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Who Owns the Fourth Estate? | The Nation

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Who Owns the Fourth Estate?

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Dentists and cardiologists warn their patients about plaque, harmful to both teeth and arteries. Judging by Jay Rosen's attachment to another sort, found in the National Press Club in Washington, the caveat should be extended to media theorists prone to over-romanticizing their subject. Bearing "The Journalist's Creed," this plaque, presented to the club on its fiftieth anniversary in 1958, states principles so powerful to the NYU journalism professor--known in the business for seeking to turn reporters into good democrats--that he declares in his introduction, "Finding a way to take its declarations seriously has become my job as a university professor."

About the Author

Carlin Romano
Carlin Romano, literary critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer and critic at large of The Chronicle of Higher Education,...

Also by the Author

As truth-tellers, journalists remain the undocumented aliens of the
knowledge industry, operating in an off-the-books epistemological
economy apart from philosophers and scientists on one side

Devotees of "balanced," "objective," "fair" and "evenhanded"
nonfiction--well, they be hurtin' in these early days of the
twenty-first century. Enough, perhaps, to demand that self-help, how-to
and "wisdom of menopause" books return to dominate, as they once did,
the now separated-from-birth (and diet and crosswords) New York
Times
nonfiction bestseller list. In the
April 21 issue of the Sunday New York Times Book Review, nearly
half the top ten nonfiction bestsellers belong to a genre that
middle-of-the-road innocents might label "one-sided," "unbalanced,"
"exclusionary" or worse, though the Times's blurbs artfully avoid
the issue.

Michael Moore's Stupid White Men, which manages the non-Euclidean
trick of being centrifugally one-sided, denounces us as a racist, sexist
"nation of idiots" even though we're plainly not a nation of idiots.
Whether you love Moore for blasting the "Thief-in-Chief" or adore him
for bashing Clinton and paying dues to the NRA, he's still guilty, as
Ben Fritz's stiletto review in Salon demonstrated, of being "One
Moore Stupid White Man," because "Moore gets his facts wrong again and
again, and a simple check of the sources he cites shows that lazy
research is often to blame."

David Brock's Blinded by the Right castigates the conservative
movement, which Brock recently fled, as "a radical cult" bored by ideas
and committed to a "Big Lie machine that flourished in book publishing,
on talk radio and on the Internet through the '90s." Brock insists on
that even though many conservatives believe in right-wing principles as
honestly as leftists and liberals believe in theirs. While it was lauded
by Frank Rich as "a key document," by Todd Gitlin as a book that "rings
with plausibility" and in these pages by Michael Tomasky as essential to
understanding this "fevered era," its credibility on the left seems
largely based on Brock's hawking a story the left wants to hear, just as
the right thrilled to The Real Anita Hill: that a "convulsed
emotional state," as Tomasky construes it, rather than an ideology, "is
the real binding glue among the right." Despite Brock's repeated
acknowledgments that he's been an unscrupulous, self-serving liar
throughout his life, flatterers of his book give little credit to the
possibility voiced by Slate's Timothy Noah that lying may be "a
lifelong habit" for the author. Bernard Goldberg's Bias, in turn,
offers mirror-image goods to true believers on the right: chapter and
verse on how his old employer, CBS News, and the media in general,
"distort the news" in a liberal direction, even though the media, by and
large, do not distort the news--they report it. On the strength of one
purported conversation with CBS News president Andrew Heyward, however,
and his own epiphanic experience after writing an anti-CBS Op-Ed for the
Wall Street Journal, Goldberg sounds certain that he's packing
smoking guns. No matter that he fails to clarify, in case after case,
how "bias" differs from a presumptive judgment held on the basis of
revisable evidence, or why conservative bias poses no problem within
eclectic media.

Finally, Kenneth Timmerman's Shakedown, another targeted killing
by the only national publishing house with the reflexes of a helicopter
gunship, leaves Jesse Jackson barely breathing as a political player.
But if fairness ruled the world of book manuscripts, this one would have
swelled to far more than 512 pages. Because while Rod Dreher of The
National Review
complimented the author for "collecting the dossier
on Jackson between two covers," a dossier in court or an academic
department typically contains both good and bad. The Washington
Post
's Keith Richburg, crediting Timmerman's "meticulous research,"
rightly noted that the author also wholly ignores "Jackson's
accomplishments," like his registration of millions of new voters.

