The Book of the Week is “Talking Back” by Andrea Mitchell, published in 2005. This is the career memoir of a TV journalist at NBC.
Mitchell started her career in the mid-1960’s covering local politics in Philadelphia. Her desire to cover national politics necessitated a move to Washington, D.C. Through the decades, she witnessed and reported on various presidential campaigns and administrations– good, bad and ugly. She traveled the world extensively, and conveyed lessons on history and politics that the nation’s leaders failed to learn.
“In administrations that lack discipline, or are led by chiefs of staff short on character or judgment… underlings desperate to please the boss [president] start breaking rules.”
There were ironies, too. During the Iran-Contra scandal, the Iranians didn’t know they were paying for an anti-Communist operation whose money was laundered through Israel– a sworn enemy of Iran.
The author’s career had its ups and downs. In the late 1980’s, she was assigned to cover Capitol Hill rather than serve as Chief White House Correspondent. The former position conferred lesser status. However, she had more freedom of movement and topics on which to report, due to her distance from the president– who required an entourage and heavy security. She could pursue important stories on foreign policy, the budget, or energy legislation, rather than public relations events and sensationalism. In 1993, she was named to the latter position, but could no longer be a political analyst on the Today show, as at that time, it was considered a conflict of interest to have the same person both report and analyze political news.
Mitchell covered the Savings and Loan scandal, a common occurrence in American financial history. A pattern of abuse in the private sector, aided and abetted by government, was followed by a taxpayer bailout.
Prior to the First Gulf War, “Dick Cheney and Colin Powell told us that occupying Iraq would saddle America with the burden of running it.” It was difficult enough for people from the three major sects of Islam to live together peacefully in the same country without a foreign power’s attempting to supervise a transition to a different political system.
Controversy over gender and racial issues came to the fore after the Anita Hill – Clarence Thomas episode. The catch-22 for females trying to build their careers, especially in male-dominated fields (such as TV news) was that if they complained of sexual harassment, they’d be complaining to its very perpetrators. The times, they are a changin’.
In 1992, Mitchell, in reporting on Bill Clinton’s presidential run, pursued an unending series of campaign scandals. Two years later, she was present at a press conference at which Hillary Clinton was responding to Whitewater accusations. “It was a flawless performance, but the first lady still would not admit to any errors of law or judgment in her financial dealings. And behind her calm gaze, I saw a woman still enraged that people would even question her ethics.”
In the mid-90’s, the author was required to have two reputable news sources before she was allowed to go on the air with a big news scoop. Read the book to learn of other ways “news” gathering and reporting have changed through the decades, and Mitchell’s experiences dealing with the changes.