Robert H. Phelps
"This is the best, truest, most revealing insider’s story ever
published about life at the New York Times during the
golden age of print journalism. . . . Phelps was in the
thick of it all and tells it with the care and precision of a
—Russell Baker, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Growing Up
For nearly twenty years Robert H. Phelps ran interference for,
cheered on, and sometimes scolded star reporters and top editors at
the New York Times. Starting his editing career at the desk of the Providence Journal-Bulletin, Phelps joined the New York Times as a
copy editor, eventually serving as the Times news editor for the
Washington bureau. Along the way he struggled with balancing his
moral ideals and his personal ambition. In this compelling memoir,
Phelps interweaves his personal and professional experiences with
some of the most powerful stories of the era.
With candor and keen observation, Phelps chronicles both the
triumphant and the tragic events at the Times. He explains the
missed lessons of the Pentagon Papers, why the Times played catchup
with the Washington Post on the Watergate scandal but eventually
surpassed it on covering that seminal story, and how the Times failed
to report a key element of the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention.
Phelps offers mixed appraisals of such luminaries as A. M.
Rosenthal, James B. Reston, E. Clifton Daniel, and Max Frankel, and
expresses great admiration for Seymour Hersh, Neil Sheehan, and
Bill Beecher, three unlikely scoop artists.
As Phelps settled in at the New York Times, journalism became
the religion he had searched for since his adolescence. Over his
tenure of nearly two decades, however, Phelps found that journalism’s
stark emphasis on fact was insufficient to address many of
life’s dilemmas and failed to provide the sustaining guidance he
envied in his wife’s Catholic faith.
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Robert H. Phelps was the Washington news editor for the New
York Times from 1965 to 1974. He left the Times to join the Boston
Globe, where he led coverage of school desegregation, for which it
won a Pulitzer Prize. He is the coauthor of Libel: Rights, Risks, and
Responsibilities and editor of Witness to History.
6 x 9, 272 pages, 22 black-and-white illustrations, notes, index