George Smalley, JFK on open government, sports writing, and Safire on words: newsletter, December 23, 2022

December 23, 2022 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2, 491) on Friday, December 23, 2022.

In order to give myself a couple of weeks off, the newsletter this week and next week will be populated mostly by material from the archives. Much of this was originally posted a decade or more ago, so chances are that you have not read it (or don’t remember it). Still, I hope that it will be of some interest to you.

I hope that everyone has a joyous, safe, and peaceful holiday season and a very happy New Year.

Have a great and literate weekend—and a very Merry Christmas.


Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,736 subscribers and had a 36.0 percent open rate; 8 persons unsubscribed.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


JFK on governmental secrecy

Once upon a time . . . . It almost seems like a fantasy.

A sitting president spoke out against government secrecy. It was John F. Kennedy, and it was April 1961. Kennedy was speaking before a meeting of the American Newspaper Publishers Association.

Here’s part of what he said:

The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.

Much of Kennedy’s speech that night was about the dangers that America and the free world faced—the danger of communism and its threat to our freedoms. With very few changes, the speech could have been delivered last week, and it would have sounded most relevant.

Undoubtedly, neither Kennedy nor his administration lived up to the ideas that he expressed in this speech.

But unlike today’s leaders, Kennedy did not believe in closing off the government to its people. He did not believe in limiting civil liberties. Rather, he sought to expand them, believing that was the best way to fight our enemies.

The whole speech is worth reading.

Particularly by those in power today. 

This post was originally published in 2006


Sports reporting

“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction, and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.”

That’s how Grantland Rice, sports writer for the New York Tribune, began his account of the Notre Dame-Army football game of 1924. Notre Dame, led by its great backfield, won the game against a strong team from the United States Military Academy (Army).

Rice was fond of using literary allusions in his writing, and this one comes from the Book of Revelation in the Bible.

No paragraph in the history of sports journalism has been quoted more than this one. The “Four Horsemen” became part of the legend of Notre Dame football, and publicists at the university placed the four footballers on four horses for a famous photograph. And that photograph was turned into a postage stamp more than 50 years later.

Rice was just one of a number of great sports writers who have graced the pages of American newspapers. Ring Lardner and Damon Runyon, whose fiction is now studied in literature classes, were sports writers of the top rank.

Besides Rice, two others who were especially notable were Red Smith and Shirley Povich.

Smith, who ended his career with the New York Times, was hired by the New York Herald Tribune in 1945 and covered sports and sports figures with intelligence and sensitivity. His column became the most widely syndicated of the age.

Smith cared about his writing. On purpose, he wrote simply and elegantly. And he knew how hard it is to do that. He once said there is nothing to writing—all you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and “open a vein.”

Povich covered sports for the Washington Post for most of the last century and knew every major sports figure from Babe Ruth to Michael Jordan. He, too, wrote sensitively, elegantly and simply. And he wasn’t afraid to express his opinions about what he saw.

In 1960, disgusted that his hometown Washington Redskins were the last National Football League team to integrate, Povich wrote the following about the Skins game with the Cleveland Browns:

For 18 minutes the Redskins were enjoying equal rights with the Cleveland Browns yesterday, in the sense that there was no score in the contest. Then it suddenly became unequal in favor of the Browns, who brought along Jim Brown, their rugged colored fullback from Syracuse.

From 25 yards out, Brown was served the ball by Milt Plum on a pitch-out and he integrated the Redskins’ goal line with more than deliberate speed, perhaps exceeding the famous Supreme Court decree. Brown fled the 25 yards like a man in an uncommon hurry and the Redskins’ goal line, at least, became interracial.


William Safire

William Safire, conservative columnist for the New York Times (now deceased), has some excellent advice for the journalism profession in his column today (January 17, 2005).

The news media seem depressed over the growing power of non-journalist bloggers, the indifference of the president, the rantings of religious zealots, the widespread suspicion of political bias in reporting, and the increasing tendency of judges to ignore the rights of journalists to operate. The press, he says, should stand up and be counted and stop wringing its hands in despair. There are plenty of reasons why mainstream journalism is important and necessary:

On national or global events, however, the news consumer needs trained reporters on the scene to transmit facts and trustworthy editors to judge significance. In crises, large media gathering-places are needed to respond to a need for the national community.

Good reading.

This was originally published in 2005.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


George Smalley and the Battle of Antietam

During the hours after the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, New York Tribune correspondent George Smalley went through hell.

Having attached himself to the headquarters staff of Gen. Joseph Hooker, Smalley had seen more of the battle than any other newspaper correspondent at the scene.

Desperate to get word back to his newspaper, he rode through the night to the telegraph station at Frederick, Maryland. The telegraph operator agreed to send a short account, and Smalley sat down and wrote one.

“Fierce and desperate battle between two hundred thousand men has raged since daylight, yet night closes on an uncertain field. It is the greatest fight since Waterloo—all over the field contested with an obstinacy equal even to Waterloo. If not wholly a victory tonight, I believe it is the prelude to a victory tomorrow. . . .”

Smalley handed the telegraph operator each page as he wrote it. Without Smalley’s permission or knowledge, the operator sent the account to the War Department in Washington rather than to the Tribune in New York. There President Abraham Lincoln read the first account of the battle that he knew Union forces had to win.

Smalley’s job, however, was far from done.

  • • •

George Smalley was a well-educated man, especially for his time. He had attended Yale University and was a graduate of Harvard Law School. He had begun his law practice when war broke out between the North and the South. To see the action firsthand, he joined the staff of the New York Tribune.

