December 30, 2016

Bill Moyers on The Tunnels

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When I set out to fully research my new book, The Tunnels:  Escapes Under the Berlins Wall and the Historic Films JFK Tried to Kill, I knew that John F. Kennedy would play a key role in it.   I would eventually confirm, via thousands of documents from the Kennedy era (some recently declassified) that his Secretary of State Dean Rusk directed, and JFK approved, attempts to suppress CBS and NBC television specials on daring escapes under the Berlin Wall in 1962.  I also knew that very few former members of the Kennedy administration were still living.

Of course,  I wished to speak with Bill Moyers, in vintage photo above, who was deputy director of JFK’s Peace Corps before becoming more famous as President Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary and then, of course, as one of the greatest TV news/commentary figures of our time.    Bill would tell me that he was out of the loop on the suppression in question, but provided some vivid memories of watching the NBC special that eventually emerged, calling it the most moving TV film he had seen to that point.   [For how JFK killed Daniel Schorr's CBS special, go here.]

When my book was finished,  my publisher sent Moyers the galleys for a possible blurb, always an iffy proposition, but Bill would respond with a  lengthy and enthusiastic offering.    Since then the book has earned raves from  The New York Times, the Washington Post and from many others.  (You can order the book easily here,  or via Amazon.  And note how that  documentary–you can watch it here– helped shape his career:

Greg Mitchell has written a riveting story focusing on one of the most powerful documentaries ever broadcast on television – NBC’s “The Tunnel.”  Those of us who saw it that December night in 1962 – 54 years ago — have never forgotten the experience. A real-life documentary had the stuff of great novels — conflict, ,suspense, drama, danger, struggle, and hope. But this story was true, and it was unfolding in black and white on the small screen in our living room, right there in front of us.

To this day I can see in my mind’s eye those desperate Germans – desperate for freedom – making their escape from the police state that was East Germany to safety in the west. After the film ended my fingernails had left deep marks in the heels of my hands from the sheer tension of watching. “The Tunnel” was the only documentary to receive the Emmy award as Program of the Year and the one that would inspire many of us from that era who went into documentary work ourselves.

There was of course more to the story than the film could convey, and now Greg Mitchell – an exemplary journalist in his own right – has brought to life the long forgotten dynamics of history surrounding “The Tunnel. ” John le Carre couldn’t have done it better.

The book has been optioned for a movie with Paul Greengrass attached as director.  Featured in interview with NPR’s Scott Simon.  Foreign rights sold for UK, France, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Taiwan, Thailand.  Order and read more at Amazon or by clicking cover at above right on this page which has links to independent bookstores.

“The greatest strength of The Tunnels is in the details….Days after finishing the book I could not escape one of Mitchell’s images–of a hat with a small hole in it landing softly on the Western side of the border while its owner’s dead body fell back into the East, waiting for the guards to hurry it out of sight. For those who see walls as the answer to policy problems, this book serves as a stark reminder that barriers can never cut people off entirely but only succeed in driving them underground.” — The New York Times Book Review

“Shows the trade-off behind the scenes at one of the most pivotal moments in the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union…A fascinating and complex picture of the interplay between politics and media in the Cold War era.” – Washington Post

“Every hour of my year in East Berlin–1963/64–the escape tunnels beneath our feet were being dug. This is their story: those who dug them, those who used them and those who betrayed them to the Stasi. Fascinating – and it is all true.” – Frederick Forsyth, author The Odessa File and Day of the Jackal

‘Engaging…Mitchell’s interviews with the tunnelers, couriers and escapees put a human face on this dramatic experience. The airless heat inside the tunnels is palpable; so, too, are the tunnelers’ dismay, exhaustion and fear as they hear border guards above them and cope with flooding along their routes. These are heart-racing tales, and Mitchell — author of several books on U.S. politics and history — narrates them with emotion and evocative detail….The intense drama and risks involved for the tunnelers and the escapees offer a compelling context for today’s refu­gee crisis.”Washington Post Book World

“Fascinating and deeply researched…a welcome reminder of the ingenuity and courage that people can display when politics and walls separate them from loved ones and a better life.” — Christian Science Monitor

“Thrilling and meticulously documented…Mitchell masterfully guides the reader through a labyrinth of details, intertwining the narratives to show how the tunnelers, the NBC crew (led by correspondent Piers Anderton) and the politicians played their parts on the stage of history.”  — Dallas Morning News

“Terrific book, a must for JFK fans.” — Charles P. Pierce, Esquire.

“Another one for the ages… this account of the tunnels under the Berlin Wall and the efforts by mainstream media to document and even fund their development (squashed by JFK, no less) is quite riveting.”– INC, John Brandon

“A story with so much inherent drama it sounds far-fetched even for a Hollywood thriller….Mitchell tells a kaleidoscopic cold war story from 1962, recreating a world seemingly on the edge of a third world war. ” –The Guardian.

“A gripping, blow-by-blow account….Mitchell’s tense, fascinating account reveals how the U.S. undermined a freedom struggle for the sake of diplomacy.”  Publishers Weekly, starred review.

“Mitchell deftly navigates the mad months of 1961-62 when East Berlin was trying to wall off the West, Cuba was turning deep Red, John Kennedy was getting his presidential sea legs, and the world seemed bound for hell in a nuclear handbasket….Mitchell closes his energetic and illuminating narrative by noting that, after jousting with NBC and CBS, Kennedy ordered up Project Mockingbird, a domestic CIA program aimed at reporters and foreshadowing so many other aspects of the American future.” — American History magazine

The Tunnels is one of the great untold stories of the Cold War. Brilliantly researched and told with great flair, Greg Mitchell’s non-fiction narrative reads like the best spy thriller, something John le Carre might have imagined. Easily the best book I’ve read all year.” —Alex Kershaw, author of Avenue of Spies and The Liberator

“When you have read the last page of Greg Mitchell’s The Tunnels you will close the book—but not until then.” —Alan Furst, author of A Hero of France and Night Soldiers

“A gripping page-turner that thrills like fiction.” Kirkus Reviews.

“This is not just an exciting escape narrative, but also an extraordinarily revealing political thriller, centering on ruthless government attempts to control what the public gets to see.  Mitchell presents us with a radically changed perspective on one of the Cold War’s most dramatic episodes. His latest book is both priceless as history and just about impossible to beat for sheer narrative grip. Hats off to the author for this rare achievement.”  –Frederick Taylor, author of The Berlin Wall and Dresden

“Eye-opening and an exhilarating read. Not knowing who made it out of the East, and who was arrested, or worse, kept me glued to this book until the last page. The involvement of the Stasi, two American TV networks and America’s State Department contribute to the historical perspective of this important work.”–Tony Mendez, author of Argo

“Enormously dramatic and extremely insightful.” — John Batchelor,  Westwood One radio