For nearly 20 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.