Wow. Sports Illustrated has just published an excerpt of Game of Shadows by SF Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams that lays out what can only be described as incontrovertible evidence that Barry Bonds has been a rampant steroid user for the last several years. This is going to rock the baseball world, and I hope it really does shake things up – I’d love to see the game get back to the way it was before wierdly beefy guys started launching home runs night after night. This is big book news too. I got a breathless “news alert” from a publicist pointing to the impact the SI excerpt is having on the book’s sales. As of this writing, yesterday’s Amazon rank for the book was 119,745 and now it’s up to 75, and climbing I’d assume. So here’s to a clean, non-chemically enhanced baseball season. Can we make it happen this year, please?
Journalists have a responsibility to tell the truth. Accordingly, most reporters and editors would like to think, or believe, that they successfully fulfill that duty. In Reckless Disregard, Renata Adler demonstrates that a news organization's commitment to proving the veracity of a story runs the risk of covering the truth and justifying falsehoods, however.In fall 1982 and summer 1983 two lawsuits filed in the Southern District of New York tested the nerves of both plaintiffs and defendants - in these instances news organizations Time Magazine and CBS. Adler meticulously chronicled the cases of Sharon v. Time and Westmoreland v. CBS for the New Yorker, and then compiled her reporting - with additional passages and a scathing Coda (epilogue) - in Reckless Disregard.The "actual malice" standard, established by Supreme Court ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), is the cornerstone of libel suits against the press/media. A libel plaintiff in the U.S. faces an uphill battle and bears the burden of proof; i.e., the defendant does not have to prove innocence. Instead the plaintiff has to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the published "statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false."Israeli Minister Ariel Sharon, therefore, had to prove that the Time's article, "The Verdict is Guilty," which suggested that he was responsible for the massacres carried out by Phalangist soldiers on September 17-19, 1982, in Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila in Beirut, Lebanon, were published despite contrary information available to the magazine's reporters.General William Westmoreland, the commander in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968, carried the burden of showing that CBS had libeled him in the documentary "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception" by knowingly ignoring hours of interviews and extensive information which demonstrated that, unlike the program's assertion, he had not tempered with the Order of Battle to draw an optimistic view of the war, hence conspire to trick the government and the people.Adler raises important questions in Reckless Disregard: is actual malice, originally intended to protect the press' First Amendment rights, used to justify publishing falsities? What do Time and CBS' all-out-litigation-war strategy - conducted by the prestigious, aggressive law firm Cravath - say about the truthfulness of their reporting? Who, really, is the victim in these cases - the media or the plaintiffs?Reckless Disregard presents to the reader, in a matter-of-fact manner, how both cases unfolded, albeit being slightly sympathetic towards the plaintiffs. The record, as presented by Adler, indicates that news organizations can be slanted, that they might have an agenda, or theory, which they believe merits advancing, and that they might drift away from the facts to create more scandalous news/documentaries.This is all sad, of course, especially to an aspiring journalist. But if you are interested in law, reporting and David-vs.-Goliath scenarios you should consider Reckless Disregard. Adler sure succeeds in showing that a supposed victim (Time and CBS and, consequently, the media's First Amendment rights) might actually be the aggressor (merciless litigation that resulted in Sharon and Westmoreland to lose credible libel cases). Her narrative of the cases was deemed threatening - to the point that CBS and Cravath tried to intimidate the author and Knopf, her publisher, and stop the publication of Reckless Disregard. Adler seems to have hit the right chords after all.
I finished the book yesterday during a long afternoon spent in bed recovering from my illness. It was an especially fitting setting. The Great Fire is full of languid afternoons and young men beset by obscure diseases and weary from the war. I enjoyed the setting; the sense of war nearby, war recently ended and perhaps soon to be reignited. It was like a less bleary version of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises it also reminded me a lot of the film Casablanca, but maybe just because I happened to watch it around when I started reading the book. The book revolves around a couple of former soldiers, Aldred Leith and Peter Exley, who have been cast far and wide, to Japan and Hong Kong respectively, in the aftermath of World War II. They are surrounded on all sides by others, women and older folks, whose lives have been similarly touched by the war, and all of whom seem to be searching in vain for normalcy in the aftermath of shattering conflict. The central drama of the book concerns a budding love affair between Leith and a student of his, Helen Driscoll. Helen's dull and menacing parents as well as the vast age difference between Aldred and Helen set up what turns out to be a fairly filmic love story. The chief drama for the reader lies both in wending one's way through Hazzard's elliptical, lyrical prose and in wondering whether or not the May - December romance will ever be consummated.
