Scotty : James B. Reston and the rise and fall of American journalism

by John F. Stacks

Hardcover, 2003




Boston : Little, Brown, c2003.


A portrait of one of the twentieth century's most influential journalists describes the role of James B. Reston in shaping and transforming American journalism and sheds new light on Reston's impact on U.S. politics. "When President Kennedy finished his most difficult meeting ever with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, the first person he talked to was not one of his advisers, not his vice president, and not his wife. Walking out of the meeting, still steamed and shocked, Kennedy spoke first with James Reston." "And so it was for others, for president after president, from Truman through Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. James Reston was the most powerful, most admired, most influential newspaper columnist America had ever seen, the best journalist of his time, and perhaps the best of any time. Reston, who emigrated from Scotland as a boy, tapped into his vast reserves of intelligence, hustle, and ambition to rise steadily up the New York Times ranks, and helped make it the greatest paper in the world. As a writer, he was read by more Americans than any other on public affairs. As a talent spotter, he brought into the Times a galaxy of future stars. He was the model of what a young journalist wanted to become: wise, fair, able to speak in his own voice, and so well respected by those in power that he was routinely granted access to the greatest secrets of the world he covered." "But in time, some of Reston's greatest virtues would become liabilities, and proximity to power would take its toll. And thus Reston's story encompasses not only the life of one great man, but also the rise and fall of American journalism. More than brilliant biography, Scotty is a secret history - of one man's life, of what went on behind closed Washington doors, of the stories that shaped our world and the stories that never made the papers."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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James (Scotty) Reston was a famous and well respected reporter, editor and columnist for the New York Times from the 1940s through the 1970s; he retired in 1989. In the end, he was thought to be compromised as a columnist because of his too-close and too-friendly ties with some of the newsmakers he covered, chief of which was Henry Kissinger. Although he was still revered by many of his colleagues and the journalists he mentored, Scott’s image was tarnished somewhat.

After reading Arthur Gelb’s City Room, his memoir of life at the New York Times, the one character I wanted to know more about was Reston. His was an amazing story: a Scottish immigrant who came to the US without many advantages, without the pedigree and Ivy League education that many of his contemporaries enjoyed, and made it to the top anyway. I came away with an appreciation of what he accomplished and saddened by how he squandered some of it.

John F Stacks does a wonderful job of combing the Reston Papers (at the University of Illinois, Scott’s alma mater), interviewing Reston’s contemporaries and family, and synthesizing it into a readable and insightful story.

I don’t know why I’m fascinated with journalism history, and the New York Times specifically, but reading Scotty has not dampened my enthusiasm and, in fact, gave me a short list of other books I want to read about what I consider pretty interesting topics.
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