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Web Letter

I found this article exceedingly foolish. Mr. Cockburn seems too giddy celebrating the imminent demise of America's newspapers to bother asking what will remain when they're gone.

Readers of The Nation are familiar with Cockburn's near-obsessive antipathy towards the New York Times (see his column of May 12, 2005 for a wacky illustration). And true enough, the Times gets many things wrong, sometimes wildly and infuriatingly so. But the few hints Cockburn offers here as to what might replace it are less than reassuring: The Village Voice? The Anderson Valley Advertiser? His own newsletter with Jeffrey St. Claair? I don't dispute the need for publications out of the mainstream: The Nation is invaluable, for example. But one can safely say without disrespect to these publications that they are not a serious substitute for the Times.

Besides, what makes Mr. Cockburn so confident that the forces undermining his enemies will spare his friends? Has the Anderson Valley Advertiser found a formula for financial security that has eluded publications as different in form and perspective as the Wall Street Journal and The Nation? If so, please inform, fast!

Facts are elusive, and therefore expensive; it takes a lot of effort to acquire and check them; and even then, they often emerge garbled. Opinion, by contrast, is cheap: everyone has one, and most of us are all too willing to dispense it for nothing.

Thus the demise of the Times and its small cohort would likely leave a world with many fewer established facts and many more opinions. One can already see this trend in the online version of the Times, where the blogs are everywhere.

Where will the reporting come from in such a world? From news services like AP and Reuters (assuming even they survive)? Will there be no other independent reporting, and no deeper, more nuanced coverage?

Opinion makes fun reading, including Mr. Cockburn's column, which is thought provoking and extraordinarily well written. But much of it (again, including Cockburn's "Beat the Devil"), displays an impatience with facts that happen to be inconsistent with its author's ideology; and this saps its credibility. (For example, Cockburn's Nation columns on global warming, starting in April 2007, contain a string of false or deceptive statements, as well as comically gratuitous insults directed at those [opportunists and frauds, apparently], who dare to believe that global warming is caused by humans.)

A world where pundits rather than reporters rule the dreaded information superhighway will doubtless be good for the pundits; but for the rest of us: not so much.

Geoff Grinstein

New York, NY

May 26 2009 - 11:12am

Web Letter

I agree with Alexander Cockburn that newspapers often leave a lot to be desired. Even the best of them have some slant, and columnists often have an ax to grand. In spite of these drawbacks, newspapers often illuminate useful facts on the issues of the day, even for readers who disagree with the expressed opinions.

I'd like to see newspapers survive, even if they reduce their print operations and put out Internet versions.

What might help certain daily newspapers is to drop the pretense that they're totally objective. How many readers believe the slogan of the New York Times, "All the news that's fit to print"?

Steven Kalka

East Rockaway, NY

May 18 2009 - 1:30pm