People's Witness: The Journalist in Modern Politics by Fred Inglis - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

They Have Been at the Core of Great Events

People's Witness: The Journalist in Modern Politics


Yale University Press 352pp £18.95 order from our bookshop

In this big, rambling, usually interesting, occasionally fascinating, and often irritating book, Fred Inglis attempts two things: a survey of modern journalism (that is, the journalism of the last hundred or so years) and an examination of the lives of a couple of dozen star journalists and a few of the great monster-proprietors. The former he calls the 'political journalists', a very broad category indeed, ranging from war reporters to political novelists. Grandly, he pronounces (and Inglis has a tendency to express his beliefs in Olympian terms): 'it has been political journalists who have been our best-known, even our leading storytellers.' Yet more grandly, he says that these journalists work around 'the edges of the century's great events'; this, however, is often contradicted by Inglis's well-told accounts of journalists working right at the core of great events.

Along the way, he discusses mighty matters like truth, accuracy, idealism, ethics, objectivity, fame, and money. He shows convincingly that a few very good journalists achieve Joseph Conrad's goal - to make us see. Edward R Murrow, for example, describing his experiences during the London Blitz, told his radio audience:

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

East of the Wardrobe

Follow Literary Review on Twitter