Reeves, Richard 1936-
Reeves, Richard 1936-
Born November 28, 1936, in New York, NY; son of Furman W. (a judge) and Dorothy Reeves; married Carol A. Wiegand, June 1, 1959 (divorced, 1971); married Catherine E. O'Neill, July 28, 1979; children: (first marriage) Cynthia Ann, Jeffrey Richard, (second marriage) Fiona O'Neill, (stepchildren) Colin, Conor, Fiona. Education: Stevens Institute of Technology, M.E., 1960.
Ingersoll-Rand Co., Phillipsburg, NJ, engineer, 1960-61; Phillipsburg Free Press, Phillipsburg, editor, 1961-63; Newark News, Newark, NJ, reporter, 1963-65; New York Herald Tribune, New York, NY, reporter, 1965-66; New York Times, New York, NY, reporter, 1966-69, chief political correspondent, 1969-71; New York, New York, NY, editor and columnist, 1971-76; Esquire, New York, NY, national editor and columnist, 1976-80; syndicated columnist, 1979—; chief correspondent, Frontline, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS-TV), 1981-84. Lecturer, Hunter College of the City University of New York, 1969-70, Columbia University, 1971-72; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Regents Professor of Political Science, 1992-94; visiting professor, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, 1998—. Host of National Broadcasting Company (NBC-TV) series Sunday, 1973-76; host of PBS-TV documentary, American Journey, 1983. Consultant to Ford Foundation.
Silver Gavel, American Bar Association, 1968; Emmy Award, 1980, for documentary Lights, Camera, Politics; Christopher Book Award, 1982, for American Journey; Time Book of the Year, Washington Monthly Book of the Year, and PEN Non-Fiction Book of the Year, all 1993, all for President Kennedy: Profile of Power; Carey McWilliams Award, American Political Science Association, 1998, for distinguished contributions to the understanding of American politics; Literary Lion, New York Public Library; Lifetime Achievement Award, National Society of Newspaper Columnists, 1998.
A Ford, Not a Lincoln, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1975.
Old Faces of 1976, Harper (New York, NY), 1976.
Convention, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1977.
Jet Lag: The Running Commentary of a Bicoastal Reporter, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1981.
American Journey: Traveling with Tocqueville in Search of Democracy in America (also see below), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982.
The Reagan Detour: Conservative Revolutionary, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1985.
President Kennedy: Profile of Power, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.
(Editor, with Shanto Iyengar) Do the Media Govern? Politicians, Voters, and Reporters in America, Sage (Thousand Oaks, CA), 1997.
Family Travels: Around the World in Thirty (or So) Days, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1997.
What the People Know: Freedom and the Press, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.
President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.
President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.
A Force of Nature: The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.
Columnist for Harper's, 1971-72. Contributor of articles to magazines, including New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Reader's Digest, New York, Playboy, Saturday Review, New Leader, and New Yorker.
American Journey, a documentary film made with Malcolm Clarke and based on Reeves's book of same title was broadcast on PBS-TV in 1983.
Veteran political reporter Richard Reeves has admitted to having "a bias in writing about politicians," as he writes in his first book, A Ford, Not a Lincoln. "I don't feel any great obligation to recount their many and varied personal virtues. That is what they, or the taxpayers, are paying for in the salaries and fees of press secretaries, media advisers, and advertising agencies." This resistance to sanitizing the faults of his subjects is reflected in his analysis of former President Gerald Ford, a report "concentrated on the President's first one hundred days, but going consider- ably beyond to Gerald Ford's entire history," as Dorothy Rabinowitz described in the Saturday Review. In the process of examining Ford's political career, Reeves hypothesizes that Ford's selection as vice president and subsequent elevation to president was due to a political system which encourages mediocrity and to the triumph of "the least objectionable alternative," as he defines it. In addition, Reeves "directs his most telling criticism at the icon of Gerald Ford, the man of candor," summarized Newsweek contributor Paul D. Zimmerman. "He cites instances grand and petty in which he claims that Ford deceived the public, often out of … mendacious reflex." "Mr. Reeves builds his case not only on his 10-year experience in president-watching," wrote Brad Knickerbocker in the Christian Science Monitor, "but on the candid observations of many of the President's own supporters and staff members, some quoted by name, others anonymous."
