by Scott Pelley
Familiar stories told with a unique viewpoint
We all know most of the stories in Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter’s Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Times, but what is unique is the personal viewpoint of Scott Pelley. Right up front, I’m going to confess that I don’t care for the book when he descends into political discussion and partisan opinions, because I’d prefer that the book be wholly unbiased in an old-fashioned journalistic manner. But we are all biased in one way or another about every aspect of our life, and Scott Pelley, for the most part, manages in much of the book to not only be unbiased, but to speak respectfully and often favorably of players from the “other side.” That counts for a lot with me, because I am so tired of the vitriolic divide in our country’s politics. That frustration almost kept me from reading this book, and I’m so glad that it didn’t. Sorry, but I’m a firm believer in “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
Yes, we know these stories. For instance, I watched the horrors of 9/11 as a grad student with a young child and wondered what the world had become. I saw the people leaping from the building, the papers fluttering down, heard stories from my sister in DC about miraculous ways her students’ parents just happened to not be in the Trade Center or Pentagon or in someone else’s office. Deliverance was a forgotten lunch, a dentist appointment, stepping into a colleague’s office, and other minor acts of life. But the way that Scott Pelley relates it with the stories of individual victims, firefighters, first responders, etc., and the statistics that we’ve forgotten over the years. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself weeping and remembering those figures marching through the ash clouds, flames gouting from buildings, small figures leaping into the abyss, those words spoken on cell phones to reach loved ones, phrases launching brave people into an attack on our attackers… What a powerful way to start the book.
And the stories just go on, so many incredible heart-wrenching, mind-opening stories. Whether presidents, soldiers, doctors, inventors, rock stars, popes, Wall Street hucksters, etc., just so many stories and so much data and information. And about a third of the way through… a lesson in gratitude and a witness to Scott Pelley’s perseverance and strength of character. That was worth the book in and of itself.
I utterly loved what Bruce Springsteen had to say during his interview:
“It’s unpatriotic to sit back and let things pass that are damaging to the place that you love so dearly, the place that has given me so much, and that I believe in. I still feel and see us as a beacon of hope and possibility. There’s a part of the singer, going way back in American history, that is the canary in the coal mine. When it gets dark, you’re supposed to be singing. It’s dark right now. And so, I went back to Woody Guthrie and Dylan and Pete Seeger. Seeger didn’t want to know how a song sounds, he wanted to know, ‘what’s the song for?’”
At the end of our interview, I asked, “In your opinion, at this moment in this country, what needs to be said?” When you read Springsteen’s answer, remember this was 2007, not 2019. “I think we live in a time when what is true can be made to seem a lie and what is a lie can be made to seem true. And I think that the successful manipulation of those things has characterized several of our past elections. That level of hubris and arrogance has got us in the mess that we’re in right now. And we’re in a mess. But if we subvert the best things that we’re about, in the name of protecting our freedoms, if we remove them, then, who are we becoming? The American idea is a beautiful idea. It needs to be preserved, served, protected and sung out. Sung out! That’s what I’m going to do.”
I kept reading passages to my family and making my book glow with a thousand yellow highlights of passages I wanted to remember, including the quote below from Scott Pelley himself (he was careful to note elsewhere that he never reported anything that could put someone or an operation at risk. He was very careful to censor himself.) He just doesn’t believe the government has the right to censor journalists, just as our founding fathers didn’t.
“The word democracy is a mashup of the Greek demos and kratia, meaning “the people rule.” Citizens cannot rule what they cannot see. When reporting is barred from the battlefield, the people no longer rule.” (Again, please note, he’s not advocating reporting anything that would put an operation at risk, but simply letting the people know what is going on and how the conflict is progressing, etc. There’s a fine line in there.)
If you have any interest in history, any of the events discussed, journalism, or a lesson in perseverance, this book is for you.
I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from the publisher through NetGalley. My opinions are my own.
Don’t ask the meaning of life. Life is asking, what’s the meaning of you?
With this provocative question, Truth Worth Telling introduces us to unforgettable people who discovered the meaning of their lives in the historic events of our times.
A 60 Minutes correspondent and former anchor of the CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley writes as a witness to events that changed our world. In moving, detailed prose, he stands with firefighters at the collapsing World Trade Center on 9/11, advances with American troops in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, and reveals private moments with presidents (and would-be presidents) he’s known for decades. Pelley also offers a resounding defense of free speech and a free press as the rights that guarantee all others.
Above all, Truth Worth Telling offers a collection of inspiring tales that reminds us of the importance of values in uncertain times. For readers who believe that values matter and that truth is worth telling, Pelley writes, “I have written this book for you.”