About the Book by Lance Morrow Titled “The Noise of Typewriters: Remembering Journalism”

From a Wall Street Journal review by James Rosen of the book by Lance Morrow titled “The Noise of Typewriters: Remembering Journalism”:

“I have done nothing memorable in my life,” declares Lance Morrow, “and yet all around me, things have happened.” Only the second part of that statement is true. Mr. Morrow, for many years an essayist at Time magazine, looks back on a long and eventful career in journalism in “The Noise of Typewriters,” a memoir that is less a sequential narrative than a series of impressions and vignettes, unabashedly digressive, invariably provocative.

Now 83 and retired to a farm in upstate New York, Mr. Morrow is still an occasional essayist, for the Journal and other publications. His career began with a teenage stint as a reporter-photographer at the Danville News in Pennsylvania, where his experiences included witnessing a race car spin off its track and plow into spectators.

After graduating from Harvard, Mr. Morrow moved on to the Washington Evening Star, where he toiled alongside Carl Bernstein. “Carl and I raised hell together,” the author writes. “We borrowed money and bummed cigarettes from each other. . . . We were both a little bit in love with Mary McGrory,” the sharp-witted reporter and future columnist then known for her coverage of the Army-McCarthy hearings.

Almost halfway through his chronicle, Mr. Morrow hurtles back in time to inform us that Hugh Morrow, his father, had worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Saturday Evening Post, in the halcyon days when the Morrows, residents of N Street, rubbed elbows with the Alsops and other luminaries of postwar Georgetown. Later the elder Morrow became an aide to New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, a position that was both demanding and demeaning, as the younger Morrow recounted in “The Chief: A Memoir of Fathers and Sons” (1985).

Making cameo appearances in “The Noise of Typewriters” are scores of legendary writers—not all fondly recalled. Joan Didion is “a favorite,” but John Hersey, the author of “Hiroshima” (1946), “achieved a journalistic sainthood that he did not quite deserve.” Robert Caro, whose biography of Lyndon Johnson is approaching its final volume, “transform[ed] journalism into literature,” but Norman Mailer “let himself go.” Tom Wolfe is credited for his “painstaking” research even as the “electricity” of his prose is chalked up to “special effects (a kind of jazz).” Of the New Journalism, Mr. Morrow writes that it degenerated into “a carnival of self-indulgence . . . children playing moral dress-up and making themselves the stars of their histories.” Mr. Morrow also conjures scenes from the life of Henry Luce, the co-founder of Time Inc. and its driving force for decades. Mr. Morrow proclaims him the century’s most influential journalist (“a kind of shadow president”).

Figures outside the literary arts also stroll through. Asked how history would have changed had Khrushchev, not JFK, been assassinated, Henry Kissinger quips: “I am certain that Aristotle Onassis would not have married Nina Khrushchev.” Through Mr. Morrow’s eyes we watch Elie Wiesel recoil at the sight, a few feet away, of Leni Riefenstahl, 60 years after she directed the Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will.” We also see Muhammad Ali, ravaged by Parkinson’s (“an impressive ruin of the man he’d been”), ask Bill Gates if they can be photographed together.

Most riveting is Mr. Morrow’s account of the afternoon of Oct. 12, 1964, when the young Evening Star reporter was the first person to arrive on the scene of the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer. An artist and socialite, divorced from a senior CIA official, Meyer was reputed to have been one of President Kennedy’s lovers. She had been shot to death around noon on the towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in Georgetown. The suspect swiftly arrested and charged, an African-American laborer named Ray Crump, was acquitted the following year.

“I felt an odd sort of social discomfort,” Mr. Morrow writes of the half-hour he spent alone with Meyer’s body, still curled up in the “threadbare grass.” “Her face was turned somewhat away from me, three-quarters of her profile hidden, yet I saw that she was lovely. . . . I had the half thought (I was not thinking clearly but merely taking things in, my mind working like a primitive camera—the newspaper reporter as a sort of Brownie camera) that the woman, especially as she was so newly dead, was entitled to privacy—and that my standing over her like this was bad manners.”

Sometimes Mr. Morrow’s kaleidoscopic approach proves more frustrating than rewarding. One chapter is mostly a long quotation from Ernest Hemingway—the opening passage from “A Farewell to Arms” describing troop movements along a dusty road—but it is presented without much context. At another point Mr. Morrow compares the horrors of Hiroshima to the Rape of Nanking a few years before, during Japan’s invasion of China. Such a comparison, whatever its value, doesn’t really fit into “remembering journalism,” the promise of Mr. Morrow’s subtitle. Intermittently he poses a timeworn question about the profession—whether its interplay between facts and narrative conduces more toward history or myth—but makes little headway in answering it.

The disjointed presentation of observations and recollections, by turns wry and affecting, amounts to a soft-spoken rebellion by Mr. Morrow, near the end of his career, against one of the imperatives he fulfilled throughout it: the crafting of an overarching storyline. He understands all too well the impulse to impose narrative cohesion where it never really existed—to attain a “Rosebud” moment, as in “Citizen Kane,” when everything suddenly makes sense. Often, he observes, “there is none.”

James Rosen is chief White House correspondent at Newsmax and the author of “Scalia: Rise to Greatness, 1936-1986,” to be published next month.

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