So is Moore a direct literary descendant of Adolf Hitler, that
over-the-top idea man whose snarly diatribes grabbed Publishers
Weekly
's number-seven bestseller slot for 1939? Will self-confessed
"right-wing hit man" Brock--political sex-change operation or not--be
remembered as an heir to the legacy of Barry (Conscience of a
Conservative
) Goldwater? Should Timmerman, whose Shakedown
batters Jesse so badly his reproductive equipment may never recover, be
considered just another scion of Victor Lasky, whose ferociously
critical attack on John F. Kennedy awkwardly arrived in 1963? And what
of Goldberg, our redemption-minded spy who came in from the ill-told?
Will his Bias someday be taught in the Columbia publishing course
alongside that 1923 bestseller, Emile Coué's Self-Mastery
Through Conscious Auto-Suggestion
, whose system apparently involved
repeating to oneself, "Every day, in every way, I am getting better and
better"?

Yes, Flannery O'Connor was right: "There's many a best-seller that could
have been prevented by a good teacher." Each of these polemics keeps
rolling as a big commercial success for its publisher, even though, by
any standard of evenhandedness, each practices the big lie by what it
omits. Are they skyrocketing hits because they're tantamount to "big
lies," texts unwilling to address contrary views?

Maybe we've entered an era in which publishers and readers no longer
care about two hands working at complementary tasks--about evidence and
counterevidence, arguments and counterarguments, decency toward subject
matter. One way to interpret the ascent of the Feckless Four is to
accept that literary producers and consumers think we should leave all
that to college debating societies, scholarly journals and books,
newspapers of record and the courts. That's truth territory--this is
entertainment. And could that actually be the crux of the putative
trend? The recognition, by publishers, buyers and canny trade authors
alike, that well-balanced, evenhanded, scrupulously fair nonfiction
books bore the hell out of readers, however many prizes they may win?

Perhaps, in other words, the rise of the polemic is not simply a passing
curiosity, a reaction to political correctness cutting both ways in 2002
America, but a stage of evolutionary development in a post-
eternal verities culture. Educated readers--whether right or
left--hunger for books that simply smash the opposition and make one
feel the only sensation sweeter than orgasm: the sense of being utterly,
unimpeachably right. To update an old saw by publisher William Targ, too
many people who have half a mind to write a nonfiction bestseller do so,
and that's roughly the amount of brainpower the reader desires.

It certainly feels as if we're facing an epiphenomenon of the moment, an
upshot of the electorate we saw polarized on that red and blue 2000
electoral map. And yet, over the decades one spots many precursors of
Moore, Brock, Goldberg and Timmerman (a crackerjack adversarial firm
that might cost hundreds per hour if journalists billed like lawyers).
Michael Korda's recent Making the List: A Cultural History of the
American Bestseller, 1900-99
(Barnes & Noble), suggests
that curators of American bestseller lists could have put up the neon
Onesided Books 'R' Us sign long ago. Diet books, medical guides, how-tos
and self-improvement schemes, after all, ritually command readers to do
it this way, not that way. Dale Carnegie made it to the list with How
to Win Friends and Influence People
, not How to Win Friends,
Influence People and Also Estrange a Ton of Other Folks
. Books by
political candidates advancing their platforms may not sizzle with
Moore's streety phrases or Brock's inside snitching, but they slant the
truth just the same. Similarly, the titles of leading bestsellers of the
1930s--Ernest Dimnet's What We Live By, Walter Pitkin's Life
Begins at Forty
and Walter Duranty's I Write as I
Please
--suggest unshakable points of view promised and delivered.
Even in that war-dominated decade, one sees the forerunners of today's
divided left/right list, with Mission to Moscow, which offered,
Korda writes, a "benevolent view of Joseph Stalin," coming in second on
the 1942 bestseller list, while John Roy Carlson's Under Cover,
"an expose of subversive activity in the United States," rose to number
one in 1943. Yet, Korda observes, while Americans favor books that
"explain to them what is happening," they "still want to be amused,
entertained, and improved." So when authors like Moore, Brock, Goldberg
and Timmerman bring added assets to their unbalanced texts--Moore's
over-the-line wit, Brock's salacious gossip, Goldberg's hate-the-media
vibes and Timmerman's avalanche of dirt--it's like attaching an extra
rocket to the binding.

The presence of one-sided books on bestseller lists, in short, is no
fleeting phenomenon. It's a tradition. But might their increase threaten
the culture? Not likely. Here an insight from Korda fuses with a larger
appreciation of how philosophy in the broadest sense--the way we
organize what we know into views that hang together--operates in
American culture.

