Brief encounters

Short reviews of Fighting for the Press and America 1933

Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles | By James C. Goodale | CUNY Journalism Press | 260 pages | $20

In the spring of 1971, James C. Goodale was a 37-year-old lawyer who had risen fast to become vice-president and general counsel of the New York Times Company, dealing most often with corporate matters. But he was handed the century’s biggest First Amendment case when the Times received the batch of classified documents about the Vietnam War that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers.

Four decades later, Goodale is at last ready to recount the struggle, inside the newspaper and in the federal courts, that led to publication of the papers, legal combat with the angry and befuddled Nixon administration, and ultimately a Supreme Court ruling that firmly rejected prior restraint. Goodale was there for all the grueling parts—recruiting counsel after the newspaper’s old firm, Lord Day & Lord, bowed out; pulling late-nighters to meet tight court deadlines; tracking court proceedings, some held in utter secrecy; and propping up corporate waverers at the Times.

He is justified in claiming credit. In the 1980 book Without Fear or Favor, a history of the Times built around the Pentagon Papers case, Harrison E. Salisbury credited Goodale with “most clearly perceiving the implications”—and importance—of the decision to publish. Since he left the Times near the end of the 1970s, Goodale has continued to fight for the rights of the press, most notably journalists’ never-ending effort to protect sources. He now casts a critical eye on what he regards as threatening actions of the Obama administration, which he appears to regard as Nixonism without the nastiness. (This book marks the welcome debut of the CUNY Journalism Press, an imprint of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism of The City University of New York.)

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America 1933: The Great Depression: Lorena Hickok, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Shaping of the New Deal | By Michael Golay | Free Press | 336 pages | $26.99

This is not the first time attention has been paid to pioneering female journalist Lorena Hickok. Ever since her personal papers were unsealed in 1978, she has had the attention of historians, many of them interested in deciphering her close relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she met while covering the 1932 campaign for the Associated Press. She later quit the AP and became one of a group of reporters who were sent out by Harry Hopkins, head of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, to assess the condition of a nation at nadir of the Great Depression. Her letters were initially collected in an anthology by Michael Lowitt and Maurine Beasley, One-Third of a Nation (1981).

Now Michael Golay has created an enriched version of Hickok’s odyssey. Drawing on many other contemporary sources, especially local newspapers, Golay recounts how, in August 1933, Hickok, fortyish, overweight, diabetic, and a bad driver, set out to see the worst of the Depression. And it was bad—families with no income or resources, paralyzed cities, millions unemployed, children slowly starving—so bad, in fact, that recovery seemed impossible. By the next summer, she had gone from coast to coast and north to south, faithfully writing almost daily to Hopkins and to Eleanor Roosevelt. Miraculously, she began to see signs that the emergency employment measures were starting to work and that the country might, after all, survive.

I was interested to see that, in a curious way, I crossed paths with her. She paused in my home town, Charles City, Iowa, just before Thanksgiving 1933. The town’s big tractor plant was all but closed, throwing hundreds out of work. I remember the smell of a soup kitchen operating in the halls of my grade school. Although wary of bedbugs, Hickok stayed at the downtown Hildreth Hotel (which burned down the next year) and filed her reports. The first paychecks from the emergency jobs programs were just arriving, and she produced a quote from a Charles City woman that has turned up in history books ever since: “The first thing I did was go out and buy a dozen oranges. I hadn’t tasted any for so long I had forgotten what they were like.” Golay’s section on my home town sounds perfectly accurate—but what do I know? I was five years old.

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James Boylan is CJR’s founding editor.