Reeves's direct, blunt tactics have disturbed some critics, who believe that they encourage bias and thus obscure the subject. "The author's approach to political writing is uncongenial although he is no more than a light muckraker," said New Statesman contributor Peter Jenkins. This investigative "fashion, all the rage in American journalism at the moment, has driven out understanding." Similarly, William F. Buckley, Jr., observed in the New York Times Book Review that "the candor-talk becomes particularly unpleasant as one comes reluctantly to the conclusion that Reeves is enjoying it for unwholesome reasons." Nevertheless, Buckley admitted that "Reeves is among the two or three sprightliest political writers in America, and it is difficult for him to fail to be interesting." And Knickerbocker commented that A Ford, Not a Lincoln is "well-written, apparently well-researched, and its biases are up front (where they belong). It will make readers think, and that is its greatest value," he concluded. "Theories aside," noted Zimmerman, "Reeves's report is frightening and provocative in its demystification of a President whose hallmark is his openness."
For Convention, a report on the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City, the journalist used a comparable approach to his research by gathering information from widely varying sources, including diaries kept by delegates and interviews with both the famous and the infamous. The result is that Reeves is able "to transmit the flavor of the convention—far better than a TV camera which, despite its fantastic capabilities, is still an impersonal instrument," remarked George E. Reedy in the New York Times Book Review. "This he does through a series of vignettes which recapture the things people really remember but usually do not record about such gatherings." Garry Wills found this collection of anecdotes "a rich and gossipy book one reads with a guilty pleasure," as he wrote in the New York Review of Books. "[Reeves] replaces that old Journalistic standby, the gabby cabdriver, with the pontificating hooker." Washington Post Book World contributor Haynes Johnson, however, considered this "attempt to drag the sleazier side of New York's fleshpots and streetwalkers into the convention orbit" distracting and ineffective. But what the author does, "and superbly," wrote Johnson, "is to delineate that cast of political operators who descended, from all competing camps, on New York. He shows us the posturing, the pomposity, the arrogance, the overwhelming sense of exaggerated self-importance of scores of political hustlers."
Saturday Review contributor Robert Lekachman, however, commented that Convention "is more informative about New York and its media and unions than it is about Democratic politics." The critic believed that due to the lack of real controversy or suspense at the gathering, "Reeves apparently decided to write an entertaining but trivial diary of minor happenings." "Neither do you get from Reeves's book any sharp sense of [presidential nominee Jimmy] Carter and his key people," wrote Johnson. "But then," acknowledged the critic, "that isn't his primary focus." John Leonard also saw a broad focus to the work, and criticized the author for neglecting to search out any deeper meaning. "What is missing from Convention is Richard Reeves," the critic wrote in the New York Times. "One of our smartest political reporters and analysts, a man who fairly bristles with opinions, a porcupine among trained parrots and seals, has locked his generalizing impulse in a closet." Newsweek reviewer Peter S. Prescott expressed a similar opinion, noting that Reeves demonstrates "no personal style or presence." Despite these supposed shortcomings, Reeves is still able to capture, "with a high rate of success, the look and feel and smell of politics and all of its gaudy trappings," commented Johnson. "The narrator's eye sweeps over the whole monumental cast," wrote James P. Potter in the National Review, "and focuses on a score of the more colorful individuals in the crowd, providing a clear-sighted glimpse into this tinsel circus."