Korda extrapolates from bestseller history that "American readers have
been, since the 1940s, increasingly willing to be challenged and even
attacked. They might not have been eager to accept these challenges in
person...but they were willing to buy and read books that criticized the
status quo." He cites fiction as well Laura Hobson's novel
Gentleman's Agreement (1947), with its critique of anti-Semitism,
and Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955), which
eviscerated the "white upper-middle-class lifestyle." It's equally true
that American bestsellers from the beginning sometimes set themselves
against a prevailing yet vulnerableview. Tom Paine's Common Sense
took off and became common sense after he insulted George III and monarchy
the way Moore zaps George the Second, and, well, monarchy.

Korda's insight jibes with a larger truth. Our growing readiness not
only to tolerate but to prefer lopsided views of things arises from our
gut-level understanding that America, at the dawn of the twenty-first
century--and contrary to its clichéd cultural image--stands as
the most vibrant philosophical culture in the history of the world, an
unprecedented marketplace of truth, argument, evidence and individuated
positions on sale to any browser with a browser. Anyone with a pulse and
a laptop can access material supporting the right, the left, the up, the
down, the Israeli view, the Arab view, the Zoroastrian, the pagan, the
poly, the foundationalist, the nonfoundationalist, the libertine, the
puritanical, the environmental, the deconstructionist, the Lacanian, ad
infinitum. That reservoir of opinions, attitudes and slants lifts our
tolerance for one-sidedness into an appetite for edifying entertainment.
Because we can order or click our way to the other side of almost any
viewpoint, and can get it wholesale or retail, we forgive omissions. In
our cornucopia culture, only diners have to offer everything.

TV executives, of course, knew from early on that brash, partisan
talk-show hosts would outrate scholarly balancers every time. (The talk
show, from Alan Burke and Joe Pyne to Bill O'Reilly, has mainly been an
exercise in getting someone to scream uncle.) So, in turn, canny
commercial publishers know that supplying "the other hand" can safely be
left to the equally one-sided polemicist around the corner, or to the
culture at large (particularly if the status quo is the "position"
omitted). The nonfiction polemic, like provocative theater, demands an
interactive audience member who'll supply or obtain elsewhere whatever's
missing, up to the level of individual need. The upshot of rampant
American pluralism, if not neatly packaged truth or beauty in marketable
texts, is an unburdening of public intellectuals and trade authors from
the academic obligation to be fair, judicious and open-minded. Like
artists, they're simply expected to arouse.

It's an unholy system, all right. A typically American market solution
to our supposedly innate demand for equity in the pursuit of knowledge.
But it's ours. And the big bucks it produces for paperback and foreign
rights? Don't even ask.

According to the plaque, journalism is a "public trust" and journalists are "trustees for the public." Any "acceptance of a lesser service than public service is a betrayal of that trust." Journalism, Rosen writes, "thus expects the individual practitioner and the practice as a whole to serve the general welfare...directly, through acts of journalism that amount to public service." As a result, Rosen continues, journalism is "our" possession--it belongs to the public--even if it's the profession of journalists. ("The trustee--the press--does not own journalism....") While he acknowledges that how "to square the notion of trusteeship with the First Amendment principle of an unregulated and independent press" is a problem, he never lets that impede the press policy he advocates, an agenda we now call "public journalism."

What Are Journalists For? is Rosen's long-awaited book-length treatment of that agenda and topic: the decade-old movement to encourage citizen consciousness among mainstream "objective" journalists. Rightly understood as a state of mind rather than a technique or formula, public journalism aims, says Rosen, at "enhancing democracy, nourishing public life, aiding in the search for solutions to public problems, changing the reflexive attitudes of the profession." It particularly targets the daily press's "relentless insiderism, its weakness for cheap drama, its narrow focus on winning as the one true story of politics" and its denial that it is "a political institution."

As a real-life movement, public journalism's decade-long track record boasts triumphs and defeats. It gets credit or blame for leading some news organizations to arrange public meetings and exchange traditional horse-race, mudslinging campaign coverage for intense analysis of issues and occasional civic boosterism. It suffuses the nineties media criticism of many journalists, from James Fallows, who quoted Rosen repeatedly in Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy (1996), to Jeremy Iggers in Good News, Bad News (1998), who quoted Rosen a little less.

It fits almost hand in glove with burgeoning laments or observations about America's civic health from different sectors of academe: Robert Putnam's work on our dwindling associational life, Michael Sandel's communitarian vision, Michael Schudson's careful optimism about citizenship in The Good Citizen.

