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Engaging Accounts of Sexual and Political Betrayals.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "While I Was Gone" by Sue Miller and "The Climate of the Country" by Marnie Mueller.



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Other segments from the episode on March 11, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 11, 1999: Interview with Max Frankel; Commentary on Elia Kazan and the Academy Awards; Review of Sue Miller's and Marnie Mueller's books "While I was Gone" and "The…


Date: MARCH 11, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 031101np.217
Head: Max Frankel
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Max Frankel is the former executive editor of "The New York Times." He's been with the paper for half a century. He started when he was a college student at Columbia filing stories about campus life and went on to serve as Moscow bureau chief, Washington bureau chief and editorial page editor.

He retired from his position as executive editor in 1994 and now writes a column for the "Sunday Magazine." He's written a new memoir called "Max Frankel: The Times of Life and My Life with The Times." Frankel was born in Germany, he was about 10 when he and his mother fled the Nazis and emigrated to America. His father, who had been imprisoned by the Nazis, was reunited with his family after the war.

Max Frankel says now that he is retired he reads "The Times" much like ordinary readers do and he shares some of their frustrations. I asked him what those frustrations are.

MAX FRANKEL, FORMER EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES;" AUTHOR, "MAX FRANKEL: THE TIMES OF MY LIFE AND MY LIFE WITH THE TIMES": Oh, the biggest one by far, I think, is what we call the "jumps" of stories from page one. You know, we cut them off in not only in the middle of a paragraph, but in the middle of a word. We hyphenate, and there are six, seven, eight stories on page one and they jump to different sections in the paper, and we say, "go hunt;" or keep all these half paragraphs and half sentences in mind as you leap back and forth. It's ridiculous.

The other thing we do is we'll introduce a story with five paragraphs on page one and then when you open it up you'll see 6,000 words thrown at you, and you're totally unprepared for that horrible experience.

Readers learn to cope with all this, just as they cope with a supermarket and they know where the tricks of finding what it is that they need and want. But I do think in this modern day and age when we've got computers that should be liberating us from the old print forms that design the paper as it is that we should be much more radical in revising the look and shape and feel of the paper. That's my biggest frustration.

GROSS: When you read "The New York Times" now do you have to give yourself permission to not know everything that's in the newspaper? To not read everything that's in there?

FRANKEL: Absolutely. That's -- you know, one of the blessings and also curses of retirement is that you could take three hours to read the paper, and sometimes I find myself lapsing into that mode and getting up at -- finally at noontime and saying, "where has this day gone?"

GROSS: So you said some of your greatest frustrations, which you think share with most readers, are your impatience with how much is in there with the jumps and the need to skim what's in the newspaper. How did you deal with those frustrations when you were the executive editor? What changes did you make, or try to make, that would address them?

FRANKEL: They seem very ordinary now, but the paper was even much worse in these terms when I first took over as editor. We didn't even label the sections that you find yourself in. You know, readers read it going backwards and forwards and starting in the middle, and if you looked up you wouldn't see the word "international" or "national" or "metro" news.

The national news jumped from the front section, this was imposed on us by the printing process, but the national news was not in a coherent package. The sports news floated from one day to the next from one end of the paper to the other. The obituaries were not in one place. The indexes leading you to these things were not clear.

The pictures were often quite -- not only ordinary but they were not only irrelevant sometimes to the prose that they separated, but you went to the captions and readers, we discovered, look first at the pictures on any page and then read the captions. And if the caption doesn't tell you why that picture is there -- we merely said, "there's Mrs. Smith drinking in her home."

Well, why is Mrs. Smith in the news, etcetera? So we had to learn to write different kinds of captions and then to separate all that big gray mass of print on every page. We learned from magazines to put big blurbs in the middle -- kind of sub headlines. But blurbs that you could read before you read the headlines and they would still make sense.

These were new art forms for daily journalism, and we imposed mightily on the poor copy editors who had to do all these things for us. But it was a wonderful exercise.

GROSS: I read "The Times" everyday and it seems to me that over the years "The Times" has become much easier and more pleasurable to read, that even in the new stories the writing has become more conversational and more literary at the same time.

FRANKEL: Bless you. You noticed.


Actually, since I've been writing for "The Times" in one for another for 50 years, and when I first came aboard there actually was a drive even then for good writing. Although that meant something different in those days than it does now. But I remember the campaign to one idea for one sentence.