Reeves turned from American politics to the U.S. political system with American Journey: Traveling with Tocqueville in Search of Democracy in America. In collect- ing information for this book, Reeves decided to retrace the 1831 travels of Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who wrote a survey of the young America and its people in Democracy in America. "Following in the Master's pathway," described Alden Whitman in the Chicago Tribune Book World, the author "interviewed the present-day counterparts—and at least one direct descendant—of the businessmen, politicians, academics and others that Tocqueville spoke to." Because Reeves "had the sense to write his own book," as Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Michael Parfit explained, American Journey "stands apart as a robust, detailed look at this nation's self-awareness, sharpened rather than overshadowed by Reeves's decision to take Tocqueville along." In an interview with Christian Science Monitor writer Maggie Lewis, Reeves explained the role Tocqueville's work played in his study: "He was important to me because his work and journals and the internal debates that were in the journals before he came to the conclusions gave me context in which to look at America that was separate from my own experience. It gave me a platform to try to see it from a distance."
Although they acknowledge the originality of the author's retracing of Tocqueville's path, critics disagree on Reeves's degree of success in working with the classic text. While he calls much of American Journey "fascinating, and chilling, reading," New York Times Book Review contributor Andrew Hacker faulted the author for giving "few signs of pondering what the basic message of ‘Democracy in America’ is, even though he intersperses quotations from it throughout his text." The critic was also disappointed that "Reeves fails to relate his interviews to his predecessor's major themes." Similarly, Robert R. Harris believed that the author raises questions about his subject without providing answers; the critic stated in the Saturday Review that "while Reeves dutifully explores that complexity [of American democracy], he does not sort it out with much originality." However, John Skow commented in Time that "what Reeves does very well is throw important ideas, his own and Tocqueville's, into the air" for the reader to explore. "Reeves's reporting and analysis compare well with Tocqueville's own, which is to say they are first rate."
The broad scope of Reeves's study has also led to criticism; for example, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, contributor to the New York Times found that an average chapter of the book "tries to cover so many disparate subjects that a reader usually feels as if he is trying breathlessly to catch up." "For all his shrewd comment," observed Thomas R. Edwards in the New York Review of Books, the author's "subjects remain the staples of popular journalism, and his tireless investigation of witnesses causes a problem of focus." But Jonathan Yardley, who called Reeves "a skillful reporter and a sophisticated student of political and social process," related in the Washington Post Book World that he read American Journey "with steadily increasing admiration for the care with which Reeves has brought together an enormous amount of seemingly discrete information, and for the intelligence with which he analyzes it." "What obviously makes Reeves such a good reporter and his book such good reportage," detailed Whitman, "is that he conveys his fascination with the United States in such crisp and lively writing. He has an ear for different voices and transmits them with flavor and economy." Parfit similarly noted that because of the book's anecdotal form, "it offers more than just rhetorical conclusions…. Out of this story of encounters with individual Americans comes a view of a people, a view independent of and stronger than Reeves's sometimes understated analyses; people may be cynical and pessimistic … but these same people remain devoted to the great hope of equality." This conclusion reflects the author's remark to Lewis that while he began this assignment with his usual cynical approach, "I realized people are much more in control of their lives … they're much more optimistic, and they were much more like each other and like the people Tocqueville saw."
Reeves similarly uses a journey in writing Passage to Peshawar: Pakistan Between the Hindu Kush and the Arabian Sea, for which he traveled through the Asian country, recording his personal reactions to it and its people. The book "is teeming with contrasts in landscape, incident and innuendo, all of which are tamed by the keen eye and vivid insights of the narrator," commented Peter Fuhrman in the Christian Science Monitor. "In this case, it is Mr. Reeves who brings order to an otherwise chaotic profusion, or at the very least reduces it to an understandable progression of random occurrences." "A good reporter, though, has to communicate more than personal adventures," asserted New York Times Book Review contributor Garrick Utley. "The reader wants impressions distilled through a fine eye and a sensitive mind." Utley said that Reeves succeeds in bringing Pakistan to his readers because his book "is deliberately unambitious. It focuses on how a self-confessed American ‘innocent abroad’ faces up to his emotional reactions and biases when confronted with a way of life difficult for a Westerner to comprehend, let alone accept."
