John Bartlow Martin: A Voice for the Underdog

John Bartlow Martin: A Voice for the Underdog

John Bartlow Martin: A Voice for the Underdog

John Bartlow Martin: A Voice for the Underdog

Synopsis

During the 1940s and 1950s, one name, John Bartlow Martin, dominated the pages of the "big slicks," the Saturday Evening Post, LIFE, Harper's, Look, and Collier's. A former reporter for the Indianapolis Times, Martin was one of a handful of freelance writers able to survive solely on this writing. Over a career that spanned nearly fifty years, his peers lauded him as "the best living reporter," the "ablest crime reporter in America," and "one of America's premier seekers of fact." His deep and abiding concern for the working class, perhaps a result of his upbringing, set him apart from other reporters. Martin was a key speechwriter and adviser to the presidential campaigns of many prominent Democrats from 1950 into the 1970s, including those of Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, and George McGovern. He served as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic during the Kennedy administration and earned a small measure of fame when FCC Chairman Newton Minow introduced his description of television as "a vast wasteland" into the nation's vocabulary.

Excerpt

Colonel Robert R. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune and Eleanor “Cissy” Patterson of the Washington Times-Herald were not only cousins, but publishers that held enormous sway as isolationists warning against American involvement in World War ii. in 1979 their stories were told in separate biographies, McCormick by Joseph Gies and Patterson by Ralph G. Martin. Considering the books, a reviewer in the September 30, 1979, issue of the Tribune used the opportunity to muse on the endless difficulties involved in writing a biography. “Too much detail will bore the reader, too little will disappoint him. To what extent should the author act as an advocate of his subject? To what extent a critic?” the reviewer asked. “How is he to make his subject come alive, to breathe? How can he answer the terrible question: What made him the man he was? How much of his private life as well as his public life to include? What, aside from the laws of libel and invasion of privacy, sets limits? Taste? But whose taste? the biographer’s obviously; but this is a grave responsibility.”

The reviewer, John Bartlow Martin, was no stranger to the field, as just a few years before he had produced the definitive two-volume biography of former Illinois governor and two-time Democratic presidential candidate Adlai E. Stevenson. To Martin, the authors of the McCormick and Patterson biographies had failed to make their subjects come alive for their readers. the works on the newspaper titans paled in comparison to writers he believed had admirably surmounted the difficulties he had posed for crafting a biography – Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in Robert Kennedy and His Times and William Manchester in his biography of . . .

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