On the New York Times's Op-Ed page, Herbert offers reportage-based columns, a counterpart-earnest, rueful, angry-to Maureen Dowd's savage comedies and Paul Krugman's closely argued economic indictments. If Herbert fails to find new language to describe the abuse of power and lack of social justice in the U.S., he is reliable in continuing to bring the news. His strongest work here is a series on Tulia, Tex., where a ne'er-do-well white undercover agent sent 46 black "drug traffickers" to prison on scant evidence; Herbert's columns spurred Justice Department redress. Sometimes his columns are prompted by studies from interest groups, but that doesn't mean he doesn't get out of the office, meeting young unemployed and undereducated Chicagoans, for example. At times, Herbert writes with effective passion; his stance against the war in Iraq is enhanced by his reflection on "Know Your Enemy" posters he saw in his own service days. Too often, however, Herbert's voice is lost amidst his dutiful qouting of sources, attentuating his power. (May 4) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Crusading op-ed columnist for the New York Times, Herbert uses plenty of potent examples to show us how badly America has let down minorities, working people, and children. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
There's a fire burning in America's basement, New York Times columnist Herbert urges in this well-chosen collection of op-ed pieces. No one's rushing to put it out. Instead, "we're behaving as if we cannot even smell the smoke."What's wrong with America today? Well, Herbert suggests, it's hard to put a finger on the one big prime mover; suffice it to say that even though we are the world's sole superpower, at least for the moment, and richer than Croesus, "there is a sense of things out of whack, of the center caving, of obligations unmet and promises betrayed." That's the kind of thing that happens when a black man is lynched in a small Southern town, when in another small Southern town the word of a single rogue cop can put more than 10 percent of the African-American population in jail on suspicion of drug dealing. That's the kind of thing that happens, too, when citizens are rounded up en masse, the police reasoning that they can sort out the guilty from the innocent-the same logic applied in New York City, in other words, as in Guantanamo Bay. And so on. Herbert is outraged by the countless outrages wrought by the Bush era, and though his displeasure sometimes provokes rhetorical excess-does anyone but a straw man imagine that education is really a national priority, after all?-in the main it comes wrapped in plenty of facts and figures and specifics, none of them pretty. The op-ed format, of course, doesn't allow much room for sophisticated argumentation, seldom affording more than a few hundred words at a pop; and journalism is by its definition ephemeral, so that many of the instances that prompted these pieces will soon be forgotten. Even so, Herbert holds up better than most,and his explorations of such things as the outsourcing of American jobs and the Halliburtonization of the Iraq War, though not the final word, ought to still raise a few hackles among readers of a certain bent. Heroes and villains, good guys and bad: white-hot dissent from a practiced pen.
From the Publisher
"Beneath the sharp analysis and straightforward prose of Bob Herbert's columns is dogged and, often, ferocious reporting. Herbert is determined to narrate in vivid detail the tragedies and triumphs of invisible Americans in their everyday lives. Whether writing about criminal injustice in Tulia, Texas, or worlds at war in Iraq, Herbert brings to bear on his subjects fierce intelligence, no-nonsense reasoning, and unflinching honesty. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about the state of the American people-and, by extension, of our country-as we plunge headlong into the twenty-first century."
-Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"Bob Herbert's strong, brilliant voice consistently reminds America of where we still fall short of the ideals of the nation we want to be and can become."
-Marian Wright Edelman
"You will not forget the people in this book. They are people Bob Herbert will not let us forget. His journalism has the power of Dickens to enable us to see life as others experience it. In an era that may one day be known for the tragic meltdown of American journalism, Bob Herbert brings us back to the fundamentals-to what happens to our craft when it is practiced by a man who considers it a calling."
"Bob Herbert is the conscience of a great newspaper, a powerfully compelling and consistent voice for underdogs of all colors, ages, and genders. With Promises Betrayed, you can read him in one big, bracing, highly nutritional dose that will propel you off the couch and into action!"
Read an Excerpt
From Promises Betrayed:
On the morning of July 23, 1999, law enforcement officers fanned out and arrested more than 10 percent of the tiny African-American population of Tulia, Texas, a hot, dusty town of 5,000 about fifty miles south of Amarillo.
The humiliating roundup was intensely covered by the local media, which had been tipped off in advance. Men and women, bewildered and unkempt, were paraded before TV cameras and featured prominently on the evening news. They were drug traffickers, one and all, said the sheriff.
Among the forty-six so-called traffickers were a pig farmer, a forklift operator, and a number of ordinary young women with children.
If these were major cocaine dealers, as alleged, they were among the oddest in the United States. None of them had any money to speak of. And when they were arrested, they didn't have any cocaine. No drugs, money, or weapons were recovered during the surprise roundup.
It is not an overstatement to describe the arrests in Tulia as an atrocity. The entire operation was the work of a single police officer who claimed to have conducted an eighteen-month undercover operation. The arrests were made solely on the word of this officer, Tom Coleman, a white man with a wretched work history, who routinely referred to black people as "niggers" and who frequently found himself in trouble with the law.
In trial after trial, prosecutors put Coleman on the witness stand and his uncorroborated, unsubstantiated testimony was enough to send people to prison for decades.