Passage to Peshawar relates these reactions to Pakistan through "a series of interwoven essays that give us a feel for the dynamics of the place and especially for the region that is currently the focal point of American policy in the area—the wild Afghan border territory," wrote Richard Weintraub in the Washington Post. "In the process, he sets very basic points in sharp relief, cutting through some of the misconceptions that fog our understanding." The value of this volume "rests largely with the author's ability to communicate, in language both precise and evocative, the tugs of modernity and tradition on the turbid soul of this populous nation," noted Fuhrman. "Reeves, one of America's ablest political reporters, probes the many incongruities of Pakistan, questioning, examining, weighing with the conscience of a self-professed ‘innocent abroad,’ the traumas of the society lurching toward an uncertain destiny," adds the critic. Although Reeves chose a complex and sometimes cryptic subject for his book, Fuhrman wrote that he "succeeds masterfully." The critic concluded by calling Passage to Peshawar "a virtuoso performance by a first-rate journalist at the peak of his reportorial and interpretive powers."
In addition to his book about the 1976 Democratic Convention and Jimmy Carter, Reeves has written books focusing on four former presidents and their administrations, beginning with The Reagan Detour: Conservative Revolutionary, published in 1985. In 1993 President Kennedy: Profile of Power was published to wide acclaim, garnering Reeves several awards, including the PEN Nonfiction Book of the Year award. "This is the best book yet about the Kennedy administration," concluded Charles Peters in his review for Washington Monthly. Reeves's book gained respect for its in-depth look into the administration and for not glossing over its negative aspects, including how the Kennedy administration dealt with forming policy issues for countries such as Cuba and Vietnam. "Issue oriented though it is, President Kennedy reveals the man as well as the Chief Executive," wrote Bruce W. Nelan in Time. Reeves's portrait of J.F.K. paints a picture of an impatient man with great charm and a questionable moral center whose only strong ideology was the need to counteract communism. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented: "Precise and penetrating in its analysis, Reeves's microscopic examination of Kennedy during his presidency makes for compelling reading."
Reeves's next book, Running in Place: How Bill Clinton Disappointed America, focuses on the many aspects of President Bill Clinton's administration during its first four years. In it Reeves conveys how he believes the administration and the man himself were disappointing leaders, dashing the high hopes many had for them. Published before Clinton's re-election to a second term in 1996, the book outlines the administration's various missteps over four years and argues that Clinton and his staff failed to inspire the American people. Writing in Booklist, reviewer Ray Olson noted: "Although just the thing to read before November 5, Reeves's analysis is perspicacious enough to last beyond election day."
Reeves's next book about an American president was published in 2001. In President Nixon: Alone in the White House, the author draws an authoritative and complex portrait of Nixon based on thousands of pages of archival material, including Nixon's own handwritten "affirmations" to himself, and interviews with associates. In fact, according to Reeves, the many self-affirmations that Nixon wrote, such as "need to be good to do good" or "guts to stand alone," are quoted to great extent in the book because they best reveal the man's inner being and how he thought. Writing in the New Leader, Andrew J. Glass called the book a "finely crafted, voluminously documented new biography." He also noted: "In reconstructing the Nixon Presidency from its innermost core, Reeves probes the often conflicting facts of his subject's devious political mind without resorting to any tedious psychobabble." Commenting that the book on Nixon follows the same narrative structure of Reeves's book on Kennedy, reviewer Rick Perlstein, writing in the New York Times Book Review, praised President Nixon for its insights. "It's hard to think of a better introduction to the man and his presidency," wrote Perlstein. "It's worth reading for experts as well. One ultimately must rate such a volume for the judiciousness, skill and force of its preferred emphases. Reeves's are sharp."
