make with critical success in 1979), and suffering financially for turning down directorial gigs for Hair and Tommy, neither of which greatly interested him, nevertheless felt certain that American Graffiti had both artistic merit as well as box office potential.

But Universal wasn’t happy with Lucas’s finished product. And to make matters worse, the studio execs present at the screening winced visibly at the movie’s soundtrack, a more-or-less constant chain of songs from the late 1950s and the early 1960s, which, in the eyes of the Hollywood chieftains, would result in unimaginable cost overruns for the hundreds of music license agreements, fees and royalties. The soundtrack, in their minds, would be a legal nightmare. When pressed to eliminate the undercurrent of popular music, limiting it to perhaps only a handful of songs, Lucas bridled. This film, in his opinion, would work best because of that evocative musical tableau.

With the help of his friend Coppola, and a few others, the elaborate pop musical underpinning was retained, and the rest—as they say—is history. Even to this day, the American Graffiti soundtrack remains one of the most memorable in film history, and the film’s enormous success broke through the long standing barrier between directors and their studio execs over the use of music. Had it not been for Lucas and his stubborn requirement that the music be a part of the narrative, later directors such as Oliver Stone (Born on the Fourth of July), Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) would have not had the capacity to create the same layered, rich cinematic canvases using evocative period music.

American Graffiti had a complex early life. Though the studios were skeptical of the initial drafts and treatments, Lucas finally persuaded a producer at United Artists to float enough money to develop a complete script. The original screenplay was mostly the work of Lucas and one of his film school classmates, Richard Walter. Walter worked on the writing project while Lucas completed his futuristic, Orwellian social chiller THX1138. Walter’s initial script for the teen movie was darker, violent, sexually explicit and prone to graver and more melodramatic flourishes. Though it looked marketable as a cheap exploitation flick, Lucas felt that this betrayed the personal element of the story, so he rewrote it completely—merging a variety of real life memories and experiences into the single, evocative narrative the film eventually became. The film’s working title, Another Quiet Night in Modesto, was abandoned in favor of something wide a wider appeal, and a title that might avoid the appearance that it was a regional or “little” film. And despite some pressures from early backers to set the story on the East Coast, Lucas insisted that it be set in small town California.

After several misfires with other writers, including writing input from his film school colleagues Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, Lucas rewrote the story on his own. Legend holds that Lucas meticulously selected songs from his own record collection at home, choosing each song for its evocation of the period or mood, then writing each scene—dialogue, scenery, visual effects, lighting, even the complex choreography of cars and waitresses on roller skates—as a shot sequence to accompany the song, essentially building the storyboard on top of the soundtrack. Summoning parts of his own life in central California, Lucas grafted a piece of himself onto each of the film’s characters, shifting the story from Richard Walter’s vision of danger, action, violence and sex, into what would become a remarkably personal story, not just for Lucas, but also for the millions of Boomers who would so easily and comfortably identify with the characters and their motivations.

Lucas infused heavy doses of his own life into American Graffiti, and his friends and colleagues have often argued about which of the characters most closely resembles the George Lucas who grew up in the area around Modesto. Even the climactic car crash could be traced to Lucas’s own near-death experience when, in 1962 (the year the film was set) he lost control of his Fiat, sideswiping a Chevy Impala and smashing his much smaller car into a huge tree. The movie contains frequent references to real events in the valley of Lucas’s life, such as a legendary auto crash which killed eight teenagers, cited by the fictional character John Milner. In real life, seven teens were killed in a single car crash only a few hundred yards from the Lucas home in 1961.

So, building his imagery upon the backbone of the rock and roll music of the 1950s and early 60s, and after building the elements of what would become a highly personal storyline, he set about finding a path toward getting the film made.

