A veteran political journalist narrates his journey from typewriter to Internet, from JFK to GWB.
The prolific Witcover (Party of the People: A History of the Democrats, 2003, etc.) calculates that he and his co-columnist, Jack Germond, wrote 6,912 pieces in their 24-year collaboration—in addition to thousands of daily news articles and feature stories. And many books. Most of these, says Witcover, were produced under the most strenuous and stressful of conditions: hard and imminent deadlines, bad food, disingenuous sources. And booze. Witcover recalls waking up at times with a buzzing head and a dim memory. Yet he and his contemporaries—mostly male—still pounded out stories on portable typewriters in the backs of buses and trains. No sissy cell phones and Blackberries in those days! The author begins with a snapshot of his childhood (no other college graduates in his family) and quickly takes us through his years in the Navy (he enlisted just as World War II was ending), through Columbia University, through his first real job, at a Rhode Island paper—all in the first 20 pages. Then he settles in to narrate a fairly conventional chronicle of his years covering some of the most significant events of the last century. He interviewed Otto Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. He covered JFK in West Virginia. He followed Reagan, Romney and Rockefeller. He developed an odd amity with George Wallace. He was in the room when Robert Kennedy was shot. He covered the rise and fall and rise of Nixon, the weird careers of Spiro Agnew and Lester Maddox. He wrote about the self-destructions of Muskie, Eagleton, Hart and Perot. He both mistrusted and admired Clinton and thinks the current White House resident is the most dangerous president in his lifetime.
Witcover is not often deeply reflective—not until the final chapter—and some passages have a cut-and-paste character, but his intimate accounts of American politics over the past 50 years are always engaging, ever intelligent.