Howell Raines was the executive editor of the New York Times during the Jayson Blair scandal, and ended up getting fired over it. In May 2004 he wrote a long and scathing and fascinating piece in the Atlantic Monthly about the Times and its culture and what went wrong. There are times when I write things on here and I consciously make an effort to make sure I'm being appropriately self-effacing. Howell Raines doesn't do that in the Atlantic piece, but it's almost forgiveable, because we very rarely get candid, insider looks at journalism the way we do in the piece.
I expected Raines's new memoir, "The One That Got Away," to have more of that. More about his life as a journalist, about how to fix The New York Times, about something I'd be interested in reading about. It doesn't. It's about fly-fishing. And maybe it's about fly-fishing as a metaphor for life, but I didn't get there. It's getting great reviews, so, really, it's probably about fly-fishing as a metaphor for something, or else other people like reading about fly-fishing more than I do. There are moments when he turns to talking about journalism, and those are the moments I stopped flipping pages quickly and actually read. I feel like Howell Raines writes with no filter. With no thought to what you say in your own head versus what you put out there to the world. Maybe that's a good thing. But he thinks really, really highly of himself, like (and this isn't a quote, it's just my own paraphrase I'm putting in quotation marks) "I knew I was going to one day run the New York Times, but I also wanted to make sure I had time to be a best-selling novelist, and take advantage of all of the romantic opportunities available to a wonderful and handsome man like me." That's basically the tone of the journalism parts of the book. And there's nothing in the book about the Times or about journalism that he didn't say better, or in more detail, in the Atlantic Monthly piece. I must be missing something, about the fly-fishing, because I just didn't get the book, at all. Oh well.