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david wilson for the boston globe

Linda Greenhouse always wanted to be a journalist.

After editing her high-school newspaper, then working on the Harvard Crimson in the 1960s while a student at Radcliffe, she went on, “I had dreams but I can’t say I had expectations. I had no role models, for one thing, as there were no women then with major bylines.” Greenhouse went on to establish a four-decade career at The New York Times, first as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court reporter, then a columnist.

In her new book, “Just a Journalist,” adapted from a series of lectures delivered at Harvard in 2015, Greenhouse entwines a personal career history with a larger examination of the challenges her profession faces in an increasingly fractious political landscape.


“I gave the lectures almost exactly two years ago,” Greenhouse said. “Trump wasn’t really on the horizon — he wasn’t on my horizon as a plausible anything.”

But as she revised the talks into a book, she found that the current presidency could serve as a case study. “There’s a norm of objectivity,” she said. “Straight news reporting isn’t supposed to take a side. So how do you demonstrate that you’re not taking sides? You quote both sides.”

But, she went on, “if the reporter knows that one side of the argument is simply false, but yet is constrained by the norms of the profession to present it as if it’s just the other side of the story, that is not serving the noble purpose of journalism. In fact it’s disabling that purpose.”

Greenhouse said there are no easy solutions, but that “readers need reliable information,” and “reporters have to be empowered” to give it to them. After all, “the basic idea of a free press in a free society is to have an informed citizenry that’s able to govern itself armed with knowledge and facts.”


Greenhouse will read 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3, at Harvard Book Store.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.