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Our household is in the middle of a paradigm shift—new city, new occupations. The timing of this transition worked so that I should have had approximately one month to do nothing but read novels, eat sardines on toast, and fan myself. Predictably, various things popped up. Having repressed the memories of past moves, I had forgotten that moving is never a two-day affair, but rather a weeks-long nightmare represented by a massive Venn diagram showing the things you need to do and the things you did, the middle part of which is very small. Add to these obligations the things that invariably happen when one has some free time (getting rashes, waiting for the bus, vacuuming the underside of rugs, panicking about money, breaking things that turn out to be important, misunderstanding the labels on cleaning products, accidentally working, having houseguests), and I realize that I do not actually have anything like the time I thought I had. That’s life and I’m not complaining. I tell you all this so you will understand the circumstances in which I read David Mitchell’s new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I had half-open boxes all about me, a room full of upside-down rugs, two sneezing cats, and lots and lots to do. But I was yearning to read this book, so I left the apartment wild-eyed, dust-streaked, and sweat-soaked, and handed over a shocking twenty-eight dollars. Then I marched home with my long-anticipated booty, sat down amid boxes, and read until night. In the morning I woke up, put on my dirty clothes, and read until it was finished. And then I cried, and picked up my vacuum and went to work feeling sort of elevated and melancholy for the rest of the day. It’s hard to imagine a better reading experience. I read Wyatt Mason’s profile of David Mitchell in the New York Times, in which the journalist catalogued the bewildering list of authors to whom Mitchell has been compared. Basically, it’s a litany of the canonical writers, and it’s absurd. Mitchell is a phenomenal writer and a master mimic when he wants to be, and comparisons are the bread and butter of readers and reviewers. I think, though, that throwing out names like Nabokov, Melville, Twain, Sterne, Joyce, Tolstoy, shows a poverty of something, effort, maybe, though I don’t wish to impugn the various august readers who have weighed in on Mitchell’s work. But it’s hard for me not to imagine a reviewer in a nightcap with a hot cocoa and a Mitchell novel. He wiggles his toes at the pleasure of good fiction and thinks to himself, “This is a wow. You know who else was a wow?” I'm saying I think many of the comparisons have to do with the relative enthusiasm of the reader, rather than similarities in the authors’ respective styles. Because Mitchell is not like any of those writers, who are not like one another, except in that they are all artists, and much beloved. At any rate, in this new work, Mitchell owes much to film and television. I am not the only reviewer to note (cf. James Wood) that this novel is highly cinematic. For one, it takes place (jarringly, I thought, until I got used to it) in the present tense, like a screenplay. Some scenes end almost with an audible “Dum dum dum . . . ” timpany flourish. Some scenes are pure visual slapstick. The gross scenes are excruciatingly gross, the kind where everyone in the theater groans. The first scene in which the titular De Zoet makes an appearance (Chapter 2, the trial of the waggish Snitker) is so camera-ready I pictured Russell Crowe in his Master and Commander outfit, or Leonardo DiCaprio reprising his accent from Blood Diamond. Lest you think I bring up screen hunks to mitigate the power and style of Mitchell’s novel, I should say that this cinematic quality is one of the things I so enjoyed about the book, and why, I think, I read the thing almost in one sitting. You don’t watch a movie over days and days, no matter how long. Obviously books, like movies, can be absolutely vivid and transporting, but it’s rare to find a transporting book that doesn’t manage to embarrass you at some point with its prose. It’s rare also to find one that creates so much so well within a largely unplumbed historical context. The historical context here is the closed Japanese Empire, circa 1799, specifically, a Dutch trading post off of Nagasaki, and the novel addresses the fortunes of the men and woman thereon and around. The novel is about a lot of things—love, of course, and trade, and medicine, and language, and religion, and country, and lost children. I didn’t realize until I finished the book, but there are so, so many lost children. I don’t wish to exhaust you with my rendering of the novel's plot, which has been rendered elsewhere, better. It’s a lot of great storytelling, is what it is, set in a moment I imagine few people know much about. In addition to enjoying his prodigious stylistic gifts, I find David Mitchell’s novels refreshing because they are in their way morally unambiguous. It’s usually not clear right away who the good guys are, and there are lots of bad guys disguised as good ones and good guys doing bad deeds. Nonetheless, Right and Wrong are things in Mitchell’s universe(s), and his work seems to have a lot invested in righting wrongs. I’ve read all of his novels but one (Number9Dream), and in each I have been surprised and touched by the author’s care for people. This novel is no different; by the end, you know just who to root for. I don’t look for morality in my books, but it’s nice to read something outside of the young adult section that reminds us, just to be on the safe side, what’s what. It’s kind of retro, actually, considering the decades of post-war literature that told us there isn’t right or wrong, just our own confused, fucked-up feelings (man). Maybe I’m the victim of some haute post-modern joke, but Mitchell seems very earnest to me. To throw my own potentially bizarre comparison into the mix, David Mitchell is a little bit like Lois Lowry (The Giver, Number the Stars), writ large and writ for grownups. Despite that fact that I've basically (I realize now) presented The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as a made-for-TV movie for a juvenile audience (starring Russell Crowe), I loved this book. It’s the best thing I read on what was supposed to be my summer vacation. If you have free time or can fashion some, you should read it too.
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Today, they say, we’re in a golden age of television, the vast free market of cable opening up new avenues for how moving picture stories come to be…Part of the thrust of Domini’s argument is that big screen filmmaking now finds itself threatened by its own creation, all those little screens like an army of ants taking down an elephant.