Out March 12

The Truth in Our Times - David E. McCraw

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. I am also a subscriber to the Times.

On the day I finished reading this ARC, the President of the United States called the New York Times an “enemy of the people,” and the Times itself carried an article about a reporter being detained and kicked out of Egypt. Additionally, the President tweeted support of a lawsuit against the Washington Post. And a supreme court judges wants the court to re-evaluates the Times vs Sullivan case.

Talk about timing.

David E. McCraw is a lawyer at the New York Times – he is the Deputy General Counsel for the paper. As such, he is familiar with Free Speech as it applies to the news as well as the work and danger of being a journalistic. His book is part defense of the news in general, of the Times in particular, and a call arms not for journalists, but for the public.

Because of his job, McCraw’s primary example is of the Times, and he details how the Times responded to not only news (such as the allegations of Trump’s harassment of women among others) but also how the public responded to their reporting (such as the profile of a man who supports racist ideas). It also chronicles the paper’s response to issues such as Spicer’s banning of them from the press gaggle to debates about how reporters should tweet.

While the bulk of the book deals with dealing with Trump’s seemingly relentless attacks on the press, the book is even handed. McCraw deals with the Obama’s administration’s treatment of leaks and sources, as well as how Clinton dodged a reporter’s phone calls. It might be anti-Trump, but other politicians are not let off the hook. And it might upset some people, but I found the discussion of the Clinton emails to be very interesting.

It is though his look at both the coverage of events and criticism of the Times coverage that he is at his most engrossing. In part, this is because of some of the stories he tells. His examples of strange redacted documents are worth the cost of the book alone. The chapter on leaks, in particular, strikes right at the heart of the issue Freedom of the Press vs the need to keep some information back. While McCraw is understandably on the side of the press, he does address the question with nuance. He does the same when discussing the political leanings of journalists as well.

The book includes how the Times handled abductions some journalists and the reaction of the media to becoming “news”. This is in part to show that the idea of press as the enemy as been building for some time, and illustrate similarities between how some regimes treat the media and how Trump does.

You might criticize the Times’ coverage, but this book does show the purpose and need for a free press as well as why we shouldn’t give up on it.