THE TIMES OF MY LIFE: And My Life with the Times. By Max Frankel.

Random House. 530 pages. $29.95.

                     By Arnold Beichman

     When in 1960 Max Frankel returned from Moscow where he had

been the New York Times bureau chief he wrote with striking

candor that the lone Western correspondent is no match for the

dominating power of the Soviet secret police and the Soviet

bureaucracy. For the true story of the Soviet Union, he said, we

would have to wait for the historians to tell us "what really


     Frankel had the courage to say (and, mind you, this was

being said during the acclaimed "thaw" of the Khrushchev era)

that Western reporting from the Soviet Union was incomplete and

unreliable and he was saying it about himself and the New York

Times whose Moscow correspondent in the early 1930s had been the

unscrupulous Walter Duranty.

     And now we are being told in his own forthright, hard-bitten

prose "what really happened" to Max Frankel at the New York Times

where he rose from reporter to become finally its executive

editor. He retired in 1994, and is now a columnist in the Times

Sunday Magazine.

     One of the fascinating chapters deals with Mr. Frankel's

meetings with another German Jewish emigre, Henry Kissinger. The

two men met often. Mr. Frankel, then the Times' Washington

correspondent, reports on their heated but off-the-record

luncheon debates especially about the war in Vietnam and how

Secretary Kissinger tried to manipulate the news.

     For a practicing journalist or a student of American

newspaper culture, Mr. Frankel's memoir is a goldmine of

fascinating information and documentation about the thinking that

goes on in the head of a New York Times editor. Did you know that

Khrushchev was "the most robust(sic) politician of my time," that

Khrushchev "preach[ed] a politics of redemption," as Mr. Frankel

tells us? After his 1964 Politburo ouster, Khrushchev told his

niece, according to Mr. Frankel, that "you're never going to have

to blush on my account." To which, Mr. Frankel adds "What a proud

epitaph for any leader."

     You wouldn't know that this was the same Khrushchev whose

Red Army caused a blood bath in Hungary in October 1956, the same

Khrushchev who preached not a politics of "redemption" but a

politics which legitimized proxy wars and insurgencies called

"wars of national liberation," the same Khrushchev who told Adlai

Stevenson that "we will bury you," the same Khrushchev who in

1961 built the Berlin Wall and the same Khrushchev who in 1962

precipitated a nuclear confrontation in Cuba. Robust politician,


     Mr. Frankel asks: "Did Americans really value freedom more

than Russians? Would Americans who surrendered so cravenly to

McCarthyism with only their jobs at risk defy a life-threatening

tyranny?" Please, what Americans and how many surrendered

"cravenly" to Joe McCarthy? George Meany and Walter Reuther and

the rest of the American labor movement? Intellectuals like

Sidney Hook, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Richard Rovere and so

many, many more? Was the New York Times, which did not surrender

"cravenly" to McCarthyism, all alone in its opposition? To ask

whether Americans value freedom more than Russians is to ignore

the burdens which Americans bore not only during World War II,

the war in Korea and Vietnam, but also the costs of the Marshall

Plan and of NATO? Would there have been a Berlin airlift without

America? Would there have even been a free Berlin without


     Mr. Frankel takes a peculiar stance towards the Walter

Duranty of the 1960s, Herbert L. Matthews, who did even more for

Fidel Castro than Duranty did for Stalin. Mr. Frankel describes

Mr. Matthews, as "one of those good people who cling to bad

thoughts because good thinking has been preempted by bad people."

How's that again?

     Mr. Frankel tells us that "Herb struggled hard against the

smug certitudes of people who thought that anti-communism was the

only political attitude that mattered." And how about the "smug

certitudes" about Castro, whom Mr. Matthews tried to transform

into a 20th century Simon Bolivar? Would Mr. Frankel sneer at

"the smug certitudes of people" who thought that anti-fascism or

anti-nazism or anti-racism or anti-apartheidism was the only

political attitude that mattered? I would argue that Diana

Trilling had it right when she wrote in her famous essay about J.

Robert Oppenheimer--"a staunch anti-Communism was the great

moral-political imperative of our epoch." For Mr. Frankel Mrs.

Trilling's statement would probably be an example of "smug


     The author was a superb reporter and deservedly won a

Pulitzer Prize. He wrote in clarifying detail from China, from

the Soviet Union, from wherever he reported. It is when he took

over the Times editorial page that his star waned. But it rose

again as executive editor (with no responsibility for the

editorial page) when the Times began to be the money-maker it has

become without compromising or losing its journalistic prowess.


     James Reston, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review in

1966, said about the American press: "Our self-righteousness, I 

can assure you, is undiminished. Our capacity to criticize

everybody and our imperviousness to criticism ourselves, are

still, I believe, unmatched by novelists, poets or anybody else."

I quote Mr. Reston, so admired by the author, since it underlines

the intellectual barrenness of the New York Times editorial page.

From the era of John Oakes (he wanted to endorse the late Bella

Abzug over Pat Moynihan during their 1976 primary battle but the

Times' owner, Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger vetoed an endorsement)

Pat Moynihan during their 1976 primary battle but the Times'

owner, Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger vetoed an endorsement) through

Mr. Frankel's editorship to the present regime of Howell Raines

the Times has yet to realize that in the post-Cold War era old

ideological cliches simply cannot substitute for clarity of moral


     If you are interested in the innermost workings of the

Times, its office politics, and internecine battles among editors

and staff, this book is your meat. It is especially insightful

about the historic Ochs-Sulzberger ownership of the Times. If you

are not interested in Times palace intrigues, there is still a

stirring story of Mr. Frankel's remarkable mother and how she

managed on the eve of the Holocaust to get her family, including

10-year-old Max, out of the Third Reich just before the first

Iron Curtain clanged down.



Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is

a Washington Times columnist.