The deputy general counsel of the New York Times debuts with a personal and professional account of the profound changes in journalism and of the threats he perceives to the First Amendment, threats intensified by the cries of “fake news!” that emanate from the White House and echo around the country.
McCraw, who has been at the Times for more than 15 years, mixes memoir, history, and politics, stirring in a bit of self-effacement (he thought Donald Trump was incapable of winning the 2016 election) with a dash of self-congratulation: He writes extensively about a viral letter he wrote to Trump’s attorneys about a Times story giving voice to two women who had accused the candidate of sexual impropriety. The author briefly tells the story of his own background, but mostly, he maintains a sharp focus on a number of key developments and issues. He writes about the 1964 New York Times Company v. Sullivan case, which made suing the press for libel much more difficult (a 9-0 decision in favor of the Times Company); the president’s tax returns; WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden; the Harvey Weinstein case and the #MeToo movement; the Freedom of Information Act; and the kidnapping of journalists in dangerous parts of the world. Most affectingly, he discusses the wonders of the First Amendment and how we must protect it. Periodically, McCraw expresses disbelief and horror about an American president who blasts the free press and identifies journalists as the enemies of the people. He notes with alarm, as well, how the very wealthy (and very conservative) are funding anti-media lawsuits. Here, he credits comedian John Oliver (whom he calls “brilliant”) for “outing” coal magnate Bob Murray on Last Week Tonight. Throughout, the author highly praises journalists working for the Times.
Although occasionally tendentious—McCraw clearly loves his employer—this is a passionate, important defense of the First Amendment and its absolute necessity in a democracy.