President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination focuses on yet another U.S. president. The book focuses only on the years during which Reagan was in the White House, ignoring his much-covered earlier career, both in politics and as an actor. Reeves performed countless hours of research, both through archival materials and the press reports of the day, and interviewed numerous individuals who were close to the President during his years in office, however he does note that only a small percentage of the Reagan files were accessible at the time of writing. While he offers nothing new in the way of information, the book was praised by critics as a clear, readable biography of President Reagan for the time period covered. Michael O. Eshleman in a review for Library Journal, found the book "especially good at covering the assassination attempt and the Reykjavik summit with Soviet leader Gorbachev," noting that "readers get a sense of being there." Booklist contributor Gilbert Taylor commented: "Meticulous and fair, Reeves sets the bar for the historian who would attempt a definitive history of the Reagan years." In a review for the New York Times Book Review, Adrian Wooldridge noted: "Reeves brings a biographical technique that he has honed in two previous books … to the Reagan enigma. The essence of this technique is to focus on the goals that his subjects set for themselves and then immerse the reader in a river of narrative." Wooldridge went on to add: "This makes for refreshingly nonjudgmental books." Noting that Reeves was not a fan of Reagan's politics, an issue which seems to have shone through in his writing, Commentary contributor James Nuecherterlein observed: "Torn as the book is between Reeves's obvious disapproval of Reagan's policies and his grudging appreciation of what he accomplished, and never stopping to offer a considered judgment, President Reagan ends in the same muddle that it has been all along."
Reeves has also written books about the media, including Do the Media Govern? Politicians, Voters, and Reporters in America, which he coauthored with Shanto Iyengar, and What the People Know: Freedom and the Press. In What the People Know, Reeves uses history and anecdotes to express his concerns about the future of journalism under what he perceives as corrupt corporate sponsorship that focuses less and less on important hard news and more on the sensational, a change that is intricately tied to business profits. "In one slender, elegant volume, the seasoned journalist Richard Reeves has written many things, among them a critique, a remembrance and a lamentation," wrote Carl Sessions Stepp in the American Journalism Review. "Most of all, he has issued a call to arms."
Reeves has also written on subjects far removed from politics and the media. In Family Travels: Around the World in Thirty (or So) Days, he recounts his family's thirty-four-day trip around the world in 1995. Well received for its clear writing and engaging look at numerous countries, the book includes logs that individual members of the family kept during the trip. A reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly noted: "It's a jolly, exuberant, informative tour of the world that, for all its brevity, manages a scope and vividness that would likely amaze and engage even Jules Verne."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Reeves, Richard, A Ford, Not a Lincoln, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1975.
American Journalism Review, December, 1998, Carl Sessions Stepp, review of What the People Know: Freedom and the Press, p. 71.
American Prospect, November 5, 2001, Michael Nelson, review of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, pp. 42-47.
Booklist, August, 1993, Gilbert Taylor, review of President Kennedy: Profile of Power, p. 2011; March 15, 1996, Ray Olson, review of Running in Place: How Bill Clinton Disappointed America, p. 1238; March 1, 1997, Mary Carroll, review of Family Travels: Around the World in Thirty (or So) Days, p. 1107; November 15, 1998, Mary Carroll, review of What the People Know, p. 549; August, 2001, Mary Carroll, review of President Nixon, p. 2048; November 15, 2005, Gilbert Taylor, review of President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination, p. 4.
Chicago Tribune Book World, August 22, 1982, Alden Whitman, review of American Journey: Traveling with Tocqueville in Search of Democracy in America.
Christian Science Monitor, November 11, 1975, Brad Knickerbocker, review of A Ford, Not a Lincoln, p. 26; July 1, 1982, Maggie Lewis, review of American Journey, p. B1; December 6, 1984, Peter Fuhrman, review of Passage to Peshawar: Pakistan, Between the Hindu Kush and the Arabian Sea, p. 43; October 22, 1998, Steve Weinberg, review of What the People Know, p. B9.
Columbia Journalism Review, November, 1998, review of What the People Know, p. 67.
Commentary, January, 2006, James Nuechterlein, "American Dreamer," review of President Reagan, p. 82.
Economist, January 30, 1999, "News That's Fit to Print," p. 79.
