Cronkite

The Book of the Week is “Cronkite” by Douglas Brinkley, published in 2012. This tome is the biography of Walter Cronkite. Born in 1916, he was one of the first news reporters to appear on television. He spent most of his career at CBS, covering most of the major historical events of the twentieth century. He developed a reputation for trustworthiness in delivering information to Americans at a time when the nation watched an excessive amount of TV.

In the 1950’s, stiff and awkward newsmen initially read the headlines aloud in fifteen minute segments. Eventually, reporters broadcast on-location, and coverage was lengthened to half an hour and then an hour– and sometimes much longer (during political conventions and after assassinations) to provide more in-depth stories.

There were occasions when Cronkite “…abandoned all the rules of objective journalism he had learned…” such as during WWII, when, according to the author, he “… eagerly wrote propaganda for the good of the Allied cause.” The first TV anchorman believed that journalism was obligated to expose tyranny everywhere in the world. At the same time, he was concerned that TV could be used as a communication vehicle for hate speech.

This blogger thinks Cronkite’s concern smacks a little of arrogance and hypocrisy. Either, there should be free speech for all, or for none. The United States has committed and hushed up its share of political sins. In addition, it is too difficult to define hate speech. Some people might argue that hate speech is any communication that is offensive to the people in a society at large. How many of which people? Some might argue that the speakers have a right to express their opinions, or say whatever they want in the context of entertainment. In the United States, if an issue is controversial enough, the U.S. Supreme Court– nine people– are in charge of a majority vote that decides what constitutes “opinions” or “entertainment.”

This blogger thinks society is better off allowing blanket freedom of expression, than imposing a totalitarian gag order. For, American citizens have placed sufficient trust in their system of government to continue, more or less, to uphold a Constitution from its beginnings; the pendulum has swung back and forth with regard to numerous First Amendment issues. Nevertheless, movements that oppress free speech, whether hateful or not, on a large scale, are unsustainable in the long term, as are movements that spout hate speech.

For instance, the McCarthy Era did see a number of years in which people were oppressed for expressing unpopular political views, associating with those who did so, or being falsely accused of associating with those who did so. However, some witchhunt victims–a minority of the population of the entire nation– sacrificed their livelihood or their lives; backlash reached critical mass among the majority, and the nation righted itself again.

The author says that in the 1950’s, Cronkite also believed in objective reporting. He thought that a reporter covering a political election should refrain from expressing his preference for a particular candidate. Nevertheless, whenever it was convenient for furthering his career, Cronkite abandoned objectivity, like in WWII. He was a “huge cheerleader for NASA,” established in the summer of 1958. The “Space Race” (between the United States and the then-Soviet Union) was a great distraction. In 1962, a massive, six hundred square foot screen was placed “…on top of the central mezzanine in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal so commuters could watch [astronaut] John Glenn on CBS.” Besides, the newsman’s Vietnam War reporting included graphic images of atrocities every night in 1965.

Cronkite understood the conflict CBS faced as a profit-making organization. The network needed to entertain its audience in order to sell advertising to stay in business. It was in CBS’ best economic interest to report news inoffensive to Southern viewers, for example, during the Civil Rights Era; a tall order, to say the least. By 1960, critics thought that the head of CBS, William Paley, was shying away from controversial news reporting to please Republicans and big business.

Read the book to learn more of Cronkite’s role in informing the nation on what was happening, what he made happen, and his commentary on what happened over the course of about four decades. One caveat:  the book is wrong by one year on at least three major, recent historical events–  the year Iraq invaded Kuwait, the year the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal started, and the Y2K situation.

Double or Nothing

The Book of the Week is “Double or Nothing” by Tom Breitling with Cal Fussman, published in 2008. This short ebook describes the business partnerships between the author and Tim Poster.

Poster had a passion for gambling. In high school he and a friend acted as a bookie and made bets on professional sports, from which they won a lot of money, except for one particular boxing match. In the late 1980’s, while still in college, Poster started a hotel telephone reservation service called Travelscape. Breitling joined the business, and it kept growing in leaps and bounds. Travelscape was an early adopter of internet technology, launching an online reservation system in 1998, during which it made $20 million in sales. In 1997, it had made $12 million in sales.

Their partnership was based on trust symbolized by a handshake, rather than on legal documents. Their synergistic personalities made the business successful. Nevertheless, in 1999 when a competitor offered to buy their business, they were at a grave disadvantage due to their inexperience in multi-million dollar deal-making. The situation was extremely stressful for them.

The author describes what eventually happened, the mistakes they made and what they learned from the experience, and goes on to discuss their successes and failures in connection with another business venture– a casino.

About a year later, the partners were negotiating sale of the casino. The potential buyers consisted of two different suitors– a pair of humble, trustworthy brothers who were their close friends, and a narcissistic, petty owner of a collection of properties then worth $700 million (not Donald Trump).

The author relates that at that time, Fortune magazine had ranked the brothers’ company in the top twenty of its list of “Best Companies to Work For in America.” Job satisfaction among employees at the casino owned by the brothers was apparently so high, the employees saw no reason to unionize. That would actually be a problem if the casino was to merge with Poster’s and Breitling’s casino, as the latter was unionized.

Read the book to learn how Poster and Breitling fared with a reality TV show in their casino; how relaxing betting limits, and cheating or lucky gamblers can put a casino out of business; and the details of what transpired when they allowed their businesses to be bought.

My Extraordinary Ordinary Life

The Book of the Week is “My Extraordinary Ordinary Life” by Sissy Spacek with Maryanne Vollers, published in 2012. This is the ebook autobiography of an actor and filmmaker who grew up in a small town in Texas.