And short leads, and we got prizes for colorful shorts. I remember winning $25 as a reward for writing a superb and funny little three paragraph item. The emphasis was, even in those tidbits, to be clever and witty and bright and to entertain the reader even as we delivered the news.

I think what you're finding is that we have become vastly more interested in featuring things that are well written, almost exclusively because they are well written. Not that they don't have to meet some level of importance or interest to the community, but the very fact that something is well rendered commends to our attention and we give it more loving care and display.

The other thing that works into that is that we have gotten away in the stories that we feature from things that are what I would call, "event driven." They're in the news only because something happened today, and more and more -- and this was one of my big campaigns when I was editor -- we are featuring stories of things that, not that they've happened, but they are happening.

The employment rate is going down or up. Hem lines are going up or down. Those are news as well even though no one has staged a specific news conference or announcement. And they lend themselves also to more colorful writing. And then finally, there is analytical writing which I spent my whole career struggling to get into the "The Times" to make it acceptable to the standards of fairness and objectivity.

The old saw was, you know, news stories tell you who, what, when, where; and the important word was left out, namely "why." And addressing the "why" also makes for much more colorful writing.

GROSS: I want to get to that in a moment -- get into that a little bit more in a moment. I want to reintroduce you first -- my guest is Max Frankel who truly went from copy boy to executive editor with a lot of steps in between at "The New York Times." Now he's written a memoir called "Max Frankel: The Times of My Life and My Life with The Times."

Now you were talking about the mix of analysis and reporting in the newspaper and how it's changed. When you started writing for "The New York Times" was it possible to put analysis into a piece of reporting?

FRANKEL: Depended entirely on who you were. If you were Arthur Crock (ph) or James Reston (ph) or one of the towering greats who had made a reputation largely through World War II, and if you were a foreign correspondent with a license to generalize about what the French were thinking that week you could probably get away with it.

Although even there there was a lot of hedging. You know, "the sun went up over Paris this morning, observer said." Without that "observer said," they might not want to trust you saying it on your own account. It was tough.

And certainly for the rest of us who thought we knew something we had a terribly tough time. It was much easier when I was a 27-year-old kid writing and generalizing about the Russians in Moscow, than it turned out when I came to Washington and had to write under the noses of the people, and for the people, whom I was covering. There suddenly the constraints and the straight jackets descended upon me.

And every morning it was a struggle that somebody had either scrolled in something like "observer said" where it wasn't appropriate, or taken out the most trenchant part of the story; and my observation as to why all this was happening. It was terribly frustrating.

GROSS: Yeah well, what were some of the typical fights that you had with your editors when you were a foreign correspondent?

FRANKEL: When I was a foreign correspondent? I guess the biggest one was -- there's a story I tell in my book about when Marshal Jukov (ph), the hero of the liberation of Berlin and a pal of General Eisenhower's. And he had been remarkably instrumental in saving Khrushchev's neck when he was rising to power.

And suddenly under -- in a rather mysterious way he was dismissed as defense minister and nobody knew what was going on. All the communist correspondents in Moscow who had no censorship were announcing to the world that he was about to be promoted. For the first time in Soviet history a military man was going to become president of the country and probably take over even more power.

I didn't think so from some of the circumstantial evidence that I won't rehash, but nobody at home believed me because the communist press all over the world was going the opposite way. We had a terrible battle until, fortunately for the only time in my experience, we had to write through censorship. The censor helped me out.

I sent in a paragraph one night still trying to be ambiguous that Marshal Jukov, the hero of Berlin, was -- his future was still in doubt tonight. And the censor sent back this piece of paper and struck out only one word, namely the word "hero."

And suddenly I knew that the man was on the skids. He was on the way out. I, rather triumphantly, called New York and said, "I'm going to write the opposite of what the communist world is writing." And even then they put a headline on my story saying, "Jukov Dismissal Seen in Moscow."

GROSS: Was "Seen in Moscow?"

FRANKEL: Yes. I mean, they were attributing it to me as if to their correspondent in Moscow, but not necessarily as a universally accepted fact.

GROSS: Right. Were there are other stylistic problems that you had with editors?

FRANKEL: The biggest one was that you could not, especially in Washington, explain the motivations of the leading actors without a terrible fight. How do I know this? Well, I had this kind of an off the record chat with so and so at the White House. And I had this insight from so and so at the State Department.