Eventually, after being turned down my many of the major studios—including 20th Century Fox, MGM and Paramount—Lucas was able to persuade a few friends at Universal to finance the film, but Universal agreed only on the condition that the film would be shot on a low budget of only $600,000. Universal was still skeptical of the script’s potential, and retained serious doubts about the music, as well as the complexity, logistical problems and overtime involved in so much night shooting. Only after the huge success of The Godfather in 1972 did Universal reluctantly agree to increase the budget for the young friend of Coppola, but then by only an additional $150,000, bringing the total budget to $750,000.

Like other young directors at that time, Lucas was burned—probably more stung than most—by the constant sellout and compromise which Hollywood seemed to embrace. His previous film, THX1138, though critically well-received, had been a frustrating process, requiring endless compromise and producing low box office numbers. Despite the low budget, Lucas was determined to take this new project in the direction of something fun, and, he was sure, genuine success.

Filmed in central California, mostly in Petaluma (the Mel’s Diner scenes were shot in San Francisco), American Graffiti follows an entire night in the lives of a group of friends recently graduated from high school. Two of them, Curt (played by Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (played by Ron Howard) are each facing a new reality, crossing the threshold from teenager to adult as they prepare to leave for college the next day. Others within the group, for better or worse, will stay in their small town. John Milner (played by Paul Le Mat) is a local ne’er-do-well and hot rodder who must defend his title as fastest-guy-in-the-county, gunslinger style, against all challengers, including Bob Falfa, a bullying, gregarious, cocky roadster played by Harrison Ford. Cindy Williams plays Laurie, Steve’s longtime girlfriend, who now must contend with Steve’s transparently selfish desire to date others while he is away at college. Charles Martin Smith plays Terry, Steve’s geeky younger brother who has been entrusted with Steve’s mint-condition car, and Candy Clark plays Debbie, a girl who happens to find charm in Terry’s nerdish ways despite the strange and buffoonish patchwork of lies and twisted stories he tells in an attempt to impress her. Mackenzie Phillips, who was only 12 when principal filming began, plays a preteen misplaced—the result of a prank—into Milner’s world of machismo and adrenalin. Finally there is Suzanne Somers, an elusive woman in a white Thunderbird who charms and seduces Richard Dreyfuss with only a glance and a smile through her car window.

There is no story, per se, only the naturalistic flow of this one, long night and the many dozens of youthful social interactions that would have been typical in places like Modesto, Lodi or Stockton. At the core of the loose narrative are the struggles, self-doubts and competing emotions common among high school graduates suddenly facing some variant of adulthood—job, community college, out-of-state education, trade school, looming marriages, sudden break-ups, fear of leaving the nest. Curt and Steve engage in a more-or-less continuous push and shove on the issue, each weighing the pros and cons of leaving their homes and their friends for the unknown future. In between, the vibrant night life of Saturday in small town California rolls up and down the main street, between the local banks and the hardware stores and the dress shops in a mostly unstructured narrative, a few minutes of Steve and Laurie, a few minutes of Curt with the local leather jacket greasers, a few minutes of Terry serenading Debbie, a few minutes of tension as Falfa stalks Milner.

In place of sexuality, Lucas injects the most profound of all mid-Twentieth Century material forms of seduction—the American love affair with the car. The creamy, glossy automobiles seem to ooze with erotic allure in the predominantly nighttime scenery, especially those sequences shot in and around the burger joint, and the hundred-plus scenes filmed along the neon and candy-colored Main Street. Cars and characters are easily and frequently interchanged, kids jumping from one car to another as the social specter slides from one end of the strip to the next, then, back again. Seduction, flirting, friendship, social stratification, social reordering, class struggle, even aggression are all played out via the cars.

