Media / Newspapers

Bray, Howard. The Pillars of the Post: The Making of a News Empire in Washington. New York: W.W. Norton, 1980. 308 pages.

Kelly, Tom. The Imperial Post: The Meyers, the Grahams, and the Paper That Rules Washington. New York: William Morrow, 1983. 320 pages.

It's an article of faith among East Coast elites that there are only two newspapers worth reading -- the New York Times and the Washington Post. NYT is too well-established to be interesting, but the Post is run by a rich woman (Katharine Graham) and a cussing editor who went to the right schools (Ben Bradlee). The Post came in second with the Pentagon Papers, so conventional wisdom says they tried harder. Soon even Hollywood took notice. However, insiders who write books on the Post know that they are still in second place, still too arrogant over their power, and still trying too hard.

It's been over ten years since these books were written, during which time the Post seems to have devolved considerably. One problem with major newspapers like the Post is that their circulation monopoly lets them sell too much advertising. Another is that they have their own bureaus around the world, so they rarely deign to use stories from AP and Reuters. More often than not, this means that their national and international coverage simply isn't very good. And the op-ed pages are narrow and dull, rarely worth reading. So when the final product thumps on the doorstep, the ratio of useful print to the number of trees consumed to print it is shamefully low. If television news wasn't worse still, newspapers would be out of business by now. There must be a better way.

Bradlee, Ben. A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. 514 pages.

Autobiographies are usually too self-serving to qualify for inclusion in NameBase. Then we digested Seymour Hersh's "The Dark Side of Camelot," and spotted Bradlee's book on remainder. In our view, Bradlee and the Washington Post are more important for the stories they missed (they hyped the "glamour" of Camelot and fed its corruption, and they ignored the late sixties and Vietnam), than for the story they got (if one can believe, even for a moment, that they got, instead of were given, the Watergate story).

Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee is a Boston Brahmin (St.Marks and Harvard) who still can't resist an opportunity to drop the name of an upper-class acquaintance. (Of the nearly 600 names in this book, over 100 are present or recent members of the Council on Foreign Relations, and more than a few have intelligence connections.) Forget the image of the hard-drinking, foul-mouthed reporter from those 1930s movies, who risks all to go after corruption at City Hall. Bradlee sees himself that way, and the movie "All the President's Men" still feeds this myth of American reporting. But after running Bradlee's friends through NameBase, it's clear that short of Watergate, the Washington Post was close to expiring from irrelevance and obsolescence -- due to their chummy association with the rich and powerful, and with the secret state lurking behind them.

Davis, Deborah. Katharine the Great: Katharine Graham and the Washington Post. 2nd edition. Bethesda MD: National Press, 1987. 320 pages. (A 3rd updated edition was published in 1991 by Sheridan Square Press, 145 West 4th Street, New York NY 10012.)

There are plenty of books written about the Washington Post and its publisher Katharine Graham, one of the world's richest women. But only this one can brag that it was first published in 1979 by William Jovanovich, who then promptly shredded 20,000 copies because Ben Bradlee didn't like it.

The Washington Post is usually thought of as a newspaper that's keen on investigative journalism, but this is a con. For one thing, the Post has too many old-boy intelligence connections, starting with Philip Graham himself and continuing through Bob Woodward. For example, when Bradlee was working in the U.S. embassy in Paris from 1951-1953, documents printed by Davis show him following the orders of the CIA station chief to place propaganda in the European press. Another item from our files: In a 1988 speech to senior CIA employees at Agency headquarters, CFR/Trilateralist Katharine Graham had this to say: "There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn't. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows." Small wonder that when reading the Post, many folks cannot shake the suspicion that an agenda lurks behind the headlines.

Dealy, Francis X. Jr. The Power and the Money: Inside the Wall Street Journal. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1993. 374 pages.

For five decades, the Wall Street journal has been one of the most successful newspapers in the country; today their circulation is over five million. Francis Dealy, a former vice president of Dow Jones, interviewed 313 people for this book, 153 of whom were either present or former Journal news staffers. Dealy is not impressed by this success, and notes that the Journal missed some of the biggest stories of the era: Watergate, Michael Milken and his junk bonds, and the savings and loan debacle. Moreover, having stumbled into their niche with the Journal, Dow Jones has been spectacularly unable to diversify, despite numerous attempts.

The problem, according to Dealy, was the flawed leadership of Warren Phillips, the retired CEO of Dow Jones, and now it's his successor Peter Kann. Phillips allowed managing editor Norman Pearlstine to socialize with Wall Street whiz kids such as Donald Trump and the clients of Michael Milken. Peter Kann made his wife, Karen Elliott House, a vice president and head of the Asian and European Wall Street Journals, where she is allowed to play politics with the staff. Dealy feels that there's a general lack of ethics and professionalism at the Journal. The owners of the Journal, the Bancroft family, are content to keep hands off and just soak up their dividend income (which came to $58 million in 1980 alone).

