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God and the Editor: My Search for Meaning at the New York Times Hardcover – July 8, 2009
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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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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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Top customer reviews
With all its faults, the book is an informative, and ultimately uplifting testament that's well worth the time.
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. Neither seeking aggrandizement, shunning embarrassment nor deferring to higher authority, he tells with spirit and insight a story of rivalry between the country's two most outstanding newspapers as well as inside stories of the continuing struggle for power at The Times
And finally, anyone who comes away dry-eyed from his final tribute to Betty, his adored wife, has never known the love of a good woman. There, near the end of the ninth decade of his life, as he continues his search for the comfort she found in her Roman Catholic faith, the hard-boiled editor's writing soars and lands with one of the most moving final lines readers will ever find in modern literature.
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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