And believe me, from what I know about why they're emphasizing this and not that, this is what is happening. And this is why they said what they said and why they are doing this. And unless I could say, "officials said" or named someone who said so there was an inclination not only to disbelieve me, but not to let me say it in print.

GROSS: My guest is Max Frankel, former executive editor of "The New York Times." He has written a new memoir. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Max Frankel. He served as "The New York Times" Moscow bureau chief and Washington bureau chief before becoming editorial page editor and executive editor of the paper.

By the time you stopped writing, pieces were clearly labeled -- I mean, news wasn't labeled that was just printed, but if something was analysis it would be labeled as such. If it was a reporter's notebook piece it would be labeled as such. What were the differences between news analysis and notebook?

FRANKEL: The notebook was a matter of personal and relatively light observation. It was a kind of a travelog. It was the kind of story that we used to write for our house organ when we came back from a big assignment for the entertainment of our colleagues. And the question always was, why can't we share this kind of insight with the readers?

GROSS: I love pieces like that.

FRANKEL: Of course. So we finally succeeded in getting those in the paper. I -- I used a lot of them when I was covering Nixon in China and the paper was very generous in featuring them, and other reporters got into the spirit of the thing.

News analysis we used to label, and still do once in a while, although I think in a well-run operation it should become superfluous. Every story should be analytical. In fact, I tell one story in the book where -- which had something to do with my getting together with my wife who was a member of our staff.

It was one night when she was ordered to write a news analysis and a news story about a single event. And I had given the order at our page one meeting that those two be merged. I didn't see why a good news story shouldn't contain its own analysis instead of making the reader run into directions all at once. That, in turn, lead to our getting together and finally getting married.

GROSS: Well, OK. Glad you worked that out.


You are married to former -- what? Former city -- she's the city editor now.

FRANKEL: She is the metropolitan editor, Joyce Pernick (ph), she's the metropolitan editor of "The New York Times" today. The first woman to hold that job.

GROSS: And she was writing for the city desk when...

FRANKEL: ...when we were married? When we first courted, she was the City Hall bureau chief.

GROSS: Right. OK. And you were -- were you officially her boss?

FRANKEL: I was the boss of her bosses, absolutely.


GROSS: To copy. Well, were there any -- you know, so many corporations -- fewer now than in the past, but so many corporations have or have had policies that rule against having an intimate relationship with other somebody else in the corporation or at least somebody else in your department if you supervise them. Were there any rules like that that, you know, officially would have disallowed the relationship?

FRANKEL: There were no formal rules, but there was a well-established custom that wives should not be working for husbands or presumably even lovers if we would know about that. And we certainly, in those days, did not hire couples if we could help it.

Sidney Grisson (ph), who was a distinguished correspondent and editor at "The Times," was married to Flora Lewis, a distinguished columnist. And "The Times" never hired her much to her frustration and anger because of the awkwardness of that. That has since broken down considerably.

But the whole idea of me as executive editor dating, no less courting and ultimately marrying and having a relationship with a member of my staff, was very tricky and very awkward. When we first found ourselves in that position, and it was a most uncharacteristic thing to have even begun for both of us because we were both rather conservative in these matters.

When we found ourselves in that predicament we obviously kept it very very secret for quite a while until we could be sure that this thing was going somewhere and was going to last. If it hadn't I don't know how we would have dealt with it. Fortunately, it did.

And I told my boss about it, the publisher of the paper. He embraced me. I'd gone through not only a tough marriage, but a very bitter death that my first wife experienced through brain cancer, and he was so delighted that I found some happiness. And then he saw to it rather quickly that Joyce was moved out of my line of direction.

Fortunately, there was a vacancy on the editorial board of "The Times" -- the one page that is not in the control of the executive editor -- where she could go to write about New York affairs. And she did that for the rest of my entire period -- my editorship.

And she moved -- it wasn't a natural job for her. She didn't always enjoy it, and she was delighted when I retired and could go back to the news department.

GROSS: Was there a voice in your head ever that said, "this is wrong you shouldn't be having his relationship. You must -- you must either resign your position or give up the relationship?"

FRANKEL: No. I knew -- I knew it was awkward and wrong for both of us. Once it became -- we only did it secretly for a few months, and then when I felt the need to go public so that at least people would be on notice I leaked it to a rival newspaper. I leaked it to Liz Smith's gossip column. And she printed it, so then we outed ourselves in that fashion.