The music serves, as Lucas had planned, as the underpinning upon which the scenes and encounters are affixed, and through which mood and tone can be established. The atmospheric tapestry evokes nearly every element of the great pre-Sixties Boomer experience—fast cars, drive-ins, cruising the illuminated retail strip, preppies, greasers, geeks, socialites, jocks, car-hops, barely checked sexual energies and curiosities, the golden years of early television (as seen in a shop window), and the constant soundtrack of the great Post War aural youth experience—rock and roll. Throughout the night, our characters listen in near unison, from every car radio and every handheld transistor device, to a linear thread of pop music sound, beginning with Bill Haley & The Comets (Rock Around the Clock, appropriately), and then channeling moviegoers through a virtual greatest hits of the era; from Del Shannon to Buddy Holly, from The Big Bopper to The Fleetwoods to The Flamingos, from Chuck Berry to The Platters. In fact, the American Graffiti soundtrack remains one of the most remarkable collections of iconic early rock and roll available—at the time released vinyl on a double record album, and still available today on a CD version with a few additional songs.

And to drive home the omnipresent impact of rock and roll radio so familiar to the long Baby Boom experience, there is the disc jockey—in this case, the unmistakable voiceprint of Wolfman Jack, whose gravelly, irreverent on-air banter fills the brief gaps between songs and provides endless amusement for the young listeners. (The Wolfman has a cameo scene with Richard Dreyfuss when Curt seeks to have a dedication placed on the air that night).

Largely unknown at the time of its release in 1973, most of the younger performers are nevertheless perfectly cast, with Dreyfuss—especially—in an entirely likeable and believable performance. Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Ron Howard and Bo Hopkins all also give excellent performances, and even Harrison Ford’s grim, gunslinger role has its moments of likeability and charm, as when he briefly breaks out in song in a vain attempt to woo Laurie (Cindy Williams). And there are many, myself included, who feel that Charles Martin Smith nearly steals the movie with his lovable portrayal of the geeky, hapless Terry the Toad. Smith’s performance would immediately establish his reputation as a serious actor, especially for the quirky parts–as in his acclaimed later roles in Cry Wolf and Starman.

The film’s parallel stories focus on a sort of planned convergence—that of Curt’s departure the next morning from the local airport. But overnight, Curt finds himself growing increasingly obsessed with the beautiful young woman he had glimpsed briefly from the backseat of Steve’s car early in the film. In the end, he is never able to catch her, though an hour or so before his departure she calls him at a payphone. She remains cryptic and illusive.

At the first screening at the Northpoint Theater in San Francisco, on January 28, 1973, the film was an unmitigated smash hit, and the audience roared with approval at many of the scenes, giving it an ovation at the end. Many of the movie industry workers present that day said they had never seen an audience react so favorably during a simple screening. Still, some of the studio execs balked, unable to comprehend that a non-exploitative film built upon the soundtrack and trappings of youth life in 1962 could possible resonate with moviegoers: it was 1973, and those 11 years seemed either too far in the distant past, or, conversely, too close and too soon. Surely a box office success was not likely from simple nostalgia for the 1950s or early 60s, and the music seemed especially irrelevant in the hard rock environment which predominated radio in the early 70s—a world of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and Three Dog Night, music which seemed light years more complex, experimental and sonorous than the simple pleasures of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode or The Regents’ Barbara Ann.

Minutes after the screening and as the house lights came on, one of the greatest film-industry arguments ever recounted broke out between Coppola and Universal’s Ned Tanen while dozens watched. Tanen, under pressure himself from Universal, was blunt and unsparing: he hated the movie. He told Lucas and those standing next to him that they had let him down. Coppola, according to those who witnessed the legendary confrontation, exploded, telling Tanen “you should get down on your knees and thank this kid for saving your job.” The argument escalated to epic levels as more people wandered into the discussion. The emotional debate pitted the advocates along generational lines, and a clear distinction was drawn between the two camps: the young filmmakers were sure that they had struck an innovative chord with the audience; Old School studio execs certain that their judgment and adherence to formula would work best. The confrontation would prove to be not only one of the greatest of Hollywood legend, but also pivotal for the industry.