Foreign Affairs, November-December, 1993, Stephen E. Ambrose, review of President Kennedy, pp. 164-165.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, October 24, 2001, Jim Wright, review of President Nixon, p. K3700.
Library Journal, September 15, 1993, Karl Helicher, review of President Kennedy, p. 85; February 15, 1997, Ann E. Cohen, review of Family Travels, p. 154; October 1, 1998, Jim G. Burns, review of What the People Know, p. 106; August, 2001, Karl Helicher, review of President Nixon, p. 124; December 1, 2005, Michael O. Eshleman, review of President Reagan, p. 142.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 6, 1982, Michael Parfit, review of American Journey, p. 3.
National Review, May 27, 1977, James P. Potter, review of Convention, p. 625; December 31, 1994, William F. Buckley, Jr., review of President Kennedy, pp. 31-32; July 29, 1996, Ramesh Ponnuru, review of Running in Place, pp. 46-48.
New Leader, January 17, 1994, Steven V. Roberts, review of President Kennedy, pp. 16-18; September, 2001, Andrew J. Glass, review of President Nixon, p. 19.
New Republic, November 29, 1993, Joe Klein, review of President Kennedy, pp. 32-38.
New Statesman, March 5, 1976, Peter Jenkins, review of A Ford, Not a Lincoln, p. 294.
Newsweek, October 27, 1975, Paul D. Zimmerman, review of A Ford, Not a Lincoln, p. 100; March 7, 1977, Peter S. Prescott, review of Convention, p. 88; May 17, 1982, review of American Journey, p. 7.
New York Review of Books, October 16, 1975, review of A Ford, Not a Lincoln, p. 18; April 28, 1977, Garry Wills, review of Convention, p. 11; July 15, 1982, Thomas R. Edwards, review of American Journey, p. 28.
New York Times, March 8, 1977, John Leonard, review of Convention, p. 35; June 2, 1982, Christopher Lehman-Haupt, review of American Journey, p. 23; October 8, 1993, Michiko Kakutani, review of President Kennedy, pp. B9, C31.
New York Times Book Review, October 26, 1975, William F. Buckley, Jr., review of A Ford, Not a Lincoln, p. 8; March 20, 1977, George E. Reedy, review of Convention, p. 3; December 12, 1982, Andrew Hacker, review of American Journey, p. 7; December 9, 1984, Garrick Utley, review of Passage to Peshawar, p. 39; June 9, 1996, Michael Wright, review of Running in Place, p. 15; April 4, 1999, review of What the People Know, p. 16; October 14, 2001, Rick Perlstein, review of President Nixon, p. 15; January 29, 2006, Adrian Wooldridge, "The Great Delegator," review of President Reagan, p. L11.
People, November 29, 1993, Ralph Novak, review of President Kennedy, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, August 9, 1993, review of President Kennedy, pp. 426-427; January 20, 1997, review of Family Travels, pp. 386-387; October 19, 1998, review of What the People Know, p. 69; August 6, 2001, review of President Nixon, p. 70.
Saturday Review, October 18, 1975, Dorothy Rabinowitz, review of A Ford, Not a Lincoln, p. 18; March 19, 1977, Robert Lekachman, review of Convention, p. 35; May, 1982, Robert R. Harris, review of American Journey, p. 59.
Time, May 31, 1982, John Skow, review of American Journey, p. 76; October 18, 1993, Bruce W. Nelan, review of President Kennedy, pp. 102-103.
U.S. News & World Report, November 22, 1993, John Leo, review of President Kennedy, pp. 19.
Washington Monthly, November 23, 1993, Charles Peters, review of President Kennedy, p. 55.
Washington Post, December 22, 1984, Richard Weintraub, review of Passage to Peshawar; October 7, 2001, "Still the One," p. T3.
Washington Post Book World, March 27, 1977, Haynes Johnson, review of Convention; May 30, 1982, Jonathan Yardley, review of American Journey.
Richard Reeves Home Page,http://www.richardreeves.com (December, 18, 2001).