Inside censorship, free speech, and journalism with Lucinda Franks

Lucinda Franks will moderate a panel on censorship, free speech, and journalism at Islanders Write on August 10. — MV Times File Photo

Lucinda Franks, a Pulitzer Prizewinner for national reporting and a successful author, brings decades of bigtime, worldwide reporting experience to a panel on censorship at the second Islanders Write symposium next Monday, August 10 at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury.

Sponsored by The Times and Arts & Ideas magazine, the daylong event includes panels, hands-on writing workshops, book signings, and elbow rubbing with fellow writers. The symposium is free, and the doors open at 8 am.

The Times caught up with Ms. Franks last weekend as she prepared to leave her New York City home base for her place in West Tisbury.

Q: You covered domestic terrorism in the 1970s for the New York Times. How does terrorism today differ from the Vietnam antiwar activities of say, the Weathermen?

A: I think the Weatherman, as noxious as the violence was, were working with intellectual hysteria. Their ultimate goal was to stop the [Vietnam] war. Their policy was to blow up only empty buildings. A few members broke off, and they did kill people, but the original Weatherman did not kill.

Today, we have Islamic terrorism that could not be farther away from that. Today’s terrorism does not seem to have a rational political purpose, not one, at least that we can understand in the U.S.  Women [in that culture], for example, are completely stripped of their rights, yet young people, including women, are joining up.

Q: What’s your take on the state of news censorship today?

A: I’ve been thinking about that. I want to talk with the panel organizer and panelists about the direction we should take, but mercifully, we don’t have the British censorship model. When we were covering the Troubles in Northern Ireland, for example, it was easier to get the information published halfway around the world than in England.

Yes, I agree there are different shades and brands of self-censorship in the U.S. today. Whether it’s coming from publications or fear of influential people stepping in, or just the fear of cutbacks in the newspaper business, there seems to be more anxiety [in newsrooms]. It can be subtle, including both liberal and conservative TV and radio outlets who present individuals with opposing views in the worst possible ways, including the quality of sound. On the other hand, papers have gone against government positions.

Q: Tell me about your career as an author, with a novel and two memoirs, one about your father and the latest about your 38-year marriage to Robert Morgenthau, Manhattan district attorney for nearly 35 years?

A: Well, I did the book about my father, “My Father’s Secret War,” after I found evidence that he was a spy for the U.S. during and after World War II, and I pushed and prodded him, getting him to talk, so naturally it became a memoir. I accidentally fell into that.

I love the memoir form, because it’s a way to tell a narrative in a nonfictional way that is pleasant to me. I got tired of being assigned stories, because you want to write about the things you’re interested in. I know my father and my husband as human beings, not as characters.

I approached the book about Bob and me, “Timeless: Love, Morgenthau and Me,” with great trepidation, because while I wanted a portrait of him, the marriage was more important. I did want an honest, authentic view of him and our relationship. He read every draft, and we discussed and negotiated. He was my collaborator. I think we got closer through this book. The intimacy we shared in the process changed our relationship for the better. We are not ships passing in the night, as relationships can become.

Join Lucinda Franks at Islanders Write on Monday, August 10, at 1–2 pm for “Censorship, Free Speech, and Journalism: What Isn’t Reported and Why” at the Grange Hall, West Tisbury. Ms. Franks will moderate a panel that will also include Christi Parsons, Jon Randal, and Peter Oberfest.