MAVERICK: Fifty Years of Investigative Reporting by Fred J. Cook

MAVERICK: Fifty Years of Investigative Reporting

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By any accounting journalist Cook (b. 1911) is one of the last of the old-time denouncers of crime-and-corruption, one of the first of the latter-day protesters of ""authoritarianism""-and-injustice. His own recapitulation incorporates a lot of old news, and less about how he got the stories than one might like; but it also speaks for skepticism, principle, and pursuit of the facts. Cook begins with his 1950s realization, as a New York World-Telegram staffer, that ""the paper's whole emphasis on the Communist menace [was] phony."" He then takes up the case of William Remington, the Commerce Department official convicted of perjury (on the word of ex-Communist-agent Elizabeth Bentley and his ex-wife) for denying Communist Party membership or collaboration--whom Cook presumed guilty until he got a magazine-assignment to look into Remington's background. Remington was dead, murdered in prison; through Cook's and others' efforts, the case now stands as a classic miscarriage-of-justice; and for Cook it was a watershed. He turns back to his New Jersey coast upbringing and beginnings as a crime reporter; a bookish father denied an education (hence Cook's ""sympathies . . . for the underdog""); the beach claimed by an ""arrogant"" stranger (""the beginning of my antipathy toward the filthy rich?""); the wide-open Prohibition-era racketeering and bossism; a fighting, martyred editor--whom Cook briefly succeeded; the passing of a local paper from editorial freedom to front-office control. On the Telegram, Cook went after big-time-criminals: Joe Adonis & Co., harness racing. Enter then Carey McWilliams, with assignments for The Nation based on Cook's Remington article; and there begins (slightly before the midpoint) what will be the meat of the book for most--Cook's review of the Hiss case (he has his suspicions about Priscilla Hiss), of Sacco and Vanzetti (touched off by an innocuous book-review assignment, turning up a doughty truth-seeker and new clues), of two military railroadings (believe-it-or-not horror stories), Radical Right evangelism (""a wedding of the Respectables and the Kooks""), and of the Kennedy assassination--also involving criticism of ""conspiracy-theorists"" like Cook (and his conflict with The Nation). Finally, he recaps his fight to the Supreme Court for the right to answer Radical Right ""smears""; and, apropos of wife Julia's ""unnecessary"" death, his misgivings about medical arrogance. A happy, reinvigorating second marriage brings the book to a hopeful conclusion. To a strong sense of identity, Cook links repeated demonstrations of the validity of doubt. There are diverse attractions here.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1984
Publisher: Putnam