GROSS: Why did you choose that way to do it? It seems so bizarre to me to leak it to Liz Smith.

FRANKEL: Well, because we weren't -- we weren't yet formally engaged, and we had not yet decided to get married and yet we felt before somebody else in the gossip column learned of it and published in their fashion, and perhaps in an ugly fashion, we decided to be forward with it. And so we did.

GROSS: Did this theory have you write a memo to your staff saying, "by the way, good news I think I'm in love with one of your colleagues."


FRANKEL: Exactly. This was easier. Maybe it was the coward's way out, but anyway it worked.

GROSS: Did Liz Smith handle it in the way that you wanted?

FRANKEL: Oh, she became a one-woman cheering section. She wrote a lovely and enthusiastic little item. And it pleased us. We found out after that that several people on the staff in one way or another had either surmised or detected or smelled out this relationship. And it was an extraordinary discovery to find out how discrete they had all been. How they had all protected us. How they had done nothing to spread rumors or to embarrass us or to complain about it. And so there we were.

But we found out quickly enough, in answer to your question, that it was indeed awkward. You know, Joyce would walk around the newsroom and people would suddenly clam up in her presence. Or the opposite would happen, they would start airing complaints to her that they hoped would be passed on to me. And she found it a very tricky situation.

GROSS: How did this affect your feeling about what kind of in-house codes were appropriate for in-house relationships?

FRANKEL: Well, as I became well aware, I didn't have a clue as to who might be sleeping with whom. Either of across the sexes or in same-sex relationships or what not. And the fact that I didn't know and the fact that most of us didn't know what was going on in our private lives made it rather difficult to insist on all the old formal rules about men -- husbands and wives being on the staff and being moved together.

So the whole thing really went in the direction not of tightening our rules, but relaxing our rules and customs. And we came to feel much easier about the whole notion of husbands and wives and lovers working in the same staff. Provided they did not have a direct reporting relationship. I think that is so awkward and...

GROSS: mean reporting to each other in the corporate hierarchy.

FRANKEL: the hierarchy...

GROSS: ...instead of reporting in the field.

FRANKEL: Exactly. Yes.

GROSS: Yeah. Max Frankel is former executive editor of "The New York Times," and now writes a column for the "Sunday Magazine." His new memoir is called "Max Frankel: The Times of My Life and My Life with The Times." He'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Max Frankel. He started writing about college life for "The New York Times" in 1949, and went on to serve as the paper's Moscow bureau chief, Washington bureau chief, editorial page editor and executive editor. He retired from his position as executive editor in 1994 and now writes a column for the "Sunday Magazine."

Why did you first want to go into journalism? And just to sketch a little bit of the background, you fled the Nazis with your mother; your father had been imprisoned -- had to stay behind. Didn't come to the states until considerably later.

You say in your book that when you decided to enter journalism your mother said, "no, you should do something more practical with your hands." What did she tell you?

FRANKEL: She said if you want to be a journalist why not first learn something about printing. You know, she was obsessed. Having struggled as she did to get us out of wartime Nazi Germany in 1940, she was obsessed with the notion that this might not be our last destination. That we might yet have to migrate again.

The refugee mentality was such that what you needed was skills that would be transportable from one country to another. Of course never could she imagine that we scribblers would out last the printers in our business. Printers have disappeared in this age of the computer, and we scribblers are still struggling along.

GROSS: Why did you want to go into journalism?

FRANKEL: A complex of reasons. First, because I discovered quite by accident and through the intervention of a rather remarkable teacher in high school, that I was good at it. That it combined all of my book intellectual and artistic interests, if you will.

Second, because it appealed to the dilettante in me that I felt that I was not deep enough to be a worthy scholar in any one field, but I did have a kind of curiosity that wanted to skim across all society.

Third, it became a shield. Journalism -- a press card is an armor -- is a suit of armor for somebody who is essentially shy and reticent as I am. It became a shield to pry into other people's business, to go and cavort with people way above my social or political station. To mix into their affairs and to pretend to be an equal with them. And in terms of interrogating them about their business. It was license to pry into everything.

GROSS: You started off as a copy boy at "The New York Times," what year was that?

