Sunday, July 08, 2012

Book Report: The Truth and Nothing But The Truth

Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee, Journalism's Legendary EditorYours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee, Journalism's Legendary Editor by Jeff Himmelman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeff Himmelman has raised a mini-storm in Washington and New York among the journalistic elites who can't believe he betrayed the two great icons of modern journalism, Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward by writing the truth. No one has claimed that Himmelman fudged the facts, only that he should have protected Bradlee (and Bradlee's wife, Sally Quinn) and Woodward by not including things that might make them look bad.

None of what Himmelman wrote is actually that negative about the great gods of journalism.  There was an instance he found where Woodward lied about his sources in his Watergate stories and a letter that Bradlee wrote but never sent in which he questioned the motives of his wife, Ms. Quinn.  Neither "betrayal" was any great shock to anyone who has followed the careers of Bradley, Quinn and Woodward.  I lost any confidence that Woodward could be relied upon as a "truth teller," in the book, "Veil" about William Casey's time at the CIA in which he quotes Casey on his death bed.  There were guards at the door to Casey's hospital room 24/7 who denied that Woodward was ever in the room.  It didn't pass my "smell" test that the hospital staff, the guards and the Casey family would allow Woodward into the room.  There are many other instances of Woodward reporting, particularly his account of the Supreme Court in "The Brethren" that have not passed my "smell test."

Himmelman's book is not a chronologically organized book of biography of Ben Bradlee, but more of a character study.  Many of the facts about Bradlee were already known, since Bradlee had already written an autobiography (which I have not read.)  Himmelman shows a charismatic man whom many people (and I count Himmelman among them) adored.  But he was not exactly a genius, he didn't have the attention span for that.  His gift seems to have been to find good reporters, give them a chance to produce and then support them to the hilt.

I got this book in a Good Reads giveaway.  It is not a "great" book, but it is a very good book, one that entertained and informed me.  I recommend it for people who are interested in journalism and politics.  I don't think I would want Jeff Himmelman for a friend though.

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