Over the objections of Coppola, who even offered to buy back the film intact and assume the risk on his own, the studio moguls wanted Lucas to recut the film into something more to their conventional tastes, and when Lucas balked, they threatened to have an outside party edit the film. But in the wake of the success of The Godfather (Coppola could by that point do no wrong), and based in part on favorable industry chatter (most of it derived by those who had seen the film in January 1973), Universal backed down, even letting Lucas keep the costly soundtrack. Because of a high stakes dispute over the royalties to be paid for an Elvis Presley recording, a single song by The King was removed, leaving the rest of the music mostly intact and instantly creating what would become one of the best-selling motion picture soundtracks in American history (by the end of the 1970s, over 3 million copies had been sold).

In the end, Universal still insisted on some minor changes, and those cuts became a semi-permanent source of angst for Lucas for many years. Nevertheless, at the next official screening in May, with all final edits in place (For complex licensing reasons, Harrison Ford’s a capella ad lib of Some Enchanted Evening was cut from the original theatrical release, and inserted only years later on DVD and Blu-Ray), the movie inspired the same powerful and positive audience reaction. Steven Spielberg, who was present for the May screening, said the preview was unlike anything he had ever witnessed before or after. “It hit a chord of nostalgia,” Spielberg told film writer Dale Pollock, “because it was such a warm nod backward; it was for George’s, mine, everybody’s generation.” Even with the smashing success of the second screening, Tanen was dejected, and only later admitted that his dim view—and the view of others in the Hollywood offices—may have been based on generational factors.

The movie was an instant success, filling theaters to capacity in every city and town in which it played, but gathering even more momentum over the next weeks and months. Universal, at first, deemed it a cult phenomenon, but as box office sales continued to ramp upward, it was quickly apparent that the movie had tapped into a new and powerful source of collective Boomer nostalgia.

Though it cost only about $770,000 to produce, American Graffiti would eventually rake in well over $115 million in the U.S. alone, giving it the distinction of being the most profitable movie in American film history when measured by its cost-to-profit margin. The film was a dazzling success even before the end of 1973, and soon afterwards, the up-and-coming Lucas would join Coppola among those young directors and producers who would begin to remake Hollywood through their independent lens.

The movie indirectly (some have argued directly) spawned an enormously popular TV show, Happy Days, which imported the Ron Howard personage very nearly intact and brought with it variants on nearly every character found in Lucas’s film. In turn, Happy Days also spawned spin-offs, and, in a familiar pathway through the television and movie business, eventually saturated the viewing markets with 1950s and early 60s nostalgia in a variety of venues. Many of the recording artists featured in the soundtrack made substantial musical comebacks, touring and performing again to large crowds drawn from the success of American Graffiti, the film. For the youngest moviegoers, post-Boomers, the film introduced at the most basic of cultural levels the origins of rock and roll.

American Graffiti also made stars of Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Suzanne Somers, Kathleen Quinlan, Mackenzie Phillips and others. After Happy Days, Ron Howard turned to directing, remarking often that his experiences on the set of American Graffiti had been more formative for his love of cinema than all those years spent as a child actor. Howard would go on to direct hugely successful movies with a galaxy of A-list stars, including Backdraft, Far and Away, and Apollo 13.

Perhaps most telling, American Graffiti enabled Lucas—and by example, a dozen other directors and producers—to break free, at least in part, from the studio system and its familiar constraints. His own company, Lucasfilm, would soon go into production on his long-harbored and semi-secret project—a matinee swashbuckler adventure sci-fi called Star Wars. Star Wars also would be widely interpreted at that time of its release as a baroque and textural reinvention of the Boomer ethos, complete with all the familiar morality plays, the struggles with leaving home, adult responsibilities, saber-rattling versus pacifism, good versus evil, and the always present challenge of facing one’s fears and the unknown.

Had American Graffiti backfired commercially, or had the studio chiefs had their way with the final cut, the trajectory of George Lucas might have been quite different, and the careers of many other young filmmakers, including Spielberg and Howard, would perhaps have never fully flowered.

