Notes on the American Press
WHAT KILLED the American press? Prickly irascibility. Whose prickly irascibility? Its own.
Like every catechism this one has its limits: the press isn’t dead yet, and in any event irascibility, even in sick institutions, is easier to think of as a symptom than as a disease. Neglecting symptoms, though, is a dangerous business–especially when the rate of eruption soars. And the case is that the rate has soared in the postwar newspaper world. Formerly hale and well met in its public self, the press is currently edgy and neurasthenic. It responds to non-academic critics-A. J. Liebling, Carl Lindstrom, several others-with letters of protest to the magazines that print them (the late Edwin L. James of the New York Times complained constantly to the New Yorker about the department called “The Wayward Press”) or with articles of abuse in trade journals (Lindstrom, whose The Fading American Newspaper, 1960, ranks as the best-informed, moderate assessment of the press yet put in print, is periodically savaged in Editor & Publisher and elsewhere). It answers academic complainants by smearing them as “believers in government control.” (This charge was first made against the Hutchins Committee of the 40′s, a body composed of eleven well-known university presidents and professors-also a poet and a banker-that advocated an endowed newspaper; now it is hurled even at journalism schools.) And instead of ignoring political carpers who echo Adlai Stevenson’s remarks about the “one-party press,” publishers now claim shrilly that, really they are just plain middle-of-the-road, and at the same time insist upon blocking any impartial inquiry that might (or might not) validate the claim.*
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