Everyone knew everyone else. They were church-going folk, farmers and merchants, Methodists and Baptists. The mayor of the town was also its fire chief, owner of the local insurance company and funeral home. His brother was an undertaker, hardware store owner and co-owner of a motel. The brother’s wife was room attendant at the motel and a chinchilla breeder.

Spacek’s immediate family included her parents and two much older brothers, and many pets through the years, including horses. She writes, “I learned to drive a car when I was still a little kid, seven or eight years old.” At thirteen, she was driving with a thirteen-and-a-half year old passenger who had an official driver’s license. This is because in rural areas, people learn to drive farm equipment at an early age.

In high school, Spacek took up baton twirling as a majorette with a marching band that performed at halftime at high school football games– one of three major values in Texas; the others being family and Christianity.

In 1971, the author acted in her first movie, Prime Cut, with Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman, that required her to do a scene in the nude. She is probably best known for playing Carrie in the eponymous movie.

Read the book to learn about her adventures as a young adult in 1960’s New York City, and as an actor, wife and mother in various states in later decades.

Bonus Post

“Sometimes the Magic Works” by Terry Brooks, published in 2003 is an ebook skimmed by this blogger, that provides tips and life lessons for fiction writers who aspire to get published.

In the mid-1970’s, the author got lucky in a unique way with his manuscript whose topic was fantasy; up until then, fantasy was thought to be a poorly-selling fiction category.

Brooks writes that imagination is required for change to happen. “Progress occurs… because we hunger for what might be… looking beyond the possible to the impossible– because what seems impossible to us today becomes commonplace tomorrow.”

Brooks remarks that writers write because they enjoy the creative process and entertaining readers is fulfilling; they do it neither for the money nor the fame. Very few fiction authors become rich and famous nowadays, anyway.

Brooks says the readers are the ones who choose which writers to read, which in turn, determine book sales. In this way, the publishing industry is a democracy. This blogger believes that the American book publishing industry is becoming more democratic every day, due to major cultural changes in the last three decades.

There has been a proliferation of entertainment choices, which for many, has meant reduced time spent reading. Since time is perceived to be so short, people are choosing their books more carefully than previously.

Book distribution channels have expanded from retail outlets, libraries, pass-along value and mail-order to audio tapes, CDs and electronic downloading. Self-publishing– a relatively recent, vast improvement over “vanity publishing,” has increased competition for readers’ attention spans, which are getting shorter by the minute. Enough said.

Sum It Up

The Book of the Week is “Sum It Up” by Pat Summitt with Sally Jenkins, published in 2012. This ebook is the autobiography of a long-time coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee; Olympian, Olympic coach, daughter, wife, mother, etc., etc.

Summitt’s childhood consisted of doing hard labor on her family’s Tennessee farm, drag racing and playing aggressive basketball with her three older brothers. Her father was a gruff, hard worker who refrained completely from showing affection toward his family. Nevertheless, he had a passion for basketball. Therefore, in the mid 1960’s, he had the family move to a fixer-upper residence so that his daughter could play high school basketball on a very good team.

Unfortunately, the team was part of a pathetic interscholastic program that existed for girls at the time. There were many inequalities between male and female sports programs in Summitt’s generation. For one, she had to pay full college tuition, because “…athletic scholarships for women simply didn’t exist in 1970.”

At 22 years old in 1974, even when she was named head coach of the women’s basketball team at her alma mater, she was given a budget that was a fraction of the men’s team’s budget. Also, unlike a male coach, she had to play many roles in addition to coaching, such as serving as driver, laundress, ankle-taper, gym-floor cleaner, and bench assembler. Her office was at the top of five flights of stairs in a hot attic with no elevator and no air conditioning. At the same time, she was taking four master’s degree classes and was required to teach undergraduate classes.

Finally, in 1975, Title IX– which was supposed to “even the playing field” for male and female athletes– was signed into law by President Gerald Ford (according to the book). Summitt started to benefit from progress, but even in the late 1970’s, the men’s sports teams still had bigger marketing budgets and staffs than the women’s teams; plus the men traveled by airplane while the women had to drive hours and hours.

Summitt also discusses basketball as a metaphor for other aspects of life. She writes, “The point guard position in basketball is one of the great tutorials on leadership… they only follow you if they find you consistently credible… If there is a single ingredient in leadership, it’s emotional maturity.”

Read the book to learn about the coaching-career teams, victories, setbacks, comebacks and defeats; and family, health and retirement issues in the life of this overachiever.

Bonus Post

In honor of the Kentucky Derby, this blogger would like to report on “My Guy Barbaro” by Edgar Prado with John Eisenberg, published in 2008. This ebook tells the story of a horse named Barbaro, ridden by the author, a jockey.

Prado grew up in Lima, Peru in a poor household with seven brothers, three sisters, his mother, and a father who was a horse groomer. Two of his older brothers became jockeys. He had a natural rapport with horses, and became a licensed jockey at fifteen and a half. He graduated high school, and at eighteen, moved to Miami, Florida in 1986 for more challenging racing.

Prado rides on different horses in various states in races throughout the year. The Triple Crown is a trio of races very difficult to win. It consists of the Belmont Stakes on Long Island in New York State, the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, and the Preakness Stakes in Maryland. Up until 2008, race tracks in that third state suffered financially in the past decade, unlike those in Delaware and West Virginia, as it declined to allow cash-cow slot machines at its race tracks.

In the 2006 Kentucky Derby, Prado had the privilege of riding Barbaro, a horse that was a racing prodigy, owned by the late pop star Michael Jackson. Read the book to learn of Barbaro’s fate.