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Reviewing the Reviews

Oct. 6 - 7.

Publication: New York Review of Books

Cover: I don't know, I'm reading it online.

Reviews and News of Note: Russell Baker takes on on Robert Novak's The Prince of Darkness. Perhaps most fascinating is Baker's description of Novak's acknowledgement of how TV turned him into a right-wing ideologue out of convenience and professional advancement. Then there is the petty, ethically abhorrent Novak, rewarding and penalizing sources in print according to how well they do or do not cooperate with him. But there is a personal side revealed in the book as well. Baker writes:

"While dispensing rough justice to politicians who have displeased him, Novak does not spare himself from critical examination. His book periodically turns somber while he confesses his vices, none of them notably depraved. We learn about his drinking (once prodigious, now modest), his gambling (heavy betting on sports), his smoking (four packs a day when young, none since), and his failures at parenthood ('so engrossed in my work that I had paid little attention to my children')."

Also: Beer and Poverty.


Publication: Tribune

Cover: "Banned. Endangered. Not allowed. Challenged. Forbidden. {The American Library Association is keeping a list, and what's on it might surprise you.}"

Not really. We've kind of seen these lists before. Where is the value added, Tribune?

Other Reviews & News of Note: No.


Publication: Sun-Times

Cover: "The Feminine Mistake," Cheryl Reed's critical review of Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy In Post-9/11 America. Somehow I'll take Faludi's word - and her reporting skills - over Reed's. When Reed - the former Books editor now editing the paper's crappy new editorial page - accuses the usually voluminously researched Faludi of being a cherry-picker of facts and figures, well, that's something I'll have to read elsewhere to believe. When she criticizes the timing of the book's release - three weeks after 9/11 - I wonder if she would have preferred 9/11 itself. Perhaps, as we read shortly into Reed's review, the fact that Faludi criticizes in her book a series Reed wrote about mothers with children who were leaving the workforce, Reed has a personal conflict here. That series was a classic media cliche not unlike those Faludi skewered in her invaluable Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.

And yet, Reed acknowledges that "What Faludi got right is that the media tends to play up stereotypes. The coverage after 9/11 was no exception. The male rescuer as hero was certainly a myth we all fell for." Well, isn't that basically Faludi's thesis? And did we really all fall for the myth, or just Reed and her mediocre media brethren?

"We look back now a little shame-faced that we didn't question more, that we leapt too quickly to believe what the government was purporting," Reed writes.

Yes. And why was that? Perhaps Faludi has an answer!

Could it be, for example, that the media never learns from work like that of Faludi - that few newspaper editors have probably read Backlash - and that a certain mindset existed then and exists now in a newsroom like, say, that of the Sun-Times?

And yet, Reed criticizes Faludi for arguing "that 9/11 undercut feminism, that the media was somehow preconditioned to present women in more traditional roles," and states that "journalists were looking for trend stories after Sept. 11, 2001, just as they do every day fo the year. That they reported - based on flimsy and anecdotal proof - that women were becoming more feminine, more conventional, because of the terrorists' attacks, and that there was a rise in those seeking to marry, only proves that there are levels of bad journalism in this country."

Um, isn't that the point? The trend stories journalists seek out, after all, come with a predetermined narrative. And that narrative almost always is ultimately about a return to or a superiority of "traditional" values.

Indeed, it is Reed who undercuts her argument - not Faludi - by, first. taking on an assignment in which revenge can easily be assigned as a motive and, second, writing a thin review that does a far better job persuading one that the reviewer is far more wrong than the author she criticizes.

Other Reviews & News of Note: Not really.


Publication: New York Times

Cover: "Social Historian," Maureen Dowd's review of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s Journals.

Other Reviews & News of Note: "Gary Taubes is a brave and bold science journalist who does not accept conventional wisdom," medical reporter Gina Kolata writes in her review of Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease.. But that does not mean Kolata agrees with his conclusions.

"Taubes convincingly shows that much of what is believed about nutrition and health is based on the flimsiest science," Kolata writes.

That includes the idea that a few bites less of a hamburger each day, or walking a mile here and there, can slowly help you lose weight. Or, with more serious repercussions, that there is a connection between, say, cholesterol and heart disease."

Taubes loses Kolata, though, when he argues in favor of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, for which she finds equally anemic evidence.



1. Alan Greenspan
2. O.J. Simpson
3. Bill Clinton

Jenny McCarthy is 4th; Nikki Sixx is 7th; Mother Teresa is 9th; Tony Dungy is 10th; Alan Alda is 11th; Navy Seal is 12th; Anna Nicole Smith is 13th; George W. Bush is 14th; Pattie Boyd is 16th.


Posted on October 8, 2007

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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