FRANKEL: Not strictly speaking a copy boy, I should say. I was a stringer which is one level higher, but it allowed me to write while a student at Columbia University for "The Times." Other people had to carry the copy.

GROSS: Right. I should have said "rewrite," shouldn't I have?

FRANKEL: No, rewrite was yet something else. Rewrite was another -- it was a second stage.

GROSS: That was later?

FRANKEL: That was later. As a full-fledged reporter you are assigned to night rewrite were you rewrite nothing. What you're really doing is writing in a great hurry information that other people feed to you, because you're up against the deadlines.

And whether somebody died or a ship sank or a murder was committed in Brooklyn, whatever, you had to get it in to print one paragraph at a time. And that was called rewrite.

GROSS: There's a great picture where you're, I think, at the rewrite desk with two other reporters. I think you each have cigarettes dangling out of your mouths and one of the guys is wearing a visor.


GROSS: It made me think about the look that journalists -- that news guys -- newspaper guys -- used to have. And I was wondering if you wanted that look when you were starting out.

FRANKEL: I not only wanted it, I needed it. You know, all our desks, they were wooden desks with typewriter wells in the middle of them that kind of turned up and down. You could close the typewriter well and write on it, or open it up and expose the typewriter at lap level.

But the edge of that desk -- of every desk in the newsroom, and they were arrayed in long rows as in an insurance office. But they were scalloped from cigarette burns. And the floor was linoleum from where we stamped out the cigarettes, and the idea that you could write under great tension especially on night rewrite without having that cigarette burning at the edge of your desk and taking an occasional puff -- it was impossible.

And many years later as I tried to give up cigarettes and especially switch to a pipe first, and then give it all up altogether -- I had a terrible time because the idea of typing and smoking had become so well integrated in my habit that it was very difficult to break.

GROSS: What about the visor? You didn't have one, but the guy next to you did.

FRANKEL: The visor belonged to one generation ahead of me. From the days when the lighting was very bad and we were -- of course, we were all working with paper. The copy editors who edited my copy, many of them still used the green visor to protect their eyes from the glare of the lights above.

GROSS: Now you spent several years -- I don't remember how many -- as a foreign correspondent working in Moscow, reporting from Cuba. You write in your book that in the late '50s and early '60s that you were talking about, that we saw nothing wrong with sharing reportorial impressions with politicians and diplomats even CIA agents. Especially when covering hostile countries when our functions overlapped and our experiences were often complementary.

Did you knowingly share information with CIA agents?

FRANKEL: Oh, yes. I mean, CIA agents in Moscow were virtually known to us. They never said, "I work for the CIA." But you could figure it out. The military attaches were just high-grade official spies. There's no reason to have a naval officer and an army officer attached to an embassy who's traveling around the country except, you know, he is snooping on the Soviet military operations. And the same went for some of the diplomats.

The CIA, in those days, it's analytical arm -- these were not the people who were running spies and literally undermining government laboratories so as to get the hands-on secrets. These were essentially analysts in the guise of diplomats. And what they understood and knew about the Soviet economy, the nature of the harvest, whether the harvest was bad and therefore this and that was going to happen to this and that politician.

They were essentially in the same business that we were in. And we often compared notes and shared insights. And you accept or reject depending on what your own sense of the truth is. Only once was I ever asked what I would consider a real espionage question, and that was when I was on home leave. I was back in Washington, and again I was touring government offices and sharing impressions and analytical insights.

And I got a call from the CIA -- where I often went by the way for official help like before we went to China -- I went to the CIA because only there could I get good biographies of the leading Chinese officials that we were likely to run into when we got to Beijing. And so I was briefed on a background basis.

But I -- on this home leave I was called and suddenly I found myself in the presence of the ultimate spy master, Allen Dulles. And aside from sharing general insights he suddenly asked, "well, now you recently traveled across Siberia didn't you?"


"And did you take the train out there near Ladavostok (ph)?"


"Did you see any missiles from the train?"

Well fortunately, I didn't. But that was an uncomfortable moment because that's precisely the kind of spying that the Russians always accused all American correspondents of doing, and I didn't want to be in that compromised position.

GROSS: My guest is Max Frankel. He served as "The New York Times" Moscow bureau chief and Washington bureau chief before becoming editorial page editor and executive editor of the paper. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Max Frankel. He has written a new memoir about his half-century with "The New York Times."

