Richard Reeves
What People Know: Freedom and the Press

What People Know: Freedom and the Press

The power and status of the press in America reached new heights after spectacular reporting triumphs in the segregated South, in Vietnam, and in Washington during the Watergate years. Then new technologies created instantaneous global reporting, which left the government unable to control the flow of information to the nation. The press thus became a formidable rival in critical struggles to control what the people know and when they know it. But that was more power than the press could handle-and journalism crashed toward new lows in public esteem and public purpose. The dazzling new technologies, profit-driven owners, and celebrated editors, reporters, and broaqdcasters made it possible to bypass older values and standards of journalism.

Richard Reeves was there at the rise and at the fall, beginning as a small-town editor, becoming the chief political correspondent for the New York Times and then a best-selling author and award-winning documentary filmmaker. He tells the story of a tribe that lost its way. From the Pony Express to the Internet, he chronicles what happened to the press as America accelerated into uncertainty, and he argues that to survive, the press must go back to doing what it was hired to do long ago: stand as an outsider watching government and politics on behalf of a free people busy with its own affairs.


Reviews

"To its credit, What the People Know avoids the perils of droning pedantry. It is fast-moving and full of history and anecdotes. . . . Reeves wisely spends much of his energy focusing on the kind of corporate corruption of journalism that has not really permeated the consciousness of an American public willing to believe every conspiracy theory about the media except the most dangerous one." Mark Jurkowitz, The Boston Globe

"[Richard Reeves] deeply regrest what has happened to the American press in his lifetime. Newspapers have been the playthings of rich owners for decades; but now, much worse, they are small and expendable parts of huge entertainment empires. . .Can [the press] scramble back again? Only, Mr. Reeves, believes, if journalists recover their old role of being onlookers and outsiders, rather than imagining themselves as central players in the body politic. . .They do not need to wear those fedoras. But they do need to watch, and write." The Economist (UK)

"Richard Reeves is a respected veteran journalist who wants fellow journalists to concentrate on ferreting out the truth without fear or favor. That sounds like a mundane topic for a book. After all, what else would journalists be expected to do? But Reeves's What the People Know is anything but mundane because so many journalists either have no idea how to ferret out the truth, or seem to have forgotten that part of their job . . . [This book]-part personal reminiscence, part media critique . . . [is] worthwhile [reading] for anybody who cares about Reeves's illustrious career or the state of journalism." Steve Weinberg, Christian Science Monitor


Latest Column

Labor Day — You Remember 'Labor,' Don't You?

WASHINGTON — I woke up last Thursday morning to learn that my FedEx man does not work for FedEx. Voices on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" informed me that although FedEx controls just about every minute of its drivers' days, the corporation regards them as "independent contractors." Thus, no benefits — they even have to pay for their own uniforms — and the workers can be kicked out anytime FedEx feels like it.


Column Archive

Is Obama Too Thoughtful To Be President?

LOS ANGELES — Welcome to Presidency 101. What would you do if you were "the most powerful person in the world" and:

None Dare Call It Treason

WASHINGTON — Hooray! Hooray! The wicked Congress has gone home. So to speak, since most of the members actually live right here in the capital city and environs.

The Rising Tide: Will All Boats Be Lifted?

LOS ANGELES — We have lived for decades, even centuries, with the economic faith that a rising tide lifts all boats. But what if it doesn't? What happens then, economically and politically?

The Children Of The Border

LOS ANGELES — Last Monday, a chartered flight took 38 mothers and children, who had been held in a detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, to San Pedro Sula in Honduras. That's a tough town of drug dealers, violence and children soldiers, sometimes called "The Murder Capital of the World."

Catching Up With Big Data

LOS ANGELES — This is a column about "Big Data" and a new way to predict the results of presidential elections for the next 20 years.

Will The New York Times Take Us To War Again?

CHICAGO — I have never been much of a fan of the journalistic self-examination practiced by folks identified as "ombudsman" or "public editor." I changed my mind last Sunday, and I'll get to that in a minute.

American Is Being More Polarized — Again

LOS ANGELES — The most fascinating of the many theories about the fall of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary earlier this month has to do with the redistricting after the 2010 Census. He was supposed to be helped by having very politically conservative New Kent County added to the 7th Congressional District in place of more liberal precincts in the Richmond area. But the voters of New Kent, a 75 percent Republican stronghold, voted against Cantor by almost 2-to-1.

What Can We Do In Iraq? Nothing!

LOS ANGELES — Taking a couple of shots at President Obama over the latest round of war in Iraq, House Speaker John Boehner said last week: "This has been building for weeks."

Welcome Home, Sergeant

LOS ANGELES — If today's Republican Party had been around during the Civil War, it would have tried to stop its own president, a fellow named Lincoln, from appointing Gen. Ulysses S. Grant commander of the Union Army because he drank on duty — quite a lot, apparently. And if the president was a Democrat, say Thomas Jefferson, the Republicans would be calling for hearings to find out the "real" reason he was sending Lewis and Clark into the wilderness to learn what was out there between the Mississippi and the Pacific.

