Vest-pocket portraits of people, places, and events from veteran newscaster Brinkley that have the brisk familiarity of Cliffs Notes.
Brinkley, who died earlier this year, dispenses, with an easy hand, his views on a number of newsmakers and historical events. At their best, these bite-sized pieces have fun poking sideways at pretension and folly, of lifting the mask of face value. It may be WWII-era Washington, DC: “Sleepy, often slow-moving, inbred, and thoroughly segregated,” wherein “the antiquated character of the city was most visible in Congress,” and epitomized by the opportunistic bigot Senator Theodore Bilbo. Or it may be the role that ambition played in Robert Kennedy’s politics: “To set himself up as the alternative to Johnson in the Democratic Party . . . he had no choice but to move to Johnson’s left.” His early “Our Man in…” travelogues have a warmth that lets readers peek under his own mask—in the Mediterranean, “the places we visited were so full of the things that define our own civilization . . . that I often felt like a grown man who had come back to walk around in the town he was born in.” His background as a southerner and as a longtime inhabitant of Washington gave him perspective on the Civil Rights movement, though progressive for all that. And, really, who better to pen an article on national political conventions, having covered 24 of them—“nothing was more spontaneous and unpredictable than the rowdy, chaotic, ridiculous, and endlessly entertaining political convention”—though “endless” was pushing it: “By the end, no one (including me) was paying much attention.” Less enlightening are the pieces in which he didn’t have a first-person presence. “I hardly knew the man myself,” he writes in a J. Edgar Hoover profile, and elsewhere, “I barely knew [Joseph] McCarthy myself.” He is correct: he hardly, barely knew them.
Still, some worthy nuggets to be mined from these pages.