American Pravda: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in San Bernardino

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by Ron Unz, The Unz Review:

Being a college town, Palo Alto once offered a multitude of excellent new and used bookstores, perhaps as many as a dozen or so. But the rise of Amazon produced a great extinction in that business sector, and I think only two now survive, probably still more than for most towns of comparable size.

Amazon and its rivals have obviously become hugely beneficial book-buying resources that I frequently use, but they fail to offer the benefit of randomly browsing shelves and occasionally stumbling across something serendipitous. So I regularly stop by the monthly used book sale put on by Friends of the Palo Alto Library, whose offerings are also very attractively priced, with good quality paperbacks often going for as little as a quarter.

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While browsing that sale a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a hardcover copy of Newsroom Confidential, a short 2022 insider account of mainstream journalism by Margaret Sullivan, who had spent four years as the Public Editor of the New York Times. I’d occasionally read her columns in that paper and had seen one or two favorable reviews of the book, so despite its pricey cost—a full $3—I bought and read it, hoping to get a sense of what she’d observed during her term as the designed reader-advocate at our national newspaper of record.

As she told her story, prior to joining the Times she had spent her entire career at the far smaller Buffalo News of her native city, eventually rising to become its editor. Although she’d been happy in that position, after eight years she decided to apply for an opening at the Times, and jumped at the offer when she received it.

Based upon her narrative, Sullivan seems very much a moderate liberal in her views, not too different from most others in her journalistic profession despite being raised in a family of more conservative blue-collar Catholics in Upstate New York. She opened the Prologue of her book by denouncing Donald Trump’s infamous “Stop the Steal” DC rally of early 2021 and she described the invasion of our Capitol by outraged Trumpists as “one of the most appalling moments in all of American history,” sentiments probably shared by at least 90% of her mainstream colleagues.

Born in 1957, Sullivan explained that as a first grader she and everyone else in her community had been horrified by the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, our first Catholic president. Less than a decade later, she was transfixed by the Watergate Scandal and the subsequent Senate hearings that led to the fall of President Richard Nixon. Like so many others of her generation, she had idolized Woodward and Bernstein, the crusading young reporters who broke the case and brought down a crooked president, especially admiring their portrayal by movie stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the film version of All the President’s Men. Along with many other idealistic young Americans, Sullivan decided to embark upon a journalistic career as a consequence.

As far as I can tell, Sullivan seems to have been a committed and honest professional during the decades that followed, describing some of her mundane minor conflicts with colleagues but generally trying to tell their side of the story as well. As a lateral hire from a smallish Upstate newspaper, she had moved rather cautiously after joining the illustrious Times, and although she sometimes took a bit of pride in a few of her columns that attracted considerable readership or were widely Tweeted out, none of these much stuck in my mind.

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