By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
FOR A NEWSPAPER THAT MAKES THE WORLD ITS BEAT and presents itself as the paper of record, The Times emerges looking, to this reader, like a closed, insular company -- indifferent to or unaware of alternative newspapers and the "new journalism," and slow to implement the revolution in our cultural landscape (except as something to be reported). Blacks, gays and women push themselves onto the paper, which takes a liberal view of their presence, but at times (to them) appears patronizing. The newspaper's connection to its Jewish roots does not relax sufficiently to promote Jews to positions of editorial leadership until the early 1960s.
Throughout the memoir, Frankel's measured judgment, his skeptical take on politics and political leaders and, most of all, his decency shine through. (He was and is above all a decent man; I knew him slightly when he was the Sunday editor and I was working for the paper as an editor and writer). That quality, admirable as it is, gets in the way when he recounts personal stories about The Times and some of its top personnel -- if it doesn't completely obstruct them. There is no account, for example, of how book reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt helped nix Walter Clemons' appointment as his co-reviewer by casually letting executive editor Abe Rosenthal know that Clemons was gay. (Lehmann-Haupt later expressed reservations about Anatole Broyard's shot at the job by telling Rosenthal that Broyard was "the biggest ass man in town." Rosenthal retorted, "If that were a disqualification for working for the New York Times, this place would be empty!")
And when Frankel relates the famous story of Rosenthal telling a woman reporter, "I don't care if you fuck elephants as long as you're not covering the circus," it is only as a means of explaining how The Times strives to be scrupulous about conflicts of interest. But the story was juicier than that, and more ambiguous. (The reporter had lived with a Democratic political leader in Philadelphia while covering City Hall for a local paper there. When the politician was indicted for corrupt practices and the relationship became public, Rosenthal summoned his new political writer from Washington, where she was now working for The Times, delivered his famous line and summarily fired her. Female reporters argued that if it had been a man, he would have got off with a scolding and a locker-room joke.)
Frankel does not convey the sense that he is hiding anything; just that as he ascended the editorial ladder, his perspective changed. He is no longer primarily the journalist, i.e. the skeptical observer. And who can fault him? But that altered vision has also prevented him from telling the tales that might have made a good and interesting book a great one.
Gene Lichtenstein is editor in chief ofThe Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.
THE TIMES OF MY LIFE AND MY LIFE WITH THE TIMES | By MAX FRANKEL Random House 546 pages | $30 hardcover