In the end, American Graffiti showed us that we could see movies in a different context. Its loose narrative structure and revolving character vignette editing style largely retooled the way many new movies were made, and gave ample opportunity to dozens of younger directors—most born after World War II, and some born after the Boomer Years—to see storytelling in a new light. Would films like Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Joel and Ethan Cohen’s Fargo, or Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation have been possible without George Lucas and American Graffiti?

American Graffiti was the first movie to attempt to tie together all the core elements of the Boomer experience, and its complex yin yang duality so familiar to those born after World War II, for Lucas had chosen—intentionally or not—to set his story in the early summer of 1962, months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a year and a half before the assassination of John F. Kennedy—events often described as the critical turning points for an entire generation, the moment when an idyllic world of teenaged innocence was replaced with new fears and dark unknowns. It was also the first time a major movie touched on what would become the rawest nerve for Boomers as they paraded into adulthood throughout the late 60s and into the 70s: they were not necessarily in uniform agreement on the issues of culture or society. In a telling short scene, Milner–who is older–and Mackenzie Phillip’s preteen character, argue over the merits of a Beach Boys song on the car radio, the younger girl excitedly declaring the music “boss” and Milner scoffing at its significance. Rock and Roll, he declares, has not been the same since the death of Buddy Holly.

As for the collective achievements of “our generation,” George Lucas—widely coopted by those of us among the great cultural wave of Boomer sentimentality—was born in 1944, roughly two years before the start of that great surge of mid-century births, and therefore decidedly pre-Boom.

The Early Beatles: Great Freedom, Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers

By Kevin Robbie
Thursday Review Contributing Writer

(Originally posted April 11, 2013) In 1960, the Beatles traveled to Hamburg, Germany for a two-month engagement at the Indra Club. The group’s members were very excited as this work represented their first somewhat legitimate employment a band. Their part-time manager at the time, Allen Williams, had signed a contract with Bruno Koschmider, a German businessman who owned the Indra and other clubs. British bands were the rage in Hamburg and Koschmider had been anxious to secure another group from Britain.

However, Koschmider was also a gangster whose rackets included prostitution and drugs. His clubs were the among the seediest in Hamburg’s Reeperbahn district. The Reeperbahn was intersected by two main streets—the Grosse Freiheit (Great Freedom) and the Herbertstrasse. The area was packed with dive bars, clip joints, all-night partiers and loud music. There were also enough garish brothels and prowling girls to convince any young man he was in a sexual candy store. The Beatles, who had never been outside of Britain, were not immune to the temptations.

One of the most popular British performers in Hamburg was Tony Sheridan, who died in February at the age of 74. Born in Norwich in May, 1940, Sheridan was an accomplished musician, but the raucous German crowds—usually fueled with copious amounts of alcohol—were more impressed with Sheridan’s energy and stamina. He was also known for playing his music at an ear-busting volume. Nothing was considered over-the-top on the Reeperbahn. Sheridan’s loud, wild performances matched the raw intensity, bright neon and blaring sounds of the Reeperbahn. Over time, Sheridan developed a devoted cult following in Hamburg.

The Beatles were certainly aware of Sheridan’s prowess on the guitar and his popularity in Hamburg (his favorite guitar at the time was a Martin Dreadnought). After their own shows the Beatles would walk over to the Top Ten Club to take in Sheridan’s act. The Top Ten was owned by Peter Eckhorn, a rival of Bruno Koschmider. The Beatles approached Koschmider about paying them more money and providing them with better living accommodations. Since their arrival in Hamburg they had been living in two small, dank cubicles behind the screen of the Bambi Kino, a seedy theater owned by Koschmider. He rejected their requests out of hand.

However, the Beatles weren’t just sitting in the audience at Sheridan’s shows. Eventually, he invited them to participate as his backing band, an offer they eagerly accepted. Their contract with Koschmider forbade employment in any venues not owned by him. They were naïve enough to believe they could get away with it. Thus he turned down their pleas for increased pay and better rooms. On the other hand, the Beatles weren’t paid when they performed with Sheridan. They did it for the love of it.

