It’s no doubt due to the fact the ’60s was the decade I came of age that I was so captivated by Michael D. Roberts new memoir, Hot Type, Cold Beer and Bad News: A Cleveland Reporter’s Journey Through the 1960s. It captures the zeitgeist of the era with accuracy, verve and an encyclopedic knowledge of what makes Cleveland, well, Cleveland. If you lived through those turbulent times, as I did, you’ll be delighted to get the back story on some of the occurrences that made the headlines (as well as some that didn’t), and if you weren’t around during that period, the book is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand how we got to be the city and region we are today.
From the Sam Sheppard murder case (which eventually leads to the downfall of the most powerful man in Cleveland at the time, Louis B. Seltzer, due to him creating a circus atmosphere around the trial by using the Cleveland Press as the judge, jury and would-be executioner), to the Hough Uprising (which Roberts, like virtually everyone else, calls a “riot”) to the election of Carl B. Stokes as the country’s first black mayor, Roberts had a front-row seat on history in the making and was privy to some facts that, for various reasons, never made it into the newspaper.
A Garfield Heights native who started as a reporter in 1962 in Ashtabula, his skills got him a job as a reporter at The Plain Dealer (the hated morning rival of the afternoon Cleveland Press) where he reported the news from Vietnam and the Middle East, as well as Kent State, before going on the become the editor of Cleveland Magazine for 17 years.
However, Roberts credits his early years on the dreaded police beat (which all new reporters had to serve time on) for making him a savvy, tenacious journalist. He once won the Ohio Associated Press award for exposing a fraudulent Rembrandt which the owner was using to con individuals and institutions out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He personally knew every crook, con man and gangster in Cleveland, as well as having a well-developed pipeline of information from law enforcement types. His methods of gaining information were, shall we say, not always by the book, and on a few occasions were borderline illegal.
Roberts’ book evoked memories of characters that I hadn’t thought about for almost half a century, like the mystical young poet of Cleveland’s hippie scene, d.a.levy, who was thought by some to be a messenger sent from somewhere by someone as the harbinger of radical change, but reviled by others — particularly those in law enforcement — as a dangerous madman. Society’s mores were changing so rapidly that anyone over 30 couldn’t be trusted since they supposedly had a difficult time coming to grips with the sex, drugs and rock & roll that was seemingly everywhere. But the pushback in the form of government repression was gaining traction as cultures clashed, often leaving chaos in its wake. It was up to journalists like Roberts to chronicle the frightening upheavals.
The newspaper business, once so formidable that it was called the Fourth Estate, was about to undergo a radical transformation also, but didn’t realize it at the time. In the ’60s print journalism was so powerful that publishers thought TV news was just a passing fancy, and no one could peer far enough into the future to see the Internet coming.
Michael D. Roberts lived through and reported on the most turbulent times America had ever faced, and has lived to tell the tale in a memoir that provides valuable and entertaining insights into who we are as a people today, and just as importantly, how we got this way.
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.