A sturdy biography of the late New York Times legend who became “the best journalist of his time, and perhaps the best of any time” before wounding his reputation by blurring the line between access and objectivity.
A Scottish immigrant, Reston (1909–95) pulled off such scoops as the United Nations negotiations, the Marshall Plan, disclosure of the Yalta agreements, and the espionage investigation of Robert Oppenheimer—winning two Pulitzers in the process. Yet the politicians he covered trusted him, in moments of crisis, to keep a confidence (JFK even offered a candid private admission of his rough handling by Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna). Reston made his mark equally as the quintessential organization man at the Times, where he served successively as reporter, columnist, bureau chief, and executive editor. The easy grace of his writing, and his friendship with the owners of the paper, the Sulzberger family, influenced “the Good Gray Lady” toward a more literate, and interpretative, style of reporting. An entire generation of reporters viewed him as mentor: Tom Wicker, Anthony Lewis, Max Frankel, Russell Baker, David Halberstam, R.W. Apple, and J. Anthony Lukas. But Vietnam and Watergate corroded faith in the liberal centrism that informed Reston’s commentary, and his reputation for reliable reporting suffered a devastating blow when he uncritically accepted Henry Kissinger’s duplicities. Stacks, a former reporter and chief of correspondents and deputy managing editor for Time, draws on Reston’s private papers and interviews with family members and others to flesh out a warts-and-all portrait. He tempers admiration for Reston’s achievements with unblinking criticism of his limitations—sexism, for example, and an ineffectual stint as the Times executive editor. Unfortunately, while Stacks bemoans the remorselessly adversarial relationship between government and press that has replaced Reston’s more respectful early skepticism, he doesn’t explain how journalists can avoid the traps that his subject fell into.
A fair-minded measure of a key journalistic figure in journalism and celebrant of the American Century. (8 pp. b&w photographs, not seen)