Diamond, Edwin. Behind the Times: Inside the New "New York Times." New York: Villard Books, 1994. 437 pages.

Edwin Diamond is a media columnist for New York magazine who has written ten books on media and politics. His career has included work for newspapers and wire services, a stint as senior editor at Newsweek, and now he is a journalism professor at New York University. This book is based on some 100 interviews with NYT staffers, and access to the NYT archives.

Diamond describes the New York Times as "a paper too smug to love, yet too important to leave." All of the voting stock in the NYT is closely held by the Sulzberger family, while nonvoting stock is publicly traded. At the top, in other words, it's a closed shop of old boys (no room for women). Things aren't much better at the bottom: an atmosphere of exclusiveness and presumed excellence, together with a tendency to worship anything that's elitist, has produced a self-importance at the Times that is disconcerting for author Diamond. The minimum salary for cub reporters is over $60,000, and the food critic gets an extra $125,000 a year just to try out New York's restaurants. NYT worries that Generation X isn't reading newspapers, but despite all the hand-wringing, NYT's tradition-bound upper management can't seem to find the on-ramp to the information superhighway. Give them another 15 years. If the ink from their annual 400,000 tons of newsprint is still coming off on your fingers by then, the New York Times is a lost cause.

Friel, Howard and Falk, Richard. The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy. London: Verso, 2004. 304 pages.

It is often observed that when it comes to U.S. foreign policy, it's impossible to tell the difference between U.S. conservatives and liberals. The best proof of this is the reporting of the New York Times from the 1954 Geneva Accords on Vietnam to the invasion of Iraq. Other topics include the Tonkin Gulf incident, Reagan's policy in Nicaragua, and the 2002 coup in Venezuela. On May 26, 2004, for example, the New York Times apologized for the lies it reported on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which were provided mainly by their chief anti-Arab reporter, Judith Miller, through her CIA cut-out, Ahmed Chalabi. But the problem was much broader than this. In more than seventy NYT editorials prior to the invasion, the issue of international law was never mentioned.

This disregard for perspectives that involve international law is typical of the Times. The paper of record in the world's most powerful country has its own elitist reporters and Ivy League op-ed writers who schmooze with foreign-affairs policy makers. When the bandwagon gets rolling for another U.S. invasion, they all jump aboard. The NYT can be counted on to give them all the column inches they need to spread U.S. hegemony first, and then later perhaps a tiny bit of human rights coverage or an apology -- just to make it look like they're trying to be objective.

Havill, Adrian. Deep Truth: The Lives of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1993. 264 pages.

If "All the President's Men" in book or movie version is all you know about Watergate, be advised that several of the scenes in the book couldn't have happened as reported, and the screenplay takes additional liberties. In the end, Bob, Carl, Robert and Dustin take us all for a ride. Undoubtedly something important was happening with Watergate. But the popular version, in which Bradlee paternally supports "Woodstein" investigative shoe-leather and causes the collapse of mega-corruption, is merely what the Washington Post wants you to believe. And if you liked the Hearst empire but prefer yellow journalism that's not so transparent, then you'll love the Post.

Havill believes that Deep Throat was a composite of various sources, including some (like Alexander Haig) whom Woodward knew from earlier days when he was "probably" working for the CIA. His entire career demonstrates amazing access to intelligence sources. William Casey gave him several interviews, but the famous one at the end of Woodward's "Veil" just didn't happen, judging from the evidence. Woodward keeps churning out dubious best-sellers that are saved only by his amazing Old-Boy-Ivy-League access to spooky insiders. Today he's worth $8 million and his readers are starved for facts untainted by their legitimate suspicions of a hidden agenda.

Kurtz, Howard. Media Circus: The Trouble with America's Newspapers. New York: Times Books - Random House, 1994. 434 pages.

Here's the scoop on the 16 chapters: 1. How Donald Trump led reporters by the nose with calculated antics. 2. Newspapers miss the HUD scandal. 3. Newspapers miss a much bigger savings and loan scandal. 4. Bad reporting on race relations. 5. Hiring new reporters by skin color, which excuses more bad reporting on race relations. 6. Plagiarism, fabrication, and other ethical issues. 7. Reporting on the private lives of public figures. 8. The gay issue. 9. Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the press. 10. Gulf War reporters get outflanked by Pentagon censorship. 11-13. Three chapters on political journalism (boring, boring, and boring). 14. Newspapers lose readers, and are gobbled up by heartless, advertising-hungry conglomerates. 15. "Pink flamingo journalism" (the trend toward lifestyle articles and similar fluff). 16. How to improve the situation.

This book is helpful, but Kurtz himself pushes some trivia. There is no mention, for example, of the nearly 400 members of the media who have been co-opted by the Council on Foreign Relations. They get to go to CFR's off-the-record meetings, where they learn how to brown-nose the elites who are taking over our world. Race and gay issues, one suspects, are merely a smoke screen to divert from more fundamental class issues. But this never occurs to Kurtz; he's been co-opted by 12 years at the Washington Post.

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