Smalley was one of several Tribune reporters attached to the Union Army. When the Battle of Antietam was about to begin, Smalley stayed with Gen. Joseph Hooker for a good part of the day, even performing some duties for the army in the midst of the fighting.

As he went from place to place across the battlefield, Smalley—possibly more than any other man that day—had a sense of what was happening, of the fierceness of the fighting that few human beings had ever witnessed.

At the end of the day, Smalley met with other members of the Tribune’s reporting team and pooled their information. Then he began a hard ride to the telegraph office in Frederick.

In addition to the first paragraph, Smalley was able to transmit several others, including the following:

“The battle began with the dawn. Morning found both armies just as they had slept, almost close enough to look into each other’s eyes. The left of Meade’s reserves and the right of Rickett’s line became engaged at nearly the same moment, one with artillery, the other with infantry. A battery was almost immediately pushed forward beyond the central woods, over a ploughed field near the top of the slope where the cornfield began. On this open field, in the corn beyond, and in the woods which stretched forward into the broad fields like a promontory into the ocean, were the hardest and deadliest struggles of the day.

“For half an hour after the battle had grown to its full strength, the line of fire swayed neither way. Hooker’s men were fully up to their work. They saw their General everywhere in front, never away from the line, and all the troops believed in their commander, and fought with a will. Two thirds of them were the same men who under McDowell had broken at Manassas.

“The half-hour passed, the rebels began to give way a little—only a little, but at the first indication of a receding fire, Forward, was the word, and on went the line with a cheer and a rush. Back across the cornfield, leaving dead and wounded behind them, over the fence, and across the road, and then back again into the dark woods which closed around them went the retreating rebels.

“Meade and his Pennsylvanians followed hard and fast—followed till they came within easy range of the woods, among which they saw their beaten enemy disappearing—followed still, with another cheer, and flung themselves against the cover.”

At some point in Frederick, Smalley realized that his dispatches were being sent to Washington rather than New York. He went to the railroad station to catch a train to Baltimore, writing for two hours while waiting for the train.

He fell asleep on the train—his first sleep in 36 hours—and nearly missed the connection to New York. Once on the train heading north, he resumed writing.

The War Department, which had first received Smalley’s reports, sent them on to the Tribune in New York. By the time Smalley arrived and walked into the newspaper office on Nassau Street, typesetters and proofreaders were waiting. Word had also gotten to the newspaper office about Smalley himself, and his colleagues broke into applause when they saw him.

An hour later, the Tribune hit the streets with the first account of that important battle. It included paragraphs such as:

“The fight in the ravine was in full progress, the batteries in the center were firing with new vigor, Franklin was blazing away on the right, and every hilltop, ridge and woods along the whole line was crested and veiled with white clouds of smoke. All day had been clear and bright since the early cloudy morning, and now this whole magnificent, unequalled scene shone with the splendor of an afternoon September sun. Four miles of battle, its glory all visible, its horrors all hidden, the fate of the Republic hanging on the hour—could anyone be insensible of its grandeur?”


The battle of Antietam (sometimes called the battle of Sharpsburg) was one of the most important conflicts of the Civil War—and one of the bloodiest.

The Confederate Army under Robert E. Lee had invaded the North early in September 1862 in an effort to pressure the Union and Abraham Lincoln into giving up and allowing the South to secede. If Lee were to capture Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for instance, he would be in control of important railroad lines in the North.

Lincoln sent the Army of the Potomac under Gen. George McClellan to cut Lee off, and the two armies met at Antietam Creek on September 17. McClellan wired the War Department in Washington, “We are in the midst of the most terrible battle of the war.” Then the lines went dead, and Washington had no word for many hours.

By the time Smalley’s account reached Lincoln, the president was desperate for news. Eventually it became clear that Lee’s army had been stopped and that it was in retreat.

But the cost was horrendous. Lee lost nearly a third of his army, 12,000 casualties. The Union Army sustained about 14,000 casualties. It was, to that point, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.

Sources: Louis M. Starr, Reporting the Civil War (New York: Collier) 1962; and Emmet Crozier, Yankee Reporters 1861-65 (New York: Oxford) 1956.


Group giveaways for December

Kill the Quarterback is part of six group giveaways during the month of December:

December Crime, Thriller, Suspense Giveaway

December Crime Newsletter Promo

December’s Free Mysteries

Free Thrilling Mysteries

Mystery Giveaway

Free Thriller Book

The Free Thrilling Mysteries also include my young adult novel Point Spread.

Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.

It helps me a great deal if you use these links to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books. Many thanks.


Check out last week’s newsletter

Marcia D.: When I was little, we opened presents after breakfast on Christmas morning. When I got older, we opened presents on Christmas Eve after dinner before the party.

Dan C.: The one tradition I am trying to pass on to my seven-year-old granddaughter is that we open presents on Christmas morning since that is when Santa brings his gifts and we share ours, and to open one gift on Christmas Eve night. That one gift is a new pair of PJs, so she will sleep well preparing for Christmas morning. In the morning we all switch into red and black check flannel pants before we unwrap gifts, then we have breakfast. In a way, I am sad. I have a feeling this may be that last year she believes. There are too many little kids that get a thrill from disparaging the memory of Santa and his annual trip around the Western World since someone has already destroyed their belief in Santa. We are also going to Flagstaff this Christmas (hopefully we get snow), which will make gift-giving a little harder. She is afraid Santa will not know where she is. Luckily, the resort has a fireplace.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Newlyweds

Best quote of the week:

The walls of books around me, dense with the past, formed a kind of insulation against the present world and its disasters. Ross Macdonald, novelist (1915-1983)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.

Helping those in need

Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: The translator’s dilemma, advance copy readers, and General Grant as public writer: newsletter, December 16, 2022



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