Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mitchell Stephens's "The Voice of America"

Mitchell Stephens is a long-time professor of Journalism at New York University and the author of A History of News, a New York Times “notable book of the year.” Stephens also has written several other books on journalism and media, including Beyond News: The Future of Journalism and the rise of the image the fall of the word. He also published Imagine There’s No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World.

Stephens applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Voice of America: Lowell Thomas and the Invention of 20th-Century Journalism, and reported the following:
To sample the quality of a book, Ford Madox Ford has suggested, we turn to page 99. Well that page is dominated in my new biography of the journalist and adventurer Lowell Thomas by none other than T. E. Lawrence.

No surprise, that. “Lawrence of Arabia,” sometimes atop a camel, clip clops across dozens of the book’s pages. And I’m confident that he is encamped on page 99 of plenty of other books, too. Lawrence himself has been the subject of dozens of biographies.

Lowell Thomas has now become the subject of a total of one biography. Yet it is safe to say that there would be no legend of “Lawrence of Arabia” – no film, few biographies – if it were not for Thomas. Indeed page 99 of my book more or less says that:
Thomas, then only 26, was the only journalist to visit Lawrence in Arabia. Thomas’ multi-media lecture on Lawrence, which played before huge audiences in London then around the world, is what bestowed upon Lawrence his outsized fame. Then Thomas published the first of the books on Lawrence – another grand success for its author and another bath in the limelight for its subject.
T. E. Lawrence was conflicted, troubled, brilliant. His Boswell, Lowell Thomas, was also very clever but otherwise Lawrence’s opposite. Their relationship, consequently, was complex, difficult, fascinating. The full force of Thomas’s remarkable talent as a journalist and storyteller was first unleashed upon Lawrence. And the subject of that reporting, who very strongly did and did not want the attention, both exploited and despised the resultant notoriety.

But Lowell Thomas had a surfeit of additional claims to fame – unrecognized on page 99.

He was, to begin with, one of the great travelers of his time – a time when large parts of the world were still inhospitable to travelers. Thomas penetrated not only Arabia but Alaska, the Yukon, Afghanistan, New Guinea, Antarctica and – by mule caravan in 1949, right before the Chinese Communist invasion – Tibet.

And Lowell Thomas told the news – through his radio newscasts and his newsreels – to as large a percentage of the American people as anyone ever has. Thomas fathered broadcast journalism. Indeed, the style Thomas helped introduce – authoritative, nonpartisan – became what we call today “traditional journalism.”

T. E. Lawrence had a short, difficult life. Lowell Thomas had a long, expansive, significant life. This storyteller’s story was great fun to recount – in 284 pages.
Visit Mitchell Stephens's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Voice of America.

--Marshal Zeringue