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God and the Editor
My Search for Meaning at the New York Times

Robert H. Phelps

Cloth $29.95    |    978-0-8156-0914-8    |    2009

"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 great editor"
—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

God and the Editor

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