Courtesy, Civil Society & Journalism

| April 3, 2017 | 0 Comments

By
George Mitrovich

Bret Peace is a graduate of Stanford University and the University of Michigan Law School.

He’s written a book, “Actual Malice,” which documents the collapse of Congressman Gary Condit’s political career; a collapse brought about by the Washington Post and the District of Columbia’s police department.

Peace’s book, written in partnership with the former Congressman, was published last November by Ghost Mountain Books, the publishing firm of Dr. Phillip C. McGraw (television’s famous “Dr. Phil”).

As a friend of the Peace family, I was asked to read the book in its initial draft, which ran to more than 800 pages. It was too long, by half, so intense editing was undertaken and the book, as published, runs to 339 pages (including bibliography).

I was asked to help publicize “Actual Malice,” and undertook to put the book in the hands of literary critics with established national media; publications I thought would have an interest in reviewing Bret’s book, even if it meant reviewing a book hugely critical of the role of the Washington Post, which, along with The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, is one of the three most important newspapers in America.

No doubt, Bret and his father, Steve Peace, the former California assemblyman and state senator, as well as state finance director, believed, given my background as a former U.S. Senate press secretary, I would succeed in getting “Actual Malice” the attention it deserves.

In that, father and son, were wrong.

“Actual Malice” was sent to: Atlantic Monthly, Boston Globe, Columbia Journalism Review, C-SPAN, Harpers, Los Angeles Times, The New York Review of Books, San Diego Union-Tribune, The Progressive, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, and Washington Times.

We’re at the start of March, and with one exception, “Actual Malice” has not been reviewed. Not only has it not been reviewed, not a single media member to whom the book was sent, responded to my emails or phone calls – and, in every instance, there have been repeated calls. (Nor, as an aside, has any of the 26 faculty members or deans of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; where, a logical person might think, someone would have measure of curiosity, journalism school and all.)

Now, there are members of Congress and governors who will return my phone calls (it comes from having spent 51-years in and around politics), but apparently people in journalism, deeming themselves free from the drudgery of acts of common courtesies, feel no such obligation.

In my follow up phone calls, only two journalists, Diana Straus, publisher of the Washington Monthly, and Jennifer Senior, a book critic for The New York Times, was considerate enough, gracious enough, thoughtful enough, to take my phone calls.

I did have a lovely chat with Norman Stockwell, publisher of The Progressive, and editorial assistants with the Atlantic and The New York Review of Books, but our “chats” were the end of it – no one has called back.

In the case of The Progressive’s Stockwell, an unapologetic magazine of the left, I had hopes something would metalize, but nothing. I also thought, mistakenly, as it turns out, that the Washington Monthly, whose founder and longtime editor, Charlie Peters (a former guest of The City Club of San Diego), someone who loved tweaking the Washington Post, that his successor might be of similar inclinations, but there’s no evidence of that, but I enjoyed our chat.

Among those receiving emails and phone calls were Carlos Lozada of the Washington Post, Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times, and Pamela Paul, who, as editor of The New York Times Book Review, edits the single most important publication in the world of books. Bob Silvers’ New York Review of Books is unrivaled as our leading intellectual journal, but even it pales in comparison to The Times Book Review in overall impact on publishers, authors and reading public.

But the single most annoying of those I tried to reach was the Post’s Carlos Lozada.

He came to my attention because in reading some of his review and essays, I decided the gentleman is a hugely talented reviewer and essayist. But numerous phone calls and emails later, nothing. I even went to his Facebook page, where I learned he is from Chile and graduated from Notre Dame, and decided the gentleman is a good looking guy; who, apparently, based upon the number of photographs he has posted of himself and so few of his family, that Carlos Lozada really loves Carlos Lozada.

I did not really think a book critic for the Washington Post was likely to write a review of “Actual Malice,” a book that attacks the credibility of his newspaper; no, I get it, but what I really wanted, expected, was an acknowledgment “Actual Malice” had been received by Carlos Lozada, that he had Bret’s book.

How hard is that?

My frustrations in this are not, by any measure, a reflection on “Actual Malice.” How could it be? To judge a book you have to read the book. And, present evidence says, that isn’t happening.

I recently wrote here on IVN.US, that I had sent a contribution to Wikipedia. I did so because I use Wikipedia, depend upon Wikipedia, and felt it was only fair to contribute something. Within minutes of receiving my contribution, I had a personal email back from its president.

If an organization like Wikipedia, that has users from around the world, users who account for 18 billion page views monthly, if its president can respond within minutes to a contribution from a user, tell me how people in media, especially with newspapers, many of whom are in trouble, serious financial trouble, tell me why they haven’t worked out a system, that enables reporters and editors to respond when someone seeks, not even the promise of a review, but a simple “Thank you” for sending the book?

Am I assuaged by the knowledge that the chief publicist for a major New York publisher told me that in dealing with The Times’ Book Review editor, Ms. Paul, he has never gotten a single call returned, so why should I expect more because the author of “Actual Malice” is a friend, or because I think, based upon a lot of experience, Bret Peace’s book really matters?

It is appropriate, I believe, that everyone engage in acts of common civility, where phone calls are returned, emails answered, letters responded to; that all of us are obligated, no matter the positions we occupy, however high on the long greasy pole we’ve climbed, to practice common decency, observe common standards of behavior, accept the cohesion and value of every person, and that to ignore such practices is to impose upon others a cavalier and condescending disdain – which, in the case of media, only widens the divide so many Americans feel for journalists.

The consequences of ignoring others, is costly for those who, in their arrogance, considered themselves above their fellow human beings.

Journalism is paying a huge price for this; an unnecessary price, but it’s fixable – and it doesn’t take a team of high priced consultants to fix it.

All that’s required to bridge the divide between readers and writers is to remember the first lesson your mother taught you:

Always say, thank you.

PLEASE NOTE: Bret Peace will talk about “Actual Malice” at The City Club of San Diego, Saturday, April 1. The event talks place on campus at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU). It begins at 10 a.m. It’s open to the public. Details and reservations at: www.CityClubofSanDiego.com.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at, gmitro35@gmail.com.

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Category: Local News, National News

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