To a very considerable extent the media of mass communications in a given country reflect the political, economic, and social climate in which they flourish. That is the reason ours differ from the British and French, or the Russian and Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. And our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late. ¶ … I do not advocate that we turn television into a twenty-seven-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense. But I would like to see it reflect occasionally the hard, unyielding realities of the world in which we live. … This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance, and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
These are not ticky-tack fouls. In the world of publishing and public speaking, quotes are evidence. Quotes are to journalism what data are to science. If they’re not real, they’re irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how juicy and revealing they are if they never happened. Fabrication is the cardinal sin of publishing.
Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn’t mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.
Most truths are so naked that people feel sorry for them and cover them up, at least a little bit.
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.
In the conduct of my newspaper I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country. Whenever I was solicited to insert anything of that kind and the writers pleaded, as they generally did, the liberty of the press — and that a newspaper was like a stage-coach, in which any one who would pay had a right to a place — my answer was that I would print the piece separately if desired, and the author might have as many copies as he pleased to distribute himself, but that I would not take upon me to spread his detraction, and that having contracted with my subscribers to furnish them with what might be either useful or entertaining, I could not fill their papers with private altercation, in which they had no concern, without doing them manifest injustice. Now many of our printers make no scruple of gratifying the malice of individuals by false accusations of the fairest characters among ourselves, augmenting animosity even to the producing of duels; and are, moreover, so indiscreet as to print scurrilous reflections on the government of neighboring States, and even on the conduct of our best national allies, which may be attended with the most pernicious consequences. These things I mention as a caution to young printers, and that they may be encouraged not to pollute their presses and disgrace their profession by such infamous practices, but refuse steadily; as they may see by my example that such a course of conduct will not on the whole be injurious to their interests.
The politician in my country seeks votes, affection and respect, in that order. With few notable exceptions, they are simply men who want to be loved.
The problems include limited access to mass media outlets afforded to some voices in our political process; “sound bite” journalism that covers campaign strategy more than policy pronouncements and emphasizes conflict over consensus; and overreliance on the medium of television, the logic of which makes politics “an activity of style over substance, image over reality, melodrama over analysis, belief over knowing, awareness over understanding.” The primary cause of these problems, [Robert] Denton argues, lies in “contemporary news values.” As a business, the media must maintain high circulation (or ratings) in order to make a profit by selling advertising. The incentive to make the news entertaining is overwhelming. But information that is most useful in a democratic system may often be subtle and complex — boring, to some.
The creation-evolution controversy is one of those subjects that has become standardized in the press. I sometimes have the impression that journalists just click on a “bash creationism” macro in their word processors and sit back while the printer pours out a string of cliches: the Catholic Church persecuted Galileo, the Scopes trial in 1925 should have settled this matter, the Bible is not a scientific textbook, scientists agree that “evolution has occurred,” mainstream religious leaders say that God and evolution are compatible, and the country will fall into ruin if evolution is not emphasized in the schools. Even the feeble witticisms are standardized, as columnists either exploit the irony that “creationism is evolving” or speculate that the next creationist move will be to declare the earth flat, while the editorial cartoonists caricature opponents of Darwinism as apemen. The journalistic macro learned what little it knows about the subject from polemics by scientific materialists like Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, who are accepted by journalists as impartial authorities because they speak in the name of “science.” So the macro defines creationists as Bible thumpers who either are ignorant of the scientific evidence that contradicts their position or choose to disregard it. From that starting point it is inconceivable that creationists could have any rational arguments to make, and you can cite just about anything you like, from fossils to finch beaks to pesticide resistance, to make them look like people blind to facts. There is no need to try to understand the dissenting point of view because according to the macro all doubts about evolution are irrational by definition.
Sometime, somewhere, some anthropologist must have explored that tribal ritual: the greatest-hits list. These lists date back at least to the seven wonders of the ancient world. They reflect the importance of some area of tribal endeavor — monumental architecture, say, or rock-and-roll. And they establish hierarchies; how better to show your pre-eminence in the pecking order than to rank everyone else? Journalists, trained to make their value judgments in neat pyramid style, most important facts first, could hardly be expected to resist the millennial listing urge. If Modern Library can cause a stir with its list of 100 best novels and the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame can take abuse for its top 500, why shouldn’t journalists share in the fun? ~ Felicity Barringer in the New York Times
We who live at the end of the twentieth century are better informed — and more quickly informed — than any people in history. So why do we also seem more confused, divided and foolish than ever before? Some pundits criticize the news media for political bias. Other analysts worry that up-to-the-minute news reports on radio and television oversimplify complex realities. Still more critics point out that today’s reporters can’t possibly be experts on the wide variety of subjects they cover. Historian C. John Sommerville thinks the problem with news is more basic. Focusing his critique on the news at its best, he concludes that even at its best it is beyond repair. Sommerville argues that news began to make us dumber when we insisted on having it daily. Now millions of column inches and airtime hours must be filled with information — every day, every hour, every minute. The news, Sommerville says, becomes the driving force for much of our public culture. News schedules turn politics into a perpetual campaign. News packaging influences the timing, content and perception of government initiatives. News frenzies make a superstition out of scientific and medical research. News polls and statistics create opinion as much as they gauge it. Lost in the tidal wave of information is our ability to discern truly significant news–and our ability to recognize and participate in true community. This eye-opening book is for everyone dissatisfied with the state of the news media, but especially for those who think the news really informs them about and connects them with the real world. Read it and you may never again know the tyranny of the daily newspaper or the nightly news broadcast.
It seems to me that elsewhere in America liberty is far more a matter of law than practice. The Bill of Rights is still on the books and they’d have a hell of a time putting you in jail for just saying something, but how free are we? Whatever the guarantees, I believe liberty resides in its exercise. Liberty is really about the ability to feel free and behave accordingly. You are only as free as you act. Free people must be willing to speak up … and listen. They can’t merely consume the fruits of freedom, they have to produce them. This exercise of liberty requires that people trust one another and the institutions they make together. They have to feel at home in their society. Well, Americans don’t appear to trust each other much these days. Why else would we employ three times more lawyers per capita than we did in 1970? Why else would our universities be so determined to impose tolerance that they’ll expel you for saying what you think and never notice the irony? Why else would we teach our kids to fear all strangers? Why else have we become so afraid to look one another in the eye? We have come to regard trust as foolishness and fear as necessary. We live in terror that the people around us might figure out what we’re actually thinking. Frankly, this America doesn’t feel very free to me at all. What has happened to our liberty? I think much of the answer lies in the critical difference between information and experience. These days we view most of our world through a television screen. Most of our knowledge comes from information about things, not experience with them.
Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be seen before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.
It is a very comfortable reflection to the lovers of liberty, that this peculiar privilege of Britain is of a kind that cannot easily be wrested from us, but must last as long as our government remains, in any degree, free and independent. It is seldom, that liberty of any kind is lost all at once. Slavery has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom, that it must steal upon them by degrees, and must disguise itself in a thousand shapes, in order to be received. But, if the liberty of the press ever be lost, it must be lost at once. The general laws against sedition and libelling are at present as strong as they possibly can be made. Nothing can impose a farther restraint, but either the clapping an Imprimatur upon the press, or the giving to the court very large discretionary powers to punish whatever displeases them. But these concessions would be such a bare-faced violation of liberty, that they will probably be the last efforts of a despotic government. We may conclude, that the liberty of Britain is gone for ever when these attempts shall succeed.