Now let me jump ahead to the present. If you were executive editor this past year when the Clinton-Monica Lewinsky story was playing out would you have tried to do anything any different from the way in which "The Times" handled it?

FRANKEL: Not very. There may be one or two stories where I would have felt a little more squeamish or felt we were a little bit too fast off the gun. I was always concerned about prosecutors using us to signal that they had derogatory information, or were using the grand jury to investigate someone and doing that anonymously.

I eventually forbad it on the local scene. Prosecutors love to say, "hey, we've got a grand jury sitting and we're looking into this or that politician, but don't say that I said so." I made them at least put the name of their office, if not their name, to that kind of story.

So whether everything -- every story...

GROSS: you could read into it a possible ulterior motive as you were reading the story.

FRANKEL: Of course. And we didn't know the evidence on which it's based. It's one thing to use anonymous sources when we ourselves are doing an investigation, and become convinced in the facts of the case. But to take their word for something that's going on in a secret grand jury is a very different matter.

And there they would have to take responsibility for saying so. So there may be one or two stories that wouldn't have quite passed my smell test in the early Lewinsky affair. But -- and whatever the excesses in the press, and there were clearly some, they don't compare with the stupidity and idiocy of Clinton in plunging the country into this situation.

There use to be a rule in Washington, you know, if you've got bad news you better get it out in 24 hours. The last thing you want to do is make a hunt out of it -- a mystery story -- so that these people come after you in every news cycle with a new tidbit or fact, and drag it out into a grand drama. And that's exactly what he did.

And those of us who, again, know anything about government operations knew from the first moment that he was lying, because imagine a truly innocent president being accused of this thing. Now what does he do? You don't have to be a genius to know that you rush out in front of the microphones and say who is this hussy -- this idiot -- that's accusing me? I've never even met her. Or I've met her twice and we had a Coke together or whatever, and she's a damn liar and she better shut up or I'm going to get after her.

The very fact that he sat there and stonewalled the whole operation was a clear giveaway not only to us, but of course to Hillary too. So she -- we know that she was lying. And whatever cover story he was making up inside his government, the notion that any sophisticated Washingtonian or cabinet officer or what not believed in his innocence was just nonsense.

And so you had this great chase, and the fact that it also happened to involve sex made it absolutely irresistible and very hard to blame the media.

GROSS: What would have made you squeamish?

FRANKEL: What would have made me squeamish?

GROSS: Mmm-hmm.

FRANKEL: Dirty words. Dirty gestures. Cigar. "The Times" was even squeamish. I don't know whether anybody else noticed, but I noticed the first day that the dress came into a discussion the word in "The Times" was "stained." It was not "semen."

It took them 48 hours to get over that one, and it would have me too, I think. It's tough. We're a family newspaper. I remember even back when the Nixon tapes came out -- you remember all those "expletives deleted," we used the expletives in the full text, but we didn't use them in our own stories.

GROSS: Max Frankel, you spent your whole career at one newspaper, "The New York Times," which is considered -- people would argue about whether it's the best paper or whether it's number one with "The Washington Post" or whatever. I'm not going there, but it's at the top.

So, you spent your career at the top, but it was the same paper. Some people really like to move around and don't feel like they're making progress unless they move to other places. Now you moved to other places within "The Times," both geographically and in terms of your position at "The Times."

Can you -- we have about a minute left -- can you just talk a little bit about the pros and cons of staying with one institution through your whole career?

FRANKEL: Very simple. Obviously I became restless like everyone else, but "The Times" is so broad in its interests and in its range that I could change my jobs without changing employers every three, four years. And that made for a very exciting life.

And the other thing that held me was, as you look around, who in print or who in journalism -- indeed -- is doing anything remotely comparable. That is serious and fulfilling and allows a dilettante like me to indulge that full range of interests. There was no other place to go. I quit several times at "The Times" but I never left.

GROSS: Right. One last question. In your memoir you say that you would consider returning to studying singing again, which you studied before you entered journalism. Did you do that after you retired from "The Times?"

FRANKEL: No. I'm tinkering around on the piano, but the one thing I'm definitely going to do is paint. I painted in my youth and I intend to do so again. But I couldn't do it while I was writing the book.

GROSS: Right. Absolutely. Well, it's been a pleasure to talk with you. I thank you very much.

FRANKEL: My pleasure. Thank you.

