Friday, September 08, 2006

A Word From Izzy (Part 3)

We liberals love to bitch about how lily-livered the press has become and how willing to be spun by the Republican noise machine. But was there ever a golden age of reportorial independence and courage? If there was, I.F. Stone didn't witness it. Here he is, writing in November, 1955--but the only thing that has changed in the past 51 years is that you can now buy Rolling Stone on newstands a block from the Kremlin.

The main obstacle to the creation of a well-informed public is its own indifference. In every country with a free press, thoughtful papers which conscientiously try to cover the news lag behind the circulation of those which peddle sex and sensationalism. This is as true in Paris and London as in New York; and if Moscow ever permits a free privately-owned press, Izvestia and Pravda will fall far behind any paper which prints the latest on that commissar's love nest.

The second obstacle is that most papers are owned by men who are not newspapermen themselves; publishing is a business, not a Jeffersonian passion, and the main object is as much advertising revenue as possible. Thus it happens that between the attitude of the publishers and that of the public, most papers in this country print little news. And this, except for local coverage, is mostly canned, syndicated, and quick-frozen.

The third obstacle is that this has always been and is now more than ever a conformist country; Main Street and Babbitt--and de Tocqueville long before Sinclair Lewis--held a faithful mirror to our true nature. It doesn't take much deviation from Rotary Club norms in the average American community to get oneself set down as queer, radical, and unreliable.

Against this background, it is easy to see why the average Washington correspondent is content to write what he is spoon-fed by the government's press officers. Especially since the press is largely Republican and this is a Republican Administration, there is little market for "exposing" the government. Why dig up a story which the desk back home will spike?
Order your copy of The Best of I. F. Stone from the good people at Public Affairs here.

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