Lowell Thomas was the journalist who brought fame to T. E. Lawrence, helping to transform the British archaeologist and military officer into “Lawrence of Arabia” in the public imagination during World War I. Thomas remained a dominant presence in the U.S. media well into the 1970s, but he might be the most famous twentieth-century media figure whom hardly anyone under 40 has heard of. Stephens has written an unusual biography; he is less interested in rescuing Thomas from oblivion than in illuminating what his rise and fall say about a changing country. Thomas was more of a showman than a reporter; he embellished Lawrence’s story with so many legends and half-truths that biographers and researchers are still trying to untangle the mess. He nimbly adapted to the shifting conditions in the media industry, moving from radio to newsreels and finally to television. Stephens suggests that today’s media environment is less hospitable to the kind of journalism Thomas practiced. The mass audiences of the networks have broken up, and Thomas’ trademark travelogues would have less appeal in the age of jet travel. All true, but if Thomas were a young man today, he might just find another road to fame and glory.
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