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JOURNALISTS ABROAD // Brinkley's brevities

EVERYONE IS ENTITLED TO MY OPINION

By David Brinkley

Knopf, $20

David Brinkley's new book, Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion, has a great title. Unhappily, the content of the book only occasionally measures up to the title's promising wit.

Everyone Is Entitled is a frothy "best of" collection of closing comments from the ABC news program, This Week with David Brinkley. In their proper context, these short homilies (most of them are one-page long, many of them half that) served a useful purpose, commenting dryly on the news of the day. Here, gathered together into a whole they were never meant to form, too many of them too often seem slight.

Brinkley, whose career as a television anchor and journalist began 40 years ago when he and Chet Huntley began The Huntley-Brinkley Report, is certainly one of the wisest watchers of Washington's political scene, and that intelligence does occasionally emerge even from these short essays.

When Brinkley talks of the Abscam scandal he mentions the FBI's often clumsy investigative techniques, where legislators were "confronted with phony Arabs . . . (and) a loudmouth con man," and yet fell for the bribery offers.

He notes Sen. Harrison Williams of New Jersey spending five hours speaking in his own defense, claiming entrapment, while most of his Senate colleagues worked crossword puzzles and read the newspapers. The combination of Williams' defense and his colleagues' lack of interest makes the essay's final line work fine: Those senators "both dumb and crooked have very little to offer in governing the United States."

And Brinkley's comments about Washington's experts and their frequently wrong predictions lead to the book's best closing line of all, where Union Army Gen. John B. Sedgwick, seeing the Confederate Army firing on his troops, said he was not worried because "they could not hit an elephant at this dist . . ."

Problem is, there aren't enough of these successful moments in the book, and the very brevity that makes the commentaries so telling in their original form dooms them here. Instead of serving as capstones to the day's news, they become independent items, floating weightless for the reader, not tied down sufficiently to the news they comment on.

Ultimately, instead of enjoying the homilies as the conclusively wise remarks they were for televised news, the reader finds in them little more than a political snap-shot history. This isn't all bad, serving as a sort of highlight film of the 1980s through mid-1990s, but it isn't quite what we expect from a journalist of David Brinkley's stature.

_ Rick Wilbur

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