The Room and the Chair, Lorraine Adams, 2009
An enjoyable page turner about modern print journalism (the news room) and CIA black operations (headed by the chair). We have the lightly disguised Washington Post news room with its Watergate famous investigative reporter Woodward (Don Grady), executive editor Adam Sanger, and night editor Stanley Belsen, a raisin passing for white. The three interned together at the paper and we understand Stanley didn’t advance, not because of his color which few even know about, but because he is overly considerate and kind.
A plane or helicopter has just crashed into the Potomac directly across from the Watergate and an anonymous caller from the (Bush) White house has informed someone at the paper that a helicopter with POTUS (President of the United States) on board has gone down. At 2AM Adam and the important editors all converge on the newsroom relegating Stanley to the background. They quickly dismiss the POTUS report but can’t get any more information and are left to run a picture of a fire with the Watergate in the background.
Mary Goodwyn, Air Force Captain, pilot of the F16 Viper, that she has ejected from when the plane stop responding to the controls and heads for the Potomac, awakes in a giant oak. She notices the great view of the Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pool before going into shock. She wakes up later in Walter Reed Hospital. There is no explanation for the plane’s malfunction and she is not charged with pilot error. Soon she is flying again and heading for her second tour of duty in Afghanistan. On her first mission she is directed to a target where she drops a 500 pound pound. Pictures are later released of girls dressed in white who were killed by her bomb. The novel and Mary quickly forget this incident.
The air force admits that it was an f16 that crashed but do not reveal the name or fate of the pilot. The story dies.
We meet the chair, Will Holmes, CIA black ops, former military, current head of MECS Media Exploitation Component Services housed in an unmarked office in Vienna Virginia. His group has originated a technology to remotely take control of a fly by wire modern plane such as a commercial airliner (or an F16) The program is code named “Potomac Pilot”. No more need for the VP (who Will call the Mean Man) to order the shooting down of hijacked commercial airliners. The CIA can just bring any plane down at will once the technology is fully deployed.
A secret document the Sissy (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) report is leaked to the competitive paper who publish a report of surveillance of the President. There is great embarrassment in the news room and heads will roll. Don has had a copy of the Sissy report all along but is saving it for his next book, unknown to Adam. When reports don’t appear, another copy is leaked to Don’s wife Mabel who is a columnist for the paper. She attempts to deliver it to Adam but he is too busy to see her so he puts it into Stanley’s mail slot at home. Only Stanley among all journalists at either paper who seems to have actual read the report where he finds buried the “Potomac Pilot” program.
Stanley has assigned a black reporter, Vera, on the metro police beat to investigate the F16 crash. She finds a 14 year old street prostitute, Baby, who was on Roosevelt Island when the crash occurred and saw the pilot in the tree and her rescuers (dressed in black). Vera finds a sign on the Island saying he park is closed. Implausibly the Letters MECS are on the bottom of the sign. It later transpires that the newly promoted Managing Editor of the paper is a regular customer of Baby and other underage prostitutes. No consequences for the Managing Editor – some tale huh! Now Stanley gives Vera the Sissy report so she can wrap up her story of the “Potomac Pilot” program and the crash. Vera never uncovers Mary. The VP gets the paper to kill the story. The end? Not quite.
Now a side plot in the already thin tale; In a previous incarnation, Will ran spies and his highest value recruit was Persian Nuclear Scientist Hoseyn who supposedly died but recent intelligence reports indicates may be alive. Will conceives a plan right out of the Carter administration to go into Iran snag Hosein and fly him in a stolen commercial airliner to Iraq. He picks Mary as his pilot and they will disguise themselves as Kurdish peasants until the snatch.
The book is filled with overly smart and sometimes incomprehensible language and expressions. It is best on the inner dynamics of the news room where the author worked for several years and where no reporter or editor reads the paper any more. The expose on the almost total absence of investigative reporting, the repression of news, the new focus on writing books as opposed to reporting the news sounds about right. Disappointing in that nothing is ever resolved, or reported, or corrected. Life at the paper blunders on. It is not only the Internet that is killing print journalism.