One study suggests that readers of newspapers inclined toward public journalism developed greater respect for the media. At the same time, the movement has driven a few of the "most prestigious minds in journalism," according to Rosen, to turn "thumbs down on the experiment, using tense words like fraud, menace, cult." Critics such as Gene Roberts, former managing editor of the New York Times, see some public journalism as a smokescreen for diminished coverage of state politics, a misconception of reportorial function and other ills. Rosen, chief academic catalyst of the movement, is sometimes dubbed its "evangelist."

Yet by any measure, What Are Journalists For? arrives as the most intellectually textured explanation of public journalism to date. Rather than mockery, Rosen deserves a tip of the green eyeshade for an earnest, fair-minded and candid account of the newsroom phenomenon he helped shepherd. An academic with virtually no reporting experience beyond a summer internship with the Buffalo Courier Express, Rosen is used to being tweaked and condescended to by hardboiled editors in the Eastern media establishment. They like to marginalize him and pointy-headed colleagues as dreamers who confuse newspapers with the League of Women Voters. Rosen, who admits his own missteps as a public advocate, is by contrast remarkably fair in his assessments here, much more generous to opponents than they've ever been to him.

Still, What Are Journalists For? surprises with the weight of its anecdotal reportage, its repetitive citation of war stories from the front, its flattering of the foundations--Kettering, Pew and Knight--funding the movement's work and its dwelling on the many seminars and interviews that came Rosen's way. At times, Rosen's perspective seems plainly affected ("In 1989, the same year as my Des Moines talk and Batten's speech on community life, a lot of exciting things happened. The Berlin Wall fell, democracy returned to a part of Eastern Europe...").

Ironically, in light of Rosen's view that only a press "that consciously puts itself in the philosophy business" can do its job in the modern era, the book's chief weaknesses turn out to be philosophical: paltry argument, undeveloped principles for dividing public from private, a failure to assess journalism comparatively, a reluctance to probe public journalism's logical paradoxes. Instead, Rosen resolutely trains his attention on the twin worlds of actual and think-tank journalism--the latter being America's network of foundation-funded institutes, seminars, retreats and fellowship programs in which ex-journalists, leave-of-absence journalists and communications theorists mull over how to build a better mousetrap.

In that sphere, What Are Journalists For? accomplishes multiple tasks with grace and smoothness, authoritatively outlining public journalism's origins, ideological context and uncertainties. Rosen first describes how public journalism, as currently conceived, emerged around 1989 from converging worries of communications theorists about the "depressed civic climate"--the decline of our deliberative public space--and those of press leaders such as Knight-Ridder's James Batten over newspapers' decline in circulation and their connection to readers. (In the case of some papers, the former had dropped from 80 percent to 55 percent penetration of local households.)

Wichita Eagle editor Davis Merritt, an early activist in the movement, saw a need for papers to emphasize citizens' perspectives on issues, not the mechanics of campaign process favored by political operatives. The Washington Post's David Broder bemoaned the poverty of political reporting, and Rosen himself grew fascinated with the leadership of Georgia's Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, which galvanized citizens of its town into meetings and formation of a citizens' group, United Beyond 2000, that strategized about the town's future.

Rosen next places those early palpitations of public journalism within the growing academic interest at the time in issues of public deliberation, and he elaborates on the views of important theorists of communication like Dewey, Lippmann, Habermas and James Carey. In some ways, Rosen argues, public journalism recapitulates the twenties debate between Dewey and Lippmann over whether the public (Dewey's choice) or experts (Lippmann's) should run democracy. Here, Rosen tends to align journalists and readers with Dewey's and Lippmann's models rather than analyze the fit. In any event, public journalism began to jell within a few years, and Rosen spends several chapters reporting the experiences of seven newspapers that attempted to practice it.

Examples include the Dayton Daily News taking charge of local debates on plant closings; the Akron Beacon Journal following a yearlong series devoted to citizen opinion on race with a regional planning organization called Coming Together; the San Jose Mercury News's decision to supplement editorials with public forums and discussion guides; the Colorado Springs Gazette's move to make its reporters engage in "public listening" and its editors frame stories from a number of perspectives; and the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot's whole-hog "intellectual journey" into public journalism.