Preserve Us From Old Fools On Horseback

LOS ANGELES — "This is the beginning of taking America back," said Shawna Cox, who had come from Kanab, Utah, one of hundreds of "patriots" supporting Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has refused to pay a million dollars in grazing fees to the Federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees 85 percent of the dusty land of that state. That makes him a hero to folks like Cox, who have traveled hundreds and thousands of miles, toting their guns, to drive off U.S. Park Rangers trying to drive his cattle off federal land.

Why We Need Local Reporting

LOS ANGELES — Last Thursday was an interesting news day around here — and one that highlighted the importance of local reporting as newspapers fade away across the country.

Voting Laws: The Last Stand Of The Old And The White

NEW YORK — When the Constitution of the first modern democracy, the United States of America, was written, only about 10 percent of the population of the 13 states was granted the right to vote: white men who owned property.

War As A Spectator Sport

LOS ANGELES — Sad to say, the most telling commentary on world affairs these days seems to come from comedians. The latest is Jimmy Fallon, the new "Tonight Show" host, who responded to Secretary of State John Kerry's reaction to the news that Russian soldiers were moving into Crimea:

Deep In The Dark Heart Of Texas

DALLAS — Greg Abbott, a former judge and three-term attorney general of the great state of Texas, is expected to be the state's next governor. His official biography puts him on the side of God, the American way and children of all ages:

Presidents Are People, Too

DALLAS — A few months ago, I agreed to talk at a program at the Sixth Floor Museum here, the building once called the Texas School Book Depository, the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald waited, on the sixth floor, with a rifle for the motorcade that carried President John F. Kennedy to Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963.

One Nation, Indivisible

LOS ANGELES — Immigration is something like the weather. Everyone talks about it, but not many people really want to do anything about it.

A Little Giant Retires

LOS ANGELES — I took my J448 students — that's "Government and Public Affairs Reporting" at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California — to a local Democratic club last Sunday. I wanted them to see and meet the new mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, and one of the most effective elected officials of his generation, Congressman Henry Waxman.

Are We A Nation Of Cheaters And Liars?

LOS ANGELES — I was surprised to see two long stories in last Thursday's New York Times about the same subject: cheating.

Loving New Jersey

LOS ANGELES — I grew up in Jersey — Jersey City. I don't remember being west of the Delaware River until I was in college. I thought the United States was an Italian country governed by the Irish.

The Tea Party: Remember George Wallace

LOS ANGELES — It is refreshing for me to find myself in agreement with "mainstream" Republicans, beginning with House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan. I think.

Happy New Year, Mr. President

LOS ANGELES — There was a cigarette commercial in the early 1960s that went, "I'm smoking more and enjoying it less." The president at the time, John F. Kennedy, going through a rough patch, was asked how he felt about one negative story after another in the nation's press. "Well," he said, "I'm reading more and enjoying it less."

The Drone Next Door

LOS ANGELES — The news of the day Friday included a dispatch from Saudi Arabia reporting that 11 people were killed by drone-fired missiles in a remote corner of Yemen. The story added that five days before, three men were killed in a drone attack in another part of the country.

Should We Get Older? Why?

The International Herald Tribune is gone after more than 125 years as the American paper in France and then all over the world. Two months ago, it was renamed The International New York Times. That's a bit sad for someone like me who began at the New York Herald Tribune before it folded in 1966. Luckily, I was picked up by The Times, so my loyalties are split.

The Legend Will Never Die

NEW YORK — Twenty-five years ago, I asked Charles Bartlett, a syndicated columnist, about his old and close friend John F. Kennedy. I have seen his answer published and broadcast dozens of times these past weeks as the nation marks the anniversary of the assassination of our 35th president.

The Kennedy Myth? The Kennedy Legacy?

NEW YORK — It was the usual suspects taping the Charlie Rose show last Monday: a quartet of writers who had written books about the life or the presidency of John F. Kennedy — Robert Dallek, Michael Beschloss, Jeff Greenfield and me, along with Jill Abramson, the editor of The New York Times.

What The President Knew And When He Knew It

LOS ANGELES — The president knew. Presidents always know, but are supposed to be protected from what they saw, heard and did when the best-laid plans hit the fan.

Maybe The Tea Party Won

LOS ANGELES — Perhaps those tea party guys are smarter than they look. After all, these men and women in Congress came to Washington determined to cripple big government — or even destroy it. They, 30 or 40 bent Republicans, were mad as hell at where the country is going and how it is governed. Now, with a minimum of sabotage, millions and millions of Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, share their hatred of Washington.

Health Care: Deja Vu All Over Again

LOS ANGELES — Several years ago, Mike Pence, then a Republican congressman from Indiana, told Andrea Mitchell that Medicare was a failure because its costs had exceeded 1965 actuarial estimates. So they have, because Americans are living longer, largely because of Medicare and Medicaid.

Next GOP Move: Impeach Obama!

WASHINGTON — If the Republicans in Congress are unable to prevent the United States from paying its bills later in this month of shutdowns and deficit limits, I assume their next move will be an attempt to impeach President Obama.