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God and the Editor: My Search for Meaning at the New York Times Hardcover – July 8, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Early in his memoir, Phelps explains that he wants to show how his religious or moral concerns have informed his journalism. In that respect, his book falls flat: Phelps's recounting of his spiritual journey seems tacked onto what is at heart the story of his life at the New York Times, a narrative that illuminates the pressures that can drive a news story. Phelps, who served as the Times's Washington news editor from 1965 to 1974, has much to say about journalistic ethics and the relationship between editors and reporters. With grace and charm, he navigates the minefield of infighting between the New York and Washington bureaus, and he describes some of the paper's most influential personalities. Of special interest is his treatment of the Watergate scandal, an event that fundamentally altered the role of journalism in America. For Phelps, highly placed in a bureau widely viewed as having been beaten on the story, it's a charged subject. His take on that watershed moment in his craft will be illuminating to readers with an interest in journalism, professionally or otherwise. —Fred Baerkircher, Twinsburg P.L., OH
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From Booklist

Phelps, for nearly 20 years an editor at the New York Times, was behind the scenes for some of the most compelling times of American journalism: the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. His devotion was so great that he came to see it as a personal religion. He recalls life in small towns, working for United Press news service, and struggles with conscientious-objector status before becoming a navy war correspondent and moving to the Times. Because of his quiet personality and lack of skills at office politics, he was repeatedly passed over for promotions but found great pride in editing, encouraging reporters, and dealing with the complex personalities of editors and reporters. He recalls a possible mistake that may have cost the Times an important lead on the Watergate story and describes the battles between the New York and Washington bureaus. Phelps moved on to the Boston Globe and continued his devotion to journalism and neglect of a devoted wife. When she died of cancer, after 56 years of marriage, Phelps switched focus to a lifelong yearning he’d had for spiritual meaning. --Vanessa Bush
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press (July 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815609140
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815609148
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,003,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
For all the years Robert H. Phelps helped produce The New York Times, journalism was his religion. From his early days as a copy editor on its National Desk to his years of eminence as the News Editor of its Washington Bureau, he held firm in his faith that it was the world's leading newspaper, and he did all in his power to build on it and to inspire all others under his influence to do the same. Bob, as most of us addressed him (bp as he modestly signed his memos), was a contemporary of luminaries such as the beloved Eugene Roberts, Scottie Reston and Max Frankel, the feared Abe Rosenthal and Harrison Salisbury and brilliant reporters such as Neil Sheehan, Tad Szulc, Jim Naughton and Bill Beecher. Some of them shone brighter because of Bob behind them, nurturing, coaxing, and supporting, others because he stood up to them. It might have been due, though he doesn't say so, to his performance teamed with Frankel in coverage throughout one grim night of the sinking of the Andrea Doria that boosted him up the first rungs of the ladder to his own place among them.
But for many of us who worked with him or reported to him, Bob was himself an idol, the ideal editor, pushing his sub-editors to drag the ultimate effort out of writers and reporters, and pressing reporters to fill the holes in their stories, to find answers to questions they had failed to ask, and to seek further truths beyond their stories.
Here in God and the Editor: My Search for Meaning at The New York Times, Phelps leaves no unanswered questions. Through his days at the center of some of the greatest news stories of our times, from the Andrea Doria to Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, he steeps us in both the drama and the tensions of news gathering and news writing.
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Format: Hardcover
What I most liked about this absorbing book was its sincerity. Phelps reflects on his inner life and his stellar career as an editor behind some of the biggest stories of the 20th century with clarity and wisdom, driven not by a desire to even any scores or aggrandize himself but simply to understand how things happened and why people did the things they did. He doesn't pull any punches in his appraisals of some of the biggest names in journalism (he holds everyone accountable, especially himself), but he clearly isn't out to get anybody. How refreshing. Terrible title, but the book itself is a fast read, poignant, informative, and funnier than I expected it to be.
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Format: Hardcover
This fine book (God and the Editor) by Robert H. Phelps dramatizes the importance of creative, humane editors to the state of the news and thereby to the nation. As the Internet saps the traditional news business of its financial support, it also is eroding this vital tier of quality assurance. Phelps does not make a point of this, but it emerges from the book's fascinating account of the career of an important journalistic figure.
Phelps pulls no punches in evaluating the work of some of the nation's top journalists he worked with at the New York Times and the Boston Globe, both of which he served in major jobs. He also lays out a career of journalistic improvement from serving as a military correspondent in World War II and a rapid reporter writer for the United Press to his greater positions at the best of the main-stream papers.
For an insider's perspective of such major stories as the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and the Boston school desegregation conflict, this book may be the most useful and entertaining source available.
[Disclosure: I worked with Bob at the Times, side by side in the Washington bureau.}
--- Cleve Mathews
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Format: Hardcover
Robert Phelps, whose long career in journalism included almost thirty years as a key editor at The New York Times and then The Boston Globe, has written a riveting memoir. Perhaps most arresting is Phelps's first-hand account of the role The New York Times played in the Watergate/Pentagon Papers affair, which sheds surprising new light on some of the principals. But God and The Editor is also an engaging and -- unlike so much current autobiography written as "creative nonfiction" -- punctiliously honest story of a life in journalism. And it is the tale of a spiritual quest, told in the context of Phelps's professional life, his marriage, and the moral tension between them. The lovely story of the author's 56-year marriage to his adored Betty, and the lessons her life and loss taught him, inform the rest of his narrative: in the end, Betty draws God and the editor closer than the latter's rationalist younger self would ever have predicted. I would add that Phelps has a fine eye for telling detail and a sense of humor that sneaks up on you. Buy this book!
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Format: Hardcover
Books that report on what really goes on inside a beloved and well known institution can be fun to read. And so it is with this book written by a man who worked for many years as a top editor of the New York Times and later the Boston Globe He is a man of strong personal ethics who wants to serve his fellow man by bringing important news and stories to the public that are written in a truthful and objective way. It is one thing to want to live such a life and quite a different one to accomplish it. To succeed at the NYT takes talent, hard work, and perseverance. In the course of this career he worked with many of the famous names. His insights and stories make about them make very entertaining reading. How his paper missed out on the early part of Watergate to the Washington Post (recently a news story itself) and later recovered is fascinating.
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