My Times: A Memoir of Dissent
My Times is a critical look at The New York Times from the inside. John Hess worked at the paper for twenty-four years as an editor, rewrite man, foreign correspondent, investigative reporter, and food critic, from New York to Paris to the Middle East and back. In his tenure Hess rubbed shoulders and butted heads with some of the notable figures of journalism from the last fifty years, including Cyrus Sulzberger and his cousin Punch, A. M. Rosenthal, Seymour Hersh, Scotty Reston, and Homer Bigart.
But this isn't a lives of the saints; reporters, to Hess's observation, mostly churned out unambitious, conformist copy, and when they didn't, editors would "fix" it. He argues that the paper deliberately fudged its coverage of Vietnam, at a crucial turn. He revisits the close association of the Sulzberger publishing family with the world leaders the newspaper purported to cover objectively. Later Hess shows that the Times was far better acquainted with the jet-set than with its neglected backyard; few at the paper in the 1970s seemed able to pick out the Bronx on a map. My Times is not without warmth for the Good Gray Lady. Hess praises individual reporters and editors, and notes that working for "the most influential paper in the world" gave him a platform to pursue various campaigns for justice, a few of which he recaps here: the journalistic prairie fire he set in connection with the New York State nursing home scandal; his expos of shenanigans at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and his revelation of corruption in several administrations at City Hall.
"[Hess's] remembrances should be required reading for journalism students, as he covers such topics as the importance of presenting a balanced view, how qualified a reporter must be in order to write about a subject, protecting sources, using press credentials and more. 'News is, after all, what the public does not know,' he writes. This memoir, while imparting information, is at once authoritative and engaging, and deserves a place alongside books by Gelb and other Times luminaries." —Publishers Weekly