Rosen's chapter discussing some of the media types involved shows they had to overcome attitudinal clichés endemic to the field--testosteronic toughness, sports and war metaphors, adversarial vibes toward officials and citizens--in what sounds like a twelve-step program to de-Front Page the mind. That hardly prepares one for the lively and rambunctious third section of the book, devoted to reactions to public journalism by its most prominent skeptics. Rosen honorably gives his powerful critics, including New Yorker editor David Remnick and honchos Max Frankel of the New York Times and Leonard Downie of the Washington Post, ample space to vent their views. He then offers a brisk paragraph summarizing key criticisms of his cause:

Nothing new. A gimmick that draws attention away from cutbacks that have led to bad coverage and a dissatisfied public. A marketing ploy by an industry desperate to retain market share. A misplaced longing among editors who want to be loved. An invitation to go soft. An assault on the profession's prerogative to judge what's important. A call for advocacy journalism, which would usurp the political process and further erode public trust. A distraction from the basic task of covering the news, difficult enough without adding the duty to repair society. An arrogant and preachy movement that pretends to have all the answers. A recipe for dumbing down the newspaper and backing away from courageous stands that defy popular opinion.

One extremely vociferous detractor was former NBC News president Michael Gartner, who patronized PJ as a fad designed to help journalism professors get tenure and "shake loose foundation grants." Gartner warned: "Newspapers are supposed to explain the community, not convene it. News reporters are supposed to explore the issues, not solve them. Newspapers are supposed to expose the wrongs, not campaign against them. Reporters and city editors are not supposed to write legislation or lead campaigns or pass moral judgments."

Rosen more or less answers: Relax, it's new, and traditionalists offer no alternative but old failed ways. Rosen believes those critical attitudes came from

an essentialist view of the journalist's task that afforded little room for experiment; a narrow reading of press history that allowed tradition to speak against reform and renewal; a frozen image of what journalists were for that disabled civic imagination in the craft; a quest for innocence amid the entangling forces of the media age, which disallowed any view of the press as a political actor with decisions to make about the aim of its actions; a desire to keep a firm distance between the press and a navel-gazing public, from which the serious professional had much to fear.

With all volleys returned, Rosen draws lessons from the decade in his final chapter, which summarizes public journalism's ups and downs and offers an answer to the book's title question that jibes with his opening "Journalist's Creed." What he doesn't do leaves the book with four main weaknesses: (1) failure to subject the journalist's duties to comparative analysis, (2) neglect of a key logical problem with public journalism, (3) neglect of a key practical problem--boredom--and (4) the contradiction between pragmatist anti-essentialism and the image of the journalist as a duty-bound citizen.

Imagine, to sketch the first flaw, a civic-minded professor of comedy, Henny Adams, inclined to confront comics as they sneak a smoke outside their improv haunts. He subjects them to a higher form of heckling when they're on stage, even proselytizes their bosses at conferences of talk-show bookers and resort/hotel managers.

"Sure, you're funny," Adams tells the shticksters. "But to what deeper democratic purpose? Your jokes assume beliefs in your audience when they should be ferreting out the truth. The stereotypes you rely on antagonize already injured subgroups, further damaging our fragile polis. What we need is a 'public comedy' in which stand-ups stand for solutions and don't just milk problems for laughs--we need citizen-comics."

Professor Adams would meet resistance from Comedy Central sorts. One, flicking his cigarette, might deliver an in-character rebuke: "How many professors does it take to confuse a gig that's not already confused?"

Or consider Adams's equally plausible colleague, Irving Whitman, a literature professor furious at the solipsism of modern novelists. In prestigious piece after piece, he castigates writers for their inward bent. "Yes," he concedes, "you devised an ingenious story. Sure, your characters stretch souls, forcing us to apprehend subneighborhoods of reality in fresh ways. Yet a fiction that lectures readers ex cathedra instead of conversing with them and learning from them is not fiction for our interactive, interconnected times. We need 'public fiction,' a practice sensitive to the challenges of the millennium, ready to eliminate rather than mirror dysfunctional horrors, aware of why dialogue controlled only by creators poisons the democratic community."

Do public journalists make more sense than public comics, public novelists, public painters, other public "expressers"? How could the First Amendment protect their right to oblique citizenship but not the journalist's? Public journalism may have an answer, but it's not in Rosen's book. It's simply on the plaque.