GROSS: Max Frankel is the former executive editor of "The New York Times." He now writes a column for the "Sunday magazine." His new memoir is called, "The Times of My Life and My Life with The Times."

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Max Frankel
High: Former Executive Editor of "The New York Times" Max Frankel talks about his life in one of the world's most influential papers. His new book is "Max Frankel: The Times of My Life and My Life with The Times." Frankel began writing for "The Times" as a stringer while at Columbia University in New York City. Over the next half a century he rose to become Executive Editor, a post he retired from in 1994. He received the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 1973.
Spec: Profiles; Media; Lifestyle; Culture; Max Frankel

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Max Frankel

Date: MARCH 11, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 031102NP.217
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:45

TERRY GROSS, HOST: A week from Sunday director Elia Kazan will receive an honorary Academy Award. The importance of his films like "A Streetcar Named Desire," "East of Eden," and "On The Waterfront" may be inarguable but his Academy Award is very controversial.

We asked FRESH AIR film critic John Powers to share his thoughts on the controversy.

JOHN POWERS, FILM CRITIC: Hollywood tries to avoid any controversy that doesn't sell tickets. But lately there's been a heated debate over the Motion Picture Academy's decision to award an honorary Oscar to Elia Kazan, the theater and film director best known for two things.

He changed the face of American movies by introducing such method actor as Marlon Brando and James Dean. And he named names before the house Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era, an act for which he's never apologized.

It's the latter which has prompted a group, led by blacklist victims Abraham Polonski (ph) and Bernard Gordon (ph), to urge the audience at the awards to sit on their hands when Kazan takes the stage.

Now, it may seem odd that people are still so passionate about events that happened nearly 50 years ago. And odder still when you realize that '90s Hollywood is run by young-ish people who couldn't tell Edward R. Murrow from Joe McCarthy in a police lineup.

But such passion isn't really surprising. For the blacklist era was the great trauma of Hollywood history. The one time when industry people were concerned with issues larger than money. And to make the Kazan question more dramatic, it's a complicated issue that demands a simple choice.

On Oscar night, right there on TV, stars like Warren Beatty and Steven Spielberg will have to decide whether or not to applaud. In historical terms of course, Kazan isn't the real villain of any piece. Anyone called before the committee and given the choice to talk or be ruined was already a victim.

Yet his supporters, who talk freely about him the crucified, seem to forget that Kazan is hardly the story's greatest victim. Although he's always insisted that he named names as a matter off political principle, the truth is this principle didn't move him to act until his own future was at stake.

By playing ball with the committee, he preserved his well-paid, artistically successful Hollywood career. Meanwhile those who didn't, like Polonski and Gordon, had their careers shattered.

But while I think Kazan did the wrong thing, I'm nauseated by the knee-jerk sanctimony of those who judge him too easily. It's one thing for Abe Polonski to condemn a guy who named names, he earned the moral right. It's another for those of us who've never faced a choice as wrenching as Kazan's.

I'm shocked by how many people childishly assume that they would have been Polonski not Kazan. More abstractly, it strikes me as foolish to try to judge artists lives as well as their work. Afterall, artists are a notoriously unsavory group, and a lot of monsters have stood on stage clutching Oscars.

Why single out Kazan's personal behavior and not that of producers who cheat employees of money or actors who abuse their children? All this makes me feel awkward about saying that I think the Academy has done the wrong thing in awarding Kazan the Oscar.

For starters, he's already won two so the Academy isn't redressing a case of egregious neglect. And if Kazan were still making movies I wouldn't oppose him winning an Oscar for a particular film. What's being judged there is the work.

But having said that, it strikes me as a denial of memory for Hollywood's most powerful institution to honor the career of a man who, during the deadliest period in Hollywood history, became the very simple of it's weakness and capitulation in the face of witch hunts that ruined countless lives.

And what of Elia Kazan? I try to imagine myself back in that politically charged time. What if I were at the peak of my success and was suddenly asked to give the names of other film critics to the government? And what if I knew that doing so would preserve my career, but could only damage the critics I named?

When I think about this I can't be positive that I wouldn't buckle and pursue my own self-interest. I'm just not that sure of my courage. But I am sure of one thing, if I did name names then watch those I named be ruined while I prospered I'd never live down the shame. And if somebody tried to give me an award for my career contribution to criticism I'd be too embarrassed to accept it.

