Ben Bradlee, Jr. talked to Charles F. McElwee, assistant editor of City Journal, about the role of local journalism in a divided country, the electoral influence of one Pennsylvania county, generational trends, and more. Bradlee is the author of The Forgotten: How the Abandoned People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America and The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams, among other books. Bradlee spent 25 years with the Boston Globe as a reporter and editor. As deputy managing editor, he oversaw the Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the sexual-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church from July 2001 to August 2002. Bradlee lives with his wife outside Boston. He has three children.
Last year, you wrote The Forgotten, a book about the role that Luzerne County, Pa., played in the 2016 election. What should we know about places like Luzerne ahead of next year's presidential race?
Though traditionally Democratic and carried by Barack Obama twice, Luzerne surprised many by surging for Donald Trump in 2016 and playing a key role in his winning Pennsylvania—and the presidency. It remains a swing county, with many pro-Trump voters, despite his looming impeachment and a fragile local economy. A key election issue will be whether Trump can expand his base, and Luzerne will help answer that question.
The Internet has devastated jobs in local newsrooms. How do you think traditional newspapers, big and small, will fare in the 2020s?
Big papers like the New York Times and Washington Post will continue to thrive, while local and regional papers will continue to struggle. The Post has provided an immense public service in uncovering and publishing “The Afghanistan Papers’’—military documents and interviews with American officials showing that the U.S. has learned little or nothing during nearly 20 years in Afghanistan. This is the Pentagon Papers redux, nearly 50 years on, and shows why newspapers are still so important to our troubled democracy.
What role can local journalism play in the current climate?
While distrust of national media is widespread, as many gravitate to media that validate their own views, support remains strong for local newspapers, which are seen as less biased. Local journalism can help unify a country that has rarely been so divided.
What is an overlooked trend occurring in the U.S.?
How the wave of baby boomers preparing to retire will affect American life, and how Generation X—a group now between the ages of 38 and 53, who account for a third of the U.S. workforce, or 53 million people—will fill the boomer vacuum.
What are you reading?
A Warning, an insider’s account of the Trump White House, by Anonymous; Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, by Daniel Ellsberg; and The Education of an Idealist, by Samantha Power.
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