My Times: A Memoir of Dissent is a critical look at The New York Times from the inside. John Hess worked at the paper for twenty-four years as an editor, rewrite man, foreign correspondent, investigative reporter, and food critic, from the "Fin-Biz" section to the doomed Paris -edition, to the Middle East and back. In his tenure, Hess rubbed shoulders and butted heads with some of the notable figures of journalism from the last fifty years: Cyrus Sulzberger and his cousin Punch, A.M. Rosenthal, Seymour Hersh, David Halberstam, Scotty Reston, Max Frankel, Anthony Lewis, Hodding Carter, and many others. But this isn't a lives of the saints; reporters, to Hess's observation, mostly churned out unambitious, unquestioning copy. And when they didn't, editors would "fix" it. Hess's damning conclusion:
"The Times was never the greatest newspaper in the world,' nor even very good except, like the vicar's egg, in spots. . . . The Times succeeded because advertisers valued its readership and because readers respected its explicit commitment to integrity and its implicit role as the voice of the establishment."
Hess argues that the paper deliberately fudged its coverage of Vietnam at a crucial turn. He revisits the close association of the Sulzberger publishing family with the world leaders the newspaper purported to cover objectively. Later Hess shows that the Times was far better acquainted with the jet-set than with its neglected backyard; few at the paper in the 1970s seemed able to pick out the Bronx on a map.
My Times is not without warmth for the Good Gray Lady. And Hess notes that working for "the most influential paper in the world" gave him a platform to pursue various campaigns for justice, a few of which he recaps here.
John Hess is a veteran newspaperman and the author of Vanishing France and The Case for De Gaulle. Following his "retirement" Hess freelanced for The Nation and Grand Street, and continues his role as media watchdog with a daily spot on WBAI's Pacifica, New York public radio.
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