GROSS: John Powers is FRESH AIR's film critic.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: John Powers
High: Film critic John Powers comments on the plan to award Elia Kazan an honorary Academy Award. Kazan is best known for his films "On the Waterfront" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." The award is controversial because Kazan turned over names of suspected communist members during the 1950s.
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Lifestyle; Culture; Elia Kazan; John Powers

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.

Date: MARCH 11, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 031103NP.217
Head: Maureen Corrigan
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Book critic Maureen Corrigan says that she found herself focusing more on the color of the lipstick Monica Lewinsky wore for her Barbara Walters interview than on her story. That's why Maureen has passed up "Monica's Story" this week in favor of two new novels that offer more engaging accounts of sexual and political infidelity.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: Our theme for today is betrayal. The two new novels I want to talk about explore sexual and political betrayals. Like all good books, however, these novels also perpetrate a kind of blessed betrayal on their unsuspecting readers. Most of whom will, like me, probably open these books anticipating one type of story and then realize chapters later that they've gotten absorbed into an utterly different kind of tale altogether.

Sue Miller's "While I Was Gone" opens on a deceptively idyllic New England scene. Our middle-aged heroine, Jo Becker, is out on a rowboat with her husband Daniel. Autumn leaves are falling and soon the couple will retreat to the warmth of their restored farmhouse situated on the picturesque village green.

They've got wonderful meaningful jobs too, Jo is a veterinarian and Daniel is a minister. Jo's life couldn't be more perfect if Norman Rockwell himself painted it. And then, splat, all those New England fall colors start to smear together into a Lucien Freud nightmare.

I should have wised up by now after reading so many of Sue Miller's novels, but she gets me every time. She's a master at summing up these images of enviable lives only to show that, once fate intervenes, they have the stability of cardboard.

Jo's nemesis arrives at her office one day in the form of a sick dog needing to be put to sleep. The dog, it turns out, belongs to someone she knew in 1968, the year she fled her first marriage and escaped into a hippy dippy lifestyle in a group house in Cambridge. A household that fell apart after the murder, never solved, of one of its members.

For Jo, the reappearance of this old house mate, named Eli, awakens sharp memories of what it felt like to be in her early 20s. She says, "we didn't know what would happen next. That was our great gift. The gift of youth. The thing we miss, it seems to me, no matter what we've made of our lives as we get older. And that is where I felt again with Eli that sense of a surprise, that heady sense of not knowing, that gift of a possible turn in the path."

I'll keep mum about the surprising turns of Miller's own plot here and cut straight to the praise. In "While I Was Gone" Sue Miller once again makes silken prose out of a pulpy sow's ear of a premise. What could have been just a sensational page turner is transformed by Miller's exquisitely tactile writing style into a rumination on how memory doth make suckers of us all.

It's no slap against Marnie Mueller to say that she is not in Miller's league. Few popular novelists are. But in her book, "The Climate of the Country," Mueller rivals Miller in stumping her readers expectations.

"The Climate of the Country" is set in the Japanese American segregation camp that was established in Tule Lake, California during World War II. Mueller's main characters are two white people working there, Denton Jordan, a conscientious objector and his wife Esther, a teacher.

Both of them are modeled on Mueller's own parents. Mueller herself was the first Caucasian child born in the Tule Lake camp. Given its autobiographical origins and it's sensitive subject, you'd expect "The Climate of the Country" to have a pretty stark moral vision; Caucasians and militarists bad, Japanese-Americans and pacifists good.

But Mueller's story is more nuanced than that. Jordan harbors doubts about his pacifism, especially when faced with the dismay of his Jewish in-laws at his refusal to fight Hitler. The detainees, some of whom were born in Japan some in America and some born in America and educated in Japan, split into angry factions.

In addition to its political interests, another strength of Mueller's novel is the way it illuminates details of everyday life in the camp. Right down to the Sears and Roebuck furniture upholstered in a Cowboys and Indians print that decorated so many cabins. It's a wholesome Americana design that clashes horribly with the surrounding atmosphere of American promises betrayed.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "While I Was Gone" by Sue Miller, and "The Climate of the Country" by Marnie Mueller.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington Post
Guest: Maureen Corrigan
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "While I Was Gone" by Sue Miller and "The Climate of the Country" by Marnie Mueller.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Sue Miller; Marnie Mueller; Maureen Corrigan

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Maureen Corrigan
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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