The Tunnels and Other News You Can Use

In 1962, two competing networks – NBC and CBS – subsidized Germans seeking to tunnel under the Berlin Wall. The West Germans had one goal: to free their compatriots on the other side. The networks wanted something else, a news story. It was blatant pay-to-play, and, in the end, only NBC succeeded, over the objections of the Kennedy White House, more concerned about an international incident than about television ratings. This ethical lapse in journalism is replayed in a new book, The Tunnels, by Greg Smith, which I reviewed in the Washington Independent Review of Books, an online nonprofit website launched six years ago following the demise of the Washington Post’s standalone Book World section. You can read my review at:

It has been my privilege – and honor – to serve on the board of The Independent ( and also, since 2013, to help organize our annual Books Alive – Washington Writers Conference. Our fifth annual is scheduled for April 29, 2017 at the College Park Marriott. Save the date!

We’ve managed to assemble an impressive lineup over the years, including as keynoters Marie Arana, David Maraniss, John Feinstein and Bob Woodward. Our 2017 keynoter will be Judith Viorst, author of 23 children’s books, including Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, made into a 2014 Disney movie, and 17 books for adults. Panelists have included Alice McDermott, George Pelecanos, Laura Lippman, Marita Golden, Chris Matthews, Evan Thomas, Michel Singletary, Michel Martin, Joan Nathan, Susan Coll, and on and on.

In addition to a full day’s program of engaging panels and speakers, we will have a room full of literary agents to hear pitches from aspiring authors. These sessions have led to several book contracts (including one for my current work on the five African Americans with John Brown at Harpers Ferry in 1859, to be published by the Lawrence Hill Books imprint of Chicago Review Press).  Last year’s conference drew 240 registrants. It’s a bibliophile’s don’t-miss event, about which you’ll be hearing more from me in the days, weeks and months ahead.

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