Rosen's notion of journalists as "trustees" of the public draws credibility from envisioning the usual suspects when one thinks of them: the nonstop mouths on a Washington chatfest. But where's the argument for considering it a duty that falls equally on all journalists, let alone artists? Perhaps we impose it by custom on the political hunter-gatherers of the New York Times and Washington Post, expecting them to gather allegedly neutral facts about public life like robots picking cherries. But do we include the Slate-istas, churning out in-group chatter as if it were reportage? The celebrity sighters of "Page Six"? The compulsive book-borrowers of the New York Press? Monitors of automobile or advertising industry gossip in the trades? Critics of all stripes, inevitably weighing elements of artistic and scholarly life with a mental hand on the scales?

Public journalism's agenda is partly to make every journalist "major" in political philosophy, a favorite of its leaders. But do we welcome such an oppressive attempt to impose an academic mentality, perhaps leading to opening quotes from Rousseau in the columns of Liz Smith? To some extent, Rosen concedes in his frequent references to the "serious press" that public journalism as philosophy relies on a fallacy of synecdoche. It takes one part of the press--reporters who cover politics and governmental affairs--and suggests they represent all, leaving out critics, obituary writers, city columnists, the outdoors specialist, the editorial cartoonist and others.

Public journalism also contains what can only be described as a reportorial paradox. While Rosen and peers speak often of journalists thinking about making things better, they never comment on the logical implication that making things better includes not making things worse. If that's so, the journalist, like the doctor, should begin with the Hippocratic principle: First do no harm.

Notice, though, how that principle immediately threatens the flow of information expected from a reporter. She's covering the chief do-gooder in town, who's also lightly harassing his secretary. If she reports the ugly behavior, all sorts of good projects will go unachieved. If she doesn't, she's already reasoning away potential news. Analyzing what the reporter should do could lead in various directions, but the logical problem remains: Public journalism presumes a Hippocratic principle that may undermine the straightforward reporting of information.

Finally, Rosen's professed pragmatism clashes with his inclinations as a journalistic reformer. If the classical pragmatism of Dewey and James stands for anything, it's an anti-essentialist view of concepts. In defending public journalism's aim to make journalists active citizens and amateur political philosophers, Rosen charges hidebound traditionalists like Gartner with "essentialism," saying, "An experimental attitude is anti-essentialist." Yet what could be more essentialist than arguing that ordinary citizens who choose to write, report and share their writings must take on a concern for the state and its welfare as an obligation?

To be fair, Rosen's rhetoric and vocabulary vary. Sometimes he suggests that public journalism is less a declaration of the rights and duties of journalists than a way to nudge them into nonobligatory but desirable behavior. And the pragmatist may well be damned if he does and damned if he doesn't: impliedly essentialist if he accepts a traditionalist's version of journalism's responsibilities, impliedly essentialist if he actively seeks reform.

In the end--oddly for a thinker who professes to be a pragmatist and rejects the mainstream media view that journalists "are not in the philosophy business"--Rosen emerges more as a reporter and policy activist than philosopher. Instead of a Critique of (Allegedly) Pure Journalism, comparable to Dewey's The Public and Its Problems or Lippmann's Public Opinion, Rosen's book swings between an If It's Tuesday, It's the Poynter Institute diary form, a Faith of My Brethren inspirational tome that effectively defends the movement against attacks, and a clearly appealing Ethics for the New Journalistic Millennium, offering a slate of recommendations. The combination, one suspects, creates a book that will deepen the understanding of its subject among all interested parties, but change few minds.

Is it unfair to expect public journalism, still but a cultural infant, to plumb theoretical depths in an introductory effort by its most articulate champion? Perhaps. Taken as a plea for better education of journalists in political theory, so they can transcend the naïveté of mainstream journalistic thinking about "objectivity," What Are Journalists For? makes an important contribution to greater intellectual sophistication in newspaper journalism--the only quality likely to save the latter in an age of competition from shrewd, well-educated Net journalists and their wares. Rosen notes the "weak tradition of debate within the culture of the press" and tries to goose it into robustness, forcing the lame "bystander" image of the press to confront insider E.J. Dionne's recognition that "the press is now an intimate part of everything having to do with elections."

Still, until public journalism's high priests figure out why the First Amendment doesn't protect the right of journalists to be blithe, selfish, sensationalistic, solipsistic and irresponsibly entertaining--much like comics, novelists and painters not badgered into winning good citizenship medals--public journalism will be less a philosophy or no-brainer social policy than a useful form of critical jawboning. In that exercise, enlightened academics and born-again reporters ought to urge the still benighted to take off their intellectual blinders and, as James Carey advises, look at themselves differently. Anything more than that awaits the Kant of media studies, a position still open despite all the foundation money in the world.

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