Part I Four Centuries Of Surprises

We talk about it constantly and we arrange our lives around it. So did our parents; and so did the very first colonists. But it took Americans a long time to understand their weather—and we still have trouble getting it right.

Weather makes news headlines almost every day in some community in the United States. “The weather is always doing something,” said Mark Twain, “always getting up new designs and trying them on people to see how they will go.” On any day of the year, two or three weather systems are in action, dividing the country into distinct weather zones and producing what Twain called a “sumptuous variety” of conditions. A northeaster may be racing up along the Atlantic seaboard with gales and drenching rains, menacing ships and planes.Read more »

3.when Generals Sue

Westmoreland and Sharon embarked on costly lawsuits to justify their battlefield judgments. They might have done much better to listen to Mrs. William Tecumseh Sherman.

War is hell—and so is the coverage of war. Gen. William Westmoreland and former Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, claiming injury as a result of press reports, retaliated with batteries of lawyers armed with videotapes, classified documents, and loaded depositions. Have the risks of soldiering taken on new dimensions in the last half of the twentieth century? Are the reporters, the editors, the publishers, the producers of recent decades so antagonistic that they provoke unprecedented courtroom battles? How else can a military man combat his detractors?Read more »

2.from Normandy To Grenada

A veteran reporter looks back to a time when the stakes were really high—and vet military men actually trusted newsmen.

One week in August 1942 several stories on the British war effort appeared on the wires of the Associated Press, written by an AP reporter based in London named Drew Middleton.

What the readers did not know was that Middleton had spent part of that week not in England but under enemy fire in a boat off the coast of France, watching an Allied commando raid on a German strongpoint.

The Germans didn’t know either, which was the point. Read more »

1.the First News Blackout

The Civil War ignited the basic conflict between a free press and the need for military security. By war’s end, the hard-won compromises between soldiers and newspapermen may not have provided all the answers, but they had raised all the modern questions.

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman was a good hater, and he hated few things more than newspapermen. His encounter with the correspondent Floras B. Plympton of the Cincinnati Commercial in September 1861, five months into the Civil War, was typical. Plympton approached the general on a railroad platform in Kentucky and asked him for an interview. He handed over letters of introduction, including one from Sherman’s brother-in-law.Read more »

The Golden Age Of Advertising

The twenties and thirties saw a host of new ways to separate customers from their money. The methods have not been forgotten.

No era provides such revealing insights into the cultural values of both producers and consumers of American advertising as the 1920s and 1930s, when admen not only claimed the status of professionals but also saw themselves as missionaries of modernity. Read more »

Dirty-faced David & The Twin Goliaths

One of the country’ more bizzarre labor disputes pitted a crowed of outraged newsboys against two powerful opponents—Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolf Hearst

Joseph Pulitzer, nearly blind, suffering from bouts of depression, and so sensitive to sound he exploded when the silverware was rattled, managed his newspapers in absentia for the last twenty years of his life.Read more »

The Battle Of Athens

The GIs came home to find that a political machine had taken over their Tennessee county. What they did about it astounded the nation.

In McMinn County, Tennessee, in the early 1940s, the question was not if you farmed, but where you farmed. Athens, the county seat, lay between Knoxville and Chattanooga along U.S. Highway 11, which wound its way through eastern Tennessee. This was the meeting place for farmers from all the surrounding communities. Traveling along narrow roads planted with signs urging them to “See Rock City” and “Get Right with God,” they would gather on Saturdays beneath the courthouse elms to discuss politics and crops.Read more »

When Newsreels Stood Still

A little-known ancestor of the nightly news comes to light

The Colorado farmer opened the barn door for me. There, hanging from a nail on the back wall, was an empty 35-mm reel. With that excitement peculiar to collectors, I asked if there were any films left. “I reckon so. Since maybe sixty years ago when my daddy give up his road showin’.” Read more »

History Still Matters

A distinguished journalist and former presidential adviser says that to find the meaning of any news story, we must dig for its roots in the past

I am fascinated by what I see in the rearview mirror of experience. The future, being a mystery, excites, but the past instructs. When I was a student at the University of Texas, one of the favorite campus legends concerned a professor of anthropology, whose great power was in bringing the past alive through his brilliant lectures on the ascent of the human species.Read more »

Cantaloupes And Atom Bombs

HISTORIANS GOT THEIR instructions early. In the second century B.C. the Roman historian Polybius issued these orders: “Directly a man assumes the moral attitude of an historian he ought to forget all considerations, such as the love of one’s friends, hatred of one’s enemies.Read more »