Koshmider made the next move. Infuriated at the Beatles refusal to back down on their legitimate requests for better working conditions, he began using his connections to the police. Hamburg had a curfew requiring minors to be off the streets by 10:00 p.m. George Harrison was only seventeen and a minor under the law. The Beatles’ work schedule required him to be out long after the curfew deadline. He also had no work permit. The cops ordered George to be out of the country in 24 hours. Having no other choice, George complied. Within a few weeks, the rest of the group were back in Liverpool, exhausted and disillusioned.

After several weeks of moping, they gathered themselves together and began playing gigs in and around Liverpool again, performing in venues such as the Casbah, the Cavern and Litherland Town Hall. Audiences familiar with the Beatles realized they weren’t the same group as the one that left for Hamburg four months earlier. The music was tighter and they were much more confident onstage.

In March, 1961, the Beatles returned to Hamburg and contracted to play at Eckhorn’s Top Ten club for two months. But they had moved up in the world and were listed on playbills as co-stars with Tony Sheridan. The group also had a change in personnel as Stuart Sutcliffe, their erstwhile bassist, left the group in order to pursue his art studies in Hamburg and marry his girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr. Paul McCartney then became the group’s bass player.

The Beatles pairing with Tony Sheridan proved to be a bonanza for Eckhorn. The Top Ten was packed with people and their shows were described as energy-charged extravaganzas. Sheridan enjoyed working with the Beatles as their vocal harmonies—and intensity—impressed him and complemented his act. He also respected their improving musicianship. But he was still far ahead of the Beatles in that regard and adding his guitar to their sets pushed their music into overdrive.

Before the Beatles left Germany to return to Liverpool, they were seen at the Top Ten by Bert Kaempfert, a German bandleader who was moving into talent representation. Kaempfert was intrigued by the Beatles but he was more impressed with Tony Sheridan. He signed Sheridan to a recording contract with the Beatles as his backing band. They were, of course, overjoyed by the news. A number of songs were recorded and “My Bonnie” was selected for release. On the label, the Beatles were listed as The Beat Brothers, the collective name used for all of Tony Sheridan’s backing bands in the early 1960s. They were paid 300 deutschmark, about $75.00 at the time. Eventually, the record sold 100,000 copies in Germany.

According to Beatle legend, Brian Epstein first heard of the group when a boy named Raymond Jones walked into Epstein’s NEMS record store in Liverpool and asked for a copy of “My Bonnie” featuring a local group called the Beatles. However, the story is almost certainly not true. The Beatles themselves frequented NEMS to listen to records. The stores’ salesgirls also knew the group. NEMS also had posters on the walls announcing Beatles’ appearances. And Mersey Beat, a local paper covering the Liverpool music scene, put news of the Beatles record contract on its front page. Mersey Beat was selling very well at NEMS and the paper’s founder Bill Harry, had been asked a question by Epstein–“What about this group the Beatles?” After making further inquiries regarding the group, Epstein decided to see them performing. He did so at the Cavern Club on November 9, 1961, and, of course, the rest is history.

It’s now been over fifty years since the Beatles raucous days in Hamburg and their collaboration with Tony Sheridan. By serving as an unofficial mentor for the group, Sheridan influenced the Beatles early sound and helped them hone their musicianship and stage presence. Against the backdrop of the “Great Freedom” and the Reeperbahn, the Beatles began to gel as a band.

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.

