Memoirs from newsmaker, news writers
These autobiographies provide fascinating perspectives into a prime newsmaker of the recent past and those who reported on other powerful Washington figures.
A Promised Land, by Barack Obama, 768 pages, Crown hardcover, 2020
The 44th president takes readers on an intimate journey from his emergence on the political scene to the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden. This is the first book of his intended two-volume memoir.
Obama offers a lucid account of his tenure framed to shape his legacy. He calls on young idealists to follow in his footsteps and transform this country into a Promised Land for all. Yet he does not shrink from disclosing the many compromises in building coalitions that governing entails.
Obama writes candidly about his thoughts and fears. He explains the trade-offs, political power plays and self-serving policies of entrenched forces with which he had to contend at home and abroad. He puts his own missteps into context and makes his case with the skill of a Harvard-educated attorney.
Obama, an accomplished wordsmith, provides entertaining observations of family, staff, politicians and international leaders. He describes his surreal life in the presidential bubble and reveals private moments of anguish and joy.
Readers gain insight into the inner man beyond his actions as a public figure. Thirty-two pages of illustrations complete the tableaux. Unique for a former president, Barack Obama still resides in the District. He turns 60 in August.
All About the Story: News, Power, Politics, and the Washington Post, by Leonard Downie, Jr., 400 pages, Public Affairs hardcover, 2020
The septuagenarian retired executive editor of the Washington Post has written a fascinating memoir of his 44-year career at that newspaper. Starting as an intern, Leonard Downie, Jr. rose to the top of the newsroom replacing the illustrious Ben Bradlee. Under his stewardship, the Post won 25 Pulitzer Prizes.
News junkies will be enthralled at this behind-the-scenes account of a daily newspaper and the onset of 24/7 internet reporting.
Downie’s memoir All About the Story will serve, for older readers, as a reprise of all the major news events of our lifetimes: Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, Nixon’s and Clinton’s impeachments, and the riots in D.C. following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., along with many more.
In 2008, after 17 years as the Post’s executive editor, Downie was forced out. At age 66, he accepted a lucrative buyout, like many retirees. Today Downie, who resides part-time in D.C., is professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.
Reporter: A Memoir, by Seymour M. Hersh, 400 pages, Vintage paperback, 2019
Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter Sy Hersh has written a compelling memoir. He rose to fame exposing the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. Among his other important scoops were revealing chemical and biological weapons-testing by the U.S. armed forces, the secret war in Cambodia, aspects of the Watergate scandal not reported by Woodward and Bernstein, abuses at Abu Ghraib, and the CIA’s illegal domestic spying operation.
The development and emergence of Hersh, star investigator, is told with a deft touch. The narrative reads like a first-rate thriller. Follow along as he recounts the trails he followed uncovering his greatest scoops.
Hersh also discusses the controversial stories later in his career. He defends himself from criticism about his sources and methods in an attempt to justify his legacy.
The cynical side of journalism is explored as well as the clubby atmosphere between most reporters and the subjects they cover. The hallmarks of first-rate journalism are explained — skepticism, fact-checking, protecting sources, objective reporting, taking on all assignments with vigor, tenacity and creativity.
The octogenarian Hersh resides in D.C. Like many an old-timer, he bemoans the state of journalism today. Older readers will find validation of their dissatisfaction with news coverage in today’s media whirlwind.