Immigration and the Human Dimension

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio at the border fence; photo courtesy of Univ. of Texas at Austin

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio at the border fence; photo courtesy of Univ. of Texas at Austin

Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution; Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick

Book review by R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review Editor

(Originally published June 10, 2013) During the long debate season of 2011-12, the GOP candidates for president sparred frequently over the depth and fidelity of their conservative convictions.  In many cases these exchanges proved a healthy reminder to the often large audience watching on television that these were—in theory at least—candidates with a lineage to Ronald Reagan.  But at other times, those glitzy TV debates became strident, especially as presumed-leader Mitt Romney’s challengers sought to use the former governor as a stand-in for Barack Obama.  Romney was pounded ceaselessly by those to his right—Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and others–over his stances on health care, abortion, marriage rights, immigration.  Later, after Republicans took a shellacking at the ballot box at the hands of Obama and other Democrats, a vicious blame-game began.  (See: Anatomy of a GOP Loss: Part One and Part Two, and Dispatches From the Cheap Seats at the GOP: Part Two)

There were many reasons for the tenor and tone of those debates, and many plausible explanations for the severity of Republican missteps—not the least of which was candidate Romney’s infamous misfire about the 47%, a comment which went viral and seemed to strike at the heart of the growing distinction some see between the 99% and the 1%.  But, realistically, there had to be more to the GOP’s electoral deficit than that simple unguarded and inappropriately-worded aside at a fundraiser in Boca Raton.  The party’s own post-election reports—official and unofficial—indicate that substantial demographic changes in the voting-age population had moved faster than the GOPs ability to adapt, a polite way of saying that the Republicans had managed to leave behind–or offend–a measurable number of voters.

In those early debates—and a few of that latter ones as well—no issue seemed to inflame the rhetoric more swiftly than immigration.  The mere mention of the border between the U.S. and Mexico would trigger arguably the most vitriolic exchanges between the top candidates.  Occasional attempts by a few candidates to moderate the tenor—or defend their own actions, as in Rick Perry’s explanations of educational and medical benefits in Texas for children of illegal immigrants—would result in a gruesome tag-team assault on the offending party, deemed too liberal or soft on immigration.  Herman Cain spoke of electrifying the border fence with potentially lethal levels of current.  And though over the next day he attempted to brush the comment aside as a joke, a few days later he again embraced the concept of an electrified wall.  Cain was only slightly less guarded in his anti-immigrant sentiments than were Bachmann, Gingrich and some of the other candidates.

The damage was deep, and perhaps irreversible.

Still, at the Republican convention in Tampa, hoedown scripters made a valiant attempt to moderate the situation with a procession of dynamic and energetic Latino elected officials, from Nevada’s Brian Sandoval to Puerto Rico’s Luis Fortuno, from New Mexico’s Susanna Martinez to Florida’s Marco Rubio.  In the hope that there would be some positive outreach toward Latino voters, deemed by both the media and many GOP strategists as independent, the charismatic Rubio—himself viewed as potential presidential timber—was given the top honor of introducing Mitt Romney to the delegates and TV viewers.  Rubio’s speech was powerful and well-crafted, but by November it had made little difference.  On Election Day the deficit Republican candidates faced among Americans with a lineage to the Spanish language was fatal—perhaps more damaging than the GOP’s slippage among women voters, younger voters, independents and those vaguely described as undecided.

Indeed, a shift toward Romney of only a tiny percentage of Latino votes in several keys states—Florida, Ohio and Colorado—might have been sufficient to have moved these states into Romney’s electoral column.  To be sure, such second-guessing and what-ifs are parlor games, but it does give one pause to consider the value to the Republican Party of overheated rhetoric on the issue of immigration.

A new book by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and legal scholar Clint Bolick suggest that it is time for the U.S. to reassess its approach to immigration.  In Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, Bush and Bolick (Bush is a Republican, Bolick is independent), see the complex and often emotional issues of immigration as a centrally economic challenge: the United States must now compete for talent and skills with the rest of the world, and each day we remain gridlocked in a burdensome, antiquated system for legal entry into America is a day of lost competitiveness in a mercilessly fast-paced global economy.

Bush and Bolick begin with the basic—and widely accepted notion—that our current system is broken.  Hardly anyone, liberal or conservative, disagrees with that assessment.  And of course from that agreed upon starting-point, things can get complicated and thorny depending on your political conviction or tilt.  Much of the book is meant to be as balanced as possibly without pressing the hot buttons often employed by some on the conservative side of the issue.  Economics, in their view, should trump the emotional factors.

Additionally, Bush and Bolick see the issue as not merely one of economic importance to U.S. competiveness, but also critical to the future success of the Republican Party—a political group once reasonably effective at attracting the votes of Latinos and farsighted in the need to bring native-Spanish speakers into the conservative fold, seen in the 1970s and 80s as a more natural home for those with roots to places like Mexico, Cuba, Chile or Panama.  Ronald Reagan once remarked “Latinos are Republicans…they just don’t know it yet.”

Bush and Bolick start by attempting to unravel the myths and canards surrounding immigration.  They make a fundamental argument early in the book, a point which remains one of their touchstones throughout their 200-plus pages: jobs and work, like any other market engine, move in tandem with supply and demand.  It is not coincidence that a deep and sustained recession has actually greatly reduced illegal entries into the U.S., and even reduced the total requests for legal admission.  Why come to the United States if there is no work?

Secondly, Bush and Bolick argue that our current system is fragmented, confusing and hopelessly muddled—at once antiquated in some areas, broken in others.  The problems seem intractable, with a backlog of requests, files and papers for many, even as tens of thousands work illegally.  The costs of this affect a variety of arenas, especially health care, education and social services, not to mention the parallel price of attempting to maintain a secure border and the rising costs to state and city law enforcement.

Early in the book Bush proposes moving immigration away from the Department of Homeland Security, where it was placed in the aftermath of 9/11.  Bush also suggests that the antiquated models based on family reunification are economically counter-productive.  In order for the U.S. to move forward in a competitive global economy, immigration numbers must begin to shift measurably toward skills and talents as measured by supply and demand.

Bush also indicates from first-hand experience—in his former role as Florida governor–that the backlog of visa and travel requests is unacceptable, especially in times of recession.  Foreign tourism alone could account for many billions of dollars of revenue spread easily across a wide swath of the market, and not only in the theme park states like California and Florida.  Bush and Bolick also strongly propose a massive overhaul, not just of the system and its sometime competing bureaucratic imperatives and turf battles, but also the national conversation and attitude about immigration.
The book’s final short chapter is a call to Republicans to get smart about immigration.  Bush calls Romney’s defeat in 2012 a “lost opportunity” for the GOP to seize the high ground and reclaim its natural position as the party with the better understanding of economic growth and jobs creation.  Republicans, Bush argues, ought to understand how easily their core values—family, taxes, middle class jobs, abortion, school choice—just to name a few, should overlap with the interests and social concerns of Latinos, and he proposes that the GOP engage in more than generalized lip-service to Hispanics nationwide.

Bush makes the point (made several times in the pages of Thursday Review last year; see Will the Latino Vote be Decisive?) that it is a myth to assume singular or monolithic voting patterns by any ethnic or linguistic group, but it is especially faulty political thinking to ascribe the same social and political motivators to various sub-groups of the Latino population.  The social or economic concerns of the Cuban-American living in Tampa or Orlando are not the same priorities of the Puerto Rican living and working in Chicago, nor the Mexican-American living and working in Arizona or southern California.  But GOP intransigence and hawkishness on the issue of immigration might very well push millions of native Spanish-speakers into a general alignment with a Democratic Party more willing to adapt to the changing demographics of the country.

This book reads very quickly, in part because of the deceptive size and typography: the text runs to about 225 pages but the text has been largely double-spaced, or, more precisely, one and one half spaced—placing a lot of air on each page.  But it also moves quickly because Bush and Bolick have shunned reliance upon statistical minutiae and academic loftiness.  This book is straightforward and blunt, and whether you agree with Bush or disagree—and regardless of your political tint and hue, these pages can be easily read in a few days without fanfare or rising blood pressure.

Perhaps this is one of Jeb Bush’s early marketing processes for what may very likely be his already carefully considered presidential ambitions.  If so, Thursday Review readers will find it enlightening and useful for the future.

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